The summer is coming. It’s time to update our menus with easy-made refreshing dishes as good for light dinner for two as for a big pool party. Cocktails, beer, and all that jazz.
Why is a Latin American fish salad next to a French Polynesian one combined in one recipe?
Ceviche is made with cubed raw fish marinated in citrus juice, strained, combined with sliced and chopped vegetables (most commonly avocado, tomato, onion, green onion, cilantro, chili peppers), and served cold.
Ota Ika is made the same way, but with the addition of coconut milk or creme. Some of the vegetables mixed with fish are the same, and some are different (most commonly cucumber, tomato, onion, green onion, and spicy peppers). Coconut milk softens the acidity of the initial marinade and makes the dish somewhat tropical holiday dreamy and elegant.
Today, canning vegetables at home is mostly reasonable for farmers, I guess, who grow vegetables and need to preserve their harvest. Pickling, on the other hand, is a simple and quick cooking method for summer vegetables. Unlike many overwhelmingly spicy, salty, and vinegary store-bought pickles (they have to be that way for shelf life), homemade pickles can be forgivingly gentle. We can protect their natural flavors, texture, and most importantly, keep their nutrients! Make a few jars at a time, keep them refrigerated, and enjoy your cold, crunchy, refreshing, healthy, comforting vegetables — a great snack to survive Texas summer.
Mzhave Combosto is widely popular in former Soviet countries appetizer made with cabbage and beetroot. Since it belongs to the Georgian cuisine, it is also known as Georgian or Guria-style cabbage. Word MZHAVE literally means salted, fermented, or pickled. There are variations in different regions of Georgia (e.g., in Guria, Imereti, and Kakheti). Some cooks prefer natural fermentation when other add vinegar to pickle vegetables. Some recipes make the cabbage more hot and pungent, while other are not heavy with spices and herbs. Every household adjusts the recipe to the taste. The common ingredients are juicy white cabbage, beetroot, garlic, and chile pepper. Celery is also often in the list.
In Ukraine, we have a similar recipe — Pelyustka. The name comes from the word “petal” probably because pickled with beets cabbage leaves look like pink flower petals.
Korean-Style carrot salad is another phenomenon of Soviet cuisine nad my favorite way of eating carrots. Julienned carrots are seasoned with salt (and sugar if needed) and quickly marinated with spices, chili peppers, vinegar, and vegetable oil. Due to its popularity all over former Soviet republics and now internationally, there are variations for spices, the level of heat from chili peppers, for kinds of vinegar and oils to use, and where oil should be cold or hot. This recipe is my family version adapted to local, not very sweet carrots.
I’ve been always curious about differences and similarities of neighboring countries cuisines. Differences are interesting in particular. I also know how dangerous it is to make any assumptions after just a peek inside an unknown cuisine. Yet, I dare to say the use of mustard stands out for me in traditional Bangladeshi cuisine more than anything else. Shorsher tel (mustard oil) is one of the primary cooking mediums. Mustard pastes are often an essential part of food preparation. Mustard seeds are part of Bangladeshi 5-spice mix panch phoron (equal parts of whole seeds: fenugreek, nigella, cumin, black mustard, fennel), and most of dishes are started with tempering it in mustard oil or ghee. One of the most popular dishes in Bangladesh is Shorshe Ilish, Hilsa fish in mustard sauce. All that mustard affair got me thinking. Are those of us, who are not mustard fans, missing something?
If you live in Texas, where we have everything available in every supermarket, you don’t really need to know how it works. The main three ingredients for success are baby aka cocktail aka small Persian cucumbers, San Pellegrino carbonated mineral water, and Kosher salt. Just skip to the recipe and do it! Unless, you are curious…
Today in the U.S., mentioned above milk-caps are either unknown or deemed inedible, while in Easter Europe they are traditionally considered among the best edible mushrooms. After removing the bitterness, they are salted and later enjoyed as a condiment (there is no better companion for a shot of ice-cold vodka!) or as an ingredient in other dishes. Salted mushrooms are fleshy, juicy, and have a unique flavor.
When gruzd or ryzhik mushrooms are not available, my second favorite are P. ostreatus or Oyster mushrooms. Luckily, they are farmed by Kitchen Pride just about two hours away from Austin, in Gonzales, TX.