Global Cuisine

ImageFor those who love Mexican food, there's nothing better than finding a good Mexican restaurant to frequent regularly. That's because foreign cuisine can seem tough to tackle at home, especially the unique Mexican. But sometimes the craving hits without notice and you want something more than salsa and chips. For me that's when I get the urge to make authentic Mexican food at home. I have yet to master the cuisine, but rather than hit the fast-food chain with the bell or an expensive restaurant, I make my favorite dish in my own kitchen. Chilaquiles is the dish I've found really easy and successful for a beginner in south-of-the-border cooking.

Chilaquiles, a Mexican dish purposely invented to repurpose day-old tortillas, is also the perfect dish for using leftover Thanksgiving turkey or chicken. Made up of fried tortillas, shredded chicken, tomatillo salsa, and cheese, it can resembles a lasagne when layered in a casserole dish. But for faster results, chilaquiles can also be put together in tortilla stacks and placed in a hot oven just to melt the cheese and warm it through. When I first tasted chilaquiles at a restaurant, it hit my comfort spot immediately. Once I found a recipe by Daisy Martinez, I knew I had to try making it for myself. It's a dish that can make a person or—if you're willing to share—an entire family very happy.

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sweet tangy plum spiced chickenI call this the 1-2-3 dinner because just like that, snap, and it's ready.

On the way home yesterday, after spending the afternoon at a museum with my boys, my eight-year old begged me to make this for dinner. It's one of his favorite meals and he knows he doesn't have to wait long for me to whip this up.

"Mom, please make the 1-2-3 chicken tonight, it's soooo good. I really, really want it and it's so yummy.

So here it is, dinner in a flash, ready so fast there's even time to take pictures!

I know I saw this recipe in a magazine, however I can't remember which one. I've made it so many times, I have it memorized. I also don't remember if this dish had a name, so let's call it Tangy-Sweet Plum-Spiced Chicken, a shout out to the plum jam and Chinese five-spice powder used in this recipe.

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black_cod4.jpgBefore I tell you this story, I have to tell you how I met Bobby in the first place. I was in Century City with a friend of mine and we ran into this group of Persian guys. It was all very high school and they were all very hung over. I wasn’t really paying much attention until one of them, within two minutes of having been introduced to me, starting feeling up my arm. I mean, really, feeling up my arm—you know, the underneath part of the upper arm that so many women (and some men) are sensitive about? Yea. To make matters worse, every time I tried to pull away he’d respond by saying, “Give me that filet.” “Excuse me?!?” “You ate a lot of hoomoos as a kid, didn’t you?” “Are you saying I’m fat?!” “Don’t insult the filet this way.”

I didn’t see Bobby again for a few months and had pretty much forgotten about the whole exchange when I was at a birthday party at the new-ish Trader Vic’s and all of a sudden, from across the pool, I hear, “Filet . . . Can it be you?” Needless to say, Bobby and I became fast friends, although he does still try to feel up my arm occasionally.

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kofta.jpg The flavors and spices of Middle Eastern foods, especially the grilled kebabs and koftas, are some of the most interesting and unique, with influence stretching from the Himalayas to the Mediterranean. Koftas, grilled ground meat patties, can be found in many countries in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, And Central Europe. A few years back I enjoyed some wonderful lamb koftas at a Turkish restaurant in New York City. Ever since then I've kept the idea in the back of my mind of creating my own recipe. Inspired also by the Hungarian fasírt my mother makes, I wanted to create a recipe that combined spices from the various regions: paprika from Hungary and coriander, cumin, and turmeric from India.

My mother's fasírt combines beef and pork and only uses the simplest spices, whereas koftas are generally made out of beef or lamb and use the most pungent spices. These koftas can be shaped into patties or meatballs, but I thread them onto skewers, one of the more interesting methods of cooking them. They can be fried in oil, but grilling them is healthier and lends more flavor. In South Asia, koftas are seared first and then stewed in curry. This recipe can be adapted to suit many tastes and preparations. The idea of meat on a stick is so novel that it's worth making, especially for kids.

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ImageChickpeas are among the most ancient and versatile legumes. Originating from the Middle East long before Christ, chickpeas eventually spread throughout Asia and Europe and have been a part of our diets for milennia. Popular chickpea dishes include hummus and falafel from the Middle East, roasted ceci from Italy, and besan ladoo and chana masala from India. Chickpeas can be cooked whole from dried beans, eaten fresh from the pod, dried and ground into flour, or puréed. One of my favorite Indian sweets is besan ladoo, which uses chickpea flour to create the buttery and sugary balls enjoyed as a Diwali festival dessert.

One of the easiest and most loved Indian chickpea dishes is stew. Indian chana masala is a flavorful vegetarian curry of chickpeas with a wonderful blend of Eastern spices. Indians hold chickpeas in high regard and the bean is considered to be the most widely used legume in the subcontinent. Vegetarians especially appreciate chickpeas for their nutritional value as they are high in protein and fiber. But even if you aren't a vegetarian, you too can enjoy this chickpea curry. Whether you eat it as a main dish or a side to pair with meat, this dish is completely versatile. It's easy to love and most certainly worthy of having seconds.

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