Monthly Archives: March 2008

Pork Adobo

What better recipe to follow a post on pig history than one that uses pork—this one from the Philippines.

The Philippines were once part of the great trading empire that Spain established after the discovery of the New World. It is the Spanish legacy that makes the islands of the Philippines something of an anomaly in Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, the cuisine and culture both were influenced as much by Spain as by India, Malaysia, and China. Hence, in Manila, you can get egg rolls with your arroz con pollo.

The national dish of the Philippines is a “stew” called adobo. Originally made with pork alone, it is now increasingly made with pork and chicken, or even with chicken alone. Adobos are Spanish in origin, and, though they have largely disappeared in Spain, they can still be found in Spain’s former colonies, altered in each to suit local tastes and available produce. Whatever the regional differences, the elements that all adobos have in common are garlic, salt, and something acidic. Continue reading

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This Little Piggy Went to Market

Mexican Pork Market

Pork for sale in Oaxaca, Mexico

If you said “Wall Street” and “pigs” in the same sentence, people might think you were talking about greed and dirty dealing, or perhaps they would assume it was a socialist comment about capitalism. However, Wall Street has an older association with pigs than these metaphorical ones. In the 1600s, semi-wild pigs were wreaking such havoc in the grain fields and gardens of colonial New Yorkers that a long wall was built on the northern edge of the colony on Manhattan Island, to control the roaming herds. The road that ran along the inside of the wall became, of course, Wall Street. But this search for solutions to the “we want pigs, we don’t want pigs” conflict has gone on for a long time.

All domestic pigs are descended from the wild boar, Sus scrofa, and in fact, the domesticated pig is simply called Sus scrofa domesticus. Various subspecies of the wild boar ranged across an area that extended from the British Isles to Morocco in the West and Japan and New Guinea in the East. (There are more species of boar or wild hog than just Sus scrofa, but they are not ancestors of today’s domestic pig.) There is debate as to precisely where the first domestication occurred, but it is possible that pigs were actually domesticated in multiple locations at different times. The Chinese state that intensive pig production occurred there as early as 4300 BC. However, the largest amount of archaeological evidence places the first domestication in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean at about 8000–5000 BC. Continue reading

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Yes, Sir, Cheese my Baby

Cheese at Neal’s Yard

Local cheeses at Neal’s Yard, one of London’s great cheese shops.

Clifton Fadiman described cheese as “Milk’s leap to immortality.” In a way, cheese has in turn immortalized other things—how many towns are known primarily because of the famous cheeses that come from them (Cheddar, England, for example, or Gouda, Holland)?

It probably won’t come as a surprise that cheese has been around for a long time. Cows, sheep, goats, yaks, and buffalo were being milked long before refrigeration was available. So cheese making, along with other forms of milk fermentation, from yoghurt to buttermilk, date back pretty much to the dawn of animal domestication, at least among cultures that consume milk. Continue reading

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Delightful Bali

Balinese Rice Terraces
Bali’s famous terraced rice fields

Among my favorite books when I was a child was an elegantly illustrated volume titled Bobra of Bali. In this book, I read of life on a beautiful island, where rice grew in terraced fields, children wore sarongs and went barefoot, women went to temple with towers of food and flowers balanced on their heads, and festivals were celebrated with gorgeously and fantastically costumed plays and dances.

A few years ago, I learned from friends that Bali was still worth visiting, and that it was in many areas unchanged from the images I had of it. It didn’t take me long to decide to go.
Continue reading

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Chicken Salad’s Russian Roots

Salat Oliviye

Salat Oliviye

When the brilliant, energetic, and visionary Peter the Great of Russia decided to drag his country into the modern age, among the orders he gave were that men had to cut their flowing hair, women had to stop wearing face veils, and everyone among the nobility should learn a foreign language, preferably French. He also ordered people to have parties, and he led the way by hosting grand assemblées at his palace in the newly named and freshly redecorated capital of St. Petersburg.

The Russian nobility hesitated, but only briefly. They quickly figured out that dressing beautifully, living comfortably, and eating sumptuously were not hardships. In fact, after the death of Peter the Great, not only did the nobility refuse to go back to their former ways, they made good living one of their main preoccupations, and for Russia’s nobility, good living meant good food. Continue reading

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Don’t Hold the Mayo

There is a saying in France that Le sauce est tout—“The sauce is everything.” The great chefs of France have given the world a plethora of glorious sauces with which to adorn our repasts. There is Béarnaise, Hollandaise, Bordelaise. But perhaps the most famous and widely used of France’s sauce creations is, due to its ubiquity, rarely thought of as anything special these days, and is only occasionally acknowledged as being French. That sauce is Mayonnaise.

There are a few stories about the creation of mayonnaise. The most common and widely accepted story is that it was invented in 1756 to honor the victory of French Admiral La Galissoniére and Louis François Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, duc de Richelieu, who had commanded the siege against the British at Port Mahon in Minorca. In whipping up a victory feast, Richelieu’s chef created a new sauce to celebrate the occasion. The sauce was dubbed Mahonnaise, in honor of the Duc’s victory at Mahon. This tale seems likely both because the date corresponds to the world’s initial awareness of the sauce, and because there are regions where the name is still spelled and pronounced Mahonnaise. An alternate version of the tale is that Richelieu’s chef simply took with him to France a sauce he discovered in Mahon. There is also a claim in some parts that mayonnaise is connected in some way with the town of Mayenne. However, whichever tale is true, mayonnaise as we know it was developed by the French in the mid-1700s.

