Global Cuisine

lebaneseacornsquashI love Mediterranean food especially from the eastern region, spanning the countries from Greece through Turkey and all the way down to Lebanon and Egypt in the north of Africa. Just thinking about gyros, kebabs, and a platter of mezze from these countries makes my mouth water. It was in college that I first experienced this culinary culture, trying new things like pita bread, falafel, tabbouleh, and hummus. Then on a summer break from school I took a family trip to Hungary and was surprised by all the restaurants selling gyros and kebabs. One corner it was a restaurant owned by a Turkish and on the other corner a restaurant owned by a Greek, all selling similar foods but with different names. That's when I realized the close connection between all these countries: they were all ruled by the Ottoman Empire.

Probably the best thing that came from the Ottoman rule was the melting pot of cuisine. One of my favorite restaurants to go for eastern Mediterranean slash Middle Eastern food is Kashkaval in New York City. I really can't tell which country their food represents, but they have everything on the menu from Hungarain chicken paprikash to Turkish meatballs. Their enormous selection of mezze are a feature of the menu and so are their fondues. The one made from Kashkaval cheese, the source for the restaurant's names, is unbeatably good. A vegetarian coworker first introduced me to the restaurant and I've returned countless times ever since always with friends in tow. It's the type of good food that encourages sharing among everyone.

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bokchoysaladRecently I learned that bok choy is the number one vegetable in China. It seems to be the number one vegetable in my CSA box lately. It's a very healthy vegetable with a ton of vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K plus and is even a good source of calcium and iron, but I have to admit, after serving it steamed or sautéed again and again, I was looking for a new way to prepare it.

As luck would have it, at a Chinese New Year's dinner I stumbled upon a terrific dish at Fang restaurant. It was served raw, as a salad with a soy and sesame vinaigrette alongside some chunks of short rib. Bok choy is very mild flavored but it has great texture. The leaves are tender and somewhat herbal without being bitter, and the stems are very juicy and crisp. I had never considered using bok choy in salad but after trying that dish, I couldn't stop thinking about it.

Looking around online I found plenty of Asian inspired recipes for bok choy salad, and a few takes on coleslaw and even a chopped salad. My idea was to make a more Italian style salad using extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and Parmigiano Reggiano. The result is a salad at once familiar and yet fresh. It's a great choice for a potluck or dinner party, because it is very sturdy and won't easily wilt. You could mix in other greens, add cherry tomatoes or even fresh fava beans when in season.

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noodles-e1400604479450My improvisational style of cooking involves templates. Especially when it comes to cold noodles. I hate thinking of them as “salads” since that implies a “dressing” that is at the forefront. Instead, they’re bowls of cool freshness, or fresh coolness. When it’s hot I want a flavor bomb, some spice and not a lot of fat. That fat part? Speaking not from a diet perspective but from a mouth feel. Hot weather eating cries out for something clean, with a defined flavor profile. Not sludgy. So I tend to look toward Asia for flavor influence.

These spontaneous noodles come together with whatever I happen to have on hand. This time I used rice noodles which are perfect for hot weather since you don’t really need to boil them. I bring water to the boil, add the noodles and turn off the heat. The rice noodles soften in a matter of minutes. Drain them and squeeze out more of the water and you’re ready to toss them with the Nuoc Cham. I like tossing the noodles in the sauce then putting them in the refrigerator to cool and soak while I prepare the rest of the ingredients. You can also prep the veggies and let them marinate in the sauce while you cook the noodles.

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caboshrimpOn a trip to the southern tip of Baja California, I heard about Tequila Restaurant in San Jose del Cabo, twenty minutes east of its better known cousin, Cabo San Lucas.  Enrique Silva, co-owner and chef, introduced me to one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, Camarones al Tequila.

He serves the shrimp with sides of black beans and fried plantains, which were great, but a bit impractical for my kitchen so I’ve adapted the recipe.

For a side, I think rice, pasta, or steamed spinach works just as well. The tequila-garlic sauce gives plenty of flavor.  Add a green salad and you have the perfect, easy-to-prepare meal.

The tequila should be white and inexpensive. Save the good stuff for your guests.

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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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