Fusion Flair

Chakli Diggs doesn’t get to entertain nearly as much as you would expect he would, nor as much as he would like. Yet, when he does get the chance to show off his prowess in the kitchen, his guests are often treated to an exclusive culinary sneak peek. Diggs, opposite, the man behind downtown hotspot NoJa, experiments with new dishes on friends and family. Those inspirations often make their way onto the restaurant’s menu.

He usually refers to his typical style of cooking, both at home and at the restaurant, as “Mediterrasian, ” highlighting both Mediterranean and Asian influences and ingredients.

The concept has evolved from Diggs’ interest in the healthy aspects of Mediterranean cuisine, relying heavily on herbs, garlic and olive oil, and the snappy flavors and intensely aromatic ingredients involved in Asian cooking. “I like food that is zesty and has a little punch to it.” It is an intriguing mix of influences for Diggs, considering he was born and raised in Ethiopia and received his formal culinary training in Germany. He moved to Mobile in 1991, and promptly opened the beloved, bygone Bienville Bistro. Then, in 2005, he debuted NoJa on North Jackson Street.

When it comes to entertaining, Diggs advises to make meals that are “fresh, flavorful and well-balanced with subtle, yet distinctive, flavor.” His mantra is, “Keep it simple.” He says it is all about preparation. “Think ahead, like we do in the restaurant business. Take your guests into consideration. Know what they like, then take it and make it surprise them, ” Diggs says. He confesses that he doesn’t often follow recipes. “I will look at them and then sort of do my own thing.” As a last bit of wisdom, he suggests, “It’s always best to underseason and slightly undercook because you can always add more or cook more if necessary.”

- Sponsors -


Salad of Tomato, Avocado, and Hearts of Palm

House-grilled Salmon*

Fingerling Potatoes and Fresh Peas

Seasonal Mix of Berries

*Start cooking the salmon after preparing the tomato salad and the potatoes.

Fingerling Potatoes and Fresh Peas

A simple, satisfying side dish of fun fingerling potatoes and sweet, tender peas.

10 small fingerling potatoes, unpeeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup fresh English peas
salt and pepper

1. Boil the potatoes in salted water for about 20 minutes, until cooked butnot mushy.
2. Drain the water leaving about 2 tablespoons in the pot, add the olive oil and peas, and continue heating on same burner at a very low heat. Stir every minute or so, keeping the lid on in between, until the peas are heated and tender, for about 5 minutes. Do not let the peas shrivel; maintain water as needed.
3. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat, cover and serve.
Serves 2.

Salad of Tomato, Avocado and Hearts of Palm

For this showy salad, don’t scrimp on the olive oil; use good quality.

1 large ripe tomato
1 ripe avocado
1 good-sized heart of palm
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lime
salt and pepper

1. Slice tomato, avocado and heart of palm into 1/4-inch thick slices.
2. Layer tomato and avocado on center of a large plate in alternating fashion.
3. Top with heart of palm and sprinkle with onion.
4. Chill until ready to serve. Just before serving, drizzle oil liberally, squeeze lime over arrangement, salt and pepper to taste.
Serves 2.

House-grilled Salmon

Diggs says he prefers to entertain in spring and fall when he can grill. “In the summer, it’s too strenuous because of the heat. But I love grilling; grilling is fantastic.” However, when the weather does not permit cooking alfresco, Diggs pulls out his handy grill pan that he uses on his stove indoors – often throwing in a little smoked sea salt. He did just that with this splendid salmon.

2 (8-ounce) fresh salmon fillets
(such as Alaskan King)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 shallot, peeled and chopped
smoked sea salt, to taste
3/4 teaspoon fish rub of your choice (such as Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Seafood Magic)
1/2 lime
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 – 2 teaspoons Plugrá European-Style Butter (found at The Fresh Market)

1. Lay the salmon in a baking dish and cover with olive oil, garlic and chopped shallot. Sprinkle with smoked sea salt.
2. Thoroughly spread the fish rub on to the salmon.
3. Squeeze lime over the fish, and pour the orange juice into the dish.
4. Lay thyme across the salmon, slide the dish into a large Ziploc bag and set aside.
5. Heat skillet over medium high heat and add vegetable oil. (Diggs uses a grill pan to sear grill marks while cooking indoors.) Immediately lay the salmon skin side up into pan.
6. Reserve marinade. Sear for 2 minutes and lower heat to medium. Cook until desired doneness. (Diggs recommends another 2 – 3 minutes for medium rare.)
7. Scrape and pour the juices from the baking dish into the skillet. Turn off heat, add butter and swirl until sauce is melted and well-heated.
9. Plate, pour sauce over salmon and garnish with thyme.
Serves 2.

Seasonal Mix of Berries

This is an easy, elegant way to end an evening. Freshly whipped cream and a splash of liqueur make this dessert decadent.

2 cups of mixed, seasonal berries, rinsed and dried (sliced if necessary)
1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream, chilled
juice of 1/2 lime
2 tablespoons of Drambuie, or an orange liqueur
1 tablespoon of raw sugar, or 1/2 teaspoon of Truvia
2 sprigs fresh mint

1. In a strainer, wash berries thoroughly and let dry.
2. Meanwhile, in a chilled, steel bowl whip the cream until soft peaks form. 
3. In a small bowl, combine lime juice, liqueur and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves.
4. Divide the berries in two serving bowls, drizzle with liqueur and lime juice mixture. Top with cream, and garnish with mint sprigs.
Serves 2.

Sallye Irvine

Get the best of Mobile delivered to your inbox

Be the first to know about local events, home tours, restaurant reviews and more!