Global Cuisine

thousandhillscoverJosh Ruxin did not write a book about food, although his story takes place against a backdrop of heart-wrenching hunger and Eden-esque abundance, tracing a journey from famine to feast.

He did not write a book about restaurants, although he tells how two American ex-pats created one of the hippest dining establishments in Africa.

He did not set out to write about good and evil, but his book describes one of the most horrific genocides in human history, and the astonishing efforts of both the victims and their persecutors to find forgiveness and redemption.

He didn't even write a love story, although A Thousand Hills to Heaven centers on two people who are very much in love—young Americans you might meet at a party, endowed with the same hearts, brains, and DNA as you or I—but who found the strength to work a thousand miracles in a land God forgot.

And he certainly didn't write a cookbook, but he concludes his story with six recipes that will make you want to head for your kitchen and light your grill to try them.

What he did write is one of the most extraordinary narratives of hope I have read in decades—a book that, just for reading it, makes you aspire to be a better person.

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grilledshrimpSpicy 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. Pineapple, papaya, or guava are also commonly used in salsa frescas. Once combined with savory elements and herbs, such as onions and cilantro, and lime juice to add acidity, the salsa becomes a wonderful condiment, especially for seafood. Use it as a topping for any seared or grilled fish. This dish truly brings to mind Mexico and its unique culinary heritage. Its flavors will have you there in no time. 

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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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lisamccree.jpgHere’s a true confession: Sometimes I really miss the ‘80s. Okay. Maybe I don’t miss the Crystal Carrington hair, the Donna Mills eye shadow, or the chandelier earrings that looked like they should hang over Trump’s dining table. (What are they made of? Foil?? And look! A matching necklace! I could be Queen of  QVC!)

But I did have a great time as an anchor and reporter in Dallas in the ’80′s, and do miss the group of girlfriends who joined me after the 5 o’clock news as we ate our way around the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex.

Of all the places we haunted, I think our favorite was Javier’s. Very upscale for Mexican restaurants of that time, it was decidedly old school and elegant in a Mexico City kind of way. There, you wouldn’t find tacos or quesadillas …but rich moles, luscious grilled steaks stuffed with roasted chilies and cheese, and pulled pork that was cooked in a seasoned sauce for so long that it didn’t just melt in your mouth, it melted on your fork on it’s way there.

tomatillosalsa_close.jpgBut Javier knew, whenever we walked in, that more than the meats or moles, all we really craved was a bucket (or two) of chips and big bowl (or 2) their warm tomatillo sauce. There was no day at work, no traffic so bad or no break-up so fierce, that this sweet yet spicy sauce wouldn’t cure it. It was our Magic Green Elixir.

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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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