Monthly Archives: September 2009



Ancient Greeks and Romans were the people most responsible for what we in the West view as “what’s for dinner.” They were the ones who added lettuce-based salads and desserts to a menu that had previously focused on just getting enough calories to survive. I’ve actually noticed in my travels that, in areas outside the cultural influence of Greece and Rome, these things—lettuce salads and dessert—don’t really exist. In Asia, servers will put out a sliced orange at the end of a meal, because they’ve learned that American and European tourists expect something sweet, but it’s not part of the culture, and a nice tossed green salad is just not something you’re going to find on a traditional Oriental menu. (This is not to say they don’t have sweets; they just don’t have dessert. Sweets are snacks.)

Evidence from Egyptian tomb paintings indicates that lettuce was being cultivated in Egypt before 4500 BC, though the first writings were Assyrian documents from around 800 BC, when lettuce was identified as being among the 250 plants growing in the gardens of King Merodach-Baladan in Babylon. The Greek historian Herodotus tells us that lettuce appeared on royal tables in Persia by about 550 BC, but it was a delicacy reserved for kings. These civilizations all bordered on the likely point of origin of lettuce: inner Asia Minor, trans-Caucasus, Iran, and Turkistan. Continue reading



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Cebollas Encuridas

In Mexico’s Yucatan, pickled red onions—cebollas encuridas— are served at almost every meal, appearing as soon as you sit down, along with the salsa. They are a delightful and delicious way to enhance foods, from simply piling them on tortilla chips to using them to enhance a dish. I came to be fairly addicted to them when I toured the Yucatan a few years ago, and I now make them regularly.

You must use sour orange juice. It’s completely different from sweet orange juice—more like lime juice. Straight vinegar would be better than using sweet orange juice, but look for sour orange in the Hispanic- or Mexican-foods aisle of your grocery store, or check at a Hispanic grocery store. It’s worth the effort, because the flavor really is different if you try substitutes for the sour orange.

And just so you know, these are good with more than just Mexican food. Almost anywhere you’d use pickles, relish, or onions can be enhanced with this flavorful condiment. Enjoy.

Cebollas Encuridas
Yucatecan Pickled Onions

1 large red onion, thinly sliced
boiling water, to cover
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup sour orange juice, or to cover
1/2 tsp dried oregano, preferably Mexican oregano Continue reading

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The Allium genus includes some of my favorite purveyors of flavor, including garlic, shallots, leeks, scallions, and onions. It is hard to imagine cooking without these fragrant, vibrant plants. And in fact, no one has ever really had to, because wild members of the allium genus grow worldwide. That’s why, even though onions as we know them arrived in the Americas with European explorers, we still ended up with Native American words that refer to a place where wild onions were causing a stink: the Potawatomi word checagou, which means “place that stinks of wild onions,” and the Menominee word shika’ko, which means “skunk place,” which actually referred to the smell of the wild onions. We’re not sure which of these words was the derivation of Chicago, but the point is, there were a lot of wild onions growing here long before domesticated onions made it over with European settlers. Continue reading

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Going to Goa

Portuguese Architecture in Old Goa

Portuguese Architecture in Old Goa

Before I mention what happened after I landed in Goa, it seems appropriate to mention our internal flights in India. The country’s Jet Airways is now one of my favorite airlines. They have spotlessly clean jets, offer lots of leg room, have a great on-time record, offer superb Indian food, and they feed you even on a one-hour flight (always with vegetarian and non-vegetarian options). The airports in India will make you crazy (at least three security points to pass through for every flight), but this airline, at least, makes internal travel a delight.

And now, Goa.

Goa was Portuguese until 1961, which means it was controlled by a European power after all the rest of India had gained independence from Britain. A few years later, Goa was invaded by hippies who didn’t want the ‘70s to end. Signs of both groups were abundant, from Portuguese cathedrals to hippy tie-dye and head shops.

The buildings in the photo above are the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on the left and Se Cathedral on the right. Se Cathedral is the largest church in India and one of the largest churches in Asia. It is actually larger than its counterparts back in Portugal. Continue reading

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