Lucky Dragon

Sensually Transmitted Wanderlust
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"Bonne cuisine et bon vin, c'est le paradis sur terre."
                                                                Henri IV



Rubens's Horn of Plenty

ood is a God-given gift, a reward for the miseries of human existence. Just think of the chances that in the never-ending universe of eternal cold, exploding stars and deadly radiation we are blessed to have complex protein-based life evolved to the point where we can enjoy enjoy 16 varieties of utterly scrumptuous edible shrimp, hundred of sorts of very diverse fragrant spices and all the astounding array of various grapevines that produce an infinite variety of most excquisite wine noses and bouquets. Even before enjoying the taste, food is about gratitude, feeling thankful for the precious one quadrillionth of the chance that you can have it.

What you eat becomes your physical body, which is the temple of your soul. It is our choice whether to build this temple with dried dung bricks or blocks of Carrara marble.

This how I have figured out my priorities: I rather spend two hours cooking in the kitchen than absorbing mindless drivel on TV made with the sole objective to trick me into watching the commercials.



Here is a random pick of some dishes I cook for dinner every day. My sphere of expertise includes French, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Moroccan, Vietnamese, Russian, Cajun, Mexican but I am known to venture into less known territories, mostly tempted by unfamiliar ingredients I find in Amsterdam's ethnic markets and grocery shops. My latest infatuation - Korean greatly aided by supplies from Shilla, the Korean store.

Enjoying world cuisines is a breeze in Amsterdam. Fresh exotic ingredients are easily available and reasonably priced. I cook something different and ethnic every evening. I have figured out my priorities this way: I rather spend two hours in the kitchen than waste that time watching mindless bottomline-driven drivel on TV made with the sole objective to trick me into watching the commercials.

Authenticity is a major concern for me, because I really appreciate it that millions of people before me have spent centuries figuring out best combinations of ingredients. There is nothing wrong with mixing and matching but it will take a while before I have run out of the choice of recipes and cooking techniques that world cuisines have to offer that I will need to start delving into "experimental cuisine".


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One of the pinnacles of the earthlings' gastronomy, French seafood platter - assiette de fruits de mer - requires little to no cooking. The crab, the bulots and the shrimp are lightly poached and the rest is enjoyed as it is caught - fresh.

A sea-faring folk that they are, the Dutch are a nation of the ichthyophobic (fish-hating) Anglo-Teutonic axis who uniformly mistrust the sea and feel compelled to deep-fry the taste out of whatever wonderful gifts the deep brine gives us. To escape the diet of battered cod, frozen farmed salmon and marinated herring, you need to drive down south. The French have perfected the art of enjoying seafood where the lightest of condiments only accentuate the wonderful sea-fresh aroma and delicate texture of crustaceans and shellfish.

Cidre brut - dry cider - is second best thing for this kind of seafood after Muscadet. It is not a big hit in Holland, the only variety I managed to find in Amsterdam is the sweet German one. In France, a bottle of quite quaffable cider will only set you back 85 cent. I buy those byt the crate. There are also Grand Cru ciders but blind sampling proved them a marketing gimmick.

Lille is the nearest bit of France from Amsterdam. It was where I had my first French seafood platter. In Lille I arranged one myself for the first time. It only took to forego the convenience of buying a ready-made one and learn enough French to talk to the fishmonger.



Teriyaki steak is not such a traditional Japanese dish: before the Meiji Restoration in the 1860s meat consumption had been banned for centuries for religious reasons.

Beef is marinated in the mix of equal shares of sake, mirin and shoyu. The the marinade is boiled down to syrup (I add a few pepper coorns to the mix for an additional zest) and the steaks are quickly seared on a very hot pan. Plain white Japanese rice is the best side order for this rather intense dish.

Authentic Hungarian goulash is made based only on onions and paprika - no tomatoes are allowed. Corn starch instead of the traditional egg and flour mix makes the gravy light, fluffy and delightfully semi-transparent.



Classic American dinner: surf and turf, lobster and steak. The epitome of somewhat vulgar but nonetheless enjoyable excess, hailing from New England. It is a great way to celebrate spcial occasions, this time my relocation to London.

 

The lobster is normally served with melted butter.. The steak is accompanied by baked potatoes but this time I made do with kurkuma rice and steamed broccoli.

 

Corn on the cob, sweet and flavourful - what could be more Yankee.

 

Lobster bisque is traditionally served in the beginning of such dinner.

