Articles in World

Terrine. The brasserie's romantic back patio takes advantage of the Southern California weather. Credit: Copyright 2015 Jesus Banuelos

Los Angeles’ restaurant scene is on fire with exciting new spots scattered across the basin. In this chef-driven movement, folks such as Nancy Silverton, Neal Fraser, Michael Cimarusti, David Lentz and Josef Centeno are cementing their status as LA’s culinary trendsetters. You can’t go wrong at any of their restaurants.

True to the city’s Hollywood-centric culture, dining rooms here are graceful, relaxed and torn-jean-friendly environments. The city’s food covers the culinary map, embracing Latin, Asian, European and American traditions. LA is a city that refuses to be pigeonholed.

You will come to the city for the endless sunny days, beautiful beaches and spectacular shopping. You’ll stay for the food. Be one of the smart folks who appreciates that the future of American food is being served now in Los Angeles. Below is a slideshow of some of the restaurants you must try on your next trip to the Southland.

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» Venice and Northeast Italy: 14 must-see restaurants
» 19 top European restaurants worth a trip
» 12 top U.S. restaurants worth a summer trip

Main photo: Terrine’s romantic back patio takes advantage of the Southern California weather. Credit: Copyright 2015 Jesus Banuelos

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The Biryani cart offers flavor-packed kati rolls. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nicole Litvak

New York City is a prime destination for gastro-tourism. It is home to some of the greatest chefs, restaurants and culinary schools in the country. The variety, the deliciousness, the sheer volume of good food here is incredible.

There are more than 24,000 restaurants in New York City, according to the Department of Health. While the quantity is impressive, the quality is as well. I’m not sure if it’s something in the water, or if cooks in New York City are just better, but you might be hard-pressed to find a bad meal in this town.

In the spirit of pursuing good food in unconventional ways, here are 16 street eats that capture the diversity and scope of NYC cart food. I invite you to transcend the halal cart and the hot dog, and join me for homemade tamales, fresh-cut durian, hibiscus doughnuts, and yes, a hot buttered lobster roll.

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» Food trucks that serve a better kind of justice

» Austin’s food trucks

» Rocking the food trucks

» Vietnamese street food will be a hit at your next barbecue

Main photo: The Biryani cart offers flavor-packed kati rolls. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nicole Litvak

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The buttery orange broth of Secret Soup hides a plethora of fresh vegetables alongside lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime and chicken. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

In a recent stroke of luck, I was able to join my parents on a last-minute trip to Laos. Naturally, the first thing on my mind was: What will the food be like? Never having encountered Lao cuisine in the United States, I had no idea what to expect. So my palate was piqued when we arrived in Luang Prabang, the country’s former northern capital at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers.

A foodie adventure

The Bamboo Tree restaurant lures with the enticing scents of coconut and lemongrass. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

The Bamboo Tree restaurant lures with the enticing scents of coconut and lemongrass. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

Once settled in we immediately sought out some local food and stumbled across a restaurant off the main road, named Bamboo Tree. Lured by the enticing scents of coconut and lemongrass and by a menu on which we recognized nothing — always a good indicator of foodie adventure — we sat down. The menu told of the restaurant’s Lao chef and owner Linda Moukdavanh Rattana, who was raised cooking in her family’s Lao restaurant and whose favorite dish was something called “Secret Soup,” which combined classic local ingredients. Ordering it was a no-brainer.

Coconut milk and chilies

Chili and garlic, on display at the local market, are two crucial players behind the spicy heat of many Lao dishes.  Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

Chili and garlic, on display at the local market, are two crucial players behind the spicy heat of many Lao dishes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

The soup arrived with a handsome buttery orange color that foretold of coconut milk and chilies, with green hints of basil and kaffir lime leaves. One slurp later I was in gastronomic exotica, floating through a savory journey of creamy coconut offset by tangy lemongrass, spicy ginger, citric lime, aromatic basil and kicking chili heat, rounded out by a rich harvest of vegetables. Somewhat to my culinary embarrassment, I am not usually a fan of coconut- and chili-based food — Thai, mostly — since I tend to find it too cloyingly sweet, spicy or oily. But this soup opened my taste buds to the complex yet comforting flavors these ingredients can have when plucked fresh and combined in a meticulous way that allows each subtle flavor to come forth. If this was Lao food, I needed to learn more. When I heard Linda offered cooking classes, I signed up.

