Cherry Jasmine Panna Cotta

Inspired by a spring week in Paris where beige limestone and spring flowers were framed by a colorless pale grey sky. There were brief moments of blue skies and sunshine, these were spent reading on the green metal chairs that surround the pond at the Luxembourg gardens, leaning my chair back as it sunk in the pebble-y floor and toy sailboats cruised by. And there were brief moments of standing under awnings, waiting for the splattering rain and dark, smoke-colored clouds to make their way thru as I once again made a mental note to own at least one waterproof rain coat.  But mostly the sky alternated between a soft pale grey and bright blinding white, as the sun tried and failed to glare through a dense fog of omnipresent clouds. 

This swirl of grey - in the marbled skies, the dark asphalt, the smooth sidewalks and the stone buildings - could have painted a bleak picture. But it was interspersed with bright green shoots of new grass, blooming lilac trees, vivid yellow tulips, swaying sycamore trees and the rainbow colored spring produce on the markets - piles of nectarines, tangles of rhubarb and bunches of radish. Cherries are a little later on in the season but it's what we have now and it works out pretty well.




  • 2 tablespoons of water, lukewarm
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon (3.5 grams) unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup of plain whole milk or 2% Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup of half and half or cream
  • 1 tablespoon of loose leaf jasmine tea or 2 bags of jasmine tea
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 3 tablespoons to 1/4 cup of honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste
  • 1/2 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • To serve: honey to taste, cherries, edible flowers


  1. Makes 4 cup servings. Lightly coat the inside of the cups with olive or canola oil if you plan to unmold the panna cotta before serving. 
  2. Place the lukewarm water in a small cup or bowl, add the gelatin, mix in and let sit until the gelatin softens for about 10 minutes. 
  3. Meanwhile, heat the 1/2 cup of water until boiling, remove from the stove (or microwave) and add the jasmine tea and let steep for 5-10 minutes. Once steeped remove the tea, add the gelatin-water mixture into the tea, add honey into the tea and then mix everything until well incorporated. If necessary heat a bit so that everything dissolves well. 
  4. In a larger bowl, whisk together the yogurt, half and half or cream, the tea and gelatin mixture, the lemon and the vanilla paste. Pour the mixture into a mold or cups and chill in fridge for at least 3 hours for small cups and ideally overnight (~8 hours) for larger molds.
  5. If you want to unmold, fill a baking dish with 1-inch of boiling water. Dip the panna cotta mold or cups in it for a few seconds, and then flip it out.
  6. Before serving top with fresh cherries, edible flowers and honey.

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

Whether you use half and half or cream, this panna cotta still turns out lovely and velvety, mostly due to the yogurt (which should definitely be at least 2%). These are fairly lightly sweetened so serve with honey so everyone can sweeten to taste. Lastly if you don't have cherries, strawberries, rhubarb, stone fruit or other berries would be wonderful too. But the cherries are quite nice. 

Sfiha (Esfiha de Carne) #VirtualMidsummerPotluck4Peace

I don't think I realized that esfiha (or sfiha), this staple of Brazilian fast food and children's birthday parties, was a food of Lebanese origin until much, much later in life. Growing up in São Paulo I was always a fan of these small pockets of golden brown dough, adorned simply with ground beef or cheese, and for me always - a generous squeeze of lime. They are often described as Lebanese pizza which is a bit simplistic but gets the idea across.

Most importantly the popularity of esfihas in Brazil - where a chain called Habib's is the second  largest fast food chain in the country - tells a compelling immigrant food story, which is why I thought it would be the perfect contribution to Labnoon's Virtual Midsummer Potluck for Peace.


Esfiha's popularity in Brazil is a reminder that there are other countries in the world populated mostly by immigrants, where people with different beliefs and different skin colors eat, work, breathe and live their lives side-by-side. And although Brazil is far from perfect (if you want to feel good about the political situation in the US, just read about Brazilian politics someday 🙄) one thing that I think has been done right is the integration of the past few generations of these immigrant communities into the fabric of Brazilian identity. Not to say that there isn't discrimination or prejudice but if you were born in Brazil, no one will deny your Brazilianness.