 

Champagne gives me bad blues the next day, so we enjoyed my favourite Breton cidre brut.

 

 

Great food can be very simple - as long as the ingredients are good quality and the mix is right.

 

Steamed yojng potatoes, Bismarck herring, red onions, Cretan oliive oil and freshly ground black pepper - yummmmm!

Southern food can be very elaborate. Floyd says that Black folks were stripped of everything - culture, language, freedom, human rights - but no one could take away their music and food.

Cooking Sunday dinner in the South starts Friday night: bread dough is put to rise and barbeque meat is marinated.

Lemon pie is a very time and labour-consuming dessert, nonetheless totally worth all the trouble. It is very rich and intense and utterly delectable.

Chile con carne is simple and nutritious Tex-Mex dish. The falvour comes from smoked chipotle peppers I brought from Texas - no substitue can ever approach their authentic flavour.
Italian mitili marinara differ from French moules à la mariniére in the addition of tomato juice and a different mix of herbs: oregano and basil make them distinctly italiano.

When I was a kid, this was our extended family pastime: 3 generations would gather around the table over a huge bowl of steaming Greenland shrimp. The grown-ups would have beer, the children had to do with lemonade.

I add lemon zest to this classic, it goes perfectly well with the sweet delicate crustacean flesh.

Quiche with goat cheese salad and dry white. Scrumptuous. Cheese should only be in the salad, never on the quiche.

Escargots a la bourgignonne - the best way to enjoy snails, that is baked wiith butter and parsley.

 

Crunchy grilled multi-grain pannini are ideal for soaking up the gently perfumed butter oozing from the escargot shells

Vindaloo is an Indian curry. The distinctive flavour comes mostly from cumin and ginger, the colour - from tomatoes. Fresh chopped coriander makes a terrific addition to it.

Basmati rice boiled with kurkuma powder and a wee bit of butter and topped with a cashew.

French pea soup is simple and nice - made just from green peas and sauteed onions. I wonder how villagers used to make it without a food processor?

To have my heart skip a beat at the sight of nice fresh fish I go to one particular fish-monger in Amsterdam's Chinatown. He has the nicest sole, frog's legs and even samma in town. Baby octopi, fresh scallops in shells and live horse crabs are no strangers to his shop either.

These two lovely trouts hail from there too. Rubbed with coarsely ground black pepper and covered with one kilogram of sea salt on bed of banana leaves, they spent just enough time in the oven for their eyes to become white - a sure sign that the flesh is done.

Steamed vegetables and kurkuma rice kept their company.



Galettes aux fruits de mer - Breton buckwheat pancakes stuffed with gently poached salmon, Alaskan cod, shrimp, shelled mussels, baby squid and baby octopuses in bechamel sauce plus Greek salad on side taking care of your five-a-day.

A delicious and healthy combination I once had for lunch in St.Malo, Brittany it was easy to replicate it at home. I bought ready-made galettes in Avranches for the sake of authenticity and also to save me the trouble of baking them.

Laab kai is a rustic Laotian warm salad also very popular in the rural Northeast of Thailand. The base is finely chopped chicken filet and mushrooms to which are added handfuls of fresh mint and coriander, chopped spring onions and shallots as well as green vegetables: cucumbers, bean sprouts and I also throw in lightly poached mini pak soy.

The delightful peculiar flavour - with a resiny mustard aroma if I have to describe it - comes from dried galangal root powder and ground roasted sticky rice. The classic combination of kaffir lime leaves, crushed and chopped lemon grass, chillis and fish sauce is also indispensable.

All this glory must be served with steamed sticky rice - just the way Isarn farmers have it after a long day of hard field work.



Tex-Mex classic - tacos with minced beef. I use Tartare mince (low-fat, great taste) and no chemical-laden packaged sauces - preserved Chipotle peppers give the meat the required Mexican zest and flavour. Granted, I had to bring them all the way from Fort Worth - things you do to pander to your gluttony!

Iranian meatballs with grilled aubergines with a side order of steamed young potatoes and vegetables.

For the unmistakable Persian flavour I buy a delicious spice mix from an Iranian grocer - it is based on coarsely ground pepper, dried parsley and powdered garlic. It gives food a savoury homely aroma that you don't find in any other cuisine. The meat used is Tartare mince - basically ground entrecote, so good you can eat it raw! I learnt from a Tajik lady friend of mine to mix it with equal shares of chopped raw onions (for the juiciness) and rice cooked with half the normal amount of water (to seal all those juice inside). The onions and rice also give the more desirable fluffier texture.

