Global Cuisine

kalelambFor most normal cooks, inspiration can come from just about anywhere…a restaurant, a cookbook, even a book club. But one of the consequences of being a journalist who cooks is that, occasionally, I end up “cooking the news.”

And, in 2011, as the pro-democracy movement that became known as the Arab Spring swept through North Africa and the Middle East, I ended up in the kitchen (along with Wolf Blitzer) skinny-fying a traditional dish of the region that’s now a family favorite:  Kale, Chard and Chickpea Stew with Lamb over Clever Couscous.

It’s a dish that not only celebrates the rich tastes of Tunisia, it’s also rich with disease fighting and energy boosting nutrition. Already known to be a great weight loss food, chickpeas are loaded with protein, fiber and iron and–like the other fresh ingredients in this dish like sweet potatoes, zucchini, onions, chili peppers, the amazing kale, chard and the super-powered cooked tomatoes – they provide unique antioxidants that are proven to help fight heart disease and cancer.

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tamalesWhen it comes to cooking the food from another culture, the ingredients and techniques can be unfamiliar. Going to a foreign country and taking a cooking class is great, but not a readily accessible opportunity for most. Fortunately there are local cooking classes and cooking kits.

Recently launched Global Grub offers cooking kits with extremely well written instructions that will help you succeed in making things like sushi, or jerk chicken with coconut rice and beans. I used the tamales kit and was very impressed with the quality of the ingredients, the clear instructions and the wonderful results. My dad said the tamales were the best he'd ever eaten!

Kits include the dry and hard to find ingredients, and range in price from $13.99 up to $19.99 and for every kit purchased, Global Grub donates a meal to someone in need through their local food bank. Global Grub offers tutorial videos on their site, and the instructions with each kit are easily folded into a stand for easy reference as you cook.

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mexisoup.jpgSo any dish that I can make one day, eat it the next two or so, and enjoy it every time is a winner in my book. Soups and stews are most always better once they have “set” and allowed their flavors to thoroughly combine. This stew slash thick soup is of no exception. Delicious right out of the pot and just as good the next day, my Mexican Stew is an easy winner.

Don’t get me wrong, I love soups and food in general, but condiments, sides, garnishes, and flavor savors make a dish! Sour cream and Monterey Pepper Jack cheese in this case. Now, about this cheese…oh my! The Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack I love is from our local meat market, M&T Meats in Hawkinsville. It IS a cheese among cheeses. Very creamy, plenty of pepper warmth but not fiery, and melts in a jiffy…this is a cheese for me! The ones at the grocery are just fine, but if you have the chance to buy a local cheese, pounce on the opportunity…it is well worth it!

I digress, back on to the Mexican Stew. Meaty, hearty, and full of flavor, this stew was born out of what I had on hand – sometimes making the best dishes. A leaner ground beef and little bit of ground sausage (plain ol’ good sausage, no flavorings…mine again was from M&T) make for a textural background flavor and also provide the right amount of cooking fat for the whole stew.

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sweetsourshrimp.jpg Spicy and tropical flavors always transport my imagination to lush jungles or azure beaches belonging to more temperate climates. Mexican food in particular has that effect on me. At home whenever I want to add a south-of-the-border touch to recipes I reach for dried chiles.

Ancho chile powder, made of ground dried poblano peppers, lends a smoky and earthy flavor to recipes (think of the many famous mole sauces). Combine it with lime juice and oil and you have the perfect Mex-like marinade for meat or fish. In this case it's shrimp, briefly marinated and then grilled. Paired with a fresh salsa, it's a summery dish that serves well as a quick appetizer when friends stop by.

The grilled shrimp is spicy and savory whereas the mango salsa is sweet and tangy. It may sound a bit unusual to have fruit in a salsa, but it's not uncommon in Mexico and the Caribbean. Fruits indigenous to these areas are utilized in many different ways in recipe preparations.

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newoliveoil.jpgNovember is a glorious time in Umbria. The grape harvest has been recently completed, the olive harvest is underway and all the stores and restaurants are trumpeting vino novello and olio nuovo. I was at my local butcher and I asked him the difference between nuovo and novello,because as far as I could figure out, they both meant “new”.

A spirited discussion ensued among the small crowd of customers waiting in line for prosciutto, the end result of which was that there is no difference between the two words, but no one would be caught dead saying olio novella or vino nuovo.

If you did, they would think you were a German.

Olio nuovo does not travel. If anyone tries to sell it to you at Dean and Deluca or Eataly, sneer at them and say that you have to be there to get the experience of new oil, just pressed today. By “there” I mean the hills of central Umbria where truly fine olive oil is pressed from the local fruit. I know this because we have been picking that fruit for the last two weeks and will be for the next three.

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