Category Archives: Fusion

Berries bite back

IMG_1887One of the things I love about traveling is that it forces me to try new foods and new combinations of familiar foods.  I am forever grateful for Italy for introducing me to a surprising combo that stole my heart, fragole con aceto balsamico — fresh strawberries drizzled in balsamic vinegar.  Most of the time, it’s served as a dessert, but paired with the peppery bite of arugula and the amazingly tangy taste of plum tomatoes, it makes a wonderfully simple lunch on a summer day or a stunning accompaniment to grilled steak or chicken.

Strawberry and Tomato Salad

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Cultured self-indulgence?

20140802-144700-53220089.jpgEach weekend, I try to get out and explore another facet of this small country.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a boozy brunch now and then, too, but if that’s all I did with my weekends, no amount of working out could keep the weight off.  More importantly, I’d have squandered an opportunity to experience the culture and history of a place I’d lived in for a full year.

One of those adventures also led me to a tasty discovery, basbousa.  Normally made with semolina, the woman running the museum cafe assured me that their version was gluten, dairy, and egg free.  It was so moist, tender, and sweet without being cloyingly so.  Sadly for me, the fact that yogurt is dairy got lost in translation.

Unfortunate reaction aside, the dessert did lead to another delicious experiment with nut flours — this time pistachios — inspired by a flavor combination borrowed from an Eid favorite, gulab jamun — cardamom and rose.  The result, Pistachio Cardamom Rose Basbousa, isn’t authentic Arabic, but to me, it captures the spirit of this island and the cultural melting pot that it has become over thousands of years.

Here’s the challenge:  the recipe has you cut the basbousa before drizzling it with the rose syrup to make cutting/serving easier.  It also means that, in mere minutes, once the basbousa has cooled, practically nothing is left to slow your consumption except will power and good friends.  Okay, at least you might feel a bit more cultured than you would after a boozy brunch…

 

A kiss that leaves you wanting more

20140613-093728-34648897.jpg Have you ever eaten out and tried a dish with an ingredient or two that you’ve never had before, just to see what all the fuss was about? After a week of uninspired, hotel restaurant meals on a recent business trip, I finally escaped the hum-drum monotony of dishes prepared to satisfy the tastes of travelers from anywhere and everywhere and ventured out to find something, anything different.

I’m guessing there is an Arabic version of Foursquare, Yelp, or pick your favorite trusty food guide, but since I haven’t found one yet, and I don’t read or speak Arabic, I was out of luck and had to take my chances.  I settled on a Mediterranean-North African restaurant, all but guaranteed to find something I hadn’t tried, at least in the preceding week. Anyway, back to the important part… the food.  I ordered a dish with with a pomegranate glaze. I’ve drunk my share of pomegranate juice, but I just couldn’t imagine how concentrating that flavor wouldn’t overpower the dish. Oh, man, was I wrong. It was ah-mazing, like a perfectly balanced symphony, each bite tempting me onto the next.

Of course I had to recreate it!  I picked up a tube of harissa, a few pomegranates, and a bottle of pomegranate molasses the very next trip to the market. A half dozen chicken breasts later, I thought I was going nuts. Why was it so hard to figure out?  Turns out I was so focused on the sauce that I forgot about the most important part, seasoning the chicken. Once I took the spices out of the glaze and used them to punch up my otherwise bland chicken breasts before glazing, things started looking up. A few minutes together in the pan was just the tantalizingly, tangy kiss that I was looking for.

Harissa-rubbed Chicken with Pomegranate Glaze and Herbed Quinoa

Chorizo for breakfast

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If I’m making breakfast for family and friends, I’ll make something sweet, because I like to bake, especially for company.  When it’s just me, though, I usually make something on the savory side. Back when I could eat eggs and dairy, I would make a pretty mean frittata or omelet.  Nowadays, its a tofu scramble with whatever is left in my vegetable drawer at the end of the week.

This morning, with a bunch of cilantro and an avocado, I didn’t exactly have the makings for a scramble, but I did have the inspiration for a flavorful hash.  Yes, a tofu scramble would be a lot healthier, but after a 25km hike with a 10 kilo pack, I decided to treat myself to this Chorizo Hash.  Don’t skip or skimp on the avocado!  It really balances the acidity and spice of the chorizo nicely.

O Valencia!

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I don’t remember eating dessert in Spain.  It’s not that there aren’t any desserts, but usually, I was so full and it was so late at night, that if I had room left, I tended to ask for fruit, like oranges with cinnamon and honey. This tart fuses those flavors.  Bright, citrussy, and not too sweet, it is the perfect finish to a sunny day.

Valencia Orange Tart

 

The fat cat’s favorite

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My mom used to love Garfield.   I could never get past the incongruity of a cat who loved lasagna.  But, maybe I had never had a really good lasagna.

I love the idea of lasagna.  Pasta, sausage, cheese, tangy tomato sauce… an easy, filling meal perfect for low fuss entertaining.

Unfortunately, it is an immune system nightmare, with one land mine after another.  I see it on menus and secretly pine for a dish with so many things I can’t have.

Then, one cold evening, I came across GF lasagna noodles at my neighborhood organic market, and I knew my lasagna-less days were over.  This lasagna is more Italian-American inspired than it is Italian; I’ve never been a huge fan of traditional sugo alla bolognese and béchamel.  Like most lasagne, it tastes even better after a day or two.  Of course, Garfield would never let it sit that long!

Kickin’ Chocolate

 

I know, it’s been a while… Let’s just say life has been a little crazier than usual this past two months.

Though I did get creative with a hotel room microwave and Lekue steamer, I missed my oven and the stress relief that baking brings.

And, what better way to celebrate my return to the kitchen than a little something chocolate (with a kick)!

Mexican Chocolate Doughnuts

Like buttah

Pan-seared Scallop, Proscuitto, and Asparagus Pasta with Beurre Blanc Sauce

Good things can happen when you set aside your doubts – like how good can a French sauce based on butter really be without the butter.  Pretty darn good, it turns out.

I blame it on the pasta.  I’m sure the scallops, proscuitto, and asparagus would have been magical enough on their own, but I wanted pasta.  And the pasta was whispering to me, “you know what would taste really good with this…” So, there you have it.

Pan-seared Scallop, Proscuitto, and Asparagus Pasta with Beurre Blanc Sauce

Well-traveled food

Baked Bhajias (Veggie and Chickpea Patties)I first experienced bhajia in Mombasa, then as pakora in India, and then as dhaltjies in Durban. I love finding food that has traveled from one continent to another and in one bite recognizing a taste of the original with a new twist you maybe weren’t expecting but find just as pleasurable.

These bhajia, stuffed with broccoli and cauliflower, are really just another variation on the theme.  I ran out of garbanzo bean flour and wondered what would happen with canned chickpeas.  You can pan fry or deep fry them if you want that street food feel, but since the ingredients are so healthy to begin with, it seems a shame to coat them in oil.

I can never decide which chutney I like better, so I usually end up dipping one side of the bhajia in a cilantro mint chutney and the other in a tamarind date chutney.

Less “fishy” fish

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I like the idea of eating salmon, but for the longest time, the idea of cooking it used to scare me to death.  I can’t stand fishy tasting fish.  And so, I resigned myself to ordering it in restaurants and never venturing close to it at the market out of fear that I would screw it up.  I don’t remember what finally led me to buy my first sockeye fillets, but that night I learned that I didn’t just like salmon – I loved it…and it was a heck of a lot easier to prepare than I ever could have imagined.

Shown here: Broiled Salmon with Sweet Chili Glaze served over buckwheat soba and edamame.

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