Global Cuisine

indianfood.jpg I first fell in love with Indian food while working at a company in West Hollywood and my boss, who was a true asshole with excellent taste in food, always ordered lunches from Anarkali.  I would drive to pick up the large order for practically everyone in the office, and savored the few minutes I spent inside there while waiting for the food. Anarkali's low ceilings and uber-decorative booths offered a sweet escape from my days at work.  And they always gave me free beer, which I would give to the head of the company because I was still 18 and not quite ready to drink on the job. 

The array of foods on the table in the center of the office would bring everyone together and I slipped in and out of taste bud sensations.  I had never liked Indian food, until Anarkali. Then I started eating it all the time.  It worked perfectly for my family because now they didn't have to wait until I wasn't home for dinner before ordering Indian.  I still remember the styrofoam platters (a rare allowance for my mother) lined up across the kitchen counter as everyone served themselves buffet style.

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ImageIn August 1997, and Jeff and I were at the Raleigh Farmers' Market in North Carolina. A farmer was selling a wide variety of chilies, including habaneros. I was instantly drawn to their shiny, reddish-orange skin and almost heart-like shape.

"What do habaneros taste like? I asked.

"They got kick in 'em," he said, as he chewed on a toothpick.

"Can they be eaten raw, or should I cook them?" I asked.

"You can eat 'em any way you like," he said, now twirling the toothpick between his thumb and forefinger.

"How 'bout the seeds? Should I take them out first?" I asked.

"If you want to," he said.

Realizing I was just going to have to find out for myself, I quickly selected four or five brilliant habaneros, paid for them, and proudly announced to Jeff that I would make burritos with habanero salsa for dinner.

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misosoup.jpgMiso soup is a traditional Japanese comfort food that has gained popularity throughout the world. Here in the United States, it entered the zeitgeist along with sushi and sake when Japanese cuisine became popularized in the 1980s. In Japan, miso soup is eaten by everyone everyday and is as popular as tea. Most Westerners tend to find it difficult to appreciate miso soup, to say the least. It's just one of those foods that is either loved or hated. But for me it's a soup I've been trying to come to terms with for many years. Whenever I've had miso soup I've always hated it, but sometimes I've almost liked it. I've learned that depending on the restaurant and depending on the preparation and the paste used, miso soup can be very different.

There are three to four main types of miso paste used to make the soup including red, white, yellow, and a mixed paste. They can be made of soybeans, wheat, barley, rice, or a combination. The flavors range from very strong and salty, of red miso, to more delicate and refined, of white miso. I've become very fond of yellow miso, which is the one I use for this soup recipe. I use a brand that makes a low-sodium version, which is just how I prefer the taste. Most miso pastes are very high in sodium. I do love the umami flavor of miso, but do not like the overpowering salty taste of many miso paste brands. That's what turned me off in the first place. But making miso soup is mostly about personal taste.

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jalapenocornbread.jpgIf you are planning a Cinco de Mayo feast, you are going to need a satisfying side dish to accompany your meal. A Savory Mexican Cornbread is the perfect canvas for sopping up the sauce. And for those of you who can't have your food touching (you know who you are) it's okay to keep it on a separate plate.

This cornbread does not have a dense, hockey puck-like consistency. Instead it is cakey and very moist. Void of any overwhelming flavor, it makes the perfect sidekick for an already flavorful meal. It melds nicely.

I know lots of people stick with their Jiffy cornbread from a box but this has such a better consistency and does not take much effort to put together. If you are like me and enjoy your cornbread sweet, butter and honey are a stunning addition to each slice. You must try it.

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paicheIt’s not everyday that you get the chance to try a fish you’ve never even heard of before. Last week I cooked paiche (pie-chay) a fish from the Amazon, also known as arapaima or pirarucu. Freshwater paiche are huge, growing be up to near 500 pounds, and breathe through lungs rather than gills. Considered a prehistoric fish, the flesh is very firm, but also rich and high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Endangered in the wild from overfishing, paiche is now raised commercially in ponds so wild fish remain protected, and free of any antibiotics or mercury. It’s one of the top fish farmed in Peru, and you may find it on restaurant menus or at Whole Foods, the only retailer currently selling it in the US.

It’s easy to cook paiche for a couple of reasons, because it’s dense and firm it won’t easily fall apart and because it’s rich it doesn’t get dry, even if you overcook it. It has a very clean, buttery slightly sweet flavor and is somewhat similar to sea bass or cod in texture.

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