Free Range on Food: Mumbo sauce, food after surgery and more

Jul 10, 2013

Weekend staff writer Maura Judkis joins us to talk about how more expensive establishments are paying homage to mumbo sauce. Food section contributor David Hagedorn will also be here to discuss how his friends and family kept him well-fed after major surgery.
Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions.
Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, and welcome to today's chat! Hope you enjoyed today's section, between Maura Judkis's piece on the gentrification of mumbo sauce and David Hagedorn's essay about leaning on friends to provide food while he was recovering from surgery. (Tomato fans, we also are continuing our call for your entries in our Top Tomato recipe contest -- get cooking, please!)

We've got both writers helping us today, along with Carrie "Spirits" Allan and the rest of us regulars -- well, except for Tim, who's on assignment in LA.

And we have cookbooks to give to the sources of our favorite questions/comments today: "The Washington Post Cookbook," signed by Bonnie; and "Vegetables Please" by Carolyn Humphries, source of today's Weeknight Vegetarian recipe.

Let's get to it.

I just moved into a house with a large fig tree, which is beginning to ripen. Pretty soon, I will have a LOT of figs. It seems like a good problem, but what do I do with them? I'm not a fan of eating them straight and I'm a vegetarian. The previous owners made jam, which was delicious, but I'm not interested in learning how to can. Any ideas?

I'm jealous. I grew up with one in my back yard -- it was always a race with the  squirrels to see who'd get best pickin's.  You must try the Barefoot Contessa's Fig and Fennel Caponata; it's good for snacking and as a condiment on sandwiches.

I really like poaching figs in a wine called Beaumes de Venise, infused with anise and finished with a little heavy cream. Splurge city. You can stuff figs with goat cheese and then drizzle with a little reduced balsamic vinegar-turned-syrup. This simple side dish of green beans with figs and walnuts will surprise you. 


Or simply roast them, quartered or halved,  then toss into your favorite salad. You can grill them a la this Indian recipe  and even work them into a fine pie

Chatters, what's your favorite vegetarian way to use 'em up? 

I second Bonnie's jealousy here! We have a neighbor with a fig tree, and I ogle it lustfully every time I walk the dog past it.

Beyond Bonnie's great suggestions, if you're a cocktailer, you might try muddling those figs with some mint in a figgy julep. Beyond the basic julep idea, try cooking them down with some ginger and thyme and citrus for a syrup -- you can strain the seeds out if they bother you. Add a little maple syrup or even molasses if you want some sweetness.

I know you say you don't want to learn to can, but it's really not difficult, especially when it comes to jam. I use the oven-sealing method from the Blue Chair Jam cookbook, and it's no-muss, no-fuss. But the other possibility is to make jam and store it in the freezer instead of canning it.

Sorry, can't help jumping in too. I am drooling at the thought of a Grilled Figs Packet.

Grilled Figs Packet

Or Ms. Muriel's Fig Tart.

Ms. Muriel's Fig Tart

I know quiche isn't always thought of as a summer dish, but I am looking for a good recipe that will satisfy my young kids and my parents who will be visiting this weekend. Broccoli is out as an ingredient. Other veggies, meats, and cheese are in. Do you have a favorite go-to quiche recipe for me to try this weekend?

We have five quiche recipes in our database, but you may want to start with this appropriately named Basic Quiche that you can customize with whatever meat or vegetables you want.

You might like to expand your quichey horizons and try a fresh herb kuku, which is fun to say and doesn't involve a crust. Pack it with parsley like the recipe says or riff on your own fillings. It's lovely served warm or cold.  (Don't worry about trucking to a Mediterranean store for those dried-cranberry-looking barberries on top -- they can be optional.

Hi Joe and friends! Thank you for the wonderful article on Mumbo Sauce. I often talk about it to my friends around the country and they just don't understand how good it is! i will definitely forward the article to them! Have you tried it on vegetables other than potatoes? I have tried broccoli and kale but it just didn't work for me. Maybe carrots? By the way, thank you so much for the ice cream chat. You inspired us to break out my ice cream maker this weekend. By happenstance, we stopped in a store that sold their own baked cones! I opted for the chocolate waffle cone, and my girlfriend had a sweet come. It was awesome! (after 6, of course...) Thanks!

Thank you! I haven't tried it on vegetables other than potatoes -- and just polled my coworkers to see if anyone had carrot sticks, to no avail -- but in general, mumbo sauce will pair well with anything you would otherwise dip in barbeque sauce or ketchup. I think part of what makes it so good is the way that the tangy and spicy flavor soaks into fried foods. I bet it would be really great on fried green beans or fried pickles.

I'm curious where you got those cones. Making my own is on my list of things to do this summer. Just hasn't happened yet...

The ratatouille crepe recipe sounds amazing, and I am always looking for something different to cook for my vegetarian wife. My concern, however, is that she doesn't really care for eggplant or zucchini, which seem to make up a good bulk of the filling. I know it would be less than traditional, but can you suggest some alternative vegetables that might work in the crepe, maybe even just to cut down on the amount of those two items? Mushrooms, maybe? Corn?

