Global Cuisine

cucumber salad 012When I was growing up, my mom often made two different cucumber salads. For each of the salads, she sliced fresh cucumbers into very thin rounds. In one salad, the cucumbers bathed in a clear vinegar-water solution seasoned with sugar and lots of black pepper. I always liked that salad. My favorite, though, was the salad made of thinly sliced cucumbers swimming in a delicious sour cream sauce with sugar and vinegar stirred in along with thin, delicate threads of fresh dill weed.

During the last couple of weeks I’ve been able to purchase English, or seedless, cucumbers at my local farmers market. These long, slender cukes are not really seedless, but the seeds are so small and insignificant compared to regular cucumbers, they seem seedless when they’re being eaten.

Last night I served the Sour Cream Cucumber Salad with grilled pork chops, potatoes and beans. This is a salad that is good with everything. My Hungarian mother always served Sour Cream Cucumber Salad with a traditional meal of Paprika Chicken and tiny homemade dumplings. Since my mom taught me how to make this salad, I often refer to it as Hungarian Cucumber Salad.

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porkdumplingsI love the custom of Chinese dim sum because it brings friends and family together at the table. This style of food is enjoyed with small plates, which allows the diner the opportunity to enjoy many different dishes in small quantities. For me it's a way to find a favorite and stick with it. In every Chinatown in the United States you would be hard pressed not to find a restaurant offering dim sum or what I like to call Chinese brunch. I remember my first time at a dim sum place in New York with a group of Asian friends. I was lucky to have help in deciphering the menus and communicating with the waitresses, who brought out the food on trolleys and took orders by stamping slips of paper. It's truly an experience that transports the nonnative eater to China.

It's been many years since I've had good traditional dim sum and my longing for dumplings has increasingly grown since. With the arrival of Chinese New Year, there is no better reason to make my dim sum favorite, shu mai, at home. These dumplings are typically made of shrimp and pork, but they can also be made of pork and mushroom, and even mutton, depending on the regional cuisine. No matter the filling, shu mai always retain a characteristic look: they sort of resemble little volcanoes with filling erupting from their tops. They only need limited skill to form the shape and the best shortcut of all is using wonton wrappers instead of making the dough. It takes just minutes to bring together this easy dim sum, which also makes a fun party appetizer.

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CAKE.dulcedelecheThis week we will be celebrating both Cinco de Mayo and Teacher Appreciation Week.  Needless to say, I am going to be spending lots of time in the kitchen. Baking for the teacher’s give me lots of joy. Last year, for the teachers, I made Cake in a Jar and in prior year I have made dozens of cookies and pounds of candy.  This year I am using seasonal fruits to inspire my gift giving.

But, before I get to my baking adventures for the teachers, I am planning my Cinco de Mayo menu.  Along with my traditional guacamole, shredded beef tacos with pickled onions, red rice, and mojitos(more on these recipes later), I made a Chili Rellano Tart and this Dulce de Leche Cake. One very small bite of this cake and I couldn’t believe how wonderful it tasted.  If there was a show for “The Best Thing I Ever Baked”, this would be the winner.

It is so moist and so light.  It is a very basic white cake (with booze), but what makes it so rich and delicious is, while warm, a mixture of heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, and evaporated milk is poured directly over the cake (my thighs are growing as I write this).  Then it sits in the pan, soaking up all this goodness, while the cake cools. As it was cooling, I made some homemade dulce de leche.  Right before serving, I sliced the cake and drizzled the caramel over the top.  This is not something one could keep in the house, it is simply a special occasion kind of treat!

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