Brazil has the largest populations of African, Italian, Japanese, and Lebanese descendants out of their origin countries and the second largest German contingent. So whether your skin is pale and freckled or a deep coffee brown - you are Brazilian. And in São Paulo where I grew up this was especially evident in the 'Brazilian' food you ate everyday. You might start the day with tapioca pancakes, which are made of the manioc root consumed by the indigenous people of Brazil. And then for lunch (especially if it's a Wednesday) you might have feijoada stew and collard greens, influenced by West African cuisine brought over with the slaves. For happy hour the drink of choice is often an ice cold chopp lager, served with a side of kibe (a Lebanese meat croquette) and some Portuguese linguiça sausage. Late at night after you hit the bars, the drunk food of choice will be found at one of the various temakerias - serving up Japanese hand rolls until the wee hours of the morning. Much like the city itself it is a bit chaotic and yet there is beauty in this crazy mix of cultures too.




Beef Sfihas (Esfihas de Carne)

Makes 20 - 30 small esfihas



  • 1/2 teaspoon of dry active yeast
  • 1/2 cup of lukewarm milk
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cup of AP flour


  • 200 grams of ground beef, raw (80-85% lean)
  • 1  tomato, diced finely
  • 1/2 onion, diced finely
  • 1/2 tablespoon of brown sugar or pomegranate molasses
  • 1/4 cup of parsley, very finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup of mint, very finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup of cumin
  • 1/4 cup of paprika
  • 1/4 tsp of black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 2-3 limes


  1. Add the yeast to a bowl with the warm milk and the sugar and mix well. Let the mixture sit for 5-8 minutes until it begins to bubble.
  2. After, add the yeast and milk mixture to a bowl with the flour, sugar, salt, and olive oil. Mix well until you have a dough and then knead the dough by hand or using the dough hook in a mixture until it is smooth and elastic. About 10 minutes by hand and 3-5 minutes on the mixer. Set aside and let rise for 1-2 hours until doubled in size. 
  3. For the meat mixture, mix all the ingredients together until well incorporated. Store in the fridge until ready to assemble the sfihas.
  4. Once the dough is risen, pre-heat the oven to 425F.
  5. While the oven is pre-heating tear off walnut sized balls and use your hands flatten them into little circles on a well-floured surface. Place 1 heaping teaspoon of the filling into the center of the circle. Now pinch together the circle at three equally spaced points to create a triangle.
  6. Place on a parchment paper or silicone lined baking sheet, about 1 inch apart and bake for 18-20 minutes until the dough is well-browned and the meat is cooked.
  7. Let cool a bit but eat while still warm with lime squeezed over them.

Adapted from Esfiha de Carne do Arábia and Dirty Kitchen Secrets.


So that is how a traditional Lebanese snack is one of the 'Brazilian' foods this Chinese, Portuguese, French and Native Brazilian girl misses the most. As someone who has been an immigrant twice over and has lived in three countries that are primarily populated by immigrants (Brazil, Canada and the US) I can confidently say that there is little to fear from those coming to our country from elsewhere, especially those escaping violence or persecution. They bring little else but their hopes, their dreams, and sometimes - pretty great recipes for meat pies. 

Paris - Central Paris

This is the first post in a series of a guide to Paris, organized by area. Here we are starting with central Paris - the area bordering the Seine where you will certainly head to, especially if it's your first time. This is where you can find all the must-sees: the Louvre, St. Germain, the Palais Royal and the long lines for a teeny scoop of salted caramel ice cream at Bertillon. 

The central part of Paris is probably the Paris you pictured before you went for the first time. It's pale beige limestone buildings, with slate grey roofs and wrought iron balconies. It's windows framed with wooden shutters and adorned with flowers, parks with rolling lawns shaded by neat rows of linden trees with their thin, flat green leaves that catch the sunlight. It's the sun reflecting off the waters of the Seine, and cafés with woven rattan chairs spilling out into the sidewalk. It can also be, especially during popular holiday times, masses of people, rows of tour buses, selfie sticks waving in the air, long lines, and pricey not-so-great espressos. 

It's still probably the first area you should head to if it's your first day or first time in Paris, to really make it feel like you're *there*. And although some of the lines cannot be avoided, know that even in this most well-traversed of areas there are quiet alleys, hidden gems and great, (fairly) reasonably priced cups of coffee.



From the same team as Verjus (which you should definitely go to as well), Ellsworth also does small plates and it is one of my favorite breakfast spots in Paris. Small plates for breakfast means you can get eggs and fried chicken AND a yogurt parfait and not leave stuffed. And of course since this is no Denny's the scrambled eggs are dotted with morel mushrooms and swirls of homemade ricotta and pesto while the strawberry parfait looks like that (below). 

My mom actually declared this her favorite meal in Paris and was sad to find out that the team behind it were amèricaines...





