Book Review: “Seafood” by Johanna Harlen

Review by Marie-Hélène Fasquel for Readers’ Favorite (5 stars)

Seafood by Johanna Harlen is a fabulous recipe book. Beautifully illustrated, it shares a love of art, not only a love of food. It is comprehensive and starts perfectly for beginners with a mayonnaise recipe. The author manages to mix various types of guide books into one: personal development, recipe, and a travel book as it makes you travel to the beach and taste exotic food. This cookbook shares the love of cooking and eating with French people and that is probably why I was delighted to discover it.
Seafood by Johanna Harlen is a gem of a cookbook. I will definitely treasure it. I appreciated Johanna’s introduction to seafood and sustainability, as well as her heart-warming dedication to a Mexican chef. Her text is relatable and personal, which is essential in our world in crisis. This is not just another recipe book. It is a guide that will help you ponder and reflect about life generally speaking as well as about what we eat. It is also all about humanity, enjoying food together, and love too (as Johanna Harlen’s son is a chef). My favorite recipes are the “West Indies Fish Stew”, “Paratha”, and “Blackened Mahi Tacos”. I love that this book caters to all the needs of beginner cooks but also experienced ones. It explores basic sauces for instance and easy-to-make meals. It includes all types of dishes: main meals, sandwiches, desserts, and so much more. Thank you, Johanna, for this amazing book and for the different variations on the basic recipes you offer. I warmly recommend this guide.

Review by Asher Syed for Readers’ Favorite (5 stars)

Seafood by Johanna Harlen is a full-color cookbook that zeroes in on the delights of the sea, complete with crisp and glossy photography by both the author and her son, Chef Craig. The cookbook begins with an overview of Harlen’s inspiration and how the composition came to be. Readers and aspiring seafood home chefs are then given a spectacularly detailed recipe collection that is broken down into several parts and includes items most might not anticipate in a seafood cookbook, such as cocktails, alongside a bounty of dishes as wide-ranging as the sea itself. These include recipes such as conch fritters and fish pies, lemon coconut squares, and mojitos.
I feel like I hit the cookbook lottery with Seafood by Johanna Harlen for a couple of reasons. The first is that I live in the British Isles and seafood is not only one of the most plentiful proteins available but also because I am South Asian and was wonderfully surprised to find dishes that tasted like home to me. The first thing I made, before I’d even gone through Seafood in its entirety, was Paratha. For those who do not know, it is a pastry-like flaky ‘tortilla’ that we use as a ‘scooper’, as my wife likes to say. The recipe is simple but the execution has always eluded me, and Harlen made my heart and belly happy when I finally made my first homemade Paratha! Another we quickly whipped up was the Mauritian fish samosas, perfectly seasoned exactly as the recipe called for and so good that we made them two nights in a row. The recipes are perfect. The writing is exceptional. The photography is smart and, overall, this is a cookbook worthy of pride of place on any countertop.

Review by Melinda Facal for Readers’ Favorite (5 stars)

Seafood by Johanna Harlen is a joyous celebration of food from the sea and shares the various and delicious ways that it can be prepared. Stunning and vibrant photographs taken by the author and her son accompany each recipe. Along with seafood, there are recipes for different kinds of bread, cocktails, desserts, sandwiches, and more. There is something for every cook from a delightfully simple recipe for homemade mayonnaise to instructions on how to cook an entire octopus. The author’s passion for food and creativity as a chef is evident in these pages. Harlen shows how a routine tuna fish sandwich can be elevated by serving it on homemade rolls. The author shares how food can evoke memories and how it keeps her connected to her mother while they are geographically separated.
Johanna Harlen’s Seafood is a beautiful cookbook filled with many delectable recipes. Readers will enjoy flipping through the pages of this cookbook and will be inspired to create by the plentiful recipes and gorgeous photography. This delightful cookbook is a feast for the senses. The recipes are presented in a clear and easy-to-follow format which novice cooks will especially appreciate. Cooks in search of new recipes will be very pleased to find this collection as it offers many diverse recipes such as fried avocado and deconstructed key lime pie. After reading this bountiful collection, fans of seafood will be craving many of these meals. This is a highly recommended cookbook that is sure to delight and inspire.

Review by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers’ Favorite (5 stars)

Cedar planked salmon with minced ginger, garlic, and maple syrup – among other things. I’ve made variations of salmon with maple syrup and I want to try this concoction. These mouth-watering recipes are to be found in Seafood by Johanna Harlen. There are many more to tempt my seafood-hungry taste buds. Like Celery Root and Apple Salad with smoked salmon, a refreshing salad combing three of my favorite ingredients: celery root, apples, and smoked salmon. And then there are the side dishes and foods that go well with different seafood main courses. Don’t forget the dessert! A great meal needs a sweet grand finale, one that entices the taste buds as much as the seafood entrées that preceded it. Like Key Lime Pie, or better yet, Coconut Lime Pie, and a tongue cleanser like Vanilla Bean Ice Cream always fits the bill. Then, there are the stories about the food being served. After all, where there is good food, there is bound to be a good story and a classic chef who deserves his or her ode to commemorate his or her special creations.
Johanna Harlen’s cookbook, Seafood, is a delectable treat in itself. With a fascinating introduction to lead the reader into the contents, the author unveils a wide selection of culinary delights, all featuring seafood or foods that complement seafood. The book is well organized, beginning with individual sections on the different types of seafood, followed by a section on sandwiches and wraps, side dishes, desserts, and cocktails. Each recipe is clearly presented and easy to follow, complete with some side suggestions and sometimes a bit of background on the recipe. Each recipe also includes a stunning photograph of how the finished dish should appear (though I’m not sure I can live up to the photographs, they certainly add their tempting flair to the presentation). One of the key elements that met with my approval was the author’s dedication which aboriginals around the world have promoted in the very essence of how they live: “To the rapidly declining bounty of the ocean. May we always remember to keep it sustainable and to show respect for the way we eat.” This is an enticingly beautiful book in so many ways.

Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers’ Favorite (5 stars)

Seafood by Johanna Harlen is a cookbook and photographic food journal about food from the ocean. Harlen explains the backstory of her start-and-stop writing method during the COVID-19 pandemic and those who contributed by way of photography or inspiration, like her son Craig who is a pastry chef in Tel Aviv, and a chef and bartender in Cancún named Azael Flores, who served as the Kentucky resident Harlen’s muse. There are eight recipe chapters: Fish, Crustaceans, Molluscs, Cephalopod, Sandwiches and Wraps, Great Sides, Tropical Desserts, and Tropical Cocktails. Whether a reader is in the mood for Fire Roasted Snapper with Tortillas, African Fish Pancakes with Caviar, a sweet Strawberry Coconut Semi-Freddo, or a refreshing Hawaiian Honeybee cocktail, Harlen has the directions to make them happen with clarity and ease.

Seafood is a perfect cookbook for me as a long-time pescatarian who is easily bored and frequently out of ideas. The internet has a huge wealth of information but I’ve found the best recipes come directly from a good old-fashioned cookbook. Johanna Harlen is a talented photographer and I think the true value of food photography is sometimes lost in the world of social media. Included in all of the recipes, and there are so many, is the Shrimp and Grits with Garlic Bread. I moved from the United States to Europe over a decade ago and some dishes remind me of home with grits being quintessentially American, originating from First Nation/Native American cuisine and eventually becoming a Southern staple. Cajun seasoning is difficult to come by here so a spice mix recipe would have been helpful, but given the volume of recipes included I’m not sure there’d be much space. Highly recommended.

Author’s Note: After I received this review, I created the Cajun seasoning recipe. It is found in the Afterword of the book. Click on the link in the bookstore to purchase from Amazon.

Book Review: “Fresh” by Johanna Harlen

Fresh by Johanna Harlen is an extraordinary cookbook since it incorporates an incredible amount of health information. The pictures are absolutely beautiful and make your mouth water. We would like you to cook for us, Johanna! The dedication is very moving and everything that the author shares about her own reasons for writing these books and about her own life is interesting. The various parts complement each other and we are given thirty days of healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner ideas. What else could we ask for? Fresh is indeed a gem and a book I am going to use regularly (even though I hardly ever use cookbooks!) because my husband’s and my own health do matter to me too! I have already perused most of the recipes and feel inclined to test quite a lot. They are part of an alkaline diet which is based on the idea that replacing acid-forming foods with alkaline foods can improve your health. In fact, we all know that acid-forming foods are bad for us but we always find good reasons (lack of time mostly) not to address this essential issue. Having a whole book of perfect (alkaline) recipes and not having to worry about which types of food we may or may not eat is a real gift and I could not be more grateful to Johanna. I am going to treasure it and advise readers on my blog with pleasure. Thank you so much. We’ll never forget again that ‘we are what we eat.'”-Reviewed By Marie-Hélène Fasquel for Readers’ Favorite

“The first thing that leaps from the page in Fresh is the photography. It is one thing to give good recipes and extol the benefits of fresh food, but to then display them in crisp, full-color detail in a way that makes them impossible not to drool over seals the deal. I have long struggled with a desire to eat better but have fallen short as a self-proclaimed foodie. The offerings rarely appealed to me when presented with a plate full of color and, as a result, I have often suffered the consequences Johanna Harlen describes at the beginning of the book. Two things changed that for me over the past week. The first was Cajun Chicken with Zucchini and the second was a four-year-old asking for another helping of Cauliflower Curry—which I might add is our first ever cauliflower served in our home. Fresh has given me a fresh perspective and a fresh start, and as a family, we are excited to begin a fresh new journey. Fresh by Johanna Harlen is a nutritional guide and cookbook that centers firmly on clean eating as the bedrock of a clean and healthy lifestyle. Harlen begins with the backstory behind the Fresh journey and provides scientific evidence of a body’s response to the food we fuel it with, both positively and negatively. She then delivers an exceptionally comprehensive catalogue of recipes that debunk the myth that clean eating means bland eating. Sweeping across meals, snacks, and delicious treats that range from a Green Veggie Scramble for breakfast to a lunch of Butternut Bruschetta, and on to a dinner of Creamy Broccoli Soup followed by wonderful juicing tips, Harlen guarantees the best of both worlds to tempt the palate. Very highly recommended.”-Reviewed By Jamie Michele for Readers’ Favorite

