Awfully Pretty

Cooking for the refugees this weekend, I made a Venezuelan slaw to go with the pulled pork and arepas. It’s funny — it’s only in recent years that I’ve gotten to actually like this kind of thing, but now I think it makes the sandwich so much better. Although admittedly, this was a little mild for my tastes — I’d punch up the lime juice AND add a hefty dose of green chili.

This is the recipe I used, but I bet you can find better ones:…/14115-black-bean-arepas-with…

It is awfully pretty, though!

Sweet Potato Fillings

One of the suggested fillings for Venezuelan arepas is sweet potato, which seems to be typically sliced and then just sautéed on the stovetop until cooked. That takes a while stirring, though, especially if you’re cooking in bulk for a large crowd.

I ended up roasting them instead (toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, spread on a foil-lined sheet pan and roast at 400F in a pre-heated oven for about 15 minutes), which freed up my time to cook other things while they were going — when making large quantities (this is 8 sweet potatoes), roasting is a huge boon to efficiency.

One of the things I learned when working on the Sri Lankan cookbooks is that relatively few of our dishes involve roasting, which makes sense if you think about it — in a tropical country, even if you had an oven (which a lot of village folks didn’t, I suspect), you wouldn’t want to run it at high heat for very long! So pan-frying makes sense.

And the result is a little different, of course, so I can’t claim this is completely authentic to Venezuelan cuisine, but hopefully it’s close enough for happy taste buds. I thought it was delicious, and a really excellent pairing for the pulled pork. My kids still don’t like sweet potatoes, which bewilders me — I’ll convert them someday, though!

Queen With Beautiful Curves

Reina Pepiada is a Venezuelan chicken salad traditionally served with arepas — apparently the name means ‘queen with beautiful curves,’ so that’s nice. 🙂

It’s a pretty typical chicken salad, I think, except that it includes mashed avocado, which gives a creamy lusciousness to it overall. It comes together quickly — poach the chicken in water for 20 minutes, let cool and shred it (you can do it with two forks or your hands, but I think it’s easiest in the food processor in a few short pulses — just don’t overdo). Combine with diced red onion, mayo, lime juice, avocado, parsley, salt and pepper to taste.

I’m not sure if it’s okay to sit around for long, even chilled — I’d worry that the avocado would start browning, though perhaps the lime juice is enough to keep that from happening? I didn’t want to risk it, so I prepped through to the avocado and cilantro last night, and then finished it just before taking it over to the refugees. I thought it was pretty yummy — would make it again for a party. Though I’d add hot sauce next time! I tried it on white bread too, and it was tasty!


Seen here stuffed in a mini arepa, just the right size for a snack for me. We increased the recipe, so this was 4 lbs. of chicken thighs for $20. You can make it with breast if you prefer, of course; I just usually use thighs because they’re more flavorful and moist.

A New Recipe for Pulled Pork

Cooking for the Venezuelan refugees again today — tried a new recipe for pulled pork — delicious.

This is a pretty frugal option for feeding a meat-loving crowd — 4 pounds of bone-in pork for $15. I only did a double recipe of this (instead of quadrupling to feed 40), because I was also planning on a chicken dish.…

In theory, I’ll be making arepas to accompany them; we’ll see how it goes. 🙂

Clearing Out My Phone Photos

Just clearing out my phone photos a bit — this is from a few weeks ago, making lunch for my SLF and Serendib teams. We do most of our work online, but I think it really helps getting together in person once in a while.

Salmon green curry, gado-gado (Indonesian spicy peanut sauce with a mix of raw and cooked vegetables), my rose ice cream with pomegranate molasses. I have a little bit of rose ice cream left — I think I might try making elderberry ice cream next…

A Little Overboard

Kavi’s had a bit of a stomach bug the last two days and hasn’t been eating much and it’s made me a little anxious because if I love you and you’re not eating well and I can’t feed you, I can’t think straight…

(but I try to keep all that to myself so my anxieties doesn’t spill over onto her and make her anxious)

…so when she finally looked up from the TV and asked if we had avocados (yes) and if I could make her avocado toast, I may have gone a little overboard.

(I asked her which one she liked best: tomato, bell pepper, parsley, flake salt — she liked them all equally, which is not helpful. Oh well.)

Cafe Nova

As part of my birthday week celebrations, and since we were up near the area anyway (taking the kids to Foster Beach), I finally stopped by the new Sri Lankan-owned restaurant, Cafe Nova. Their regular menu is a mix of Indian and Sri Lankan dishes, so you can get samosas, if you like (and they even have nasi goreng, so a little Indonesian too).

I went for the Sri Lankan, of course, and I’m delighted to report that it was very tasty. Kottu paratha, chicken mustard curry, lentil curry, all delicious.

