Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Go West, Young Man...Then South

Pan-roasted herbed leg of lamb

I'm trying! In the past, my cooking has generally been largely southeast Chinese/Taiwanese home cooking with some other Asian cuisines, as well as basic Western dishes and techniques, like roast meats and vegetables and various other dishes. But recently I've been trying to explore Italian a little more concertedly, as you may have noticed by my referencing Hazan's Essentials cookbook, and Colicchio's Think Like a Chef (though that's broader than just Italian).

Pan-roasted lamb on braised cabbage with saffron risotto

I like learning and expanding my familiarity with different ingredients and approaches, which is why I want to reach into other culinary traditions. Italian seemed like it would offer more available to me than, say, French, which has a very heavy reliance on dairy products. I've been able to pick out dishes that don't rely on dairy or wheat, or that can omit them easily or just require a small vegan "butter" substitution. However, after working through some (cheeseless) risotto, frittata, vegetables, braises, and roasts, I'm finding that even Italian has too much dairy and wheat reliance for me to get very far into its repertoire. Lots of simmering and braising in milk and/or cream, lots of cheese I'm leaving out, bread crumb toppings and coatings, deep frying, clearly having no pasta of any sort, and I'm not a fan of the gluten-free substitutes for wheat products; powdered starches probably aren't too good for you as blood sugar spiking agents, themselves. Vegan cheeses are weird tasting. And I'm finding that butter tastes cloying in its richness to me in a way that pork, chicken, and duck fat do not (I haven't cooked with tallow and rarely eat beef). Maybe it's because I haven't had much of it in several years.

I like Hazan's zealous devotion to simplicity in her recipes. I've liked what I managed to put together. But I feel it's time to explore other culinary traditions, as I'm reaching the end of my rope already as far as the broad strokes go with Italian, due to my dietary restrictions.

So I'm looking next toward Latin American cuisine. It's something I've starting looking more toward as I realized that I can have all their masa/corn based things, and of course rice. So if I can avoid their cheeses and butter (the destroyer of all culinary avenues [see Indian]), I should probably have a good area to explore.

Any recommendations on Latin American cuisine cookbooks? Any nation/tradition.

Pan-roasted chicken thigh with Italian salsa verde and mashed sweet potatoes

[A tangential note, but I'm approaching this post as my musing back on Italian.
The ingredients are more expensive than Southeast Asian cuisine's ingredients, despite my image of Italian as being a less "elite" and hyped-up cuisine than French, for example. The thing is, I wonder how much is a function of its being richer parts of the world that consume Italian cuisine, thus driving prices higher. But let's be serious, here: $4/pound for Arborio rice? And it's only packaged 1-2 pounds a unit so there aren't even much bulk discounts?]


  1. I love this! You are an inspiration, Will. How do you have the time to cook?

    1. Oh thanks, Lil! It's great to hear that my dabbling helps others. Time is ever a constraint, isn't it? I have very efficient time management, and I think it's also just a matter of setting priorities and choosing to do this instead of that. I have kind of an automatic assumption that I'm going to cook my meals, so that's what ends up happening--but it helps that I can't have a great variety of what's prepared in restaurants. I also convenient have a grocery store on my way home from work, so it's pretty convenient to pick food up. Lastly, I'm sure I do a lot less of other things than other people do, like watching various TV shows, movies, live shows and entertainment and the like.

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