“Johanna Harlen’s recipe book, Fresh, is the resource to help you start on your journey toward a healthier eating plan. After writing and publishing other healthy cookbooks, like Cooking for Cancer, the author has taken her healthy eating regimen one step further into the field of preventative measures. Her motto is ‘Respect your body. Respect your spirit. Respect your dreams.’ She begins with a brief introduction to her own personal journey with food. Then she provides readers with an extensive introduction to what is needed for a healthy pantry, which, of course, leads to a healthy body. As she discusses the various essentials to include in the pantry, the author lists the benefits of each food, while also discussing the negative effects of other foods of which we likely consume far too much, particularly processed foods. Then we get to the recipes. Accompanied by spectacular illustrations which will have the reader’s mouth watering in anticipation, each recipe is clearly outlined with detailed preparation guidelines. The recipe portion of the book is divided into the three meal categories with an added section for quick makes and energy drinks. This book is not only a useful guide to healthier eating but also a pleasure to study.”-Reviewed By Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers’ Favorite

Fresh by Johanna Harlen opens a world of food that looks beautiful, encourages healthy living, and allows you to explore new tastes. The purpose of this cookbook is to teach how to have an alkaline diet for general health and to instruct her readers about deficiencies in their diet. It is also an extension of her book, Cooking for Cancer. Using food to get nutrition from your diet is one of the best ways to optimize your health. This cookbook is not designed as a weight loss plan but more of a way to change your lifestyle of processed foods. The author teaches about clean eating and its importance. With pantry recommendations, you can prepare a foundation for each meal for a month. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the recipes in Fresh and trying them out. Johanna Harlen outlines why you should eat healthily, then offers the recipes to back what she teaches. This cookbook is laid out well, and there are plenty of meals to alternate your menu. There are beautiful photos for most of the recipes to inspire you to give them a try. My favorite recipes included the fried Brussel sprouts and the chicken veggie meatloaf. By experimenting, I found I liked foods I had always avoided because of their stigma. The author includes beets in many of her recipes, and I am looking forward to trying some of those recipes. Overall, this cookbook inspires or rekindles a love for whole foods. I’ve made many references to this book for ideas to tweak recipes I already use and to motivate me to try new foods.”-Reviewed By Peggy Jo Wipf for Readers’ Favorite

“In Fresh, Johanna Harlen brings to life an original cookbook filled with explanations as to why certain foods should be cut out of our lives. A cookbook that begins with a life lesson is invariably a gift for humanity. Lives are and can be saved by food; the problem is that most of us don’t realize this until much later in life. If not every aspect, almost every aspect of the effects and advantages of correct food is present in this book. The recipes included are incredible looking. It includes breakfast, smoothies, lunch, two quick and easy sections, dinner, condiments, and juices. All the recipes and the pictures accompanying them look marvelously healthy, and not in the sense that makes you want to eat a hamburger. They are compelling and inspiring. I have been a health freak for a long time; thanks to this awesome book, I am now more of a freak, although you could say a more educated health freak. Food is the fuel and the cause of diseases in our bodies. Some people don’t think that what they eat, and with what regularity they eat certain foods, can cause severe diseases and harm their lives. Everything is explained so that everyone without a medical, biological, or nutrition background can understand everything stated in the book. The recipes could even be discarded and you would learn so much about each food group and its nutrients. If this book does not change your lifestyle, it is time to do some thinking. I want to take a couple of lines to mention and thank the author for dedicating a space in her book to emotional eating. I cannot stress enough the importance of emotional eating; it masquerades as hunger and as something that will help us; most of those comfort foods are unhealthy options. Food and its quality are more important and pivotal in our lives than one dares to think.”-Reviewed By Carolina Restrepo for Readers’ Favorite

Smoking Cocktails

The smoking gun

This is not the type of gun where you pull the trigger, and it kills someone. This is the type of gun where you pull the trigger, and it creates the most amazing flavor. Somewhere along our journey together, my husband gifted me with The Smoking Gun. It has become my favorite kitchen gadget.

I have never seen anyone smoke a cocktail before, so was pleasantly surprised when I walked into Stephanie’s bar, and she was busy smoking cocktails. I was fascinated and had to have the Smoked Old Fashioned immediately.

So began my relationship with Stephanie, mixologist extraordinaire. She was smoking those cocktails with wood chips that was left over from building the restaurant’s beautiful bar counter. Now the story got even more intriguing. I did not feel like going home.

That first night we sat at the bar, and I drank smoked Old Fashioned until I regretted it the next morning. The regret did not last long. I decided there and then that I will drink my way through the cocktail menus. That is, three cocktail menus. I drank the dinner cocktails. I drank the brunch cocktails, and then I drank the new cocktails that Stephanie designed that did not even have a printed menu yet. One evening, when I did not know what I wanted to drink, she asked me if I would like to try the new cocktails.

“Of course!” I exclaimed, and we kicked off with a smoked Mai Tai. She was starting to know me too well. Anything smoked is my Achilles heel. Oh well. I was not going to drink the coffee drinks, but in the end my rubber arm prevailed, and it got twisted. I drank the coffee drinks too.

But I digress. I wanted to tell you about The Smoking Gun. It is easy to use and quick on the draw, so to speak. I love making cold smoked sour cream the most, and apple wood is my favorite. It is smoother than the hickory and mesquite. I will relent if I must and use cherry wood, but that will only be if I run out of apple wood.

