Jun 27, 2013

Beginning Our Summer Ethnic Cooking

It’s time for Cooking for Life’s ethnic culinary travels and our two first ports of call are countries of the sun: Mexico and Sicily. We call Sicily a country because, although technically part of Italy, Sicily has always been fiercely independent and influenced by many different cultures—Greeks, Romans, Saracens (Arabs), and others.


Of course Mexico is also a melting pot, first a Mesoamerican culture and then a combination of Mesoamerican and Spanish/European. Both Mexico and Sicily have cuisines that reflect their hot climates and relative economic poverty. Thus many dishes are vegetable based which fits nicely with our Cooking for Life healthy eating paradigm.


Often we forget that chocolate was first used by the Aztecs, along with the tomato. It’s ironic that tomatoes are very much a staple in Sicily and that the world capitals of chocolate would have to be considered Switzerland and Belgium, both countries far away from any cocoa beans. The Spaniards brought domesticated animals like cattle to the New World and these slowly became part of the Mexican diet but most Mexican dishes rely on beans, vegetables, and more modest protein sources like fish and chicken. We made chicken enchiladas and a fabulous Chef Linda Mexican salad Wednesday of last week. I call the salad the Chef Linda salad because it was so colorful and as she always teaches, colorful food is food that is good for you. I am happy to report that in addition to being colorful it was delicious. The enchiladas were seductive, and the one I brought home was set upon by my college age children as though they had not been fed in a month.


In Sicily we see the Saracen influence in the sweet and sour dishes such as one we will make next Monday: caponata. This is a type of relish, almost like Indian chutney, made from eggplant, garlic, celery, raisins, and tomatoes. It is often an antipasto (anti—before; pasto—meal) or an accompaniment to roasted or grilled meats.  We’ll also make a braciole, a thin slice of meat pounded and stuffed with sweet and savoury filling, rolled and cooked in the oven. Braciole is a good example of a cheap cut of meat that is made tender by gentle cooking. Of course we’ll have to accelerate the process due to time constraints but we’ll manage.  Wish us “bon voyage” because we’re on our way!


July 1st and 3rd - Austria