The beautiful charred stripes on the aubergines come from a wee dab of liquid cane sugar - nothing does the trick better.

Tandoori chicken wings - I buy the spices in a Surinamese-Hindustani shop and add some ground lemon zest and ginger for the extra pizzazz. It is very important to use full-bodied unskimmed yoghurt for the marinade, the skinny versions gives an unsavoury grainy texture to the final product.

Biryani rice: long-grain sort is boiled with ground kurkuma root and butter. When ready, dried apricots, prunes and cashew nuts, all chopped, are added. Many Indian cooks add cloves, cinnamon and allspice to their biryani rice but I prefer it blander so it does not compete with the already powerfully aromatic tandoori chicken.

The Indian raita salad uses yoghurt and fresh mint dressing but this time I used exhilarating Thai basil horapha.

Sushi is all about the exact proportions and freshness. The more you invest into ingredients, the better the outcome. Supermarket sushi-making kits just don't cut the wasabi: Everything should be best quality and authentic. Japanese shops are the safest bet but a good Asian specialty store should normally suffice just as well.

The rice must be koshihikari, the cucumbers - kyuri and the soya sauce - Kikkoman. Compromises never-failingly compromise the outcome.

Temakizushi are the self-rolled variety. It passes the fuss of making them onto the guests. Fresh fish that is good enough for sushi can be hard to come by in Amsterdam so I limit the neta choice to hotate, sake, maguro, shiromaguro and ebi of which I can be sure of. Avocado goes into the Kariforunia-maki. 




Back to my beloved France - classic moules à la marinière with the added twist of fresh Florence fennel. It gives the molluscs a warm, mildly anisey aroma. The broth at the bottom of the pot is to die for!

The frites are crisp and low-fat oven-baked. The delish brown colour comes from a wee dab of liquid cane sugar, normally used for rum-based cocktails. A sprinkle of herbes de Provence gives a herby tone while a piece of charcoal in the oven guarantees an appetizing smoky scent.

As it goes, moules frites are best accompanied by good friends and bottle of white.

Thai classic - beef stir-fried with holy basil - only this time I used a vegetarian substitute. The trick here is that soya meat absorbs flavours as opposed to real meat giving them. You need twice the spices, herbs and oil to make it taste nice.

Just like in the classic recipe, shallots, garlic, chill is and green peppers are pounded into pulp and fried in oil until they give out flavour. Fish sauce and a generous bunch of horapha (Thai holy basil) leaves give the dish its lovely aroma.

Cardamom chicken is marinated overnight in lemon juice, rhum, honey and, of course, copious amounts of ground cardamom. As the French corn-fed chicken sizzles in the oven, nine vegetables in the tray underneath absorb all the delicious juicesthat trickle down. In the meantime, young potatoes in the back make sure no calorie of heat is wasted.

Peta Mathias claims Kiwi cooks are in great demand everywhere. I have gleaned this recipe from a New Zealand cooks' website and now I see her point.

I once got hold of an amazing Chilean Sauvignon Blanc - crisp and simple with just one high-pitch note of spice and exotic fruit - perfect for cardamom chicken but, alas, the cellars must have run dry and I have to make do with fancy herbal teas.



Lunch deal or a supper snack - Indonesian gado-gado is a salad of green veggies (pak soi and steamed string beans here), bean sprouts, boiled eggs and fried tempeh - a meat-textured nutty-flavoured product of fermented soya beans. It normally doused with peanut sauce but I serve it with mildly spicy and savoury sambal manis on a cockle shell.


I let parma ham tortellini cook in the broth that comes out from stir-frying salmon, zucchini and red onions with olive oil, black pepper and white wine. The pasta then sucks in all the flavourful juices and turns out just the right degree of al dente.


This trout had been marinated Thai-style with chopped kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, chilies, fish sauce and lime juice before it ended up over white-hot charcoals.

Kurkuma rice and a vegetable salad balance out the spiciness really well.

Conjee is a breakfast staple popular throughout the Far East. Rice gruel that it is, it lies light on the stomach yet provides enough nourishment for a good start of the day. Appreciated for its nutritional excellence, it is the food given to sick people and babies.