Cold smoke is gentle on delicate foods and the gun is easy to use. You just attach the silicone tube to the front, add some wood chips in the top chamber, tamper it, switch it on and light the wood chips in the chamber with a long match. The smoke will immediately pour out and you can smoke your food and drinks. To smoke, place the smoking tube inside the container that has your food or drink. Once filled with smoke, cover it for approximately twenty seconds. Do not keep the smoke trapped for too long or your food and drink will become bitter.

There is no doubt in my mind you will be hooked as I am. The Smoking Gun is available on Amazon for purchase, but if you would like the perfectly smoked cocktail, go, and see Stephanie at Local Honey Restaurant.

Find them on Facebook or on their website Local Honey Restaurant | Local Honey Restaurant (

Ode to a Southern Chef

Eat. Drink. Repeat. Chef James Shields. If you have seen any of my other books you will know that chefs light me up, so I was happy to find another chef passionate about his food. He is left-handed. The experts say left-handed people are artists. It shows in his food. He is a culinary artist of the southern kind and beyond.

Chef James is a kind, bear of a man with a deep baritone voice and life shining out of his eyes. His whole disposition says, “I can make good southern food and then some.” He can. He can fry a chicken like nobody’s business and when we told him he is now officially our chicken guy, he said, “Well, then I will have to bring out my guitar and I will be your guitar guy too.” A man of many talents.

It would be a mistake to think that he only cooks southern food and that he only fries and smokes. He makes an incredibly beautiful, refined dessert. Just look at the brownies. It is cookbook front page worthy, and it inspired me to write.

Chef James has been cooking for twenty years. Thirty-six years when you count the years he cooked for his family as a young man. He is a self-taught chef that went to the culinary school of life. His startup story is verbatim that of my son Craig’s. Craig started out washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant, becoming a delivery driver, and getting promoted to cooking on the wok and through many years of struggles he became the executive chef in a prominent restaurant. This too, is Chef James’ exact story. I nearly fell off my dining chair!

After some conversation with Chef James, I found out the reason why he is so good with chicken. He would buy chickens and practice to debone them, then stuff them and put them back together so that they looked once more like a whole chicken. This is culinary art.

I am excited, and I look forward to do a photoshoot with him because simple southern food is made great by him and I would love to see the process. Well…simple?

I am a naturalized American that knows nothing about southern cuisine because I lean more towards cooking exotic food. As soon as I started researching the recipes, I learned that southern food is not as simple as I thought. It is intricate and unique, yet it is comfort food at its finest. The chef makes the dishes interesting with the right use of spices. The grits and grits cakes are to die for, and his desserts are sublime. Although the food appears to be straight forward, the minute you take your first bite you can taste that something is different. The flavors are complex and the ingredient they work with the most is love. It is this ingredient that takes you beyond the first bite, wanting to keep returning for more.

Chef James and I share a passion for food and books. This leads to interesting conversations and I just want to keep on talking with him every time I see him. It was bad for him that because of COVID, he lost his job as a prominent chef in Wisconsin, but it was good for us that he found the job in our small town of London, Kentucky. We appreciate you chef. Thank you.

Operation Medusa in Afghanistan

Ground Beef Dumplings

A lot has gone on in Afghanistan. It has always been volatile and I can’t write about all of it, but I would like to write about one of it, since I am dedicating the Afghan food to my friend Jay, who was the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group Operations Officer for Operation Medusa.

The 2006 Operation Medusa was a crucial battle that may have saved Afghanistan from the Taliban. This was the largest combat operation ever led by NATO, the battle of Panjwayi in the Kandahar province. It was also the bloodiest and most decisive operations.

This area was the birthplace of the Taliban decades earlier and has become Afghanistan’s most deadly area. With Operation Medusa, it would turn even deadlier. The Taliban had secretly congregated for a full-scale attack and to keep the Taliban from slaughtering NATO troops, Operation Medusa was put in place. This operation would keep the Taliban from laying siege to Kandahar and it would restore the south of the country to a newly formed democratic Afghan government.

According to Major General David Fraser, Canadian in charge, the operation was an opportunity to buy time, as the Taliban had changed their tactics at this time from small groups into one large fighting unit. The mission of Medusa was of course not to lose, and it has set up the peace process to keep on going, but the odds were against them.

The Taliban knew their terrain and they had drilled landmines into every piece of ground they could find and dug IEDs into every road they knew. They stocked guns and ammunition in every local house, school and mud hut they could lay claim to. Worst of all, they were protected by corrupt officials.

Despite suffering a brutal battlefield defeat, the Taliban retained their presence in Kandahar province and did not lose their will to fight, leading to the subsequent Operation Falcon Summit. Nonetheless, Operation Medusa was at the time the most significant land battle ever undertaken by NATO.

Kandahar is more than just symbolically significant in the continuing fight for southern Afghanistan. It is the key to central and northern Afghanistan and Panjwayi is the key to Kandahar. The Panjwayi District, beginning 35 kilometers southwest of the city encompasses the Arghandab River valley.

The river is part of an extensive watershed that creates a broad, fertile region in the desert of southwest Afghanistan. The valleys provide natural lines of communication between Kandahar and Taliban safe havens in Pakistan. Residents of Panjwayi raise grapes, corn, and other crops making it the breadbasket of Kandahar and the surrounding country.