Absolutely. I think this would work with lots of things. Mushrooms and corn, yes! I'd do oyster mushrooms. And of course, barely cook that farm-fresh corn, right? (Put it in at the end.) You could add some greens to the stew, too. Or beans.

I'm currently stuck and hoping you or the chatters have a resource or ideas. My grandma is 91 years old and in pretty good health - all she takes is a multivitamin! Although she's very petite, she eats a lot of restaurant food or whatever my parents pick up since they don't cook. Unfortunately I live a few states away so I can't be the one to cook meals, so instead I need to supply my parents with easy ideas for them to make for her. She'll honestly eat anything, I just want it to be something with a lot of nutrients if possible.

I think freezing single-portion batches of vegetable/hearty soups, some with grains, would be one way to go. Your folks can make a different batch on the weekends; some soups could work served over rice or pasta, even. We have more than 200 soups in our Recipe Finder -- lentils would be good. And here's a non-soup, comfort food pasta-lentil recipe that everybody likes. (It's in The Washington Post Cookbook!)

Hi, I would like a simple recipe that would make eggless whole wheat cookies? Any links you can share? Thanks much!

If I nix the crepes (time management) can I add white beans to the mix?

You have my blessing, my child.

I'm having a cookout next week, and I'd like to make a pitcher of lemonade. Of course the ingredients are obvious, but I could use some help with proportions. Also, we have basil and mint in the garden. What would be the best way to add one of those herbs? They tend to brown because of phenolics, so I don't just want to leave them in the pitcher. Maybe some sort of infusion ahead of time?

This might be what you're looking for: Blueberry Lemonade With Ginger and Basil.

Blueberry Lemonade With Ginger and Basil

But you could also make a simple syrup infused with herbs, such as in this recipe, to build your lemonade. And here's a handy post from the Kitchn.

I got rhubarb in my CSA box last week, but unforunately it sat in a hot car for a couple hours and then unwrapped out of the fridge for a full day and night. By the time I got to it the ends were very dried out and I didn't have time to do anything with it. I cut off the ends, cut it into one inch pieces and froze them. I have two questions: 1. How do I even know when rhubarb is ripe? As in, does it have to all be red, or can you use the green parts? 2. Any ideas on how to salvage it?

Rhubarb doesn't change from unripe to ripe. As soon as it's big enough to be harvested in the size that you want it in, it can be used. It doesn't get sweeter or softer or change color or anything. So it's ripe. The variation in color has to do with the variety of rhubarb. You can use everything except the leaves, which are poisonous.

I've been noodling around the idea of resurrecting wilted produce and might write about it sometime this summer. But in your case, you can just thaw and stew the rhubarb with enough sugar that it tastes good to you, and maybe some fresh chopped ginger. Puree if you want. Then use that to coat all sorts of fresh berries, stir into yogurt, combine with soda or even make a rhubarb twist on a bellini with champagne.

My teenage daughter loves cheese. She eats mac and cheese for lunch almost every day. I have a hard time finding a recipe that she might like that is without cheese. Can you please suggest something? We don't really eat red meat. She is a somewhat picky eater, but likes most fruits and some vegetables. We love pasta, but so many recipes contain cheese. I am looking for something healthy but am at a loss. We are also a busy family, so a simple or quick recipe would be great. Thanks for your help.

As busy Washingtonians, we're always looking to cut corners. One of the best ways I've found is to cook dishes that only involve one pot. These one-pot wonders are lifesavers when it comes time for clean-up. What is a great one-pot dish we could try to make?


Stir-fries are always a good bet, too. How about Chinese Chicken and Cabbage Stir-Fry?

I just wanted to smack David Hagedorn silly throughout that article. He seemed to think that it was his friends' and family's duty to keep him happy and well fed, and the extreme lack of anything approaching gratitude that he displayed was disgraceful. If I was the friend that brought carrot juice, I'd buy another one now and pour it over his head next time I saw him. I can only hope that he throws a big, lavish dinner party when he's fully healed to pay back the friends that he really doesn't deserve.

So I'm taking it no chicken wings from you, right?

What a silly screed. I've been answering emails all morning from people sharing very touching stories about how food from others helped them through difficult times, which was, in fact, the point of the story.

My friends understood the piece to be a tribute to their generosity.  I thought it would be nice to honor them in print and that is certainly how they felt about it today.  

By the way, I do think it is the duty of friends and family to help each other when in need. Isn't that what being a friend is all about? That is why they are not expecting dinner parties in return, though they no doubt will continue to be on the receiving end of my frequent hospitality for no other reason than to enjoy each other's company. 

This may not be the best place to ask this, but... A dear friend's roommate is currently undergoing treatment for cancer, leaving her emotionally and physically drained and tending to her roommate. I offered to bring whatever seemed most appropriate and desirable for both of them and the answer was immediate--chocolate chip cookies and a stab at a chicken pot pie like the one at Chicken Out, which I understand to be different than the one I make myself. I say "I understand to be..." because I've never set foot in a Chicken Out and I don't know what I'm trying to make! Can you recommend a recipe or strategy so I can deliver this weekend? (I've got the cookies well in-hand with a soft brown butter variety.)

