Welcome to my food blog! I am your average home cook and I want to share my love of food with the world. I'll divulge my recipes as often as possible. Feel free to comment or to email me at nodessertpodcast@gmail.com! Don' forget to come by often for new posts... I love having you visit me!

September 21, 2012

Special Post #2 - My Favorite Cuisines

A few weeks back I mentioned I would be having special posts outlining some of my favorite foodie things.  In the first post I covered my pantry.  In this post I am going to talk about some of my favorite cuisines, and WHY they are my favorite.
#1 - GREEK
First of all, I love Mediterranean food.  There is something about the flavor combinations, the olive oil, the use of lemon, that just gets me. It reminds me of everything fresh and light. I think of being by the water somewhere and just enjoying good food and good drink.
Some of my favorite Greek ingredients are olives, lemons, oregano, olive oil, cucumber, yogurt, eggplant, phyllo dough, feta cheese, and pita.
My favorite Greek dishes include Dolmades (grape leaves, stuffed with rice and beef, sometimes have a lemony sauce on top), Spanikopita (spinach pie - spinach and feta between layers of phyllo dough), Greek salad (but the more Americanized version that includes lettuce, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, cucumbers, beets, chickpeas, feta, olives, pepperoncini, potato salad, and a dressing that is a red wine and olive oil vinaigrette), Saganaki (FRIED CHEESE - need I say more?!?), Tzatziki (probably one of my all-time favorite sauces, containing yogurt, cucumbers, and garlic, sometimes with mint, dill, and/or oregano), Avgolemono (a chicken and lemon soup), Gyro (usually a lamb/beef meat mixture with spices roasted on a vertical spit and served with pita and tzatziki), Souvlaki (skewered meat seasoned with Greek spices and grilled), and finally, Baklava (a dessert made from layers of phyllo dough and nuts, and drenched in a honey sauce).
I could probably go on about Greek food all day.  Other popular dishes include Moussaka (which is super fun to say!), and Pastitsio.  Both are kind of Greek lasagnas (at least in my opinion).  Moussaka is layers of eggplant and ground beef with a custard-like sauce.  Pastitsio is tomato sauce, then ground meat, then pasta, and topped with a delicious creamy beschamel.
The best thing about Greek cuisine is that it's fun.  Having flaming cheese come out to your table, drinking ouzo and yelling "Opa!" make dining in this culture an experience.  If you haven't tried Greek food, get out there, you just might love it as much as I do!
While I have enjoyed Mexican food my whole life, I get more adventurous the older I get.  No more basic tacos and burritos, I now want to explore carnitas and moles, and other delights I have been missing out on.
It's hard to know where to start with Mexican cuisine. I do love tacos of all varieties, burritos are delicious, enchiladas are probably one of my favorite dishes. Then of course you have your taquitos, flautas, quesadillas and many, many more options.
Some of my favorite meals as a kid were Mexican, whether it was out at a restaurant or taco night at home.  My mom made awesome tacos and enchiladas, and I looked forward to these kind of dinners.
There is something about a deep mole, or a fresh salsa that satisfies something in my core.  A rich red enchilada sauce, or a zesty green enchilada sauce can hit the right spot at any given moment.
I will say I am a bit of snob when it comes to Mexican.  There might be disagreement or outrage, but TACO BELL IS NOT REAL MEXICAN FOOD.  I do not crave Mexican food and think that a fast food chain will satisfy my need.  When I want Mexican I want freshly made enchiladas, handmade guacamole, warm and salty tortilla chips, crispy tacos with meat, cheese, and salsa, and sometimes even sizzling fajitas (which may be more TexMex but they work in my scenario).
Mexican is another fun cuisine.  It makes me think of the Mariachi bands that used to play on Fri nights at my old favorite restaurant.  It also makes me think it's ok to play with your food (think fajitas or nachos), and what is better than a colorful Margarita with your dinner?
So skip the Taco Bell and head to your local non-chain Mexican restaurant.  Sip a refreshing beverage, dine on fresh salsa and crunchy chips and a new entree.  You may never eat fast food Mexican again...
It's really hard to decide what my ultimate favorite food is, but I will tell you that pasta of almost any variety is something I can get behind.  And where does a lot of pasta come from?  That's right, Italy!
Of course, it's not just pasta that I love about Italian food.  They are also Mediterranean, therefore I still get lemons, olives, olive oil, oregano, etc. There's also meats and cheeses galore, ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, and parmigiano-reggiano being some of my top picks.  Eggplant, capers, and tuna are also ingredients that can amp up Italian dishes.
