Ciao Italia!

img_6829COLUMBIA, Missouri — The MU food writers are hitting the trail for Florence and Siena, Italy. I am excited to say that seven journalists–Chole Castelberry, Breckyn Crocker, Molly Curry, Christine Jackson, Elizabeth Johnson, Claire Lardizabal and Faith Vickery–are joining my class this summer.


We’ll give repeated and detailed attention to balsamic. To prosciutto. To pasta. Ditto, Parmesan. We will study intently the intricacies of panna cotta. It’s going to be a happy journey in food. One that will make you want to cook, or merely eat like a world citizen. Farm production, to food logistics and flavor. History, culture, and everything in between with evidence on the plate. I hope you’ll explore the region and our food stories as we launch this year’s series.

We arrived in Florence May 18 and began the blog series, Penne for Your Thoughts. Check out and follow our coverage at!

–Nina Furstenau, Instructor

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Veggies on the mind

In Chomoio, Mozambique, the beans are popular in the local market– speckled ones, cream-colored kidney beans, and others. Word has it, small black beans, maybe red ones, too, can be found.. But the Portuguese man we met at lunch, the one who owned the restaurant we were eating in as well as a large farm with his son, said we would not see many vegetables. There would be no plentiful and gorgeous antioxidant- fiber- and vitamin-rich nutritional profile in the offerings. His menu reflected this and because we were keen on vegetables, we went in search.

My two companions, researchers Amy Dunaway and Fridah Mubichi, and I went the two blocks to the open-air stalls. We ambled past stacks of wooden crates under a leafy canopy of acacia and flame trees, groups of young men talking, and women farmers coming home with hoes over their shoulders. The homes across the street were a rainbow of blues and peaches sitting alongside unpainted, dirty concrete ones; the refracting light picked up this equivocation and send it softly out, muted and easy.

It was the end of day and still kale was everywhere. Even underfoot. Large leaves of the plant had been torn off during the course of the day and they lay bruised and slippery against the dirt floor. Eggplant, a small stash of spaghetti squash, green beans, green peppers, chilies, tomatoes, onions, as well as avocados, papaya, apples, bananas, and more were displayed– the women standing beside the vegetable and fruit tables, the men mainly near the potatoes. After I saw one young man muscle a five-foot tall potato sack to cut it open, I could see the reasoning. Piles of empty sacks, marked Produce of South Africa, were strewn about the middle isle of the market and string bags of small quantities of potatoes were tied up along the stall poles for sale. Dried garlic covered tables in a sea of white and gray.

Relieved, we made our way back. We are here to take a look at diet and protein sources, and there will be more on that soon, but I’ve never been so happy to see such mineral things.

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Opposites attract, even in taste buds

In the run-up to my trip to Mozambique to work on a protein project in the central and then northern regions of the country, a friend sent a link to the article: Science has Figured Out the Simple Reason Why Indian Food Tastes So Good, the reading of which has saved me from contemplating my carry-on bag yet again (do I really need compression socks for the plane?).

The article by Dennis Green in Business Insider says American cuisine pairs like-flavors in dishes, but not-so in India. Data researchers analyzed 2,500 recipes of Indian regional food and found it’s all about using spices without overlapping their flavors. This, my mother could have told you.

“So what makes the flavors meld so well in your mouth is by delicate design,” Green says. “Every spice and ingredient has a purpose, and they all work together in harmony to produce the taste of the dish.”

It’s all about balance. I’d add that the spices not only delight your taste buds but keep your health in balance as well. Sweet, hot, pungent, bitter–I, for one, can never get enough. This is the lure of opposites, of rejoicing in differences, of a life not mellow.

I’ll be checking out the Mozambique markets and foods to see where they fall on this spectrum of food preparation ideals. What’s your fancy?

See the full article here:

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Not just another hot curry

In the time it takes to lick your lips at the dinner table–over corn on the cob, or chicken tikka masala, tacos or bratwurst–all sorts of boundaries are met, sometimes crossed, often shared. My interest in food writing stems from an abiding interest in where cultures meet. You don’t have to think too hard to understand that that happens often over the dinner table.

Because I am interested in this, and because I see food as a direct link to place, to land, to sustainable health, to the agricultural hands it takes to feed us, I find myself looking at the foods on a plate in a way that takes my mind to history.

So when my husband, Terry, decided to make pork vindaloo recently, I immediately began thinking about the root of the word. I know, this is strangely off the topic of eating, but aloo is a word for potato in India and potatoes are not traditionally a part of this dish. I could not let it rest. Turns out, the word vindaloo stems from Portuguese history in India (as I knew): its Portuguese vinho = wine-vinegar and alho = garlic (which I didn’t know) ingredients combine into a savory and tart dish.

But too often, vindaloo can be a tongue-scorching curry that has little left of its original unique tartness. Since diners are likely turning red and sweating and not noticing much but the piquant chiles, I am all forgiveness. But when vindaloo made its way to India in the 15th century along with Portuguese explorers and the chile peppers they carried from the Americas, the recipe was not that way. Local ingredients like tamarind, black pepper, cinnamon, and cardamom were incorporated, naturally since Indians know what tastes amazing. However, dark things then began: the dish was exported by the British and it became another hot curry. The tang of vinegar was quieted, and the balance of spices was lost under a searing excess of chiles.