It's the perfect place to ask! This one might be the closest to what Chicken Out does -- just use the same amount of cooked chicken instead of turkey.  But I have to say my go-to recipe of that nature is this chicken, leek and parsley pie. It has a great crust and lovely mustardy-cream chicken filling. Always makes folks happy on the receiving end. 

After the chat ended, folks from Food and Friends contacted me to say that your frend's roommate probably qualifies for free meal delivery from the agency. If you read this, pass along the website ( and phone number (202-269-2277).

I made the Honey Sunflower Ice Cream recipe you ran in the Food section last week. That was incredible! My whole family loved it and I will be making it again this summer.

Honey Sunflower Ice Cream

Lovelovelove. Our thanks to Susan Soorenko of Moorenko's for coming up with it. 

The power strainer attachment to the grinder is the BOMB for making lots pureed roasted garlic. Unpeeled cloves of garlic microwaved until tender with some water squeeze into lovely puree minus the papery peelings. It also makes short work of mostly deseeding blackberries and making raw tomato puree minus the skins and seeds. Michael Chiarello's fabulous roast pork shoulder calls for 2 cups of roast garlic puree, and is SO worth making for big feasts!

Good to know!

Loved the rolled ratatouille recipe, looking forward to trying it! I especially like that I can make it for me (vegetarian) and also incorporate meat to accommodate my visiting extended in-law family (6 Brits) and husband who all like/"need" meat with a meal. Thanks!!

Glad to help! You would probably appreciate much of "Vegetables Please," then, cause that's its schtick!

Oooh, fig paste. Or the fig/shiraz jam in the WaPo database. Or figs with goat cheese and honey. Or dry them! Actually, I'd offer them around your work place/neighborhood and see whether anyone would like to come pick a bunch and make something with them. If you buy enough figs for a jam recipe, it's SUPER expensive. My neighbors with a fig tree offered their bounty last year, and wound up with a thrilled neighbor and jars of jam in exchange!

Yes, here's our recipe for Pollystyle Fig Paste.

Pollystyle Fig Paste

Can't find that other jam you mention, though!

I totally shredded the Food Section today, tearing out all your great recipes (the ratatouille, mumbo sauces, and fixed ice cream recipe). Which of those mumbo sauces comes closest to the real thing? The Hamilton one looks closest to one I found a few years ago when mumbo sauce discussion appeared in the food section Not sure if it was from the WaPo or the internet. Thanks!

That's the funny thing about this story -- what makes a "real" mumbo sauce? Some people that I talked to said that the really tangy sauces were real, and others said that only the spicy sauces were real, and several people said that an expensive one could never be real. It truly depends on where you grew up, and how your neighborhood carryout prepared the sauce. When we did the video taste test, the Hamilton's sauce came in second place (after Jerry's, a carryout on Georgia Avenue). That sauce is modeled off of the one at Yum's II, a carryout in Logan Circle. The Capital City Mumbo Sauce is kind of an average of all of the sauces, so if you aren't sure which side of the tangy/spicy divide you fall on, you could start there.

I'm in a cooking rut and to get out of it, I've decided to make at least one new-to-me meal a week. What's a good healthy cookbook to get me started? Thanks!

My first thought is Heidi Swanson's "Super Natural Cooking" or "Super Natural Every Day." Both feature  healthful recipes, but not in the obvious way. Lots of whole foods, natural ingredients, and inventive combinations.

Just wanted to say - David, I hope you're feeling better now! I had a hip replacement in 2008. I still cannot get over how wonderful it is to walk without pain. I hope that your experience is as good as mine has been.

Thank you so much. I am feeling much better, though not 100% pain-free. The bone-on-bone pain is gone, however,  and that has already improved my quality of life tremendously.


I'm glad you had a great experience. Everyone I knew who had undegone the procedure told me that I would wonder why I waited so long to do it and they were right. But those stories about  grandmothers who had hip replacements and were playing tennis 2 days later? Not true.

What was the best food you guys ate over the holiday weekend (or week)? I'm looking for some new "inspiring" dishes. Since it's so darn hot and humid the thought of cooking just tires me out.

I don't know if it's the kind of dish you're looking for, but I'm kind of in love with the Cannoli Ice Cream Sandwiches recipe we ran last week.

Cannoli Ice Cream Sandwiches

My swiss chard is currently growing in abundance, and I'm hoping that you guys can give me some good suggestions for recipes that will temper the strong flavor. I've done basic steaming, adding to pasta sauce, and substituting for spinach in a really delicious creamed spinach recipe, but I'm now running out of ideas! I would happily eat it raw in salads, but my bf finds the flavor overwhelming. Thanks for any help!