I use konbu and niboshi stock to boil it and, according to the tradition, further reinforce it with beaten egg, green veggies and sometimes with seafood and mushrooms. More flavour may be achieved with fish or soya sauce, toasted garlic or dry-shredded porc. In Japan a variety of delicious furikake mixes expands the spectrum of possible flavours almost infinitely.

 



Curry on rice - kare raisu - is a Japanese national dish. Adopted in the 19th century from India via British traders, it underwent some serious transformations, like all other foreign loans in Japan. There it is a roux-based stew with strong tones of nutmeg and cloves. Spiciness is adjusted with chili powder and main ingredients are meat, potatoes, carrots and onions with occasional chopped bell pepper.

There is hardly any cafe or canteen in Japan that would not serve kare raisu. I prefer authentic Indian versions but I cooked it for the sake of my student years in Osaka. It came out as nostalgic as can be. It must be served with Japanese koshihikari rice.

Steamboat is a social meal, you can only enjoy it with your friends and family.

It is a very Asian thing - by Asia here I mean the Pacific Rim from Japan to Singapore. To enjoy it in Amsterdam I had to bring the electric pot all the way from Thailand.

Apart from enjoying your dear ones' company, the good thing about steamboat is that they do all the cooking themselves. You only need to cut vegetables, fish and mushrooms and prepare the dip - I use my own secret knockout recipe. Once the daikon and shiitake-based light broth come to boil, the pot is filled with pak soy, kangkong, Chinese parsley (essential for the aromatic flavour) and whatever seafood, fish and mushrooms you manage to get hold of. Then everyone fishes out what they like with chopsticks, dunks it in the dip and you know the rest.

The trick is not to overcook anything, the veggies should come out a bit crunchy, the rest just cooked not to ruin the original flavour. When all the food is used up, glass noodles (a.k.a. harusame) a thrown into the resulting reduction. At the very end of the meal a raw egg or two are beaten into the broth that by that time combines the concentrated taste and aroma of all the vegetables, mushrooms and seafood. This is supposed to be the cure for 49 illnesses and conditions.



Potage forrestier - a traditional potatoes and mushrooms based French soup - goes best with pine nuts, a dash of creme fraiche and croutons - I make those myself from fresh baguette since supermarket packages are laden with salt and assorted chemicals.


There is really nothing to cooking tom yum kung - a spicy Thai bouillabaisse. Bring water with galangal root, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, Thai phrik khee noo chilies and some fried chili paste to boil, then add seafood, some green beans and a few champignons. I often like to embellish it with lotus roots. When it boils again, it is ready. Never overcook! Regulate saltiness with fish sauce.

In my school years we used to go to North Caucasus. Magnificent nature just a short drive from the Black Sea, five-kilometre-high peaks, healing hot springs and local cuisine. Caucasus is home to over 100 different peoples, unrelated to each toher, each with their own culinary tradition. They use fresh local produce in bestselling combinations - just like this oven-baked chicken in sour cream and garlic is a Kabardin dish.

 

A Japanese staple on par with European toasted bread, miso shiru is soup that can be served with any meal.

Its main ingredient is miso paste dissolved in broth made with either kombu, dried niboshi sardines, shiitake mushrooms, or katsuobushi extract. To that can be added chopped scallions, wakame seaweed, little chunks of silken tofu, daikon or even pork. The rule of thumb is that strong-tasting and mild-tasting as well as floating and sinking ingredients should never double but complement each ohter.

 

Those who snub American food as being all about fries, burgers and Coke have never been to the Land of Plenty. Don't believe the fools: real American fare is hearty, homely, filling and delicious.

Medium-rare rib-eye steak with oven-baked potatoes, grilled vegetables and boiled corn on the cob is an American classic. Here you get your protein, carbs and five-a-day in a delicious low-fat combination and yet it is as Yankee as can get.

We washed it down with a nice Austrian red in a sort of New and Old Worlds' reconciliation. Austrians really know better than to export their highly quaffable wines, keeping best things for themselves. I was lucky enough to buy that Blauer Zweigelt in Vienna.



Thai fried seafood rice - khao phat thalay - is a main course in its own right. The flavour comes from dried anchovies and chopped garlic - fried together till golden-brown. Then quickly stir in seafood, chopped green vegetables and a couple of beaten eggs. When all the juices are mixed, add boiled rice (need to be somewhat dryish not to end up mushy). Serve with spring onions, chopped fresh coriander, fresh lime and fish sauce chili dip.

