Sauteed Collard Greens with Caramelized Miso

“These greens taste like fried chicken.”

That’s what Nishan told me the first time I made this dish. Collard greens and miso don’t traditionally go together, but I knew I’d hit the jackpot when this Bon Appetit Magazine recipe was more evocative of meaty goodness than chlorophyll-packed nutrients. I love vegetables just as much as the next Californian, but collard greens that taste like fried chicken? Pass the greens, please.

Sauteed collard greens with caramelized miso


2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1/3 stick butter, cut into pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 large bunches collard greens, ribs and stems removed, leaves torn into large pieces (about 8 cups)
1/2 lemon

1. Heat miso in a large skillet over medium, stirring constantly, until it starts to caramelize and brown (it will be very dark), about 3 minutes. Add mirin and vinegar, scraping up any browned bits. Reduce heat to low and, stirring constantly, add butter one piece at a time; stir until emulsified. Transfer miso butter to a small bowl and set aside.
Wipe out skillet. Heat oil over medium and cook garlic, smashing with a spoon, until golden brown and broken into bits, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer garlic to a small bowl; season with salt.

2. Working in batches, add collard greens to same skillet, tossing and letting them wilt slightly before adding more; season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing occasionally, until all greens are wilted, bright green, and crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Add half of reserved miso butter and toss to coat.

3. Transfer collard greens to a large serving bowl and drizzle with remaining miso butter. Top with reserved garlic and a squeeze of lemon.

Parmesan Polenta with Beef Ragu

I want to say something about how the weather is getting chillier by the day and we’re craving comfort foods yadda yadda, but the truth of the matter is that this is California and we’ve been in an endless summer for years now. Our drought is the new normal and our winter coats have laid untouched since 2011. But come autumn, I still crave the notion of warming comfort food, even if it’s become something of a masquerade here in the golden state.

This creamy, cheesy polenta with ragu hits all the comfort food notes without taking up hours on the stove to cook. This is an easy weeknight meal, and the less time we spend over our stoves, the cooler our homes will stay, and the more we can fool ourselves into thinking it’s cold outside. Seasons still exist, right?

Parmesan polenta with ragu


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground lean beef
1 small onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup sliced basil leaves, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 1/3 cups instant polenta
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish

1. Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot. Cook beef until browned, about 5 minutes. Add onion, garlic, 1/4 cup basil, oregano, rosemary, chile flakes, 1/2 tsp. salt, and the pepper and cook until onion is softened, 6 to 7 minutes. Add tomato paste and diced tomatoes and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes.

2. In the meantime, bring 1 quart water to a boil in a medium pot. Add polenta and remaining 1/2 tsp. salt and cook, stirring, until polenta thickens, 3 to 4 minutes. Slowly add up to 1/2 additional cup of water if necessary to thin. Stir in butter and 1/3 cup cheese. Serve polenta topped with rag├╣, basil, and more cheese.

Spain, Days Seven, Eight, and Nine

About 70 kilometers south of Madrid lies Toledo, a religious center boasting a Christian, Jewish, and Muslim past. History runs deep here and memories of a medieval Arab history are never far away, from the Arabic-origin names of the Alcazar to the gorgeously domed architecture featuring colorful inlaid tiles, Middle Eastern style.



Today, Toledo is a bit of a tourist trap replete with a McDonalds branded choo-choo train that circles the town square in regular intervals, but that didn’t stop us from visiting for the day. After a tourist trap lunch in the tourist trap square, we made our way down the labyrinth of narrow streets and navigated the town above the Rio Tajo to arrive at the Toledo Cathedral.

Toledo Cathedral

The design is both gothic and Moorish; east and west at the same time.



To be completely honest, we enjoyed wandering the streets of Toledo more than we did checking off the city’s landmarks. After a week straight of nonstop sightseeing, we were tired. We found a mom and pop Asian grocer near the train station and stocked up on snacks for our train ride back to Madrid. Toledo was beautiful. I preferred the quiet and narrow side streets to the bustling souvenir shops and ticket queues, though.