Kandahar is known for Pashtun cuisine. A specialty of Pashtun cuisine, Chopan Kabob is made with lamb meat roasted over a traditional Afghan charcoal brazier called mankal. It was named after sheep herders who used to rub chunks of lamb with plenty of salt, skewer them on twigs or small branches, and roast the meat over a fire while watching their flocks.

Today, Chopan Kabob is a popular Afghani street food and can be found in numerous kebab street stalls called dukan-e-kebabi. The delicious Afghan lamb skewers are seasoned with sumac or gard-e-ghooreh, sour grape powder, and commonly served with naan bread.

The Afghan cuisine is of course not limited to just this one dish. The national dish of Afghanistan is Kabuli Pulao, which is a special occasion food in Afghanistan. It is a rice dish made with lamb and sweet and warm spice and is named after Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

The dish comprises of a two-step cooking process that yields fluffy and flavorful grains with excellent texture. The cooking process isn’t particularly difficult, but it does take time to complete. These steps can be done ahead of time and when you are ready, you may just layer all of it and complete the cooking on your stove top.

I love dumplings and my recipes from Afghanistan will not be complete without Mantu, the delicious ground beef dumplings and sauce that I could eat all day long. I include a recipe for a Middle East Relish that goes well with everything.

In Afghanistan most vegetables are cooked in their own juices or some kind of broth for a long time. Crunchy vegetables are a rarity, but Afghanis do eat salad (salata) and they use fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Salata is always light and crunchy, making it a perfect counterpoint to Afghan cuisine’s heavier dishes. Some Afghan cooks consider it a point of pride when the diced vegetables are small and uniform in size. This salad makes a great palate cleanser if you intend to eat dessert.

The recipes for the above mentioned dishes will appear in my book under construction, Rustic.


Rustic in Syria

Beet Dip

April 23, 2020. As I write this, we are in full COVID-19 lockdown. There is a woman towards the end of this story that sets an incredible example to all of us during this.

As my son so eloquently put it earlier this week, “I feel you about missing eating in restaurants. I’m sick of my own food…”

He verbalized more vehemently my own euphemized statement, “I’m completely at peace, but I so miss eating at restaurants and I’m really tired of my own food all the time.”

I feel like going out and I feel like off the beaten track food travel, preferably in a dangerous location. All of which is of course impossible right now. So, I’ve decided I’m going to bring Syria to our table. It is a country at war, and they make do with limited ingredients, and I will use those limited ingredients to show there is beauty in limitations.

I’m cooking from Syria as a tribute to my son who fought the war there as part of the Israeli army. Through the food I will celebrate his scars as symbols of victory. It is personal to both of us. We can’t travel there, but we can bring the ravaged beauty of its food into our kitchens.

My food today was inspired by a book called Our Syria by Itab Azzam and Dina Mousawi. Eight women tell their story in this book. Strong Syrian women who thrive and survive in their kitchens despite great adversity. They set an incredible example for me, especially when I just think about complaining. When I read their stories of suffering, I suddenly realize how many things we can be thankful for.

One woman grabbed my attention. Her name is Tahani. Thirty-six months under siege had brought her close to starvation. She had a brand-new baby. When news got out, women begged her to breast feed their babies. She got both her babies, and herself through months of starvation. I bet that puts the fight over toilet paper in new perspective, and that the depth of the recipes that follow will sweep you away to those inaccessible, dangerous shores and that you will be filled with gratefulness for the abundance of what we have.

About my Syrian menu:

Mutabal Shwandar (Beet dip). This has been around in Lebanon for many years and has since traveled into the Damascus restaurants. The rich color brightens up any table. The recipe calls for roasting the beets, but I prefer to steam them as this captures the fresh earthy taste beautifully. If you prefer to steam, steam them in an electric food steamer according to the steamer instructions for 45 minutes. Let them cool slightly before peeling. If they are still warm, they will peel easier.

Zahra wa Kamoon (Roasted cauliflower with cumin). Cauliflower is used a lot in Syrian home cooking. It can be bland on its own, but the way Syrians combine spice, it turns into a delicacy. This dish is great for vegans and anybody on a low carb diet.

Shorbet Addas (Red lentil soup). If you are eating out for Iftar during Ramadan in Syria, any restaurant will give you this soup without you having to order it. It is an essential step in breaking your fast. It is the ultimate comfort food.

Mendi (Smoked rice) This recipe originated in Yemen. It is cooked underground using charcoal, which gives it its smokiness. It is usually served with a hot salsa.

Bamia (Lamb stew). This is a much-loved dish in the Euphrates area, where okra is cultivated. The lamb is usually part of an okra stew, but since I couldn’t find okra this time (our shelves are bare), I just used the lamb. It is no less delicious and perhaps I even prefer it without the okra. I will write the full recipe with the okra, but if you prefer it without the okra, you may just omit it. I serve it with the smoked rice on the side.

Samaka Harra (Spiced Fish). Despite the civil war that broke out in 2011, the beautiful coastal city of Latakia kept its coastal cuisine. It has been a site of protest activities and military restrictions limiting movement in and out of the city, but fish remained a common addition to the dinner table in these parts of the country. This oven baked whole fish is packed with juicy, luscious flavors.

Recipes will follow in my book under construction, Rustic.