Three key ingredients

The three key ingredients of Lao cuisine -- lemongrass, kaffir lime and galangal -- alongside chili, garlic, and onion, which are common to many Southeast Asian foods. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

The three key ingredients of Lao cuisine — lemongrass, kaffir lime and galangal — alongside chili, garlic, and onion, which are common to many Southeast Asian foods. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

As our class visited the local market for ingredients and choose dishes to cook (obviously my vote was for Secret Soup), I took my culinary questions to the source. According to Linda, the three key flavors of Lao cooking are galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime. Although these ingredients also appear in Thai and other Southeast Asian food, Linda affirmed they form the triumvirate base of Lao cuisine.

Among these ingredients I became particularly fascinated by galangal, which I had never seen before, and coconut milk, which I usually find too overpowering. Linda informed us that while related to ginger, galangal is much harder in texture and has more earthy and citrus flavors — so the two should never be substituted. As for the fresh coconut milk, it is easily found in Laos and its freshness is crucial for creating a dish that isn’t too creamy or sweet. But where fresh milk is hard to come by (as in the United States), one can substitute pure canned milk that avoids sweeteners, emulsifiers and other additives. Either way, adding coconut milk at both the beginning and end of the cooking process is key to balancing the chilies’ heat without veering toward overly sweet.

Complex flavors

A variety of spices are used in Lao cuisine to produce different levels of heat and add flavor complexity in balance with ingredients like coconut milk and lemongrass. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

A variety of spices are used in Lao cuisine to produce different levels of heat and add flavor complexity in balance with ingredients like coconut milk and lemongrass. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

As with many Lao dishes, Secret Soup embodies a larger theme of Lao cuisine: years of mutual culinary influence with neighboring countries. For example, Laos and northeastern Thailand (Isan) were once part of the same country, leading to a shared culinary heritage. The Secret Soup contains items typically associated with Thai food, such as coconut milk and chilies, while also emphasizing the complex umami flavors, aromatic fresh herbs and spicy edge apparent in both Lao and Thai dishes. Yet the soup also displays typical Lao spicy-sour-bitter notes — from the blend of galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime and chili — instead of classic Thai sweet-sour flavors. Other Lao dishes might delicately indicate that the Lao originally migrated from China, carrying Chinese techniques with them, and many foods in the Laotian capital Vientaine still carry the legacy of French Indochina.

Authentic Lao cuisine

Local market vendors display their many varieties of sticky rice, a Lao diet staple. Lao people eat more sticky rice than anyone else in the world. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

Local market vendors display their many varieties of sticky rice, a Lao diet staple. Lao people eat more sticky rice than anyone else in the world. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

These similarities, according to Linda, often make it difficult to identify “authentic Lao” cuisine. In fact, the close correlations between Thai and Lao food are the reason for the seeming lack of Lao restaurants in the United States. Many Lao restaurants are established under the guise of Thai, since the latter have achieved more mainstream popularity. But a number of Thai places can actually be identified as Lao through traditional Lao dishes such as sticky rice — the staple food of the Lao — papaya salad, fermented fish paste, or others, such as Secret Soup, based on the three key Lao ingredients. Ultimately, Secret Soup was not only my first taste of Laos — it also gradually expressed the country’s elaborate history of culinary exchange, appropriately lending the dish’s title new meaning. Just as I pass on the recipe from Linda here, you can carry on the tradition by translating the culinary complexities of Laos to your own dinner table.

Bamboo Tree Secret Soup

Fresh coconut milk sits side by side with oil -- which is used sparingly in Lao dishes -- surrounded by fresh vegetables and a variety of pastes used for umami flavor and spicy kick. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

Fresh coconut milk sits side by side with oil — which is used sparingly in Lao dishes — surrounded by fresh vegetables and a variety of pastes used for umami flavor and spicy kick. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

Ingredients

5 stalks lemongrass

10 slices galangal

1 handful each of shallots, onions and garlic, sliced

2 tablespoons sunflower or soybean oil

5 kaffir lime leaves

3/4 pound of chicken filet, sliced

2 cups coconut milk, separated

1 to 2 teaspoons chili paste, amount to taste

1 handful mushrooms, jelly, oyster, maitake or combination

1/4 handful potato, cubed

1/4 handful green beans or long beans

1/4 handful eggplants, cubed

3 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon salt

3 teaspoons soybean paste

1 teaspoon chili powder

Red chilies, to taste, crushed

2 cups water

5 basil leaves

3 tablespoons lime juice (kaffir or regular)

Extra coconut milk (optional)

Directions

1. Finely chop lemongrass, galangal, shallots, onion and garlic.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat in wok, then stir-fry lemongrass, galangal, shallots, onion, garlic and kaffir lime leaves until golden brown.

