Jesse’s Recipes

In Nothing to Declare, Jesse Kerf cooks dishes from around the globe. Here are some of his favorites.

Mark this, Little Brother,” Marty says later, while he sprinkles lemon zest on the smoking veal. “The best ingredients, you can’t buy them, they’re not for sale. Look at the pan, you see veal and capers, a hit of lemon—that’s base metal. They’re nothing, they’re meaningless. But fear and greed—stir in the big emotions and you get a dish that stands for something.

Veal or Chicken with Lemon and Capers

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 2 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 people


  • 1 lb veal or chicken fillets pounded until flat
  • 1 tbsp grape seed oil
  • 2 tbsp capers drained
  • 1/4 c dry white wine or white vermouth
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp butter in pieces
  • 2 tbsp flat leaf parsley minced


  • Dry the fillets with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the oil medium-high in a skillet large enough to hold the meat in a single layer. If your pan is smaller, do two batches.
  • When the pan is hot, lay the pieces in the pan—don’t crowd.  Sauté about two minutes, until the meat is nicely browned, then flip and cook on the other side, another two minutes.
  • Remove the veal to a plate and keep warm. Sauté any remaining pieces and reserve on plate with others when done.
  • Return the skillet to medium high. Add the capers to the pan and let them cook for about 30 seconds, then add the vermouth to deglaze. Scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan—they’re pure flavor. This won’t take long.  Cook the pan sauce until the wine is reduced by about  half, about two minutes, then add lemon juice and stir.
  • Add the butter bit by bit to enrich the sauce,taste and reseason if needed. Place the veal back in the pan, add the lemon peel, and stir to  let the sauce coat the meat. Sprinkle parsley on top and serve.

All fall he cooked up recipes that had a mighty zip and zing. I learned Bel first in his behavior before we ever met. The meals he served that season were addictive little wars. Chipotle chile moles, Jamaican jerk, treacly desserts that bounced an ache directly to the temples.

Jamaican Jerk Shrimp

Prep Time 35 minutes
Cook Time 6 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Jamaican
Servings 4


  • 1 medium-sized onion peeled and cut into chunks
  • 4 scallions sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves peeled and coursely chopped
  • 2 habanero peppers chopped (wear gloves)
  • 1 tbsp five-spice powder
  • 1 tbsp allspice berries mashed coarsely with mortar and pestle
  • 1 tbsp black pepper coarsely ground
  • 1 tsp nutmeg freshly ground
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 c soy sauce low sodium
  • 2 lbs large shrimp unpeeled
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 limes cut into wedges


  • In a food processor, combine the vegetables, herbs, spices, salt and sugar and process to a coarse paste. Keep the processor running, and add the the soy sauce and oil in a stream. Pour the marinade into a bowl, add the shrimp and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour and no longer than two. Bring the shrimp to room temperature before grilling.
  • While the marinade is in the fridge, soak 20-30 wooden skewers in a tray filled with water. You'll be using two skewers in parallel to keep the shrimp flat while grilling. The quantity depends on the size of your shrimp. Five shrimp per each pair of skewers is right for large, six for medium and four for jumbo. So soak the proper number of skewers for the number of shrimp you have.
  • When the shrimp are well-marinated, remove from fridge and bring to room temperature. Drain excess marinade. Then thread shrimp onto first skewer, sliding its pair in parallel once the first stick is done. Best to keep heads and tails pointing the same way. Continue until all shrimp are on skewers.
  • Light a grill (outside or stove top). Grill the shrimp over a medium-hot fire,turning once, until well browned and cooked through, about 3 minutes on the first side and 1 and a half to two minutes on the second. Feel a shrimp to see if it's firm to test for doneness, but be careful not to overcook.
  • Remove the shrimp to a platter and serve with lime wedges.

