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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phoBeing creative in cooking sometimes means breaking the rules or borrowing a sauce from a traditional dish and using it in a non-traditional way.

When a diner is served the popular Vietnamese soup called pho, a basket of fresh green vegetables and bean sprouts accompanies a giant soup bowl filled to the brim with meat and noodles. For seasoning, a dipping sauce is also provided. As a matter of personal taste, I prefer the lighter pho ga, made with chicken, to its deeper flavored, beefy cousins. After years of eating pho ga I realized that part of my craving for the soup was because I loved the dipping sauce called nuoc cham gung.

In the sauce, finely minced ginger and garlic mingle with flecks of dried Szechuan peppers in a vinegary-salty-sweet sauce, accentuated with lime-citrus notes.

With one of those wonderful epiphanies that happen to foodies who think about food a bit too much, I realized that nuoc cham gung would make a good marinade and glaze for my favorite appetizer—chicken wings.

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norisquaresOn vacation for a week in Carlsbad, we enjoyed days without a set schedule. When to get out of bed? Maybe 7:30, or maybe not until 8:30. What time for a walk on the beach? Let's see when low tide is. We slept, ate, read, watched TV and went to the movies when we felt like it.

And we had great weather. Bright sunny skies. Temperatures in the upper 60's and low 70's. We discovered new places to eat, enjoyed our favorite coffee shop--Pannikin Coffee & Tea in Leucadia/Encinitas--and bought flowering plants and three blueberry bushes--that had ripe fruit on the branches!--from a great nursery, Cedros Gardens in Solana Beach.

What a great vacation. When we wanted to hang around the room, with our mini-refrigerator, wet bar and the 2-burner electric stove top brought from home, we made salads, soups and snacks.

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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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Spanish-Style-Quinoa-the-perfect-addition-to-any-mealLast weekend I found myself alone in the house for like a day, something that never happens. I immediately turned the television to HGTV so I could watch hours upon hours of House Hunters episodes. Then I made myself a big batch of quinoa! My husband does not consider quinoa a meal or a favorite, but it was just me and HGTV and this dish. Total bliss.

I love Spanish flavors, it reminds me of being in Spain and driving around the countryside. If you’ve ever driven through the heart of Spain then you know it is filled with olive trees. They have something like 700 million olive trees planted there, the scenery is an endless blur of them. 

The olive influence is apparent in Spanish cuisine with all the olive oil produced there. But saffron and figs also make a big appearance in many Spanish dishes. I have had some of the best and some of the strangest food in my travels through Spain, but the big, bold flavors have always stuck with me.

The olives give this dish a savory and salty taste, but the saffron is apparent in every bite. One would think the figs would play a larger role in sweetness, but they are just a nice background flavor. I would serve this with fish or grilled chicken for a light summer meal.

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