3. Add chicken, stirring over high heat. Stir in 1 cup coconut milk and the chili paste, cooking for a couple minutes.

4. Stir in the other ingredients, finishing with the rest of the coconut milk and the water. Cook for 10 minutes.

5. Just before serving, add the basil leaves and lime juice, and more coconut milk, if preferred.

Notes:

  • Galangal, kaffir lime and lemongrass can be ordered online or found in specialty Asian markets. Do not substitute for any of these ingredients as they are crucial to the soup’s flavor — but they’re also just for flavor, so don’t eat them!
  • For the chicken, I would suggest sticking with white meat, which works very well.
  • Add the rest of the coconut milk, and the water, gradually — you can use less than the recipe calls for, depending on how much of the coconut flavor you prefer. But also make sure to taste the final result after everything cooks, since you may end up wanting to add in that extra coconut milk before serving.
  • If your wok isn’t large enough for all of the ingredients, transfer to a pot on high heat after the first cup of coconut milk and the chili paste are added.

Main photo: The buttery orange broth of Secret Soup hides a plethora of fresh vegetables alongside lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime and chicken. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rose Winer

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A sample of Supriatna’s work. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Just as artists work with paints and canvas or clay, chefs create masterpieces with everything from carrots to crayfish. But whereas painters and sculptors have museums to display their creations, most chefs only have plates; their “displays” are limited to the short stretch during which a diner admires their meal before digging in. Endang Supriatna may have found the perfect solution, however. He’s taken his art to sea.

The hallmark of garde-manger

Carving

Endang Supriatna. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

I met Supriatna as an invited guest on a week-long cruise to Alaska aboard the Carnival Legend. Working with some of the same items that are probably sitting in your kitchen, he turns ordinary edibles into eye-catchers; you could say he has all the ingredients for a dream job. “I am the only culinary artist on board, and I carve vegetables and fruits and create ice carvings from huge blocks of ice. Sometimes I create paintings for special occasions,” Supriatna said in an e-mail interview.

Working magic on melons

Honeydew details. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Honeydew details. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

For the average home cook, cutting watermelon can be a messy chore. But Supriatna does not see the awkward fruit you and I see. He sees potential.

Supriatna carves two dozen or so watermelons on every week-long cruise. His carvings vary in shape and size, just like his juicy, circular canvases. From salty sea creatures to detailed portraits, the results often decorate the ship’s Lido Restaurant. It’s common to see cruisers struggling to balance a loaded plate in one hand and a camera in another as they attempt to snap photos of the sculpted spheres.

Carving demonstration

Supriatna demonstrates his craft. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Supriatna demonstrates his craft. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

You can see Supriatna at work firsthand during a weekly demonstration at The Golden Fleece Steakhouse. Silently and swiftly, he creates melon magic in less than an hour. There is thought and precision with each graceful cut, but Supriatna has a knack for making his skill look effortless. What might be even more impressive, however, is his ability to create in a wide variety of mediums. Though I saw more watermelons than anything else, every now and then a new showpiece would pop up.

Early inspiration

Produce in bloom. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Produce in bloom. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Red onions and radishes cut to create colorful blooms, then perfectly arranged in a prickly pineapple vase: Supriatna’s edible bouquet decorated the buffet area surrounding the chocolate fountain on our last day at sea. You might have mistaken the arrangement for real flowers, especially since it sat somewhat in the shadow of a glistening ice sculpture, which also happened to be Supriatna’s handiwork.

As an adult, Supriatna has worked hard to develop his craft, but he says he had inspiration to create from an early age.

“My father is an architect, and (he) influenced and motivated me when it comes to carving and art,” Supriatna said. “Besides creating/designing houses, he often does artwork, such as sketches, paintings, drawings and wood carvings. … I’d always watch and try to learn from him.”

From the visual to the culinary arts

Ice carving on deck. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Ice carving on deck. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

In fact, Supriatna pursued an art degree in college. After graduation, he worked in several hotels as an artist. It was there that food became part of the plan. “I became more interested in seeing how the chefs worked to create beautiful and delicious dishes. To me, that’s a form of art,” he said.

So off to culinary school he went. He graduated one of the top three in his class, and in 2000 he set sail with Carnival Cruise Lines as an ice carver, fulfilling his dream of seeing other parts of the world in the process.

“I’ve also gotten the opportunity to see real works of art from some of my favorite maestros, like Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso and Dali,” Supriatna said.

Cooking at sea and at home

Art on a plate aboard the Carnival Legend. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

Art on a plate aboard the Carnival Legend. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

When he’s not wowing cruisers with his carvings, Supriatna also cooks. Responsible for cold-food production and presentation on board the ship, he has nearly a dozen chefs working under his supervision.