One of the best things about Italian food is that there are soooo many regions, which means so many different dishes from all over the country.  Gnocchi, risotto, tortellini, gelatto, lasagna, minestrone, and even pizza vary from region to region, or may even be exclusive to one part of Italy.  There is a vast array of dishes and locations to explore.
 And don't forget the wine!  Italian wine is as diverse as any other cultures wine, and you're bound to find one you enjoy.  Did you know that Italy is the largest wine producer in the world?  Many people believe it is France or even the US, but in actuality Italy reigns for the most wine produced.  I suggest trying some Prosecco, delish!
What are my FAVORITE dishes?  Well pasta ala carbonara is definitely up there.  Gnocchi that is light and fluffy and melts in your mouth, frankly melts my heart.  Who doesn't love pizza?  I know I do.  Moving away from pasta, a mushroom risotto can satisfy my Italian need, also bruschetta is a pasta free favorite. 
I would be hard pressed to believe that my readers have never had any kind of Italian cuisine.  Whether it's spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, or lasagna, I'm guessing there's at LEAST one dish that most people have tried.
There are plenty of Italian restaurants to choose from in any given area.  My favorite in the metro Orlando area is Cafe Paisano, which is located in Longwood, FL.  If you're in the area, check it out!
When I say Southern, I mean the Southeast of the United States.  This is probably one of the true American cuisines.  And luckily for me, my mom's side of the family was raised in the Northeast, but my dad's side has southern roots.  So while I mostly had my mom's dishes, which were European in nature (goulash, lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, stuffed cabbage, etc), I also went on many trips as a child to South Carolina and discovered my love for Southern dishes as well.
While there are other truly American dishes, and new methods of cooking going on all over the US, the South has distinct regional dishes that make them classics.
What dishes might I be talking about?  How about the delicious, and popular, fried chicken? Chicken fried steak smothered in country gravy is another regional classic (and one of my personal favorites). Collard greens are also a Southern staple, my challenge in this dish was that I didn't even try it until last year, and now I love them and have made my own.  Cornbread, hushpuppies, catfish, fried green tomatoes (which I DID have as a kid, my mom made some great ones), black eyed peas, and for dessert, bread pudding.
Another section of Southern cuisine is BBQ.  This is not to be confused with throwing meat on a grill.  This method is a low and slow process, that requires time and a little bit of effort.  Depending on the area, whether it's the Carolinas, Tennessee, Texas, etc, there are different rubs and sauces and even ways that the meat is served up.  There may only be a rub and no sauce, or only sauce and no rub, or there can be both.  Tennessee is known for its sweet sauces, the Carolinas have vinegar based sauces.  A lot of places in Texas, especially when it comes to brisket, don't even use sauce.  Personally I prefer either a sweet sauce or a "white sauce" (which is mayo based). Also, as far as meat goes I prefer pulled pork to chopped or slice, and I prefer sliced beef brisket to any other kind of brisket.
A section of Southern cuisine that I've been enjoying more and more is Cajun and Creole cooking, which stems from Louisiana.  These are definitely different styles, but both involve indepth flavors and lots of spice.  The older I get, the higher my spice level tolerance becomes, and I'm glad because I'm discovering all new dishes that I'm falling in love with.
Creole cuisine is more in the southeast region of Louisiana, and Cajun is in the southwest portion (more in the New Orleans area).  Crawfish, shrimp, oysters, and other types of seafood are prevalent in these styles of cooking.  Rice is used in both Cajun and Creole food, because it helps stretch the meal (and in my opinion helps to soak up a lot of the yummy sauces and broths featured in these dishes).  When I think of Cajun and Creole foods I think of gumbo, jumbalaya, etouffe, crawfish pie, shrimp and crawfish boils, remoulades, and bisques.  Of course, these cuisines heavily use on of my favorite spices, cayenne pepper.
Southern food is fairly basic, but made with time and love which invoke flavors and warmth that you can't get anywhere else.  Find yourself a Soul Food, or Cajun restaurant, or even stop by your neighborhood BBQ joint to get a little piece of Southern cuisine.
#5 - ASIAN
This is a HUGE category.  I include countries such as Japan, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Korea when I talk about Asian cuisine.  And if you read my blog last year, you know I had a huge Asian influence going on in my cooking repetoire. 
Let's start with Chinese.  First let me say, I realize most Chinese food in the US is an Americanized version of China's dishes.  However, whether they are authentic or not, I love a good Chinese restaurant here in America.  I especially love a Chinese buffet.  If you want to make me happy on any given day, give me some lo mein, egg or spring rolls, wonton or hot and sour soup, sweet and sour shrimp or chicken, broccoli and beef, mongolian beef, or crab rangoon.