Not revolutionary by any means - and this will be obvious by how packed it will be on a sunny day - but the Luxembourg Gardens are a great spot to have a picnic. Lots of lawn space, chairs to read in, leafy paths, lawn bowling and the last time I went - miniature pony rides?  Bring a book, a blanket, fruit, some pastries from Pierre Hermé, a baguette, some charcuterie and a bottle of wine - and you're all set. If the weather turns on you, the trees provide some decent coverage from the rain.



It's huge, and there are lines and the Mona Lisa is pretty underwhelming. But. It is awe-inspiring, from the architecture of this grand former palace to standing a couple inches away from iconic art pieces and thousand year old relics. The Louvre can feel like a treasure hunt: make sure you look up at the ornate ceilings (especially the Cy Twombly painted one in the Objets d'Art wing), down at the intricately patterned marble tiled floors, and around nooks and crannies, where the less notorious but at times most fun pieces are tucked away. Get there early, wear comfortable shoes, and the lockers make life much easier if you are carrying a lot of stuff (shopping, umbrellas, et. al). My favoritest wing is the Objets d'Art one, with all the  gem-studded, exotic leather covered, solid gold monogrammed and mother-of-pearl inlaid royal artifacts. Although it is a symbol of the preposterous wealth inequality at the time it is fascinating to look at everyday items like hairbrushes, tea cups, and snuff boxes that cost more than anything I've ever touched in my life. 



After getting your 10,000 steps in at the Louvre the beautiful Café Marly is right on site and the perfect place to catch your breath (and maybe some wifi to post that Mona Lisa snap) for a bit. Although prices are a little steep, an espresso and freshly squeezed orange juice shouldn't break the bank. The outside terrace is lovely and faces the iconic Louvre pyramid while the inside is all rich reds, velvet black and touches of gold. The waiters are notoriously rather good-looking and last time we were there, there was a friendly calico cat chilling underneath one of the tables inside the restaurant. A little something for everyone. 



It's pricey no doubt and there will be lines but the salted caramel is unequivocally worth it. Plus if you have a whole day of eating planned, take comfort (or glass half full it) in the fact that the scoops are definitely on the small side. And IMHO, the extra euro for the seasonal fraises des bois is not worth it, go for the regular strawberry (or double up on caramel au beurre salé).

There are actually carts that sell Berthillon all over Paris so if you don't want to wait in lines, or go to Ilê-St-Louis you certainly don't have to. The island is worth a peek though, especially the quieter outer streets that are more residential.



It's not the *best* burger in Paris and it's not a budget spot. But it's a pretty decent burger, and most of all there is something fun about eating cheeseburgers, tomato soup, and cobb salad in a stately French courtyard, smack dab on the Boulevard Saint-Germain.



Although you could go up to the fancy restaurant at the top of the Eiffel tower, I much rather sit at the edge of cobblestone paths on the Quai de Seine, legs swinging above the lapping waves of the river, with a bottle of wine and a bite of bread and cheese. For free. As the sun goes down you can witness the full color spectrum of the Seine: the water goes from a forest green, to a dark grey, then a pale orange-pink as it reflects the light of the sunset, and finally an inky midnight blue. The area facing the Eiffel Tower (shown above) or Notre Dame (down below) are especially scenic as the sun goes down. If it's a nice day, you will see many Parisians following your cue. 



If you can't get a seat at the perpetually packed restaurant Le Relais du Comptoir head on over to the more casual stand-up counter operation next door, L'Avant Comptoir. The menu is hung up on the rafters, and anything pork is a solid choice - especially the jambon. If in season the white asparagus might be one of my favorite dishes in Paris. Order a glass of wine and make (generous) use of the communal baskets of bread, giant mound of butter and giant-er jar of cornichons. If  the bartenders take a liking to you, you can use the Sharpies to leave your initials (at least until the next time they wipe them clean) on the tiles that line the walls. 





Prescription Cocktail Club is right off a busy portion of St. Germain, but as soon as you walk into the small bar, you are transported to another world. The shades are always drawn, candles are the only source of light, and the murmur of conversation and clinking glasses mix in with the background music. The drinks are strong and the mule and anything with mezcal are sure shots. 



Uhh actually that's the restaurant Claus, but on the opposite side you have Claus the store (below), that sells pastries, coffee, juices, yogurt, jams, chocolate hazelnut get the idea. With some charcuterie (from Gilles Verot if you want the best) and a baguette from wherever (there is a La Parisienne nearby), maybe some of the passion fruit macarons from Pierre Hermé, and some libations; I think you'll be all set.