His work schedule is demanding. Supriatna typically spends six months at sea before getting two months at home in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, with his wife and two sons.

“At home I give command of the kitchen to my wife, but once a week I’ll cook for them. I usually make my special mushroom and shrimp risotto, which they love,” Supriatna said. “And yes, sometimes I’ll still do carvings, but I try to limit it to special events only.”

Main photo: A sample of Supriatna’s work. Credit: Copyright 2015 Dana Rebmann

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Classic meets contemporary at the 56th Biennale di Venezia. This year’s theme is “All the World’s Futures,” and one chef in Venice has taken that inspiration to create a spectacular menu.

The international art exhibition, which runs until Nov. 22, takes place in the Giardini and Arsenale venues and other locations throughout the historic city, making a marvelous encounter between history and avant-garde, where classic meets contemporary art.

In the spirit of this convergence, Chef Luca Veritti created an original menu for the magnificent Met Restaurant at the Metropole Hotel in Venice.

The spectacular menu, called “Tra’Contemporary Cuisine,” combines two philosophies — the traditional Italian and Veneto recipes and a futuristic style through which the same recipes are elaborated and proposed in a creative way.

While different from the current gastronomic trends, the reason for such an original choice lies in the intention of giving value to the regional products — often neglected on behalf of food from faraway countries — elaborated with exotic styles and cuisines.

Hors d’oeuvres the traditional way

Traditional capesante gratinate, baked scallops with bread crumbs and aromatics. Credit: Copyright 2014 Cesare Zucca

Traditional capesante gratinate, baked scallops with bread crumbs and aromatics. Credit: Copyright 2014 Cesare Zucca

A perfect example are the capesante gratinate, a typical hors d’oeuvres in the Veneto tradition, consisting of baked scallops covered with bread crumbs, aromatized with garlic, parsley, salt and pepper.

A delicate update

A contemporary capesante adds passion fruit and a delicate beetroot cream. Credit: Copyright 2014 Cesare Zucca

A contemporary capesante adds passion fruit and a delicate beetroot cream. Credit: Copyright 2014 Cesare Zucca

In the contemporary version à la Oriente,” the capesante are breaded and cooked with coconut rapé and served with a delicate beetroot cream, hints of passion fruit and a wafer of bread flavored with parsley and garlic.

Home cooking from Carnia

Macaròns di còce is made with pumpkin gnocchi prepared by hand, using a spoon, which gives them their shape and weight, then served with melted butter, sage leaves and some grated smoked ricotta cheese. Credit: Copyright 2014 Daniele Nalesso

Macaròns di còce is made with pumpkin gnocchi prepared by hand, using a spoon, which gives them their shape and weight, then served with melted butter, sage leaves and some grated smoked ricotta cheese. Credit: Copyright 2014 Daniele Nalesso

Another traditional home-cooking dish from Carnia: Macaròns di còce is made with pumpkin gnocchi prepared by hand, using a spoon, which gives them their shape and weight, then served with melted butter, sage leaves and some grated smoked ricotta cheese from Friuli.

An innovative update

The innovative cream of pumpkin and ricotta cheese.

The innovative cream of pumpkin and ricotta cheese. Credit: Copyright 2014 Daniele Nalesso

This traditional recipe is transformed into a cream of pumpkin and ricotta cheese with a hint of sage. The smoked trout with mountain herbs enriches the dish, which is finished with a morchia sauce — a typical sauce of Friuli prepared with melted butter and cornmeal.

Trendy and traditional

Inspired by the Venice Biennale, Chef Luca Veritti created his Tra'Contemporary Cuisine menu for the Met Restaurant in Venice. Credit: Copyright 2014 Daniele Nalesso

Inspired by the Venice Biennale, Chef Luca Veritti created his Tra’Contemporary Cuisine menu for the Met Restaurant in Venice. Credit: Copyright 2014 Daniele Nalesso

The high quality of the raw materials will be the centerpiece of the Tra’Contemporary Cuisine: The lamb comes from the Alpago; the vegetables from the Venetian island of Sant’Erasmo; and the fish from Rialto market in Venice. Speaking of fish, in Luca’s menu the classic Venetian baccalà gets a trendy look. The stockfish cooked at a low temperature is accompanied by a rosemary-flavored olive oil foam. A delicate Bronte pistachio sauce and air of Aperol Spritz add a further touch of refinement.