Seems a shame. So, the one made in my kitchen is staging a revolt. We used simple spices this time. It has a touch of tang, a dollop of chile-heat, not a wallop.

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1-2 fresh red chiles, to your taste
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 small bunch of fresh cilantro, leaves picked and stems chopped
4 ripe tomatoes
1-3/4 pounds of diced pork shoulder
1/2 cup hot curry paste such as Patak’s
1-1/2 teaspoons salt and black pepper to taste
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1-1/2 cups water

Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan and add the chopped onions, garlic, chile, ginger and cilantro stalks and cook for 10 minutes on medium high. When the onions are soften and golden, add the pork, curry paste and salt. Stir well. Add the tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, honey and water. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer for 45 minutes covered. Add black pepper and salt if needed. Garnish with the remaining chopped cilantro leaves and serve with rice or Indian breads.

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A particular hope

A Peace Corps friend, Michelle Doyle, posted that today is the 29th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. She remembers her teacher-counterparts telling her and crying. We were all in Tunisia that year. All of us, I have no doubt, remember. We were trying to fit in far from home and help people amid many political tensions in the world. Even if everyone around us was not in agreement on politics or cultural norms, the Challenger was something to agree on, I thought. The crew was a secret pride for me. Christa McAuliffe. Just that name made me smile.

She was the darling of the media. But before that, she made her hometown proud. A mother. A wife. A teacher. A volunteer. The best of us, really. In Newsweek yesterday, Mike Pride reported this, something she said, from his journal of that time: “I think the students will say that an ordinary person is contributing to history, and if they can make that connection, they are going to get excited about history and about the future.” Over and over, Pride reminds us in Newsweek, she said, “If I can do this, think what you can do.”

Then, a little more than one minute, just one minute, after liftoff, it was over.

They told me about the explosion while I stood on the dun colored ground in Kairowan. Flat topped white houses were there, markets were there, sandwich sellers, too. There was color, I know. But I remember the dun.

The female head of the Union de Femme where I worked, leaned in, watched my eyes cloud as I was told. Ohhh. Then, as she turned, I caught a slight pleasure flit across her face.

I was stunned by her. Stunned, too by the idea that bits of the Challenger would come down for a while, maybe days, over many miles. I was devastated by the children watching, devastated, too, by the ice sculptures of rocket ships planned by McAuliffe’s home state for her return. In the almost-desert of Kairowan, some 5,500 miles from home, I felt unmoored.

I’m just not buying that McAuliffe nor any of the crew was ordinary. And, I’m not buying that most of the people in Tunisia, the ones that saw connection between people as a stronger tie than politics, the ones like my friend Michelle’s teaching peers, found any pleasure in that particular day, and that particular death, and of a particular hope.

For Mike Pride’s Newsweek article see:

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Biting into food culture

I’m getting practice cooking in front of people. What a lift to see this article on my book in the Columbia Tribune today! ( Food editor Marcia Vanderlip and photographer Vivian Agagiu were fun visitors to my kitchen at the farm. The aroma was warm and inviting, and the company even better.

All this practice bodes well for the cooking demonstration at World Harvest this Saturday, January 17, fro 2-4 p.m. I’ll have a burner. I’ll have spices. All I need is you to smile, nod encouragement, and nosh on samples. Please come out to support the store if you are in the Columbia area, I am but a diversion. The family-run business is a Columbia gem–rich in it’s own story of culture, tradition, assimilation and belonging. Great food and spices, too!

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A culinary/literary event

It’s been some time since I’ve put a blog out. This makes me sheepish. It’s every day reasons that really don’t hold water because it’s been a great year with lots to write about. But here’s an event put together by Cathy Salter, Columbia Tribune columnist, and World Harvest International Market that will ease my way back to blog world. Please join me at World Harvest January 17, 2015 (2-4 p.m.) if you are in the Columbia, Missouri area! I’ll be cookin’ and talkin’ and generally having a good time, more so if you come.

A special culinary/ literary event
January 17, 2015 (2-4 p.m.) at World Harvest International Market

Date: Saturday, January 17, 2015
Time: 2-4 p.m.

Author : Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Book: Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland
(Winner of the 2014 Les Dames d’Escoffier International M.F.K. Fisher Award)

Nina will be at World Harvest Market talking about her award winning memoir with samples of Indian dishes her Bengali mother prepared for the family
when Nina was growing up. Yellow Dog Books will have copies for sale.

Various ingredients Nina uses in her Indian cooking will be featured in the store, as well as a spice box with assorted fresh ground spices used in Indian cooking. Open each container, smell the fragrances, and be transported to the Bengali region of India where Nina’s parents were from before moving to Pittsburg, Kansas in the early 1960s.

Nina and some of her mother’s recipes will be featured in Marcia Vanderlip’s Food section in the Tuesday, January 13th issue of the ColumbiaTribune.

You all invited to come and meet Nina. Spread the word and bring friends. We hope to pack the store and show Shakir and his family how much his store has meant to Columbia over the past decade.

~Cathy Salter, Columbia Tribune columnist, and Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

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