Syrian cuisine is a diffusion of the cultures of civilizations that settled in Syria over time, particularly during and after the Islamic era beginning with the Arab Umayyad conquest, then the eventual Persian-influenced Abbasids and ending with the strong influences of Turkish cuisine, resulting from the coming of the Ottoman Turks. It is in many ways similar to other Levantine cuisines, mainly Lebanese, Palestinian, Jordanian and Iraqi.

Many Syrians alive today was born under French rule and they are masters of adversity. Despite the turmoil, they are fighting to keep their culture alive via food. They will let loose with sugar, caffeine, herbs and spices. A Syrian mother with barely a cent to rub together will miraculously produce six or seven dishes bursting with flavor. It consists of rolling vine leaves, frying huge batches of eggplant, finely chopping parsley. Away from the world economy, Syrians have always made their own yogurt, grown their own olives for oil and roses for rose water.

The food culture of Syria is vibrant. They don’t stint on flavor. When it is sweet, it is very sweet. When it is spicy, it is very spicy. They ladle the pomegranate and lemon molasses and they like their garlic raw.

They may all cook the same dish, but they all cook it in a different way, each with her own special ingredient or method. Each with her own special way of making a traditional dish.

Syrian food is glorious. It honors the brave women who fight back against the destruction of their homes with the only weapons they have: Pots and pans.

Dips and mezze dishes are the bedrock of Syrian food. No matter where you eat there, you cannot skip the mezze on your way to the main course. They’re not merely starters, but they’re just as much the focus as is what comes later. Cooking a single main course is pretty much unheard of. A proper meal consists of loads of dishes and you will always be armed with pieces of freshly baked bread.

Forget about what you think or feel when someone mentions Syria. Celebrate what this country does best. Cook and eat. The power of food connects Syrians to their past at a time where their culture is most at threat.



“At the souk, I met a woman named Mona al-Dorr selling her man’oushe, a puffed flatbread speckled with za’atar that she had made at home for years before finding an outlet at the souk. I saw Nada Saber, who was selling jars of hot pink pickled turnips, known as mouneh, or Lebanese preserves. There were Muslim women alongside Christian women, working together to highlight the culinary traditions of Lebanon.” -Bon Appetit Magazine, May 2019.

I love how food brings us together. It helps us set aside our differences and beliefs in order to just come together to eat, love and be tolerant. You can’t eat with someone and be angry at them at the same time.

A while back I watched a documentary on the foodie scene in Beirut. I couldn’t believe my eyes and was desperate to experience that scene. This of course, will not be possible, so when this month’s Bon Appetit magazine arrived on my doorstep with Lebanon’s food inside, I decided to bring Lebanon into my own USA kitchen. What a wonderful mix of ethnicity, simplicity, complexity and intense flavor. At first when I looked at the pictures and recipes, I thought it was going to be intricate, but it turned out to be much simpler than I anticipated. The prep time is lengthy and it took me about two days to prepare, marinade and execute. I share the recipes from Bon Appetit magazine with you below. The photos are my own.

Remember to join us at our dessert book launch on May 25th, 5-9pm at Lighthouse Coffee in Midlothian, TX. There is a Lebanese Orange Coconut Cake in the book made by Chef Craig, the dessert creator and photographer. Check us out on

(The following recipes are courtesy of the May 2019 Bon Appetit Magazine.)

Crispy Pita with Chickpeas and Yogurt (Fattet Hummus)

4 SERVINGS. Typically eaten for breakfast this creamy, crunchy dish also pairs well with savory dishes come dinnertime.

2 garlic cloves, divided

15 oz can chickpeas, rinsed

Tbsp. plus 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

8″-diameter pitas, split in half, torn into 1″ pieces

2 cups plain whole milk yogurt (not Greek)

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter

½ cup chopped cashews

Sumac (for serving; optional)

INGREDIENT INFO: Sumac, a tart, citrusy spice generally sold in ground form, can befound at MiddleEastern markets, specialty food stores, and online.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Smash 1 garlic clove with the side of a chef’s knife and combine in medium saucepan with chickpeas and 2 Tbsp. oil. Pour in cold water to cover chickpeas. Season with salt and bring just barely to a simmer. As soon as you see bubbles, remove pan from heat and set aside. Spread out pitas on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining 1/2 cup oil and toss to coat; seasonwith salt. Bake, tossing halfway through, until golden brown and· crisp, 8- 10 minutes. Remove pita chips from oven and set aside. Finely grate remaining garlic into a small bowl. Add yogurt and lemon juice and mix w ell to combine; season with salt. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add cashews and cook, stirring, until nuts and butter are golden brown, about 5 minutes. Divide pita chips among bowls and scoop some lemon yogurt over. Drain chickpeas and divide evenly among bowls, then spoon over some of the toasted cashews and brown butter. Sprinkle with sumac just before serving if desired.