Chocolate gets an update

Chocolate revisited, with passion fruit, caramel and bourbon vanilla. Credit: Copyright 2014 Daniele Nalesso

Chocolate revisited, with passion fruit, caramel and bourbon vanilla. Credit: Copyright 2014 Daniele Nalesso

Couldn’t chocolate get a “futuristic” treatment? Veritti designed a “chocolate revisited,” in which a heart of passion fruit mousse enriches a sphere of plain chocolate sprinkled with white chocolate cream flavored with alchermes. Chocolate with savory caramel and Madagascar bourbon vanilla crumble complete the dish.

Veritti’s experiment could be a great culinary experience for a couple who can share dishes, while indulging in the past and adventuring into the future.

The Venice Biennale art exhibition will run until Nov. 22. Credit: Copyright 2014 Cesare Zucca

The Venice Biennale art exhibition will run until Nov. 22. Credit: Copyright 2014 Cesare Zucca

Main photo: Classic Venetian baccalà gets a trendy look from Chef Luca Verriti. Credit: Copyright 2014 Daniele Nalesso

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Charred ears of corn on a grill. The corn will be used in a Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

An abundance of corn in farmers markets is a delight and a challenge. Having already grilled platters of corn on the barbecue and boiled armfuls of shucked ears, it is time to invent another way to enjoy one of summer’s most delicious vegetables. Borrowing the flavors of elote, a Mexican classic, turns grilled corn into a salad that will delight everyone at the table.

Mexican street food delight

An elote, or corn on the cob, sign at Cerveteca Taco & Torta Joint in Culver City, California. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

An elote, or corn on the cob, sign at Cerveteca Taco & Torta Joint in Culver City, California. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Travel in Mexico and you’ll encounter street vendors selling a great number of delicious food snacks. One of my favorites is elote, or corn on the cob, in which an ear of corn is cooked, dusted with dry cheese and seasoned with chili powder and fresh lime juice. The ear of corn is always served whole, sometimes resting in a paper dish or with a stick in the bottom like a corndog.

Elote is delicious but messy to eat. First there is the matter of the whole ear of corn, which takes two hands to manage. And, with each bite, the finely grated Cotija cheese tends to float off the corn and drift onto clothing.

Deconstructing elote

Charred corn kernels cut off the cob in a seasoning pan to make Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Charred corn kernels cut off the cob in a seasoning pan to make Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Cutting the kernels off the cobs makes the seasoned corn so much easier to enjoy. In Mexico there is a corn kernel snack called esquites, which employs some of the seasonings used in making elote. This recipe is different because no mayonnaise is mixed with the corn. Mexican Corn Salad can be served as a light and refreshing entrée topped with a protein or as a side dish accompanying grilled vegetables, meats, poultry and fish. The elote salad is the perfect summer recipe.

The best way to cook corn on the cob is a topic of heated debate. There are those who will only boil corn, others who will only grill it. I have seen elote prepared both ways. My preference is to strip off the husk and grill the ear so that some of the kernels are charred, adding caramelized sweetness to the salad.

Just the right cheese

Cotija cheese finely grated to use in Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Cotija cheese finely grated to use in Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

What gives elote its distinctive flavor is the combination of finely grated dry Mexican Cotija cheese, spicy chili powder and fresh lime juice. Powdery when finely grated, Cotija cheese is salty so you may not need to add salt when you make the corn salad. Often described as having qualities similar to feta and Parmesan, Cotija tastes quite different.

Mexican Corn Salad

Mexican Corn Salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Mexican Corn Salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15 to 20 minutes

Total time: 25 to 30 minutes

Yield: 4 entrée servings or 8 side dish servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 large ears of corn, husks and silks removed, washed, dried

1/2 cup finely grated Cotija cheese

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

3 cups Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, chopped

2 limes, washed, quartered

Directions

1. Preheat an indoor grill or outdoor barbecue to hot.

2. Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil into a flat pan and season with sea salt and black pepper.

3. Roll the ears of corn in the seasoned olive oil to coat all sides.

4. Using tongs, place the corn on the grill, turning every 2 to 3 minutes so that some of the kernels char, being careful not to burn the ears.

5. When cooked on all sides, remove and let cool in the flat pan with the seasoned olive oil.

6. To cut the kernels off the cob, use a sharp chef’s knife. Hold each ear of corn over the pan with the seasoned oil and slice the kernels off the cob.

7. Transfer the kernels and the remaining seasoned oil into a large mixing bowl.

8. Add Cotija cheese, chili powder and parsley. Toss well.

9. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the salad and toss.

10. Serve at room temperature with lime wedges on the side.

Notes: Adding finely chopped Italian parsley to the seasoned corn kernels brightens the flavors. Cilantro can be used instead of parsley to give the salad a peppery flavor.

