Global Cuisine

menudochiliesI don’t want to lose weight, stand in line at the gym, or make short-lived resolutions for 2014 - I resolve to live in the moment.

Days before the holiday I decided that Menudo was my good luck dish for this New Year’s Day. It could have been black-eyed peas or slow cooked green with pot liquor, or lentils with something but I’ve been craving Menudo for months! Menudo is tripe soup with Guajillo chiles, onions, garlic, white hominy and a few other slippery slope ingredients. I planned on freezing 11 little bags of this potion, just in case my luck needs to be topped off…

I thought about creating my Menudo for days. I dragged every cookbook out on the subject and read all about it. I visited with Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy and that was long overdue. This good luck dish was turning into an adventure. Sure, I could have bought a can of Menudo and left it at that, or flown to Tucson, but instead I drove an hour south in light snow flurries to collect the ‘unusual’ ingredients. I had my grocery list and I was ready for some interaction with the human race after being isolated by bad weather.

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kungpo2The biggest lesson I learned  when stepping up from someone who occasionally cooked for herself to someone who cooks for a living is that the quality of ingredients is at the apex of importance. Actually, I think tasting the difference between food cooked with cheap or old elements, and fresh, high quality ingredients is a skill everyone develops whether they cook or not. This past summer I was walking home from the gym and passed a Mr. Softee truck. I was feeling depleted and entitled from my workout and stopped for a van/choc swirl cone- a prized acquisition in my childhood.

And you know something? It was disgusting. It tasted exactly like cold, wet plastic. And I was shocked- because I had decided that it was the most delicious and incredibly naughty reward I could give myself. I finished it of course but I had this sneaking suspicion that I would have felt happier had I rewarded myself with something that was good for me like one of the peaches from a local fruit stand. There are things that we all loved as a child that our adult palates won’t tolerate.

And that brings me to Chinese food. As I have mentioned before, I grew up in New York City, on a hearty diet of Chinese take-out at least once or twice a week. It’s what you did. And it was fantastic, I swear. But these days… I cannot figure out why I can’t recapture the blissful Chinese delivery food orgy of my childhood. It all tastes like crap to me, like used fry oil and old ingredients and people skimming every last cent of quality into their bank accounts.

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blackbeannachosAmong all the international foods enjoyed in this country, Mexican food is one of the most popular. It's hard not to love Mexican food: the spiciness, complex and earthy flavors, and multiple textures. It's truly soul-satisfying comfort food. And why shouldn't we like the food of our neighbors? Though we don't always behave so neighborly. With all that's happening right now with Arizona's proposed new immigration law, we can't forget that immigrants built this nation and Mexican-Americans have contributed much to this country.

Cinco de Mayo, the fifth of May, is the day that commemorates the Mexican defeat of the French army in Peubla in 1862. In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is not an official holiday and it's not often celebrated. Here in the States we celebrate it as a day of Mexican heritage with lots of food and drink. And what's a Mexican celebration without those two party necessities?

This traditional Mexican snack/appetizer consists of tortilla chips topped with black beans and queso, placed under the broiler so the cheese turns oozy. It's all topped with chunks of tomato and avocado, sliced scallions, and pickled jalapeños. This party food is meant to go with drinks, so grab some Margaritas and dig in. 

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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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japeggplant2.jpgEggplants are some of the most unique and interesting vegetables. Many of us in the States are only familiar with the large and bulbous globe variety. But there are many more to be found elsewhere in the world. Eggplants, also called aubergines, are native to Asia with many different varieties found throughout the continent. Asian eggplants come in many different shapes, colors, and sizes. Some berries—as they are botanically referred to—are thin and long, others short and spherical. Colors range from white and green to purple and almost black with some even striped. A thinner skin and milder flesh make the Asian varieties much more prized than the oftentimes bitter globe.

You don't have to go all the way to Asia to find some amazing specimens. Many are available in Asian markets, farmers' markets, and even as plants in garden nurseries. I've found many in my local international market, such as the small Indian variety, which I used in this green curry. For this stir-fry recipe I use the long Japanese variety. I quickly toss chunks of eggplant in a hot wok and add a sweet-tart sauce, chile pepper, and Thai basil. The dish makes a wonderful appetizer or vegetarian main course when served with rice. A fast meal with fresh vegetables is the best way to enjoy the bounties of summer.

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