One of my favorite new chard recipes is Spanish-Style Chard With White Beans on Toast. Definitely tempers the flavor with that vinegar, almonds, etc. Try it! (And you can do this as a side dish, without the beans/toast/egg aspect if you want.)


A friend recently sent me a dozen ears of corn...I'm trying to eat fewer carbs so the corn is sitting in my fridge. Short of putting the corn in salads, what else can I do with them? i've done the bean and corn salads, the straight corn in greens. Also, can I cut the corn kernels off and freeze them?

Sent you? Like, in the mail? Where is this corn from? If it's fresh and local, you're losing out by leaving it in the fridge -- it loses sweetness every day it's in there. First, I'd cut the kernels off and make this Cold Corn Soup. Then I'd make this Corn Broth with the cobs, husks and silks.

Any corn you have left, yes, just freeze those kernels!


I have a bag of tortilla chips that met an unpleasant fate due to a poorly placed watermelon. The chips aren't completely pulverized, but can't be used for dipping or nachos. Any suggestions?

I hate it when that happens! I've used crumbled up tortilla chips as a condiment on black bean soup. But you could also try this Skillet Vegetable Spoonbread Cobbler from -- hey! -- David.

I finally joined a CSA this year, and I'm getting some good stuff. There are these small onions that I received last week (bulb about the size of a golf ball). What do I do with them? Roast them?

I do love roasted onions. I also love braised/glazed onions. Cut those in half lengthwise, leaving as much of the greens as you can, and bake them (preferably in a dish or pan that can go on the stovetop too) with a little veg or chicken stock or water (coming up a half inch or so), covered tightly with foil, until they're tender. Then move the dish to the stovetop, crank up the heat, add some butter and a sprinkling of sugar, and boil the liquid down to a glaze. Yum.

I understand the concept the restaurants in this area, not just France, are increasing using central kitchens to prep their foods. How can we be sure that a local restaurant is indeed cooking fresh, on the premises? I realize that family/budget restaurants may need to us central kitchens to keep the costs down, but if spending big bucks on a meal, I would expect fresh prepared.

That front-page story today made me chuckle. Quel horror -- not so much. Why do frozen foods get such a bad rap?  IQF vegetables can be just as good or better than fresh. You can spend those big bucks on an EU meal these days no matter what, right? It's not just budget restos that benefit from cost savings.  The Neighborhood Restaurant Group (Birch & Barley, GBD, Buzz Bakery, Rustico) uses a central commissary to make some of its foods -- no dimunition of quality that I can detect.  Why would it matter to you? A local restaurant often features language on the menu that points specifically to the nearby farms that its ingredients come from. But again, I'm not so sure I am dismayed by mass-quantity production of eclairs or a Big Bad Freezer. 

I agree with Bonnie, to a point. I cannot imagine that a frozen/thawed eclair, even with new technology, could compete with a freshly made one.

I loved the article by David Hagedorn. Having been through quite a few surgeries myself, I feel like food played a huge part of my recoveries. Sometimes it's what I looked forward to most in the day. However, I had more than one friend call me and ask me for one of my recipes so that he/she could prepare something for me which I am known for making. Friends assumed that was my favorite food and I must want someone to make it. But I was looking forward to eating something I didn't make all the time! I wanted to try other people's dishes! And I didn't want to compare their version of my recipe to my own. Having specific examples of what people brought over to Mr. Hagedorn is helpful since many people don't know what to bring or don't realize how helpful it is to have something in the freezer for later, especially in containers that do not need to be returned. I think a lot of people feel intimidated by bringing a whole meal over for someone who is known for cooking and it's great to read how appreciated a greasy breakfast sandwich can be. I was craving a fast food hamburger in the hospital one time and so grateful to someone who brought me one from Wendys. And a slice of chocolate cake from a bakery was heaven, even though it had to be sneaked by the nurses!

What a terrific post.  The nurses had no issue with whatever was being brought in because I always made sure to give them a cut. Michael took an assortment of goodies to the desk one day and the nurse took one and thanked him. When he said the whole platter was for the nurses, her jaw dropped to the ground.


I hope you told your friends not to make your specialties for you. I find that people like direction, to know specifically what you want. I know I'm relieved when people are up front about this. It is so rewarding to fulfill your friends' wishes.


It was so smart of my colleague to divide the food at my house and portion it into my own containers. You know that even though we love making food for others, we don't want to give up those valuable storage containers!


About the Wendy's burger. When my pal walked in with that Five Guys burger and bag full of fries, I almost wept. I savored every bite and can almost taste it right now.

Grilled. On a grilled pizza with some wilted bitter greens, carmelized onions and a sprinkling of Gorgonzola if you want to be a bit spunky... or fontina if you're feeling mild ... or both if you're feeling edgy.

Yes! I make a pizza with figs, Taleggio cheese, radicchio and walnuts that's pretty killer.

Add a few leaves (sans stem) to any sort of herbs or spicy greens to make a pesto. Save the stems with the rest of your veg trimmings in the freezer for a veg stock later.

