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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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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greencurry.jpgI cannot go to a Thai restaurant without ordering green curry. It is by far my most favorite Thai dish and I've eaten so many versions that I can almost say I'm an expert in its flavor. Something about the creamy coconut sauce with slight sweetness, the hot chiles, the green color, and verdant flavor makes me crave this dish very often. Curry, a generic term for dishes in South Asian cuisine, is known for its use of distinctive spices combined to form unique flavor. Most Westerners assume that curry is a single spice or a mixture of them. Although this is somewhat true, the word curry, an Anglicization of the Tamil word khari, references the nature of the dish: a stew, sauce, or gravy; not the spices. The colonizing English happened to call all saucy South Asian foods by the name curry, and the name stuck.

The most well-known curries are Indian and Thai, but the combination of ingredients differ greatly. Thai curries use a vast array of fresh herbs and vegetables such as cilantro, kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass to lend incomparable aroma. The base of the green curry comes from the all-important paste, which combines lemongrass, lime leaves, shallots, garlic, ginger, cilantro, chiles, and the spices coriander and cumin along with the particularly Thai ingredients: fish sauce and shrimp paste. All of the Thai curries begin with a similar flavorful paste, but of course a red curry will begin with a red paste, and a yellow with a yellow. The "green" ingredients create the unforgettable fresh flavor that is the base for green curry.

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