The Marché Biologique Raspail in St. Germain is one of my favorites. It is certainly not one of the more affordable markets as everything is 'bio' (organic) but you can find a wide selection of breads, meats, fish, cheeses, & produce as well an assortment of clothes, Turkish towels, carved olive wood cutting boards and other home goods. I highly recommend the Middle Eastern flatbreads fresh from the griddle, the fruit & nut breads and the onion pancakes from the 'onion pancake man' at the end of the market. There may be a short line but have your exact change ready and bite into this perfectly browned mixture of griddled cheese and shaved onions.



The Maison Kitsuné café in the Galerie de Valois probably has one of the most pleasant little backyards ever - just casually inside the Palais Royal gardens. Grab a coffee or a matcha latte and some of their (gluten free) kitsuné shaped shortbread cookies and head out to the tables in the back. If you are so inclined the Acne store nearby is a good one. 



Yes Le Relais de l'Entrecôte is a chain and the line out the door has a lot of fellow tourists. In fact the first time I visited the restaurant, I was not in France at all but in São Paulo in Brazil. But they serve good food efficiently, year-round. The menu is also rather (extremely) streamlined as they only serve one thing: entrecôte (rib-eye steak) with their famous sauce, fries and a simple green salad. The only decision you make is whether you want salad or not, and to what doneness you want your steak done. Their sauce is quite tasty, the service is très efficient and the fries are bottomless (!): in other words this is the closest thing you can probably get to a French version of fast food. 



The stunning Saint-Chapelle is probably my favorite cathedral in Paris (and right around the corner from Notre Dame on Ilê-St-Louis). When the sun is shining through the colorful stained glass windows in the morning you can see rays of magenta pink, royal blue and golden yellows streaming into the church. The lines and crowds are minimal compared to its more famous brethren like Notre Dame and Sacré-Couer and it feels like being inside a jewel box. 



Hard to beat Rue Saint-Honoré if you are after some *fancy* stuff to bring home. Remember that the tax-back minimum is 175 euro, so if you reach that amount you can get a form to get about 12% of your purchase value back to you by just scanning and dropping off the forms at the VAT Refund kiosks in the airport. If you shop at department stores like Le Bon Marché you can also get your VAT refund on the spot. Some of the stores can get packed - the teensy Hermès stores will ask you to come back later if they are full and it can be a bit trying to get someone to assist you at some of the more popular stores like the perpetually packed Louis Vuitton. This is yet another opportunity to get some macarons at Pierre Hermé and chill. If you are after something a little less stodgy, the Colette store always has fun clothes and merchandise. 



The Tuileries on a nice day is a truly joyful experience with a wide expanse of rolling green grass, colorful flowers, and the ferris wheel ever slowly spiraling in the background. And on a sunny day the airy all-white Museé de L'Orangerie seems particularly vivid, with the purples and teals of the grand Monets hugging the curved walls seemingly sparkling. When I was there in the spring a blanket of tiny white flowers was covering the shadier parts of the grass and sprouting out of cracks in the walls, the tulips were in full bloom and purple and pink flowers were cascading out of the somber stone vases. 



The Musée d'Orsay is housed in a former train station built in the late 1800s and the building alone is worth a look, with its domed glass ceilings and grand Beaux-Art style clocks spread throughout. It houses mostly French art from the mid 1800s to early 1900s including Monet, Seurat, Van Gogh and my favorite painting in the world by Gustave Caillebotte. It can be crowded but it has an interesting mix of art and is easy to do in an hour or two. I especially love the room with art inspired by Asia and the Middle East, which has a different feel from the rest of the depictions of mostly Europe-centric art. With no gardens or outdoor areas, it is a good one to head to when it starts to pour. 



Hotels like the Plaza Athenée and the Hôtel Costes have beautiful interiors, with leafy courtyards, impeccable decor, and minimally lit, maximally luxurious bars all mahogany panels, eggplant purple velvet and flickering candles. And 19 euro cocktails. But hey, the spiced almonds, chips and olives are free so... 



Polidor was recommended by a friend of my dad's who lived in Paris. It serves up no-fuss French food in a decidedly cozy and unpretentious atmosphere. The prices are extremely reasonable and the crowd leans older and French-er. The blond lentil cream soup was served simply with a few torn hunks of bread. The beef carpaccio was sprinkled only with grated parmesan and came with a hefty side of French fries. Lastly, the blueberry Bavarois was feathery light, swimming in a pool of inky purple coulis. There was not a shred of green in sight but fear not, if this seems a little too French: after handing me the fries the waitress whispered that 'of course we don't normally serve it - but if you want we do have le ketchup in the back'.

Ces't tout for now! Last update June 16, 2017.