Such as Joe's Scrappy Vegetable Broth.

Scrappy Vegetable Broth

I made this last night, but skipped the toast, left the beans whole, and mixed in pasta. It was great! (And it turns out that my five-year-old likes Swiss chard!)


Maybe it's just me, but those things remind me of Black and White cookies! But maybe that's a good idea for an ice cream sandwich in and of itself...

Yes, that is exactly what they look like, though they have more spices.

What an overreaction. He was just writing what most everyone in that situation thinks--wow, this food is great, this isn't so great, I'm so happy to have the food brought to me, can this never stop. Being a friend requires no "payback." I, for one, liked the article. But it did make me hungry for mac 'n' cheese...

And that mac and cheese was sooooooooo good!

Yes, corn was sent in the mail along with apples---my friend didn't like the quality of the produce in DC so he wanted to send me some good produce from up north :) Kind of like the article on friends bringing food---it's their generousity, you don't get to choose always! thanks for the corn soup recipe. I'm going to give it a go!

That is a nice friend!

how about keeping it summery and doing asparagus, peas and corn? Or go crazy with some brussels sprouts.


I just wanted to say that one of the reasons I signed up for the online subscription was for this chat! Thank you so much for your weekly input! Also, I know people were griping about the price in the past, but not only is the monthly charge only $10, but the first month is 99 cents AND you can share it with someone. I'd say that's worth it! AND, thank you for the crepe inspiration today - I've never varied my crepe batter recipe and this has given me a whole bunch of ideas!

Appreciate your thoughts -- glad we're worth paying for!

I picked up some callaloo (Jamaican spinach) at the farmer's market on Sunday, mostly because it was pretty. I tried to saute some of it with garlic and onions and it was a bit too bitter for my taste. Any suggestions of how to use this? Googling mostly comes up with a particular stew, but I'm not into the idea of that (nor do I like coconut milk, which seemed to be a key ingredient). Appreciate any suggestions!

I picked up some, too -- from Next Step Produce at Dupont, right? -- and blanched it before sauteeing, then combined it with soba noodles. I liked that. (I wasn't actually thinking about the blanching taking away bitterness, was just operating instinctively, I guess, but it certainly wasn't bitter at all.)

I recently made homemade riccota cheese from smitten kitchen. The recipe says to heat the milk and cream to 190 and then remove from heat and add lemon juice. The ricotta turned out well and was delicious. However, it had a pretty strong lemon flavor, is there a way to make this without a strong lemon flavor and achieve the same results? Also, what is your favorite way to use the whey?

Vinegar works -- white wine or distilled white. Or you could try a recipe that uses buttermilk instead.Using the whey in baked goods (replacing other liquids) is the only thing I've ever done with it. See this list 

I put it on houseplants! They love it. Whey is also sometimes used in lacto-fermented dishes such as pickles.

Make fig paste and use it in the fabulous challah with fig and olive oil recipe from the Smitten Kitchen (site and cookbook).

I'm currently staring at a big bunch of basil, radishes, and green onions. Any ideas for a way to use them up in tonight's dinner?

I think you could use them in today's Pea, Mint and Radish Salad. You could use the basil instead of the mint, and add the green onions; I think that'd be fabulous.

This is a totally petty annoyance, but -- We bought catsup/ketchup, mustard, mayo and relish in squeeze bottles because they seemed easier to use and we wouldn't have to keep dirtying spoons or knives to get the condiments onto our hot dogs and hamburgers. But every bottle at some point spurts out a little stream of liquid, which then drips onto the bun. Shaking the bottle first doesn't help. And the liquid doesn't always come out with the first squeeze, so just first squeezing over the trash or sink doesn't solve the problem. I guess we can just unscrew the bottle-tops and go back to using knives and forks, but I wondered if there's some trick you know of to keep the splurt from happening?

Yes indeed, in the First World Problem category. Still, our goal is to help you through all kinds of tough times. Shaking the bottles well always works for me, but I guess you could take off the top and use a chopstick or long teaspoon to stir/incorporate things before you go squirting. Chatters?

How about Grilled Fresh Figs on Rosemary Skewers?  I've been dying to try it this summer after sumbling on to the recipe.

Sounds great!

I have been here forever (almost) and don't remember ever hearing of mumbo sauce! I hadn't seen a $5 carryout meal either, except from Subway, so this article was a real mouth-opener. Thanks!

You aren't alone -- as Theresa Vargas' story from a couple years ago mentions, there are many people who have lived in D.C. for decades who have never tasted it. It all depends on whether or not your neighborhood has a carryout (or now, an upscale substitute). Thanks for reading!

I'm confused as to why the parent of the cheese-loving teenager wants to make cheese-free meals. If the teenager likes cheese, why not just go with the flow and look for meals that use her favorite food?

If the OP is still around, maybe s/he can answer!

Well, I wasn't upset by the article about how David Hagedorn's friends had kept him in delicious food during his recovery from surgery, but I was impressed by how much time they seemed to have to prepare what appear to be pretty complicated foods. With my kids, my job, and my aging parents, he would have just gotten a portion of whatever we ate that night. Hope that would suffice.