Traditionally, mayonnaise is slathered on the elote or mixed into esquites before adding the cheese and chili powder. I prefer to use olive oil to give the salad a lighter taste.

To use as an entrée, top with sliced grilled chicken, shrimp or filet of fish.

The salad can be prepared ahead and kept in the refrigerator overnight. In which case, do not add the Cotija cheese or parsley until just before serving.

To create a large, colorful salad, just before serving, toss the seasoned corn and parsley with quartered cherry tomatoes, cut-up avocados and butter lettuce or romaine leaves.

After tossing, taste the salad and adjust the amount of Cotija cheese and chili powder.

Main photo: Charred ears of corn on a grill. The corn will be used in a Mexican corn salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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Stir-frying is among the ways the Chinese prepare peaches that differ from cooks and bakers in the U.S. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Kelley

One of China’s many gifts to world cuisine is the peach, and with the season in full swing, now is the time to celebrate this most ancient and beloved of fruits. Peaches have been an important aspect of traditional culture in China, and were first described in the agricultural manual, “Xiaxiaozheng,” written almost 4,000 years ago.

The Daoists considered them important symbols of immortality, and other works celebrate their association with youth. For example, in the “Shijing (Book of Odes),” a compilation of poetry and song from about 3,000 to 2,500 years ago, the peach tree is compared to a young bride with brilliant flowers, abundant fruit and luxuriant leaves:

The peach tree is young and elegant;
Brilliant are its flowers.
This young lady is going to her future home,
And will order well her chamber and house.

Culinary uses

Pickled peaches are traditional in China. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sasimoto/iStock

Pickled peaches are traditional in China. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sasimoto/iStock

The culinary uses of peaches in China are generally more varied than they are in the west. We tend to limit our use of peaches to sweeter dishes, such as pies, cakes, cobblers and fruit salads. Additionally, we use them to add a sweet flavor to oatmeal and other cereals, generally served at breakfast.

In China, peaches are featured in both sweet and savory dishes. From the familiar peach-based duck sauce, and savory and spicy sauces for meats, to pickled peaches and even half-sour peach kebabs, peaches are everywhere. Peaches in China also tend to be eaten when we would consider them to be a bit under-ripe and hard. So, even in sweeter dishes, they often have a slightly sour tang to them when compared to sweet peach dishes in the west.

Peach origins

Peaches ripening on a tree. Credit:Schwäbin (Wikimedia) / Lizenz: Creative Commons CC-by-sa-3.0 de

Peaches ripening on a tree. Credit: Schwäbin (Wikimedia) / Lizenz

Recent archaeological analysis of peach stones (pits) has concluded that peaches were first domesticated in China’s lower Yangzi Valley beginning almost 8,000 years ago. In the area just a little south and west of Shanghai, feral ancestors of today’s peach (Prunus persica) were consciously selected for fruit size and taste, time from germination to fruiting and length of fruiting season.

The domestication process was complete in China by about 6,700 years ago, and the peach was introduced to areas of coastal Japan by about 6400 years BP (before the present). The larger, sweeter cultivars spread quickly and were commonly eaten across China by about 4000 BP. Domesticated peaches were first seen in India by about 3700 BP — a tribute to the power of early Silk Road trade.

This new analysis from a team of international scientists is significant and challenges conventional wisdom that the peach was domesticated in northwestern China. It also questions accepted ideas about how early in the history of agriculture that fruit trees became important crops. The earliest changes from feral fruit type appears almost 1,000 years before the beginnings of rice farming in the Yangzi Valley when rhinoceros and elephants were still common wildlife in the area.

Peach varieties

Fieldcrest peaches are one of 2,000 peach varieties. Credit: Copyright Patrick Tregenza/USDA

Fieldcrest peaches are one of 2,000 peach varieties. Credit: Copyright Patrick Tregenza/USDA

Globally there are more than 2,000 varieties of peaches that can be harvested from late spring through the end of October. Of these, 300 are commonly grown in the United States. Peaches are classified in three groups: freestone, clingstone and semi-freestone. The classifications refer to the way the fruit’s flesh clings to the pit.

Clingstone varietals ripen between May and August, and have yellow flesh that turns mild red to bright red close the pit. Clingstones also have a soft texture, and a high sugar and juice content, making them good for eating raw. Freestones, on the other hand, have firm texture, relatively low level of juiciness and mild sugar content, making them ideal for baking. Freestone varietals bear fruit between late May and October. The semi-freestones combine two of the most prized qualities of clingstones and freestones — a relatively high sugar content and juiciness along with flesh that doesn’t cling to the pit.