1 cup walnuts (I couldn’t find walnuts, so used pistachios. Turned out delish)

3 large red bell peppers

½ cup fine fresh breadcrumbs

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp. Red chili flakes

1 Tbsp. tahini

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

½ tsp. paprika

2 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses, plus more for drizzling

Kosher salt

INGREDIENT INFO: Pomegranate molasses, a thick pomegranate syrup, can be found at Middle Eastern markets, some supermarkets, and online.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing halfway through, until golden brown and fragrant, 8-10 minutes. Let cool. Pick out a few walnuts for serving and coarsely chop; set aside. Meanwhile, place a rack in upper third of oven and heat broiler. Broil bell peppers on a rimmed baking sheet, turning occasionally, until skins are charred and flesh is softened, 12- 15 minutes. (Alternatively, you can char over a gas burner on medium­ high, turning occasionally with tongs, 12- 15 minutes.) Transfer bell peppers to a medium bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap so that they steam, 10 minutes (this extends the cooking and makes it easier to remove the skins). Remove skins from bellpeppers. Remove and discard ribs and seeds. Pulse bell peppers, breadcrumbs, oil, chili flakes, tahini, lemon juice,paprika, remaining walnuts, and 2 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses in a food processor until mostly smooth; season muhammara with salt. Transfer muhammara to a small bowl; drizzle with more pomegranate molasses and top with reserved chopped walnuts.

Smoky Eggplant Dip (Eggplant Moutabal)

4 SERVINGS. If you don’t have a grill or a gas stovetop, you can broil the eggplants in the oven, turning occasionally, until charred and tender. They might not end up assmoky, but the final dip will still taste great.

2 medium globe eggplants (about 1¾

1/3 cup tahini

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin oliveoil, plus more for drizzling

Kosher salt

Pomegranate seeds and black sesame seeds (for serving)

Remove grate and prepare a charcoal grill for medium heat (coals should be covered with ash and glowing red with no black remaining). Place eggplants directly on coals and cook, turning occasionally, until skins are completely charred and flesh collapses,15-20 minutes. (Alternatively, you can char over a gas burner on medium-high heat, turning occasionally with tongs, 12- 15 minutes.) Transfer to a colander set over a medium bowl. Let cool 15 minutes. Remove skins from eggplants (it’s okay if some bits of charred skin don’t come off). Transfer flesh to a sieve set over a bowl and let drain 10 minutes. Transfer eggplant flesh to a food processor; add tahini, lemon juice, and 3 Tbsp. oil and process until creamy; season dip with salt. Transfer dip to a bowl and top with pomegranate seeds and black sesame seeds; drizzle with more oil. Dip can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Cabbage Tabbouleh


¼ cup bulgur (not quick-cooking)

¼ medium head of green cabbage, cored, very thinly sliced (about cups)

½ medium white onion, very thinly sliced

2 cups very finely chopped parsley

1 cup mint leaves, torn

1 tsp ground allspice

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt

Fresh green chilis (Optional)

Place bulgur in a small bowl; pour in boiling water to cover by 2”. Let soak until tender, about 50 minutes; drain. Toss cabbage, onion, parsley, mint, allspice and half of the bulgur in a large bowl. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice oer tabbouleh and season with salt; toss again to combine. Transfer tabbouleh to a platter and sprinkle with remaining bulgur. Serve with chilis alongside if desired. They’re meant to add some heat in between bites of the cooling tabbouleh.

Tomato Salad with Pine Nuts and Pomegranate Molasses


1/3 cup chopped golden raisins

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup pine nuts

1 lb. small tomatoes

1/2 small onion, very thinly sliced

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

1 cup basil leaves, torn

2 tbsp pomegranate molasses

INGREDIENT INFO: Pomegranate molasses, a thick pomegranate syrup, can be found at Middle Eastern markets, some supermarkets and online.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine raisins and vinegar in a large bowl; let sit until raisins soften, 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile toast pine nuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing halfway through until golden brown, 5-7 minutes. Let cool. Add pine nuts, tomatoes, red onion and oil to bowl with raisins; season with salt and gently toss to combine. Add basil and toss some more. Transfer salad to a platter and drizzle pomegranate molasses over. 

Grilled Chicken Skewers with Toum (Shish Taouk)

2 SERVINGS. Toum, an intense garlic sauce usually paired with shawarma, is used as both marinade and condiment in this chicken dish.


6 garlic cloves

2 large egg whites

2 Tbs p. fresh lemon juice 1 ½ cups vegetable oil

Kosher salt

Pulse garlic, egg whites, and lemon juice in a food processor until smooth. With motor running, very gradually stream in half of the oil (this will help the emulsion staytogether). Scrape down sides of processor and continue to process, gradually adding remaining oil, until mixture thickens and becomes light and airy (it should cling to a spoon). Season withsalt. Toum can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.


2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 Tbsp. tomato paste

1 Tbsp. ground coriander

3 Tbsp. vegetable oil, plus more for grill

1 ¼ lb. skinless, boneless chicken thighs

Kosher salt

pitas, warmed

Mix lemon juice, tomato paste, coriander , ¼ cup toum, and 3 Tbsp oil in a large bowl to combine. Transfer marinade to

a large resealable plastic bag. Save remaining toum for serving.

Working one at a time, slice chicken thighs in half lengthwise and season generously with salt. Add to bag with marinade, seal bag and massage marinade into chicken. Chill at least 3 hours and up to 12 hours. Let chicken sit at room temperature one hour before grilling. Prepare a grill for medium heat; oil grate. Thread chicken onto skewers. Grill, turning occasionally, until browned and beginning to char in spots, about 10-12 minutes. Serve chicken with toum.