Mayonnaise was originally made by hand, and many contend that this offers the best possible results. It is richer, deeper in color, and bigger in flavor than the type you buy in a jar. You can also make mayonnaise in a blender or food processor, but the recipes are not the same. Blender mayonnaise is a bit more like the stuff you buy at the grocery store, but still offers more flavor than commercial brands. Also, using either method, you can alter the flavor simply by picking different oils and vinegars, or by changing the ratio of vinegar to lemon juice. Of course, the flavor can be further enhanced by adding herbs, spices, or garlic. In fact, a number of great sauces actually start with a base of mayonnaise or are variations on mayonnaise (for example, aioli or rouille). Continue reading

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Rajas con Crema

Mexico Market

Veggies, fruits, and chiles in a Mexican market.

The second time I went to Mexico, it was for cooking school. But my first trip was just to tour, to visit a variety of regions and sample a variety of regional specialties. Mexico is a key location for culinary history research, because so many foods either arose or were further developed here.

Mexico and vicinity was home to turkey, maize (probably first developed in the area around Oaxaca), chocolate, vanilla, and squash/pumpkin. The region also acquired, through trade and travel, avocado, tomato, and chilies from South America—and chilies were not merely adopted, but also bred for variety, and Mexico still has more varieties than anywhere else. In addition, there are indigenous foods that have not spread so widely, such as tomatillo, chayote, nopales (cactus pads), and tunas (cactus pears).

Combine all those dandy foods with a few introduced items and techniques from Europe, and golly, the food in Mexico is good. And far more varied than most people realize (unless they’re fans of Rick Bayless).

That first visit, I traveled from Mexico City to Oaxaca and across to the Yucatan, enjoying a fascinating diversity of foods and cultures. The recipe below is for a dish I got addicted to in Mexico City. My first morning there, I was served rajas con crema with breakfast. That night, I found rajas con crema served with my steak tampiqueña. Rajas con crema is so popular in Mexico City that there are rajas con crema-flavored potato chips. Rajas means “strips,” but by general consensus in Mexico City, it virtually always means strips of green chilies. Continue reading

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Saag, Chole, and Garam Masala

Here are two dish that illustrate the point made in the previous post that many Indian foods don’t taste at all like what many countries define as “curry.” It also illustrates that “spicy” does not always mean the same as “hot.” (Spanish has the advantage of separate words for hot spicy—piquante— and hot temperature—caliente. In English, not having a history of sizzling cuisine, we have to make do with the words we have—spicy and hot—both of which mean more than one thing.) Saag and Chole (also sometimes spelled Chhole) are luxuriously spicy dishes, but not really hot, unless you choose to make them so. Neither tastes even remotely like curry.

Masala means “spice blend” and garam means “hot.” Most general garam masala mixtures contain black pepper, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves, plus one or more of the following: coriander, nutmeg, mace. Below is my version, but you can vary it to your own tastes. It makes a lot, but it lasts for months, especially if refrigerated—or you can adjust the quantities downward (good math exercise). You can also pick up packaged garam masala at an Indian grocery store, and at many international grocery stores, if you have one near where you live. You’ll need the garam masala for the chole recipe. Continue reading

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Favoring Curry

Spices in Kerala, India

Spices for sale in a market in Kerala, India’s “spice state.”

A homonym, also sometimes called a homograph, is a word that is spelled identically to another word but has both a completely different meaning and a different origin. Homonyms generally have separate listings in the dictionary. Good examples include compound, bark, and mail. Another is curry; to curry your horse is completely different from currying your lamb. The first curry comes from the Middle English word currayen, and means to prepare or to clean the coat of a horse. The second one most likely comes from the Tamil word kari, a little lingo British soldiers picked up in Ceylon. (There is some debate on this; a northern Indian gravy called khadi and a cooking dish called a karahi are also contenders, but most scholars, including Alan Davidson, have thrown in with the Tamil word kari as the origin, as has Webster’s Dictionary. Then there are those who think English got the word a few hundred years before the British went to India, pointing out that curry and the French word cuire, to cook, are not entirely dissimilar. I don’t mind bucking trends, but this time, I’m going with the most common scholarship and saying it’s from kari.)

So what is curry? The Tamil word kari means “sauce” or “gravy.” This is what the word curry means in India today: sauce or gravy. While it is possible to encounter flavors in Indian food that correspond to the taste often associated in the West with the word “curry,” Indian curry can also be a rich, buttery tomato sauce; a thick, oniony brown sauce; a savory yogurt sauce; a smooth, flavorful spinach gravy; or an elegant, cream-based sauce with raisins and almonds. Continue reading

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Malaysian Baked Bananas

Now that I’ve given you the history of bananas, and you know how intriguing they are, I thought I’d share a recipe with you, so that you have something to do with your bananas besides just slicing them on your cereal or eating them plain.

Malaysian baked bananas are wonderfully flavorful. It’s a really easy recipe, which is good, because once you taste it, you’ll probably want to have it often. I know I do. The flavor is richly exotic and just a bit tangy, thanks to the lime juice and ginger. Enjoy.

Malaysian Baked Bananas
4 Tbs. butter
1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2-1/2 Tbs. lime juice
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced
6 ripe bananas

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cream the butter and sugar together until they are pale and soft. Beat in the cloves, lime juice, and ginger.

Lightly grease the bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold all the bananas. Cut the bananas in half crossways at the center, then slice halves in half lengthwise. Lay the bananas in the greased backing dish. Stir the butter mixture one more time then spread it over the bananas. Put the dish in the center of the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the top is bubbling and the bananas are cooked through and tender. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Note: The lime juice will not completely incorporate into the butter, but that doesn’t matter. Come close, and just spread them together over the bananas. Also, nothing spreads easily over bananas, because bananas are slippery, and things tend to slide over the surface. Dotting and flattening the mixture over the bananas in a close approximation of spreading is adequate.

© 2008 Cynthia Clampitt

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