Of course it would suffice. It's not the time spent that matters or even what one gives to another. No time to cook or shop? No worries. A text, an email, a phone call, a card--all gestures of reaching out to tell someone you're thinking about them carry equal weight.

Use the fragments to coat chicken tenders! They make an excellent coating for baked chicken, and even better when served with Mexican-style rice sides or a salsa for dipping.

Great idea.

I always liked salsa more than the chips. So I take the crushed corn chips and pour them into a bowl. I then put salsa on and stir with and then eat with a spoon. Lots of salsa with minimal chip.

I'm a traditional dip-the-chip kind of gal, and this is so counterintuitive that I can barely process it. But if it works for you, why not? :)

I'd be tempted to add cheese and broil.

Once the rhurbarb is stewed and sweetened, consider pulsing it through a food processor (in the pot with an immersion blender is my preference) and making fruit leather! Really simple: just add a tablespoon or two of lemon juice to fruit (one or two cups) that's been softened and processed/blended, then pour the mixture on a silicone baking sheet/parchment paper and bake at 170 or 200 for anywhere from three to five hours. You want the fruit leather to feel sticky, but not stick to your finger.


Thank you so much for the recipes! I think the Chicken, Leek and Parsley pie is going to make its way onto the cooking rotation for me sometime VERY soon!

Good for you, David. I have a friend whose husband was extremely ill and in hospital for a month. Everyone asked how they could help, but she was too overwhelmed to organize everyone else's desire to be kind. So I took it upon myself to tell friends who called "bring dinner Tuesday night" or "Pick {kid} up from school Wednesday and feed her so {wife} can sleep a couple hours." Even the most well-meaning and generous people in the world need to be TOLD how they can help. You were lucky you were in a position to tell them yourself.

Even luckier because they did all the organizing without being asked. You make a good point--the caregiver is too overwhelmed to organize. Another good reason to express your needs to people up front. Good for you for taking the inititative. It's a mitzvah!

Swiss Chard and caramelized onions enchiladas with salsa verde. Rick Bayless has a recipe that is a must!


Rick Bayless has a great recipe for swiss chard tacos. Various versions can be found online; we usually add mushrooms and chipotle en adobo to the basic recipe.

You mean these? (In fact, maybe these are what the previous chatter meant?) Who knew Rick had such a way with chard?

Yeah, I am not a grandmother (or a mother). I was 42 when I had the hip replacement, and no, I was not playing tennis the next day. I used the cane for a few months after, actually. I am 100% pain free, as the only bone on bone I had was in the hip that was replaced. (it was traumatic arthritis, caused by a break in a car accident. No other joints were affected.) Although, I do still get stiff if I sit it too low a chair for too long. Anyhow - best wishes for a comfortable future!

The chair stiffness is unpleasant, but a small price to pay, right?  My doctor told me the cane would leave me when I was ready for it to and he was right. When I go out without it, I wind up regretting it.  Glad you are 100% pain free!

I never heard of this fish before but bought it last night at Whole Foods because the fish monger said it was great, tasted like a cross between halibut and sea bass. Plus it was much more wallet friendly than those fish at $14.99/lb vs. $23.99/lb. It was fantastic! I was in a rush and bought a great mango pepper coconut marinade, poured it on my fish, and grilled it in a foil "boat" to keep the juices inside while grilling. It was done in 20 minutes and was excellent. Even my picky child ate it. Any other suggestions for how to cook this great fish?

Your WFM is on top of things! A mere year and a half ago a Food Network blogger posted this info  based on an "Iron Chef" competition involving the fish, which is sometimes called arapaima. He mentioned further that it wasn't widely commercially available:

Paiche is a firm-fleshed white-fish with a delicate flavor that I have heard chefs compare to that other endangered species, the Chilean sea bass. The fish contains high levels of collagen, which I am told, is the reason it develops a delicious crust when it is cooked. The size of the fish means that the steaks are quite thick and can withstand higher temperatures and more robust cooking methods while still retaining the beautiful juiciness of the flesh.

Paiche would be best suited for grilling (as you would a swordfish steak) pan searing or smoking. I have not tried this yet, but I suspect that pre-cooking the fish and flaking for use in fish cakes would produce excellent results. And I have a hankering to try coating paiche fillet cuts in a spiced breading or batter for a different take on fish and chips.

Strip green leaves from stems, and chop stems in 1" segments. Place stem pieces in a pan (steamer is best) with enough water just to cover, then lay leaves on top (or place in steamer top), and steam till done. Drain well, cut leaves into large bite-size pieces. Place leaves and stems in non-corrosive container, toss with oil and vinegar (or lemon juice), a little chopped garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and refrigerate. Serve as a cold side dish on a hot, hot day!

