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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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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sam-gye-tang-opener.jpgStuffed and sated without the ability to eat even one more bite – or so I thought – we headed to Hwang Hu Sam Gye Tang restaurant to experience Samgyetang, a hot bowl of bubbling chicken soup made with one very important ingredient: ginseng.

Ushered upstairs to the second floor of this elegant and glistening airy restaurant, we were seated next to a vast window overlooking a rainy busy side street below. We passed walls that were lined with photographs of celebrity and everyday patrons, leaving the menu to appear even that much more sparse. Hwang Hu Sam Gye Tang doesn’t offer too many things other than chicken and ginseng soup, a fact I’d later forget about once the scorching hot liquid touched my tongue.

The chef and host suggested that they bring our food to the table before cooking purely for photographic purposes. “Please, do not go through any trouble” I said to our guide, watching my translated words make their way to the chef. The chef wouldn’t have it any other way, his face said everything I needed to know. Once a boiling hot soup is brought to our table I would see none of the ingredients; steam and bubbles would make sure of that. I acquiesced and like a good guest I let them set out bowls of food to photograph.

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kofka-kebabsIt’s been a very, very short summer. I am not at all happy that 2 of my 3 kids are returning to school this Tuesday. WTF…it’s mid August! Packing lunches, getting up early(not a problem for me, but for them-YES), and routine is all part of this weeks drill.

Honestly speaking, I barely cooked this summer. It felt great to take a break, yet with school two days away it’s time for me to get back into the kitchen. Shopping, prepping, and organizing has filled my weekend. Cookies and brownies are made and frozen (perfect snack for the lunch box), farmers market organic fruits are flash frozen (great for morning smoothies), salad dressings are made and bottled, veggies are washed, meat and chicken are grilled (for easy sandwiches or simply served on their own), and the meal planning has begun!

Spending 30 or so minutes each morning on prep will allow me to get these nutritous and balanced meals on the table each night. Tonight’s dinner is one of my favorites. Combining all the ingredients in the morning allows the meat to marinate all day. Shaped into balls, skewered, and grilled, this is one of those perfect 30 minute meals.

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moussake.jpg "It's all Greek to me" were practically the words that came out of my mouth when I first saw this dish listed on a restaurant menu. I didn't know what I was getting in to, but ever since that initial sumptuous taste, I have been in love and obsessed with this classic Greek casserole. Moussaka at first may appear to be a wintry meal, but late summer with its abundance of dark purple eggplants or aubergines is truly the perfect opportunity for making this dish. For me the sight of an eggplant around this time of year automatically equals moussaka. And truth be told, I love it so much that I usually end up eating the entire casserole all by myself.

This love, however, doesn't come so easy. The recipe takes real time and preparation, but it's wholeheartedly worth it. Many components can be made ahead, in particular the meat filling. The day before I plan to make this meal, perhaps for a summer dinner party, I prepare the simple ground-meat filling. Late the next morning of the dinner, I'll fry the eggplant slices for the layers. Then about an hour before guests begin to arrive, I'll make the béchamel sauce, start the assembly, and bake. After the casserole has a chance to cool for easier slicing and serving, it's ready to be enjoyed with a chilled glass of Greek white wine.

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