Varying by geography

Flat peaches, such as the Saturn, took more than a century to catch on in the United States. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons

Flat peaches, such as the Saturn, took more than a century to catch on in the United States. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons

Peach varieties tend to vary a great deal by geographical area. In the Central Atlantic, most farms are now featuring Glenglo and Early Red Free peaches with Red Havens ripening in the next week or two. August promises the greatest variety of peaches in this area with peaches available for almost any use.

The global produce market makes many varietals available at supermarkets regardless of the local fruiting season. The most interesting additions to these markets has been the flat Saturn and Jupiter peaches, also called doughnut peaches. These are freestone varieties with low acidity and high sugar content, best eaten raw. Interestingly, flat peaches (Peento variety) were introduced to the U.S. from China in 1869, but the idea of a flat peach didn’t catch on with consumers until the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Chinese stir-fried peaches

This is an authentic, savory way to enjoy the fruits of the summer. For a real Chinese touch, use an under-ripe peach, or one with a low-sugar, high-acid content for a sweet and sour treat.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 6 to 10 minutes
Total time: 16 to 26 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

 Ingredients

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

3 tablespoons hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

2 to 3 teaspoons lightly roasted sesame seeds

2 tablespoons sugar (Demerara or palm sugar is best)

6 peaches

2 tablespoons sesame oil

2 to 3 tablespoons grated ginger

1 to 2 tablespoons minced garlic (or Chinese chives)

Directions

1. In a small bowl or cup, combine the soy sauce, hoisin, rice wine, rice vinegar and sesame seeds. Add sugar. Mix well and set aside.

2. Thickly slice peaches and remove the stones. You may skin the peaches if you wish, but it is not mandatory.

3. Heat the sesame oil in a wok until it just starts to smoke, and add the ginger and garlic and stir for 1 to 2 minutes until partially cooked. Add the peaches and stir until well coated. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring several times, until the peaches start to soften. It may be necessary to cook longer if the peaches are very firm.

4. When the peaches are partially cooked, add the soy sauce mixture and stir well to coat. Cover and cook until peaches are of a desired tenderness, about 2 to 3 minutes longer. Serve immediately.

Main photo: Chinese stir-fried peaches. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Kelley

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The memorable scallop ramen at the roadside restaurant found on the way north to Wakkanai. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

It began at 3 a.m., a bursting, loud, rumbling noise that broke the rural silence and my sleep. It came and went continuously. I couldn’t take it anymore and got up to investigate.

I was staying at a Japanese resort hotel next to Lake Saroma on the northeastern coast of the island of Hokkaido. Little did I know that the jarring racket in this usually quiet town would lead me to discover one of the most memorable meals of my trip and one of the area’s most lucrative food industries: scallop farming.

Scallop farming starts with a perfect lake

The calm and beautiful Lake Saroma. This is the view from my room at the hotel. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

The calm and beautiful Lake Saroma. This is the view from my room at the hotel. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Lake Saroma, the third largest lake in Japan, is adjacent to the Sea of Okhotsk, separated from the sea by a narrow sand spit. It was once a freshwater lake. Every year in April and May, snow melt from the mountains gushed into the 13 rivers that empty into the lake and flooded the area. Aside from destroying homes and villages, it also ruined the livelihood of the fishermen. To prevent future floods, locals dug out a bit of the sand strip to create a channel.

The narrow passage not only let the freshwater out to ease flooding, it also allowed seawater to come in, especially during high tide, leaving much of the lake brackish.

The passage frequently closed because of moving sand during winter storms, and locals worked to reopen the channel every year. People soon discovered other advantages to keeping the passage open.

New fish come to the lake and scallops, too

Kuniyoshi Ooi, a scallop farming fisherman. Credit:  Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Kuniyoshi Ooi, a scallop farming fisherman. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Fishermen could now easily catch salmon, herring and ocean trout that swam into the lake. Scallops and oysters that thrive in brackish water also found a home. In the 1950s, Japan studied the idea of introducing scallop farming at the lake, and it has been very successful. Today the lake has two permanent, man-made concrete passages to the sea.

When I checked into the hotel the day before, I found a pair of binoculars in the room and admired the calm, silent lake and the sea beyond. The next morning I rubbed my drowsy eyes and tried to reconcile two very different experiences: the prior day’s calm with the early morning noise. Soon I saw the source of the racket: boats moving at high speed on the lake. I noticed that the boats raced out, stopped for a while and then raced back to shore. They looked as if they were competing. I quickly dressed and went to the reception desk to find out what was happening. “They are scallop farmers at Sakaeura Fishery,” I was told. Without having breakfast, I dashed to the fishing port about a mile from the hotel to get a firsthand look at the operation.