Mussels revisited : this time cooked à la bretonne which is aux lardons et aux oignons (with crisp bacon bits and onions). I also add champignons because it rhymes and makes it more interesting. Other base ingredients are cream and white wine.

Oven-baked potatoes only: minimum oil, maximum taste!

Mabo doufu - a classic Szechuan dish - is spicy Southwestern Chinese. The heady flavour comes from the so-called Szechuan pepper - dried flowers of a special tree - and dou ban jiang spicy bean paste. Extra aroma enhancers are toasted sesame seeds, sesame oil and qingjiang vinegar added at very precise moments of the cooking process.

The rest of the ingredients are aubergines, firm tofu and ground meat - traditionally pork but I prefer veal, fatty beef or even textured soya mince.

 




Grilled merguez - harissa-flavoured Moroccan lamb sausages - are spicy enough so delicately flavoured couscous aux legumes is their best mate.

Full-bodied Argentine-tasting Cahors from the Southwest of France (also the sacramental wine of the Russian Orthodox Church) makes for a delightful ménage à trois.

Sometimes I top the merguez with tomato veloute flavoured with something simple and honest like toasted garlic or smoked paprika powder. Chopped coriander and sweet red onions give the whole dish a herby and crunchy zest.



Real men don't eat quiche. They also don't bond, cry or talk about their feelings but we will leave that really happy bunch to their own devices and sink our teeth in quiche alsacienne. It is a regular quiche but with onions and definitely without cheese.

Gros-Plant du Pays Nantais sur Lie can be a hit or a miss. When you luck out, it is dry and mineraly but can be also a tad too acidic. I like the way it does not interfere with the rather gently flavoured quiche.

Classic assiette du jardinier is best with the classic vinaigrette dressing. When you have so many classics in one dinner, nothing can go wrong.



Barbequed samma is good as it is. You can only accentuate its natural taste by marinating the fish in a traditional Japanese mix of equal shares of sake, mirin and soya sauce.

Moroccan merguez sausages are herby enough and need nothing to be added but aubergines come out better if dipped in a mix of olive oil, aceto balsamico, sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Yes, and a wee dram of liquid cane sugar - for that beautiful golden-brown colour!



Blackened salmon - I used a wild one, for its stronger taste - was invented in the 1960s but has become a trademark Cajun dish. Alsatian Riesling and oven-baked potatoes rounded up this lovely dinner.


Cherry tomatoes, shrimp and squid rings toasted with a quail egg in a cockle shell - a nice and easy starter. Herbes de Provence add that lovely French touch.

Unagi-don is a rather pricey Japanese delicacy of grilled eel fillets served on top of hot rice.

It is supposed to give strength to withstand the exhausting heat of Japanese summer so as a time-honoured tradition many people have it on a certain day in the middle of the hot season.

I cook it the Kansai way: cutting the eel's belly and basting the grilling fillets with tare made of sake, mirin and shoyu. Unlike Kansai merchants, Edo (Tokyo) samurais were known to hate doing that as it reminded them of seppuku (harakiri).

 

Cheese platter is a very exquisite way to finish off a dinner. Many cheeses are not sold outside France so it takes a 3-hour car trip to procure them for my table.

Selles-sur-Cher - a runny and pungent goat's milk cheese with a dark green mould rind comes from thegentle and beautiful Loire Valley. It gets affiné very quickly and does not hold very long. Another much prized variety is Norman Camembert made from raw unpasteurised milk - au lait cru - not to be found for love or money outside French borders. It decidedly gutsier than the bland generic variety sold around the world.

Amsterdam cheesemongers do stock St. Augur and Coulommiers (although only the one from pasteurised milk) - handy when you don't feel like driving all the way down to France.

My other favourites are Pié l'Angloys , Bleu d'Auvergne and grilled Crottins du Chevre served on bed of lettuce.

On top of the customary baguette (brought from France this time, you guessed it right) I like to have my assiette de fromages with fresh fruit - a cantaloupe in this case.

 



Hor mok thalay is a herby seafood custard. Popular in Thailand and Cambodia, it is based on coconut milk, eggs and a mix of herbs and spices: galangal, kaffir lime leaves, kurkuma, lemon grass and chilies. Phak bung and finely chopped peanuts add varying degrees of crunchiness to this smooth aromatic concoction.

Chef's tip: to prevent hor mok from burning line the wok with a banana leaf.

