If curiosity killed the cat, my boyfriend is convinced I am going to kill him in my curiosity-driven attempts to recreate ethnic dishes in my home kitchen.
I get plenty of culinary inspiration in LA, an eater’s paradise. You can not only find food from any country on the map, but find the best of everything.
In many parts of the country, procuring the right ingredients could be a challenge. In LA, that is little deterrent, considering I live at the nexus of Little Tokyo, overwhelmingly Mexican East LA and Monterey Park, the largest settlement of Chinese people in the U.S. The only things I’ve had trouble finding within a 2-mile radius are hummus, almond extract and blackberry-flavored kosher wine. Fish sauce and obscure dried chiles? Not a problem (Poor dear friends who live in terrible places like Vermont and Italy – I will send you anything you like!)
Pad thai, Indian curry, Yucatecan papadzules, Filipino chicken adobo – I’m all for culinary experimentation. The results fall along a spectrum between, “Wow, that was easy and delicious” to “Well worth $7 to spare me the blood, sweat and tears of slaving over that dish for three hours.” Well, I’ll save you the trouble by sharing a few of the dishes we’ve successfully integrated into our repertoire so you can spice up your life!
Go for it!
Pad Thai – it took us three go-arounds to get us all the way there, but honestly, it’s a pretty darn easy weeknight recipe. We use this recipe. What we’ve learned: Get a wok! And buy the flat noodles, not the round ones, and don’t soak them too long or they get sticky.
Gnocchi – These yummy Italian potato globules are the ultimate comfort food. It’s time-consuming to make them, but consider the undertaking your pre-dinner entertainment and queue up a good play list on your IPod. Totally doable.
Aguas Frescas – You know those big glass jugs filled with brightly-colored beverages at Mexican restaurants? The whole family of drinks is called “aguas frescas” (fresh waters) – they are essentially fresh fruit mixed with water and sugar and the possibilities are endless. Seriously, just toss fruit in a blender with some water and sugar and keep adjusting until it tastes great. I’m a big fan of agua de pepino (cucumber water) and agua de sandia (watermelon) is hard to botch. The line-up also includes three classics that are made differently – horchata (a mix of rice, cinnamon and milk), Tamarind water (it’s the brown one) and jamaica (bright red, made of hibiscus flowers). I highlight recommend making jamaica at home (pronounced Hah-mike-uh). The powdered stuff they serve at some restaurants is the pits. The real thing has an extraordinary tart flavor and it’s SO easy. Here’s an easy explanation: http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/000172.html
Filipino Chicken Adobo – I went out on a limb with this one. I’ve never been to a Filipino restaurant nor to the Philippines so I don’t know how this is supposed to taste, but I am a huge fan of the Splendid Table radio show and have yet to go wrong with any recipes from their cookbook. I took the ultimate gamble and it was phenomenal – the flavor is out of this world. Do the recipe, then buy the cookbook!
Hummus – It’s cheaper to make at home and the possibilities are endless. You really do need the tahini (sesame paste) because it makes it creamier, as does a liberal dose of olive oil. I like to roast red peppers and toss them in.
Enchiladas – We did an uber-authentic Rick Bayless recipe. I was able to do it, but it took three hours and dirtied just about every dish in my kitchen. For a quick and satisfying alternative, just use our recipe!
I have been vanquished before, but I refuse to quit
Mexican beans – This is depressing, but I cannot make beans!!! Folks, consider this a call for help, bring on the intervention! Although I have figured out one thing – when beans taste REALLY good, it’s because they have lard.
Indian curry – I’ve only tried once. It was mas or menos. I blame myself. Going to try getting a better cookbook from the library.
DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!!!
Food from the Yucatan- I actually fell in love with the district regional cuisine of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico through an amazing restaurant I used to frequent when I lived in Mexico City. The fragrant sopa de lima was bewitching, the papadzules surprisingly tasty (how do you coax egg and ground pumpkin seeds into that?!) and the cochinita pibil had depths of flavor that couldn’t be equaled. Needless to say, we tried to make papadzules and sopa de lima and it was the most disastrous dinner ever (We went out for burgers). I might try again if German didn’t have PTSD from the last go-round.
Mole – Haven’t tried it, why would I?! Just look at a typical list of ingredients and instructions and you’ll know why. And with Guelaguetza so close, well…
On my hit list
Sushi – And German thought my other attempts could kill him…bra ha ha!!
Tamales – I have a Sunset mag recipe I haven’t done for years, nor tried out on German. He’ll be the judge..
Chiles en nogada – a phenomenal and very unusual seasonal recipe from Mexico. I will first attempt to find a restaurant here in LA that serves it, but I may have no choice but to make it myself…
Korean beef – German and I saw a cooking demonstration on one of LA’s obscure public TV channels – Korean beef has that yummy sweet flavor, you will never guess what’s in the marinade – Asian pears!! We were shocked. I’ve gotta try it.