Fishermen work day and night bringing in scallops

Boat that retrieves scallops on Lake Saroma in Japan. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Boat that retrieves scallops on Lake Saroma in Japan. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Fishing boats were still coming in and leaving the port every few minutes. I approached a senior fisherman, Kuniyoshi Ooi, who seemed to be overseeing the operation. He told me that 90 fishermen in this port are licensed to farm scallops. Each fisherman has his own boat, and each employs an average of 10 part-time workers — students from a nearby university — at this busy time of the year. Students are attracted by the good pay, $25 dollars an hour for work from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m., Ooi said. The workers, dressed in bright colored uniforms, work as if part of a conveyor belt operation inside a long shed, extending several hundred feet along the quay.

Baby scallops are retrieved from the sacks

A scallop farmer removes 1-year-old chigai from the sack. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

A scallop farmer removes 1-year-old chigai from the sack. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Scallop farming in Lake Saroma is a sustainable, environmentally friendly business. The first year of scallop culture begins in May when the fishermen drop a rope with a knitted sack to collect natural scallop larvae in the lake. Scallop larvae in nature affix themselves to the grass in water. In farming, it’s different. The larvae attach to the ropes lowered by the fishermen.

In August, fishermen remove the ropes with larvae from the water, transfer them to a larger, roughly knitted square sack and drop it into the water again. By the following May, the scallops in the sack have grown to about 2 inches. The boats retrieve the sacks, 200 at a time, with 1-year old scallops, called chigai.

Mostly students work on the scallop harvest

Workers harvest the scallops. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Workers harvest the scallops. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

It was the roar of the boats engaged in this process that woke me from my deep sleep.  The part-time workers removed the scallops from each sack, cleaned and sorted them, and transferred them into large, blue plastic bins. After unloading the sacks for processing at the dock, the boat again sped back onto the lake to fetch more.

No words were exchanged among the workers; each silently and rapidly did his job — on the boat, on the pier and in the shed. Neither did anyone show any interest in the visitor watching them and snapping iPhone photos so early in the morning. I learned that the year-old scallops are then transported through the channels to the sea and remain there to mature for 3 years before being harvested and sent to market.

Scallops go back to the sea for three more years

Scallops are in the sack, but other sea creatures cling to the outside. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Scallops are in the sack, but other sea creatures cling to the outside. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

According to Ooi, the scallop harvest from the lake is about 44,000 tons each year. Fresh, frozen and dried scallops from this port not only satisfy the market in Japan but are exported to China, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and the United States. The 90 fisherman are part of a cooperative that provides for all of their needs, including food and housing allowances, funds for boat upkeep and crews, and generous retirement benefits. Ooi said last year’s profit from the scallop harvest, after all expenses, was more than $250,000 for each member of the co-operative. Not a bad catch; these fishermen are not poor.

The sustainable side of scallop farming

Scallops out of the sack. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

Scallops out of the sack. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

In addition to their sustainable scallop farming operation, the Tokoro Fishery Association, of which the Sakaerura Fishery is a part, helps maintain the health of the local environment. In the past, cutting trees for opening the nearby land upstream from the lake for commercial development created problems at the fishery. Eroded sand and soil entered the lake and suffocated the fish. And the chemical contamination from the developed land degraded the water quality, which also affected the fishery.

The sustainable side of scallop farming

The uploaded chigai in sacks are stacked up and waiting to be processed. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

The uploaded chigai in sacks are stacked up and waiting to be processed. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

In 1959, seven years after the establishment of the scallop culturing industry, the association purchased 1,500 acres of upstream land and planted 600,000 trees. The Tokoro Fishery Association is one of the pioneers in recognizing the important connection between healthy land and a healthy fishery. You might say the noise from the early morning fishing boats woke me up physically and mentally; the experience educated me on one of the most successful, sustainable and ecologically sound aquaculture systems in the world. And, of course, it stimulated my appetite for Lake Saroma scallops.

The next day on my way north to Wakkanai, the northernmost city of Hokkaido, I stopped at a roadside restaurant to sample the “scallop ramen.” As I devoured the delicious dish, vivid memories of my early morning visit to the fishing port flashed back to my mind. No scallops ever tasted better than the ones in my ramen.

Main photo: The memorable scallop ramen at the roadside restaurant found on the way north from Lake Saroma to Wakkanai. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo

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