This simple dish is a variation of hiyayakko - a classic Japanese beer snack. Silken tofu is garnished with wakame seaweed and enokitake mushrooms. I make the dressing out of soya sauce, sake, katsuobushi extract and lime juice (I can't find yuzu even in Amsterdam). A tiny drop of wasabi adds a pleasant zesty tone.

I gather that this serving must contain about 0.75 calories, none of which comes from fat. I used to know an originally buxom girl who landed herself a Japanese husband after a year of sustaining herself on such a diet. I hope she did not carry the habit into her marriage.



Breton cotriade is basically the same as Russian ukha: mostly white sea fish stewed with potatoes and onions. In Russia most of time it is made of fresh water fish, while in Brittany, naturally, of the catch from the brine.

The only condiments being sea salt and coarsely ground pepper, this dish brings out the best of the flavour in fish. It is very simple yet exquisitely delicious.

Oven-baked turkey is the ultimate Christmas treat. I tried Nigella Lawson's recipe and it truly yields superb results.

It comes out surprisingly juicy thanks to soaking two nights in a marinade of onions, apples, oranges, aniseed, all-spice, peppercorns, nutmeg, cloves and caraway seeds. A butter and honey baste takes care of the ravishing golden-brown skin. To avoid the traditional Christmas calorie overload, I served it with poached mini pak soy and Japanese shiitake stir-fried with soya-sauce, sake and mirin.

Alsatian Riesling - dry and flowery - kept Father Christmas jolly the whole evening.

Met mamuang thod is a beer snack. Lightly toated cashew nuts are mixed with chopped red onions, chilies and sprinkled with lime juice.

Quick, tasty, savoury, healthy, very Thai, indeed.

A bowl of noodles is a favourite Asian lunch. It is healthy, filling and delicious.

The type I make most often is a little constellation of delightful chunks and pieces: two types of shrimp, squid, baby octopuses, clams, mussels, two types of seaweed (konbu and wakame), six types of mushrooms (shiitake, cloud ear, jelly ear, yamabushitake, oyster mushroom and snow ear), daylily buds, lotus root, pak soi and kang kong. A smidgen of toasted black and white sesame seeds livens up an already vibrant mix even further.

I made this one Korean style, flavoured with kimchi, but I also make it, with the help of some herbs and condiments, in a variety of other styles: Japanese miso (miso paste and katsuobushi extract), Thai tom yam (galangal root, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves, chilies and fried chili paste) or spicy Szechuan (doubanjiang and sesame oil).

Classic Chinese lunch - dim sum. It is paramount to steam it on a banana leave for the sake of flavour that turns steamed dumplings into a culinary delight.

I make a Thai-style dip for dim sum: chili sauce, lime juice, crushed garlic and chopped fresh coriander. The classic Asian balance of spicy, sweet, salty and sour makes simple steamed buns a rock-n-roll-style experience. A wee glub of fish sauce and a tiny splash of soya sauce adjust saltiness and add what the Japanese call kakushi-aji - a background taste.

As I discovered later during that lunch, South African Zinfandel rosé does not go well with dim sum - too sweet and fruity. Whoops.

Picture coming later. I forgot to take a picture of this dinner: cumin-seed marinated veal chops, sweet potatoes and corn on the cob - all oven-baked. The inspiration is Chinese Muslim cuisine I discovered for myself in Xi'an.

Russian food is much influenced by the cuisines of Russia's own Near East of Caucasus, Central Asia and the Muslim nations of the Volga basin.

Stuffed bellpeppers is one of such Oriental goodies that quite commonly appear on the Russians' table. It is a festive dish and takes some time to prepare but the result is totally worth the fuss.

Equal quarters of mince, rice, chopped onions and a pre-stir fried and pre-seasoned vegetable mix go into the stuffing. I gentrify the original recipe with some shiitake in the veggie mix and white wine at the bottom of the pot.

Time to take a break from carnivory: phat phak ruam mit are traditional Thai stir-fried vegetables, spicy delicious and aromatic.

Cooking takes about 5 minutes but you need the right ingredients in the correct succession to achieve the right taste and smell. Chopped garlic and Thai chilies, dried Thai anchovies, fish and oyster sauces flavourize kang kong (phak bung in Thai), mini pak soi, champignons and cherry tomatoes. Silky tofu is added shortly before taking the wok off the fire for the protein content - a hark-back to my vegan years.