Rhubarb & Hazelnut Frangipane Crostata

With nearly everything from strawberries to mangoes available year round coming upon truly seasonal rhubarb feels a bit special. It always feels like the right way to find it is to come across a rogue patch of rhubarb growing in the shade beside a farmhouse, or piled high on a stand in the farmer's market, one end still dusted with sooty black dirt and the other sprouting flat green leaves. However, the only time I have found rhubarb in San Diego is in the shelves of my local Whole Foods, slightly less rustic than what I hoped for. The aseptic stalks can usually be found near other more exotic fare like the daikon or the nopales, arranged neatly, stalks wiped clean and trimmed at the top. That is ok though because after being placed on a soft bed of hazelnut frangipane, blanketed with honey and vanilla, then stuck into a 400F oven until it's tops are nearly caramelized black and the bottoms are a jammy pale pink, they taste just as good.

I was in Paris for the a cold, mostly sunny, but at times rainy, mid-spring week in April. I love how seasonal the cooking  everywhere I ate, with white asparagus and rhubarb making appearances in nearly every menu I came across, nestled in green garlic aioli and coated with breadcrumbs or swirled into rice pudding speckled with vanilla beans (respectively). And most inspiringly, I did finally find my wild pile of rhubarb in a farmer's market in St. Germain. It was nestled in between deep purple beets and white-tipped French radishes, sitting precariously atop heads of bok choy. Sadly I had no kitchen in my teensy hotel room to make use of it so settled for snapping a picture on my iPhone and making my mind up to find rhubarb as soon as I got back home. It worked out ok.


Crostatas are one of my favorite pie-type desserts, there is no lattice-work or crimping to worry about and in my opinion, a perfect crust-to-filling ratio. And rhubarb and hazelnut are two flavors I ran into a lot during my week in Paris: rhubarb macarons, chocolate hazelnut praline spread on lacey buckwheat crepes, a slice of rhubarb almond tea loaf with my cafe noisette, golden hazelnut pastry cream inside a Paris-brest, and the aforementioned rhubarb rice pudding to name a few. So in a way this crostata is an ode to a perfect spring week in Paris, with sunny days, a bit of rain and a lot of rhubarb.



Makes 1 large crostata


Rye Crust:

  • 2/3 cup AP flour
  • 2/3 cup rye flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 8 tablespoons of cold butter, cubed
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup of ice water
  • 3/4 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar

Hazelnut Frangipane:

  • 1 cup blanched toasted hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons AP flour
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon hazelnut liquor (like Frangelico)


  • 4 large stalks (about 1.5lbs) of rhubarb
  • 1/2 cup of honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon of cream or milk


  1. To make the crust: Mix together the flours, salt, and sugar together in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter in and process until you have small pea-sized pieces. Add in the apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup of the water into the dough. Process until the dough just comes together when pressed. If too dry add the remaining water in, one tablespoon at a time until it comes together. Remove, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for one hour. 
  2. To make the frangipane: Meanwhile, combine hazelnuts and the sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process until well ground. Add in all the other ingredients and process until smooth. I like to add some hazelnuts in at the very end for some crunch, but this is up to you.
  3. To make the pie: When you're ready to make the filling and assemble the pie, preheat oven to 400F.
  4. Roll out the pastry dough to a ~1/4 inch thick rectangle on a non-stick mat for easy transfer. Spread the hazelnut frangipane over the surface of the pie, leaving about 1.5 inches of uncovered crust at the edges to fold over. Layer the chopped rhubarb over the top of the hazelnut frangipane. 
  5. Mix the honey with the vanilla paste and generously brush over the rhubarb. Whisk the egg with cream for an egg wash and brush the edges of the crust with it. Top the crust with demerara sugar.
  6. Bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the rhubarb looks caramelized on top. At 15 minutes, quickly remove the pie from the oven to brush more vanilla honey over the rhubarb. Note to check the pie at 25 minutes and if the rhubarb is already looking quite dark on top, cover it with foil to prevent it from scorching too much.
  7. Best served with crème anglaise (I made mine with hazelnut milk, which explains why it has a more brownish tint).

Hazelnut frangipane recipe adapted from Martha Stewart, and rye crust from Yossy Arefi via Food52.

I like adding the creme anglaise to the pie but if you are feeling a bit lazy a generous layer of mascarpone mixed with brown sugar squeezed in between the hazelnut frangipane and the rhubarb is equally nice. Or for the lazy and mascarpone-less, there is always a scoop of ice cream. Best eaten warm out of oven, naturally.