Global Cuisine

ImageKnown as tortilla de patatas or tortilla española, this dish is not your Mexican tortilla but an omelette of potatoes bound together with eggs. This traditional Spanish food is commonly offered as a tapas served at bars or taken on picnics. It's what I'd like to think of as a Spanish version of the French quiche. In some areas of Spain these tortillas are made in large deep pans so the dish almost looks like a cake or a wheel of cheese. Tortillas made at home resemble American omelettes or Italian frittatas. What makes this tortilla so appealing is how buttery the potatoes turn when they are cooked in olive oil.

Making a tortilla always starts the same way: thin potato slices are boiled in olive oil. They must not be fried or get any color, they should be just cooked until tender. Next the potatoes are combined with beaten eggs and then poured and spread into a skillet. It is cooked on one side and then flipped over to cook on the other. The basic tortilla is made of simply potatoes and eggs, but other ingredients can be added, such as onions, bell peppers, or chorizo. This recipe features all three for the ultimate Spanish flavor.

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lebaneseacornsquashI love Mediterranean food especially from the eastern region, spanning the countries from Greece through Turkey and all the way down to Lebanon and Egypt in the north of Africa. Just thinking about gyros, kebabs, and a platter of mezze from these countries makes my mouth water. It was in college that I first experienced this culinary culture, trying new things like pita bread, falafel, tabbouleh, and hummus. Then on a summer break from school I took a family trip to Hungary and was surprised by all the restaurants selling gyros and kebabs. One corner it was a restaurant owned by a Turkish and on the other corner a restaurant owned by a Greek, all selling similar foods but with different names. That's when I realized the close connection between all these countries: they were all ruled by the Ottoman Empire.

Probably the best thing that came from the Ottoman rule was the melting pot of cuisine. One of my favorite restaurants to go for eastern Mediterranean slash Middle Eastern food is Kashkaval in New York City. I really can't tell which country their food represents, but they have everything on the menu from Hungarain chicken paprikash to Turkish meatballs. Their enormous selection of mezze are a feature of the menu and so are their fondues. The one made from Kashkaval cheese, the source for the restaurant's names, is unbeatably good. A vegetarian coworker first introduced me to the restaurant and I've returned countless times ever since always with friends in tow. It's the type of good food that encourages sharing among everyone.

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springrollsRice paper salad rolls are basically salads wrapped in rice paper. You probably already have plenty of salad ingredients in your fridge, but what about Vietnamese rice paper? It's one of those pantry ingredients I've sometimes bought and used once, and then forgot about. And that's kind of a shame because it has a lot going for it. It's cheap, keeps forever and is easy to use.

Rice paper is traditionally used to make Vietnamese "Summer rolls" but like tortillas, it's extremely versatile and shouldn't be limited to only Vietnamese cuisine. Use it as a wrapper for pretty much whatever you like and you've got a great appetizer, snack or meal. While tortillas are served warm, rice paper rolls are served at room temperature.

I believe eating outdoors is more fun than eating inside, and that eating with your fingers makes everything taste better. So that makes rice paper salad rolls perfect for picnics (or take from home lunches). I have used all kinds of different fillings and this is a combination I really like, but experiment! Try sprouts, shredded chicken, smoked salmon, enoki mushrooms--the possibilities are endless.

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Oven-Baked-Pulled-Pork-Flautas-1This recipe as a weapon of mass deliciousness. It’s easy to make and serve for a house full of your friends and family.

I have always thought of flautas as a specialty dish, one I would only order at a Mexican restaurant. Somewhere along the line I convinced myself flautas were complicated and I didn’t want to deal with the deep-frying. It’s not that I’m opposed to deep frying, but I knew it would be difficult and time-consuming to fry dozens of flautas for a large gathering.

However, I recently changed my mind and started working on perfecting baked flautas at home. I wanted the meat seasoned properly with traditional Mexican flavors. But most importantly, the flour tortilla had to have the perfect crunch. Anything less wouldn’t be right. I was looking for a flaky texture, similar to the deep-fried flauta.

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ImageCongee is rice served "wet" in a broth with vegetables, tofu, meat, seafood, or poultry.

Congee is the Asian equivalent of Jewish chicken soup, perfect when the weather is cold and damp or you're fighting off a cold. Served in a variety of ways, depending on the country of origin or what's in season, the basic dish is made with cooked rice, a liquid, and flavorings. You'll find dozens of authentic, regional recipes in cookbooks and online, but in our kitchen "congee" is another way of saying repurposed deliciousness.

Whatever we don't eat at a Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, or Thai restaurant we bring home. Invariably, a container of rice is included along with the kung pao chicken, tempera shrimp and vegetables, stir fried beef with broccoli, or sweet and sour pork that we couldn't finish.

Reheating these dishes at home is one option, but transforming them into congee is better. For example, converting vegetable and shrimp tempura into an aromatic, deeply satisfying and delicious congee is one way this simple technique can turn left-overs into the best comfort food you've ever eaten.

Tempura Vegetable and Shrimp Congee

Serves 2
Time 30 minutes
2 tempura shrimp, tail removed
4-6 pieces tempura vegetables
1 cup cooked rice
1 garlic clove, skin removed, finely chopped
4 cups spinach leaves, washed to remove grit, stems and leaves finely chopped
4 shiitake mushrooms, washed, tips of the stems removed, thinly sliced
1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh or from a can
2 cups water or miso soup or a combination of both
1 tablespoon olive or sesame oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Cut the shrimp and tempura vegetables into bite-sized pieces and set aside.  Saute on a medium-low flame the garlic, shiitake mushrooms, and corn kernels until lightly browned. 
Add the cut up spinach and water or a mix of miso soup and water. Raise the flame and simmer 10 minutes.
Add the cut up tempura vegetables and shrimp to the broth. Stir well and simmer 10 minutes.
Add the cooked rice, stir well and simmer a final 5 minutes.
David Latt is an Emmy-award winning television producer who turns to cooking to alleviate stress. He shares his experiences with food and his favorite recipes on his blog Men Who Like To Cook.