But let's talk more authentic Chinese for a moment.  First thing to know is that there are staples that include rice, noodles, and soybeans. Seasonings include soy sauce, and China is where soy sauce originated.  It is made from soybeans which are fermented, and wheat.  Other seasonings are fish sauce, oyster sauce, ginger, garlic, scallion (green onions), peppercorns, and sesame oil.
China is divided into different regions and each region has its own style.  These regions include Szechuan and Cantonese, among others. 
Dim sum is a traditional chinese dish.  We have versions of this here in the US.  Dim sum includes small dishes such as buns, rice rolls, and other tasty small bites.
Next I want to talk about Japanese food.  Japanese methods have been instrumental in influencing my own cooking, especially in the last year. 
Like Chinese food, rice is a staple in Japanese cooking.  Preferrably sticky rice.  And let me tell you, I would much rather have sticky rice than any other kind.  I'm pretty sure this is because of my dad.  When I was little my dad pretty much only ate his rice as sticky white rice with butter and soy sauce.  I am still on his team (although I have branched out and enjoy other types of rice as well).  Noodles are also a common staple.
Soy sauce and miso are also staples.  As far as seasonings, sake, mirin, vinegar, salt, and sugar are used frequently.  Wasabi, daikon and ginger are also used a lot in Japanese cuisine. 
Fresh fish and vegetable dishes are prominant in this type of cooking.  As Japan is an island nation, they have abundance of fish available. 
There are different styles of Japanese cooking.  These include sashimi (raw food, especially fish), steaming, and sometimes, deep-frying.
One of the most popular things that has come out of Japan is sushi.  Sushi is a cooked, and seasoned (usually with vinegar, salt, and sugar) rice combined normally with fresh (raw) fish, and vegetables.  Ramen, or Japanese noodle soup, is also very popular here in America, whether it's in those little 10cent packages, or fresh at your local Japanese restaurant.
Another thing I adore about Japanese cooking is Miso soup.  I'm convinced it is a great hangover cure. Also teppanyaki restaurants (such as Kobe's) have become quite popular here, and having your food cooked on a hibachi right in front of you is quite fun.  Definitely dinner and a show.
Now onto Thai food.  I was scared for a long to try Thai food because I thought it would be too spicy for me to handly.  But it turns out that there are quite a few Thai dishes I enjoy, and I'm glad I opened my mind to the possibility.
To start with, Thai cooking prides itself on being balanced between flavors, and these include sweet, sour, salty, and spicy.  The result are complex dishes that satisfy multiple cravings.
Fish sauce, shrimp paste, lime, coconut milk, chili pastes, curries, soy sauce, rice, noodles, lemongrass, Thai basil, coriander, and cilantro are ingredients that are featured often in Thai dishes.
Some of the most poplular Thai dishes are Pad Thai (a noodle dish), Tom Kha Gai (soup), Panaeng (meat with a coconut sauce that might be spicy), and Papaya salad. Yam Nua, a spicy beef salad is a favorite of mine, and I do enjoy papaya salad and pad thai as well.
Vietnamese food.  A lot like the other Asian cuisines, this food focuses on rice, noodles, lemongrass, spice, soy sauce, and fish sauce.
Noodle soups are probably my favorite Viatnamese treats, although Banh Mi's (sandwiches) are right up there. 
Vietnam ferments items, they also pickle items a lot as well.
Lets move to our final part of Asia, Korea. 
Guess which staples they have in common with the rest of Asia! If you guessed rice and noodles, you're right.  But they also have something these other countries don't have, and that is the fabulous Kimchi. 
If you read the description for Kimchi, it sounds pretty gross, and you might wonder why anyone would eat fermented cabbage.  But trust me, it is really good, and nowhere near as bad as it sounds. 
Popular in Korean cuisine is what we think of as Korean BBQ, and this involves grilled meat such as Bulgogi (beef), Galbi (pork), and Dak Galbi (chicken).  I personally adore Bulgogi, and when I visit our local Korean Food Truck (the Korean BBQ Taco Box) that's all I get.
Bibimbap is another popular Korean dish, and it is rice topped with veggies that have been seasoned, and is served with a red pepper paste called gochujang.  These bowls can also contain meat and/or eggs. 

So that concludes this special post.  I have taken you to North America a couple of times, into different countries.  I have also taken you to Europe via Italy and Greece.  And finally we went all over Asia and explored regional cuisines.  I hope you enjoyed this special post, because I enjoyed writing it.  I may have a follow-up to this post where I talk about dishes from other countries that I enjoy, although their cuisine as a whole might not be something I get actual cravings for.  We'll be back next week with a regular food post!

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