We spent the next day in Madrid at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid’s too-cool-for-school modern art museum. Later that evening, I conspired with Sacha, Nishan’s cousin in London to meet us at Txitimiri at Barrio de la Latina for a surprise dinner. Sacha took an evening flight and took a taxi straight to the restaurant. The surprise on Nishan’s face was worth every bit of covert planning. Ladies and gentlemen, Anthony Bourdain’s doppleganger exists, and his name is Sacha.

Buen Retiro Park

After a late night out, Nishan and I spent our last day in Madrid taking it easy at Buen Retiro Park, which is sort of like Madrid’s answer to Central Park, complete with a lake, a rose garden, and sculptures galore.

Weisswurst and pretzel

Even after leaving Spain, we managed to get one last travel meal in on our way back to SFO. A lunch of weisswurst and pretzel at Deutch in Frankfurt kept me happy during the flight back. We returned feeling like we’d hardly scratched the surface of Spain and with hopes that we’d return someday. Perhaps next time we’ll visit San Sebastian or Andalucia. Who knows?

Spain, Day Six

Mercado de San Miguel felt familiar. Located near Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, the market bore an uncanny resemblance to San Francisco’s Ferry Building. Rather than serving as a traditional market, Mercado de San Miguel is a gourmet tapas market with vendors selling boquerones, cured meats, seafood, and an assortment of sweets.

Mercado de San Miguel

Boquerones in particular are aplenty at this market, and we kept going back for this one in particular: pickled peppers, anchovies, and the briniest olives you can imagine. Perfection.

Chocolateria San Gines

Afterwards we strolled through Plaza Mayor and made our way to Chocolateria San Gines for yet another plate of churros con chocolate. Chocolateria San Gines has been around since 1894 so they know a thing or two about chocolate, but you know what? Nothing compared to our experience at Granja Viader in Barcelona. But I’m being unfair. These are two completely different cities. Apples and oranges, I guess.

Royal Palace of Madrid

We walked off all the sugar by passing through the bustling Puerta del Sol en route to the Royal Palace of Madrid. The palace is on the site of a 9th-century Alcazar, first constructed as an outpost by Muhammad I of Cordoba and inherited after 1036 by the independent Moorish Taifa of Toledo. Today, the palace is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, but is only used for state ceremonies.

Nishan and I took the rest of the day easy to prepare for the day’s big event: dinner at the two Michelin starred La Terraza del Casino. Initially overseen by the legendary Ferran Adria, it’s now led by Paco Roncero and the tasting menu draws heavily from El Bulli.

Olive oil butter

After beginning with cherry and yuzu cocktails, we were presented with “olive oil butter,” a playful spin on spherification. This was followed with “goat cheese and quince moshi,” but really, this was more like a tiny green salad served alongside a mini toothpaste tube of, well, more solid olive oil.

Chocolate and foie gras "Filipino"

Next came the “chocolate and foie gras Filipino.” I don’t know what the Filipino part of this was all about, but this was basically melt-in-your-mouth foie gras encased in white chocolate. Nishan loved this. Me? Not so much.

Guacamole and herring

After a simple but delicious take on tuna tartare served sushi hand roll style, we were served “guacamole and herring.” This was a more sophisticated version of so many of the herring tapas I’d seen around Madrid. The creamy avocado was a perfect foil for the vinegared fish.

Fried quail egg and potato

Next came a perfectly glazed and simple plating of Peking duck followed by the “fried quail egg and potato.” I’ve never eaten off of a clothesline before, and while I loved the playful presentation, I wished for more flavor.

Frozen tomato rock

After my “shrimp omelet” (or rather, transparently thin disc of crisped egg with baby shrimp) came the “frozen tomato rock.” Yet another take on spherification, and I enjoyed this one a lot. The icy exterior gave way to a liquid tomato center. So much concentrated tomato goodness!

Fresh almonds and caviar

Next came my favorite dish of the evening: fresh almonds and caviar. Just give me all the caviar, please. I enjoyed this immensely. Even the almonds were perfect. They reminded me of the freshly peeled raw almonds that are so common as a snack in Iranian cuisine.