There’s apparently a Sri Lankan buffet on Sunday afternoons, so I really need to get over there sometime soon. It’s a bit of a hike from Oak Park — 45-75 minutes, depending on traffic, but maybe Sundays wouldn’t be so bad.

Chicago folks in the area, PLEASE try them out if this appeals to you at all. I’ve lived in the Midwest for two decades, with the closest Sri Lankan restaurant eight hours away in Minnesota. I’d really like this place to survive and thrive — they have plans to open more of them, but first, this one has to succeed. Check them out!

Their FB page:

6431 N. Sheridan Road., on the Loyola campus, near Evanston.

Carne Mechada and Fruit Salad

Kevin did most of the cooking for the Venezuelan refugee lunch on Friday, while I was at the beach with the kids. He made rice and beans, but the main entree was carne mechada, a Venezuelan shredded beef dish.

Typically it’s made with skirt or flank steak, but since we were quadrupling the recipe (to feed about 40), I picked up a cheaper cut of meat, brisket, instead. About $50 ($5.98 / lb at Wild Fork), so a good option for feeding a (non-veg) crowd.

Brisket takes an hour or so longer to cook, so you do have to allow for that, and the end result is a little drier, Kevin says? But I thought it was still quite tasty.

We also did a big fruit salad; I put in avocado, which they may not do in Venezuela? But we do in Sri Lanka, and it’s delicious — I usually do a lime-honey dressing to go with it. Hope they liked it! I’m guessing they don’t have a lot of access to fresh fruit right now. 🙁

Recipe for Carne Mechada:

Pollo Guisado

I admit, I haven’t been really paying much attention to the Venezuelan refugee situation. I don’t always follow the news, and especially in the summer, when I’m not teaching, I’m not generally listening to NPR on a commute, etc.

I’d seen a few comments on local community groups, but it was only when I saw that someone had set up a meal train for a group of about 42 migrants currently being housed at a police station just a few blocks away (locals: on Madison, just over the border at Austin, PS 15), that I noticed that there was a crisis happening nearby. So, without knowing much except that there were refugees that needed food, and I had time to cook, I signed up for a slot in the meal train.


I wasn’t sure what I would make at first — the organizers give some guidance, but there’s a lot of leeway in there. (You can even order pizza to be delivered, if you’re not up to cooking, but want to help.) At first I was thinking Sri Lankan would be easiest, and a nice sort of bridge between my culture and theirs — but then I thought, no.

They’re refugees. They’re tired and scared and trying to entertain small children on the little stretch of concrete in front of the parking pad. They can’t go far for work because when a refugee org. manages to find housing for them, the buses come to pick people up, and if they’re not there when the buses come, at irregular and unpredictable times, they’re out of luck.

They have to be exhausted and frustrated and there isn’t much I can do about any of that, but I know if I were in that situation, one thing I would want is home food. Not necessarily every meal, but at least once in a while? Something familiar, something delicious, something that tastes like what I used to eat when I had my own kitchen, access to my pots and pans and spices. Something comforting.


So that simplified my decision — I’d make Venezuelan food for them. Not that I’ve ever cooked Venezuelan food before, but surely some dishes would be easy enough. At first, I thought I could try to make stuffed arepas, and then I thought, hm, let’s not set ourselves up with a hard task that might lead to failure. I’ve never made arepas before — maybe trying to make them for 42 for the first time isn’t the smartest plan.

I settled on Venezuelan chicken stew for my main dish, pollo guisado. Reasonably affordable (I used two packages of Costco chicken — and my groceries for the meal overall were about $100, which is not bad for feeding 42 people) and straightforward to cook. Much like any chicken stew I might make, though the addition of olives lent an interesting note.

The trickiest part was figuring out how to cook a giant batch with the pots and pans I had on hand. I was quadrupling the recipe — thankfully, it turned out that a double-batch fit in each of the bigger pots I had, so that was pretty manageable in the end.

I seared all the chicken (tossed in salt and pepper) first, then set it aside. Then in one pot, sautéed the onions & garlic, added canned tomatoes and spices and chopped olives, let that cook for a little bit.

Then I took my big ladle and spooned half of that mixture into the other pot. Which made room to add the chicken in, and the potatoes, and the carrots. Then it was just cooking it down, checking the salt (no need for more salt with those olives, it turned out!) and pepper. I thought the end result tasted pretty good — not as good as abuela makes, I’m sure, but not bad for a first try!

All very straightforward, maybe 90 minutes of cooking total? I put the finished dish into two foil half-trays. Kevin had already made a big batch of seasoned black beans, filling another foil half-tray, so I was pretty confident that we had a good amount of main dish protein on hand. But there was going to be more, of course. I couldn’t stop there… (see next post)

Pollo Guisado recipe:…/

An article explaining the Venezuelan refugee situation in Chicago:…/more-than-25-of…/