Seven-Spice Grilled Lamb Chops with Parsley Salad


1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (not Greek)

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. paprika

½ tsp. ground cardamom

½ tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. ground nutmeg

12 untrimmed lamb rib chops (about 3 lb.), potteddry

Kosher salt

1 small red onion, very thinly sliced

1 cup coarsely chopped parsley

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 tsp. sumac

INGREDIENT INFO: Sumac, a tart, citrusy spice generally sold in ground form, can be found at Middle Eastern markets, specialty food stores, and online.

Mix yogurt, black pepper, coriander, cumin, paprika,cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Season both sides of lamb chops generously with salt and add to bowl with marinade. Turn lamb in marinade to coat; cover and chill at least 3 hours and up to 12 hours. Let lamb sit at room temperature 1 hour before grilling. Prepare a grill for medium-high heat. Grill lamb to desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium rare. Let rest 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, toss onion, parsley, lemon juice, and sumac with a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Serve lamb chops with parsley salad on top.

Enjoy the delicious food of Lebanon in your kitchen this evening.


CANCUN, Mexico. Day five. My birthday. “Eight dead bodies were found decapitated and dismembered.”

I look around, perplexed. Everything is peaceful. People around us are happy and relaxed. Everyone is smiling. No dead bodies. No guns. No drugs. The media has pulled things out of proportion. Most of all, I’m in a state of bliss because I’m less than arm distance away from a gentle giant. A plankton eating whale shark. I’m swimming my butt off on snorkel, taking photographs. The experience nearly blows my mind and I walk on Cloud 9 all day.

We woke up at sparrow’s fart to catch a bus to the marina where we checked in and boarded a speed boat with a small private group of amazing people. The ride takes just over an hour when our guide yells that they’ve spotted what seems to be about thirty whale sharks. Within minutes we’re in the ocean next to them having a borderline spiritual experience. It is a hard swim to keep up and after three jumps overboard to swim with them we are all breathless with excitement and exhaustion. Giant manta rays arrive as well, but time has sped by and we move to chill in the crystal-clear waters of Playa Norte on tropical Isla Mujeres.

Here our guides cut up fresh fish and make grouper ceviche right there on the boat. The fish is so fresh that I can’t resist eating raw fish all day and that evening I dine on tuna and white fish carpaccio while watching crocodiles in the lagoon as the sun sets on an incredible day.

We were in Cancun for seven days and made the most of it by touring a distillery with tequila flights that made me sleep the whole following day. We spent a day sailing to Isla Mujeres while drinking Mexican champagne (Sol beer), we read on the beach, swam in the ocean with good friends and ate incredible food in incredible locations. We used mind-boggling cheap public transportation everywhere and I danced barefoot in the sand to a Mariachi band that played just for me at El Fish Fritanga. We loved this restaurant so much that we went back four times.

Things in Cancun are reasonably cheap and extremely clean, with the cleanest public rest rooms in the world. This was a surprise for me, as well as a very big deal. The people are amazing, friendly and polite and I felt safe at all times. Even more so than in my home town.

We fell in love with Cancun, so in love that we booked a week on Isla Mujeres for our twentieth wedding anniversary in December. Cancun, you stole my traveler’s heart. I cannot wait to come back.

Follow me on Instagram at johannaharlencooks for some Mexican food photos and for our book’s Instagram photo gallery follow us at tasteofgorgeous1

For additional photos of beautiful Cancun, follow the link below and don’t forget to check out our gorgeous dessert book at

Ode to a Caribbean Chef

GREEN BAY, Cancun. There is something about chefs that lights me up. They feed people with love and passion and their souls go into the food art that they create. They have a certain depth and seriousness about them, yet at the same time they know how to have fun. I like this balance and Chef Azael Flores is no exception. Their open-air tiki restaurant on the water at the Green Bay marina was undergoing renovations and construction and he was not in an ideal cooking environment as the kitchen is still under construction. This did not deter him. He remained upbeat and happy and this is where his depth and seriousness over his food came through. All he had to work with was skeleton equipment, a bar counter, a tiny counter top deep fryer and a half of an oil drum with a wood fire roaring inside. He dressed the fresh Caribbean fish beautifully and wrapped it up with tender loving care before it went onto the fire. His sous chef helped with a little Mexican traditional food including a fiery red-hot salsa with fresh tortillas thrown onto the side of the grill. It was rustic traditional cooking at its finest and as we were getting ready to leave, Chef Azael said: “Don’t go yet. I have something for you to taste.”

He had grated a pure white root vegetable with great fervor and added spice and an obscene amount of freshly chopped garlic to it. Then he deep fried it in fresh oil right in front of us on the bar counter and c’est voila! Taro fritters. These tasty morsels were our departure gift. A departure we made very reluctantly.

Señorita Erika, the manager, kept the cold beers coming fast all evening and before we knew it, we had drunk way more beer than planned. It was time to go as the next day we had to fly back to reality. That evening was the third time we strolled over here for drinks. Erika had told us before not to leave until we saw the sunset. This time we stayed long enough, and it was breath-taking. (Sunset photos will follow in an upcoming blog post)

Chef Azael told us he hopes that we will return so we can have the full experience of his kitchen and the beautiful new restaurant. I fervently share that hope and cannot wait to see this amazing place once it has been completely renovated.

Make sure to go to Green Bay Marina for wonderful sunsets, amazing service, friendly staff, cold beers, a generous portion of Mexican food and a scary amount of tequila.     For more photos, follow the Facebook link below this paragraph and don’t forget to check out our gorgeous dessert cookbook at