Chicken Mole Poblano

Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican


  • 2 dried ancho chiles stemmed, seeded and torn to 1/2" pieces
  • 1/2 ea dried chipotle chile stemmed, seeded and torn to 1/2" pieces
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion chopped fine
  • 1 oz bittersweet, semisweet, or Mexican chocolate chopped coursely
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 2 c chicken broth
  • 14 1/2 oz canned tomatoes drained and chopped
  • 1/4 c raisins
  • 1/4 c almond butter
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds plus more for garnish
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 1/2 lbs bone in chicken in pieces, skin removed, fat trimmed
  • sugar to taste


  • Toast anchos and chipotle in a 12-inch dry skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 2 to 6 minutes; transfer to plate. Add oil and onion to now-empty skillet and cook over medium-high heat until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.
  • Stir in chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, and toasted chiles and cook until chocolate is melted and bubbly, about 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in broth, tomatoes, raisins, almond butter, and sesame seeds and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened and measuring about 3½ cups, about 7 minutes
  • Transfer mixture to blender and process until smooth,about 20 seconds. Season with salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days; loosen with water as needed before continuing.)
  • Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Arrange chicken in single layer in shallow baking dish and cover with mole sauce, turning to coat chicken evenly. Bake, uncovered, until breasts register 160 degrees, and thighs or drumsticks register 175 degrees, 35 to 45minutes.
  • Remove chicken from oven, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with extra sesame seeds and serve.

I was flayed that morning, with intricate nasal chemistry and grit caking my pupils from post-party rebound and fatigue. My mood was less than airy, I admit. Should have given regrets, cashed in on the couch. But I bore down and did my honors as a friend. Christ, twenty-one. You want to make witness, don’t you, see your pal through. Besides, the ladies had cooked a Provençal picnic of tapenade and pissaladière. The cake was out of M.F.K. Fisher, whole wheat flour and fresh lavender and brown sugar glaze. How could I pass by my chunk of that?

Whole Wheat Cake with Lavender

Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 8


  • 1 1/4 c unbleached white flour
  • 1 c plus 1 tbsp whole wheat flour
  • 1 t Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground fennel seed
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp dried lavender
  • 1/2 c dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 c lavender honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter melted and cooled
  • 1 orange zested and juiced
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c Greek yogurt full fat, plain
  • 2 tbsp hot water


  • Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a9-by-3 inch loaf pan.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours,salt, baking powder and soda, and spices, and set aside.
  • Place the sugar, lavender honey, and eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat them together on medium speed until the mixture is creamy and light, about a minute. Beat in the melted, cooled butter, followed by the orange juice and zest and vanilla.
  • In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt and hot water. Beat in 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the sugar and butter mixture, scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in 1/2 of the yogurt mixture. Follow with another 1/3 of the dry ingredients, followed by the rest of the yogurt, and ending with the last of the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Beat the batter well for 20 seconds to fully emulsify it.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing and evening the top. Bake the cake on the center rack for 40 minutes, rotating it halfway through the baking time to ensure even browning. The cake is done when it is cracked and firm to the touch, and pulling away from the sides of the pan. A cake center inserted in the center should come out clean.
  • Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes in the pan before removing it to a rack to cool completely. To serve, cut into even slices. The cake may be stored for up to 3 days in anairtight container.

Her name is Emily Savonne and for New Year’s she wants to fix them Ramos gin fizzes and a pot of black-eyed peas and rice. Hoppin’ John, the dish is called, good luck from New Orleans, where she was raised. 

Black-Eyed Pea Salad

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 42 minutes
Course Salad
Cuisine American
Servings 12



  • 1/3 c red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp course ground Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 1/2 t salt
  • 3/4 t freshly ground pepper


  • 1 lb dried black-eyed peas
  • 2 medium sweet red peppers diced
  • 1 large shallot minced
  • 1/4 c parsley minced


  • Soak the black-eyed peas in enough water to cover by 2 inches overnight
  • Drain the black-eyed peas and put in large saucepan with enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to boil and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until tender. Drain well and put in bowl to cool.
  • Dice the red peppers and mince the shallots. Mince the parsley.
  • In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, garlic, honey and mustard until well blended. Beat in the olive oil in a steady stream, whisking as you go until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.
  • When the black-eyed peas are cooled, add the diced red peppers and the shallot. Drizzle on the vinaigrette. Don't add all the dressing at once. You don't want to drown the salad, so taste and add vinaigrette as needed. Add the minced parsley and stir. Taste for seasoning and add salt or pepper if needed. Refrigerate until serving time.

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