Hi, I bought some carry-out "ma la" food from The Great Wall on 14th St and find it unpleasantly hot for my tastes -- Not that it burns, more that it tastes like someone put too much pepper in it and that taste overwhelms everything else. I tried including lots of rice in every bite and that didn't do it. I figure if anyone knows how I can reduce the intensity of the sauce without actually rinsing the tofu, it's you guys! Thanks!!

Switching from my usual cocktail genre here, as a fan of ma la cooking: I'm not sure if you're a regular eater of ma la style food or not? What you're tasting, I suspect, is not hot peppers but the piney taste of Szechuan peppercorns, which are a big part of the whole ma la thing. Not sure if you just got a badly prepared, over-peppercorned batch, but that flavor is pretty fundamental to the dish.

Sooo ... if you're attempting to prep ma la food at home, I'd cut down on the Szechuan peppercorns in whatever recipe you're planning to use, and build the dish after you taste it. If you're looking at future Great Wall visits, you may want to ask them to just take it a little easy on the Szechuan peppercorns -- bearing in mind that you MAY be insulting the chef a wee bit. (It could be you just don't care for ma la?)

I love that your friends took care of you after your surgery. We respond to life's celebrations or challenges with food all the time: birth of a baby, funeral food, religious holidays. Why not prepare the best for a friend who is incapacitated for a few weeks. Much more meaningful (and fun) than a get well card! Glad you are on the mend!

Thanks so much. I'm with you. Food is an expression of love, pure and simple.

Well, if you work for a major food company that does foodservice items, it's really annoying to order braised shortribs with a burgundy sauce in a higher-end restaurant and discover you've been served decent shortribs with a sauce made from [your brand] gravy base--blech!

I can see that it might be annoying if they had a certain "box-mix" flavor. But shortribs are not one of the foods that would suffer greatly when frozen. 

Where does the name come from? All I can think of is mumbo-jumbo ... which I guess will be the name of the big jar of mumbo sauce, unless it's jumbo mumbo :)

Stories about the name and the sauce's origins are pretty apocryphal. I didn't get a chance to really delve into this in the story, but some say the sauce came to D.C. from Chicago (which is where you can find another bottled brand of the same name but a different recipe -- it's more like barbeque sauce for ribs). I also dug up a 1980 Calvin Trillin article in the New Yorker that traces them back to upstate New York, as a variation on Buffalo wings. That story doesn't say where the name comes from, though. Many people credit Wings-n-Things, which has closed, as the first in D.C. to popularize the sauce. As for jumbo mumbo -- Capitol City Mumbo Sauce should jump on that!

Cheesey mom, here. I love cheese, too, but I'm afraid we're all going to have a heart attack from the fat! I actually just returned from Paris where there's always a cheese course. I wouldn't mind eating cheese every day like that, but I'm trying to be healthy.

The poster mentioned her daughter likes pasta--there are plenty of pasta dishes (I'm specifically thinking tomato-based, but there are others) that do not rely on cheese. What about other foods? I know she said the daughter is a picky eater, but if you look at different kinds of food (Indian, Japanese, Mediterranean, etc.) where you can find plenty of cheese-less and delicious options.

Joe, I'm wondering if you find you eat less dishes/courses per meal, now that you are vegetarian. For instance do you still eat an entree and sides? I'm not officially a vegetarian but rarely make meat at home, and when I tell my brother what I'm making for dinner he always says I'm just eating side dishes. How do you best round out a vegetarian meal?

At home, cooking for myself (or now cooking for myself and the BF), I've always pretty much done one-dish meals. But when I cook for others and make it vegetarian, I usually still look for something that can feel like a main course -- a pasta dish, or a vegetable "cutlet" or stew -- with salad/sides.

Best wishes to Dave for a full recovery. It's good to have you back.

Thank you so much. It's good to be back.

Hello Rangers- This weekend, I am having about 20 people over. I am planning on making chicken and steak fajitas. I want to make peppers and onions with these, but grilling them will take a lot of room on the grill (I have a small charcoal grill) and was thinking that I could put them in a slow cooker and let them hang out in there for the fajitas... what are your thoughts? Can you think of any other easier way that doesn't involve grilling or babysitting them on the stove? Also- what is the best way to heat flour tortillas, I usually layer them with paper towels and put them in the microwave, but heating up 40 or so tortillas, that doesn't seem like the best way to go. Any advice is appreciated! Thank you!!

I don't mean to be a naysayer, but I'm not sure I'd like the texture of slow-cooked peppers and onions in my fajita. Too soft, I think. I want a little crunch left. This is a conundrum, though, if you don't want to tend the grill or the oven... I think you'd be fine doing them a little in advance, perhaps in the broiler. Although I often just saute my fajita vegetables on the stovetop.

Since flour tortillas start out relatively soft and pliable, you could save yourself the trouble of warming them. I think they'd be fine at room temp. Or just microwave in shorter stacks. Not sure you need to layer them -- here are some more tips.

Thank you for the tips, and I LOVE the fruit leather idea!

I swear there was a recipe for mayo-less tuna salad in the archives but I couldn't find it. Am I missing something? Either way could I sub yogurt in for the mayo? This has nothing to do with health, I just don't have any fresh mayo lying around and am supremely lazy.