Fabada is an Asturian dish from Northern Spain made of beans and porc. I bought the porc mix - tocino, morcilla, chorizo and ham - in Madrid and the fava beans you can buy in the market in Amsterdam.

Beans are always a bit of a pain to cook but I managed to restrain myself from buying canned ones and went through the whole nine yard of trouble cooking them myself. Considered the amount of gas I burnt doing that, meat may be a more enviromentally responsible option after all, whatever the veg(etari)an mafia may claim.

 

Tempeh - an Indonesian product of fermented soya beans - has a lovely meaty texture and a nutty flavour reminiscent of fried bacon. It is delicious with freshly made jasmin rice and sambal manis.

The best ever tempeh I had in a remote mountain village on a stopover during our Trans-Sumatran Death Trip From Hell.

It took me some time to replicate it. The trick is in precise timing, temperature, stirring technique and a dash of fish sauce at the right time. It comes out so good you can have it as a snack on its own.

Pozy or manty is another dish Russians borrowed from their steppe neighbours. It is enjoyed along a vast swathe of land from Mongolia to Russian Finn-Ugric Northwest. As is the case with most dishes from the area, the ingredients are simple and the outcome is well worth the labour-intensive and time-consuming preparation.

Unleavened dough is kneaded for 30-40 minutes into perfect homogeneity which is essential for the right result. Mince or, even better, finely shredded meat is mixed with an equal amount of chopped onions. Originally, fatty chunks of meat were used, very much prized during the harsh winters of the inhospitable Eurasian interior. Modern urbanite life calls for healthier options: I suitably use Tartare mince. The only condiments really needed are salt and pepper, I use best quality: hand-raked Guerdaine sea salt and powerfully fragrant Vietnamese peppercorns.

The dough is rolled out into thin rounds, then the mince is wrapped inside with a tiny hole left at the very top. You can buy multi-level manty steamers in Russia but since I don't have one I use a bamboo sieve lined with a banana leave. About 20 minutes of steaming on a very high fire brings juice from the onions and the beef to produce copious amounts of bouillon divine in its simplicity.

Traditionally pozy are served with a mixture of melted butter and vinegar (tastes way better than it sounds) but I make a dip of sour cream and horseradish - also very Russian.

Norton Malbéc I smuggled from Argentina - very similar to French Cahors, the eucharistal wine of the Russian Orthodox Church - complemented the meal perfectly.

Classic Thai green curry - gaeng khiao - can be made with different ingredients - I prefer seafood with mushrooms or chicken - but the essential herb mix remains the same: fried chili paste, garlic, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal root, chilies and fish sauce.

Green peppercorns and tiny Thai round aubergines (called so for the lack of a better word) give the final product that unmistakeable flavour that you can smell the moment you step out of the plane in Bangkok. Creamed coconut helps achieve that highly desired rich creamy texture.



Dill and crème fraîche are fish mates made in heaven. You can only improve those with some sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper - but not too much, not to ruin the delicate flavour balance.

Here dill and crème fraîche are happily married to poached salmon and Greenland shrimp.



One thing about tuna steaks - they should never be overdone. Pink on the inside, seared on the outside - that's the way to go.

Oven-baked vegetables go well with just about anything and since I got hold of some nice asparagus I served home-made hollandaise which is basically butter-based mayonnaise.

Wild boar medallions with classic bourguignonne sauce, sitr-fried potatoes and grilled vegetables.

Basic sauce is enhanced with some Asian savvy: shiitake instead of white champignons gives it a more powerful mushroom fragrance.

Sunkissed Côte de Roussillon made a lovely accompaniment for the viande de sanglier (somehow this sounds better in French).

Béchamel aux fruits de mer with conchiglie pentacolore is a happy Franco-Italian marriage. I fix this whenever I don't have much time to cook as the recipe is easy and delicious.

Basic béchamel here is improved with home-made shrimp stock and whole allspice berries, cloves and peppercorns.



This mantra should be in every beginner cook's textbook: chicken and rosemary, lamb and mint. It should be put to music and chanted at the dawn and the sunset by anyone aspiring to fix barbeque.

The next maxim I would put to music: the coals must be white with no flames in sight. So many hapless folks do not seem to know better than to yank their barbeque meat on raging fire only to end up with bits of charred animal protein.

This is a good accompanement for barbeque: kurkuma rice, classic American potato salad, charcoal grilled vegetables and grilled portobello filled with mix of sour cream, oyster sauce, black pepper and white wine. Tastes as good as it sounds!