Vegetable garden

I’d lost count of our course at this point, and we were next presented with “moluscada,” a delicious plate of mussels and clams in a light broth. So good. This was followed by gnocchi with pesto and baby cuttlefish. The gnocchi were ethereal.

Gnocchi with pesto and baby cuttlefish

But here’s where things began to go wrong. Our next course was the “vegetable garden.” The presentation was very cool: a mini vegetable garden, wooden box and all, alongside a pair of shearing scissors with which to harvest our salad with. But beneath the salad’s breadcrumb “soil” laid gobs and gobs of mayonnaise. SO MUCH MAYONNAISE. What is it with Spain and aioli overload? I couldn’t stomach this.

Olive oil paella

Things got back on track with the umami-laden olive oil paella. Then came the sole a la meuneire. I wished this had more flavor, but them’s the breaks with white fish. The last savory course of the evening was the Iberian pork with yucca and dates. This wasn’t my vibe, but that’s okay. I was saving room for dessert anyway.


The first dessert course was named “Versailles,” which was basically a rose with what seemed like dyed fruit slices enveloped inside as petals. Were we being punked? Aptly enough I felt the same way when I went to the actual Versailles and saw how long the ticket lines were. The next dessert course, called “strawberries and cream,” was a plate of strawberry ice cream garnished with tufts of spongy cake.

Unique origins chocolate bonbons

The last course of the evening was “unique origins chocolate bonbons,” or what I like to call, “thirty-six pieces of chocolate when you’re too full to touch even one.” Is La Terraza trolling the world? We’ll never know, but kudos to the team for gorgeous plating, fantastic service, and a playful spin on so many Spanish classics.

Spain, Day Five

Paul Theroux wrote in The Great Railway Bazaar that travel is flight and pursuit in equal parts. He’s right. This trip to Spain was partly in pursuit of something new, something exciting, but also to get away from the breakneck speed of everyday life. And so on our fifth day in Spain, we made our way to the Barcelona Sants train station, bound for Madrid. The three hour AVE train ride was a breeze and we enjoyed a simple breakfast of toast, jam, and coffee from cafe on board. Coincidentally, we were on the same train as a second division Spanish football team from Catalonia, which made our ride even more exciting.

We took a taxi from Madrid’s Atocha station to our hotel in the Salamanca district and quickly set about exploring the neighborhood. First stop: Mallorca.



Mallorca is a bustling deli and pastry shop with plenty of seating for busy Madrilenos stopping to grab a quick bite. Nishan came to love Mallorca for their cream puffs; I loved them for their cured meats. We enjoyed a plate of truffled mortadella and bread while people watching the fashionably dressed along busy Calle de Velazquez.

Afterwards we headed towards Madrid’s Avenue of Art to see the Museo Nacional del Prado, one of Europe’s most prestigious museums, housing Spanish paintings from romantic to 19th century styles. Goya is the most extensively represented artist but with over 1,300 works in the main building alone, there’s no shortage of European art.

We spent the afternoon strolling around the Cortes neighborhood and grabbed an afternoon snack at Estado Puro, run by Paco Roncero, who was mentored by the esteemed Ferran Adria. Roncero also runs Madrid’s La Terraza del Casino. Estado Puro is a more casual joint with modern twists on classic tapas.

Parmesan ice cream

Our first tapa was the Parmesan ice cream with lemon jam. I can’t say I was a fan of this one. The sweet-savory mix was too much and the ice cream was more chalky than creamy.

Potatoes with garlic aioli

Next up: potatoes with garlic aioli and herring roe. I was hoping for something with a patatas bravas vibe, but these simply had too much aioli. I like a dab of mayonnaise here and there but these babies were stuffed with it.

Artichokes with quail egg and trout roe

Finally we had the artichokes with quail egg and trout roe. Now we’re talking! The artichokes were perfectly cooked: succulent in the center and slightly crispy on the exterior. The egg added a creamy factor and the roe added just the right amount of salty pop.

We spent the rest of the day lazily heading back to the Salamanca district, where we called it an early evening. It was only our first day in Madrid but we’d soon come to learn that nearly all culinary roads lead to the legacy of El Bulli.