Monday, April 16, 2007

Food Stuffs

Cooking is an ever-expanding landscape, and living in this wealthy culinary nation, we are constantly offered the opportunity to be inspired, reinvent and play with new ideas. “Food stuffs” were the first foreigners to cross borders, set up shop and assimilate into a brave, new culinary world.

Today, we do not have to wait for an intrepid explorer/merchant to cross the world in the hopes of bringing back some prized treasure. It is as easy as signing the delivery slip or walking into a grocery store to simply make a purchase.

If you have only one recipe that uses, for instance, star anise, what becomes of the jar? Are you using the Thai fish sauce you bought only when you crave a coconut curry? Give it a try in a puttanesca sauce instead of pasted anchovy filets. Or how about, moving that avocado out of its guacamole rut and experience a minted avocado mousse or a rich and delicious avocado soup. Have you ever thought that the dreamy nose of lavender could gently scent a ratatouille or take a cheesecake in a whole new direction? In this way very item in the pantry will have multiple usages – no longer to be seen as a specialty ingredient, but rather allowing it take its place along side the now ubiquitous peppercorns, bananas and balsamic vinegar.

Over the years, all these unusual tastes have converged on plates around the globe, forever transforming world cuisine. Can we think of Thai food without the intense fire of the chili pepper or ask the Italians to give back the tomato? “Food stuffs” were the first foreigners to cross borders, set up shop and be absorbed into a new culture.

Star Fruit and Jicama Salad - serves 6

2 star fruit
1 pound jicama - peeled
2 bunch arugula- washed and chopped
3-tablespoons cider vinegar
1-tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1/2-teaspoon cumin seed - ground
1/2-cup canola oil
salt and pepper to taste

Slice the star fruit into 1/4 inch thick rounds, and the jicama into 1/4 inch thick julienne. Then toss with the vinegar, fish sauce and cumin. Just prior to serving add the arugula, oil and salt pepper to the star fruit and jicama. Toss well and serve immediately.

Puttanesca Sauce - yields appox. 4 cups

1-tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion
4 cans (13.5 ounces each) - stewed tomatoes, crushed
2 garlic cloves - chopped
2-teaspoons thyme leaves – chopped
1-teaspoon oregano leaves - chopped
1-teaspoon lemon zest
2-teaspons honey
1/4-cup Thai fish sauce
1/4-cup Kalamata olives – pitted and chopped
1-tablespoon capers
1/4-teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 basil leaves - roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Dice the onions. In a saucepan heat the oil and add the onions. Sauté until translucent then add the tomatoes, garlic, thyme and oregano. Cook for 20 minutes and then add the lemon zest, honey and fish sauce. Simmer for an additional 20 minutes with a lid placed slightly askew. Then add in the olives, capers, chili flakes and basil leaves. Correct seasoning. Simmer an additional 15 minutes.

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