No mayo in this Israeli Couscous and Tuna Salad (also from Ina Garten -- I must have her on the brain today). If you're looking for a basic recipe, just think about starting with an oil-packed tuna, or stirring in your fave vinaigrette.  Makes me think of a popular lunch recipe we ran a few years back, made with creme fraiche, tho. 

If I were you, I would look for meals that incorporate cheese but in far less prominent roles than mac 'n cheese. That's a compromise between cheese-free and too much cheese for health.

During one of my (many!) fad diet phases in days gone by, I made lasagne with swiss chard leaves instead of the noodles. Remove the stems, layer the chard like you would the noodles, alternating with meat sauce and cheese, and bake. The liquid from the sauce must have steamed (?) the chard. It was yummy and looked pretty as well.

my teenage (vegetarian) daughter would live on cheese as well. If we ate full-fat cheese all the time, we'd gain weight and clog our arteries. I try to use lower fat cheese when possible, but I recently made a black bean/pinto bean burrito that was delicious with a very minimal amount of cheese. (Truthfully, it is tasty even without the cheese.)

not sure where to find this, but if you can find an actual Jamaican recipe for it you won't regret it! It can be stewed with spices but not too soupy, and served with eggs and toast for breakfast!

Maybe this one would do?


As a fellow fig-harvesting vegetarian, I also recommend cutting them in half, pressing a walnut in each half and topping with a slice of pecorino. Also, they will all ripen at once pretty much (we get a few in late July/August, but most ripen in early September), so consider sharing your bounty with the fig-deprived. Finally, if you know someone who has some experience canning, Epicurious has a fig jam recipe that is figs, sugar, lemon zest, and brandy. Delicious!

Playing the pessimist here but the sodium level is so high for this tasty sauce that it will be something I admire from afar.

You don't use much!

Can't find the recipe but I love swiss chard cooked with feta, onion and pine nuts in a frying pan. I use both the stems and the leaves, and cook the stems first (chopped). The stems get a real sweetness to them and the feta and pine nuts add nice flavor contrast.

Ah, in my family, we call that the "mus-squirt." Just shake the bottle really hard, cap side down, and squeeze (over the plate or sink if you're still nervous).

Joe, I'm the OP who plunked the watermelon on top of the chips - when you said you'd be tempted to add cheese and broil, did you mean just on top of the chips, or on top of the salsa/chip mix that another chatter described? Thanks.

I meant the latter, but now that you mention it, just doing it on the chips themselves could work nicely, of course. And then salsa on top. Like baked nachos.

I would not have thought I would like Swiss chard raw until I tried making a salad recipe from Ian Knauer's The Farm that calls for the chard to be cut into very thin ribbons. The salad is dressed with an apple cider vinaigrette that has shallot, garlic, and a sliced hot pepper in it. The salad also calls for shredded fresh mozzarella, but it would also be fine (and vegan) without it. The salad covers multiple flavor bases, while the very fine shredding of the leaves minimizes any strong flavor from the greens.

I just got a flat of tomatoes and was planning on making a bunch of marinara and canning it to give me my fresh tomato fix this winter. Canning sort of scares me though. Does the oven sealing method you mentioned work for other types of canning or just for jam? If so, can you give a brief primer?

This technique is frowned upon by purists, but considered safe by a lot of us home canners for something like jam, because the fruit is acidic and there's so much sugar included. With tomatoes, which require more care to make sure they're acidic enough/etc., I wouldn't do it, no. Make sure you read up on canning tomatoes -- look at the Ball site for more info.

What are the values of using sea salt over other salts?

Sea salt tastes...sea saltier. Does that make sense? It has trace minerals that you don't find in mined salts. And it most likely will not contain added iodine. 

It starts next week. We've missed the boat on pre-stocking the freezer. We will have a microwave, toaster oven, grill, and can even bust out the Coleman stove. So cooking won't be a problem, but clean-up will. Any suggestions other than paper plates and Whole Foods take-out?

You have the makings of a pretty good set of appliances. You could set up one of those portable/garden-hose hooked up outdoor portable sinks made by Coleman or some outdoor company that I can't quite remember. Or you could give packet cooking a try on the grill and in the toaster oven, either with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Good luck! 

Well, you've stacked us, rolled us lengthwise and sliced us into thin strips, then stirred us into a salad, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's, and thanks to David and Carrie and Maura for helping us answer them.

Now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about what to do with a flurry of figs will get a signed copy of "The Washington Post Cookbook." The chatter who has British relatives visiting and needs recipes that can morph for vegetarians and meat eaters will get "Vegetables Please." Send you mailing info to Becky at, and we'll get you your books!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading.

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy Food editor Bonnie Benwick, Spirits columnist Carrie Allan and editorial aide Becky Krystal. Guests: Food section contributor David Hagedorn; Weekend staff writer Maura Judkis, who wrote this week about mumbo sauce.
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