Global Cuisine

huevossaladI think Mexican food is one of my all time favorites.  Growing up in Southern California, the availability of "good" Mexican food was not hard to find, it was everywhere.  I have so many old favorite places that served everything from Tex-Mex cuisine to more authentic regional Mexican cooking.  I do miss those places.  Badly.

This particular dish is a take on Huevos Rancheros (Ranch Eggs), a classic Mexican breakfast dish usually consisting of fried eggs served on top of corn tortillas with a chili-based salsa and avocado.  It's an awesome way to start the day!

But I have to say this salad also has many of my favorite ingredients...black beans, green salsa, chips and cheese.  The tomatillo or green salsa gives so much flavor.  I have always preferred a green salsa over red anyway.  The broiling of the chips also gives them that extra-toasty crunch which is just makes it all worth the trouble.

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german-mealYou really don’t need to be German to have fun celebrating Oktoberfest. And, you don’t need to travel to Munich to enjoy the food we associate with Germany and its festival that lasts several days, providing a gateway for summer to turn to fall. This year, the celebrating begins September 22nd and will run through October 7th.

My dad was German, so I’ve eaten plenty of roast pork, sauerkraut and huge boiled dumplings that my Hungarian mom became proficient at creating. But when Oktoberfest rolls around, I start thinking about sausage. And sauerkraut. With boiled potatoes. In my column, I shared a recipe for German-Style Potato Bake. Thick slices of red potatoes blanketed with a smooth, creamy beer-spiked sauce, tender bits of onion swimming through it. I’ve served the potatoes with grilled bratwurst and sauerkraut that’s simmered in beer. It’s delicious.

I decided I could combine the potatoes with sausage and kraut all in one dish. I used some enamel-coated cast iron individual serving-size casseroles that a friend gave me as a gift quite a long time ago.

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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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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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paicheIt’s not everyday that you get the chance to try a fish you’ve never even heard of before. Last week I cooked paiche (pie-chay) a fish from the Amazon, also known as arapaima or pirarucu. Freshwater paiche are huge, growing be up to near 500 pounds, and breathe through lungs rather than gills. Considered a prehistoric fish, the flesh is very firm, but also rich and high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Endangered in the wild from overfishing, paiche is now raised commercially in ponds so wild fish remain protected, and free of any antibiotics or mercury. It’s one of the top fish farmed in Peru, and you may find it on restaurant menus or at Whole Foods, the only retailer currently selling it in the US.

It’s easy to cook paiche for a couple of reasons, because it’s dense and firm it won’t easily fall apart and because it’s rich it doesn’t get dry, even if you overcook it. It has a very clean, buttery slightly sweet flavor and is somewhat similar to sea bass or cod in texture.

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