This potato curry is Indian of origin but is very popular in Malaysia. The intensely fragrant stew is based on ginger, garlic, shallots, chilies, turmeric, garam masala, cinnamon and curry leaves. When served it is laced with youghurt and sprinkled with fresh lemon juice and chopped coriander.
Malaysian oxtail in tamarind juice is a festive dish: when you slaughter an ox, you might as well cook it real good. Galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, chilies and black peppercorns take care of that.
Simple and delicious, this is a quick Russian salad: sliced beets, sour cream and some salt create a delightful sweet-sour-salty balance.
Simple and lovely dessert common in South China and South East Asia: grass jelly with liquid cane sugar and ice. The vaguely bitterish jelly is reminiscent of chine herbal medicines. Sweetened and chilled, there is nothing like it on a hot day.
Chorba is a generic Moroccan word for soup but most of times it is tomato based with thin vermicelli, lamb bits and beans. Fresh chopped herbs are essential: I use coriiander and spring onions.
Cocquille Saint-Jacques à la bretonne - scallops with cream and crumbs, baked in oven, simple and lovely.

Bulgur is a cereal popular in the Middle East: Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Lightly fried in butter and steamed it is fragrantly nutty. I enhance its natural flavour with roasted pine nuts, cashews and pistachios.

Chicken breast filet marinated in lemon juice and griddle-fried acquires its delicious sweet-and-sour taste from liquid cane sugar, ground paprika and toasted garlic: the classic Asian principle of balancing four main tastes in work.

Daikon-guk is a clear beef broth served in the olden days to the Korean emperor. Nowadays anyone can enjoy the delicate flavour that comes from daikon, leek, beef stir-fried in sesame oil and just a tad of ground black pepper.
Cucumber namul, kimchi and pickled bamboo shoots are staples of Korean cuisine. Korea may be wedged between China and Japan but its culinary tradition is distinctivelly different from the neighbouring countries.
Chicken poached with ginger and leeks is served in a delicate sauce of shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Not the typical fiery Korean fare, it is based on the delicate combination of the natural favours of chicken and mushrooms.

This tilapia was grown in Vietnam so it deserves to be cooked according to the customs of its country of origin. The only foreign influence allowed is the traditional Japanese marinade for white fish - shoyu, sake and mirin - that enhances but does not change the original flavour.

It was steamed in a bamboo sieve on water flavoured with lemon grass. Leeks, shiittake and various root plants - celery, daikon, carrot, topinambour and lotus root - add a symphony of gentle scents and textures to the fish.

To be served with a dip of grated ginger, garlic, lime juice, palm sugar and fish sauce - a perfect Asian balance of 5 main tastes.

Gobou is an edible Japanese root. The English translation - burdock - makes it sound like something out of a witch potion but in fact it tastes delicious. Its earthy flavour with carrots natural sweetness. Shoyu, sake mirin and then toasted and seeded chili give this warm salad an amazing flavour with just a wee touch of spiciness.
Shiitake simmered in sake, mirin and shoyu - the combination traditionally used in Japan to enhance the flavour of white fish. It does the trick here just the same - the best way to cook shiitake that I know of.

Bak kut teh - "bone tea" in Hokkienese - is a Nan Yang dish of pork ribs boiled with aniseed, cinnamon, danggui, cloves and garlic. It was invented in Malaysia in the 19th century to supplement the meagre diet of Chinese coolies.

I use veal instead of pork - as do many Muslims in South East Asia - and make it Teochew style with plenty of white pepper.

Zongzi are steamed bamboo leave wraps filled with sticky rice and various sweet or savoury goodies. I use shiitake, oyster mushrooms, chicken, bamboo shoots and carrots. Its characteristic flavour comes from five-spice powder.

In Ancient China, before history was re-written by Confucian scholars to counter Buddhist influences from abroad, zongzi would be thrown into the river to appease the dragon king. That tradition has been preserved in the Dragon Boat Fetsival.

Grilled goat cheese on a bed of lettuce with honey-mustard dressing is an all-time French classic.
Grilled Cajun chicken wings's secret is in the marinade: garlic, shallots, celery, black and red peppers, lemon juice and liquid cane sugar.
   

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Sensually Transmitted Wanderlust
Sensually Transmitted Wanderlust

© 1996-2008 Artour Mitski


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