Samfaina: Catalan stew with salt cod and vegetables

Samfaina: Catalan stew with salt cod and vegetables

Having visited Barcelona a few times recently I’ve been struck by the similarities between Catalan, both the language and cuisine, and French. Indeed, friends from that region of Spain attest that they can understand French quite easily because of the close affinity between the two. Certainly, the culinary similarities are readily apparent. Cava is one example, being made by the same process as Champagne, although from different grapes. Or take crema Catalana, a custard very similar to crème brûlée, but made with milk rather than heavy cream. And then there’s today’s recipe for samfaina, a traditional Catalan stew that could easily be mistaken for it’s better known Provençal counterpart, ratatouille.

Gujarati-style chana dal with bottle gourd and curry leaves

Gujarati-style chana dal with bottle gourd and curry leaves

They say that Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow. Much the same can be said about Gujaratis and legumes. Growing up I can’t remember a meal or occasion–from weeknight dinner to wedding banquet–where there wasn’t a pulse in one form or another on the table. And more often than not it was the star of the show as it still is in any Gujarati home. To be fair, pulses–or dals as they’re generically known in India–are revered everywhere in that country. But in my (biased) opinion Gujaratis cook them in more–and tastier–ways than any other group and today’s recipe is a perfect example of both a Gujarati-style dal and Indian comfort food. (The only reason dals haven’t featured more prominently on this blog is because they make for terrible food porn, and food styling is not my forte as you’ve probably noticed.)

Midia dolma: Istanbul-style mussels stuffed with rice and pine nuts

Midia dolma

Living in the melting pot that is New York I thought I knew a little bit about Turkish food. But a recent trip to Istanbul laid bare my almost utter ignorance. Sure, I’d eaten manti and knew my iskender from adana kebap. But these well known dishes merely scratch the surface of a cuisine that is ancient and deep, with strong Central Asian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and European influences as befits a country bordering Asia and Europe. I learned all this thanks to Uğur Ildiz, my highly knowledgeable and friendly guide on a culinary walking tour I participated in. From morning to late afternoon we walked around both the European and Asian sides, stopping every few minutes at a roadside stall, restaurant or shop to sample local delicacies. It was one of the most enjoyable and informative experiences I’ve ever had and I highly recommend it if you’re ever in Istanbul. Be warned though that the pace is brisk and unrelenting. And go with an empty stomach because at the end you’ll be stuffed to the gills!

Gyoza: Japanese pan-fried dumplings

Gyoza

I’m a huge fan of dumplings. From Korean mandoo to Shanghai-style xiao long bao, I like ‘em all. But one of my favorite by far are Japanese gyoza. Usually served as a side dish in ramen-ya or izakaya, these bite-sized, pan-fried dumplings are eternally popular in Japan, although outside Japan they’ve been overshadowed by the sushi and ramen craze that seems to have swept the planet. That’s too bad. Gyoza deserve far more attention than they’ve received. And so to cast a spotlight on them here’s a recipe adapted from one my friend Yukiko Minemura shared with me. Serve the gyoza with a glass or two of ice cold Yebisu beer (Sapporo will also do in a cinch) and you’ll be transported to an izakaya in the alleyways of Shinjuku!

Pintxos Morunos: Spanish cumin and pimenton-spiced pork shoulder skewers

Pintxos Morunos

From Greek soulvaki to Malaysian satay, and Peruvian anticuchos to Japanese yakitori, there is hardly a country or cuisine that doesn’t have its favorite version of grilled meat on a stick. While this method of cooking was no doubt reinvented in different parts of the world, the oldest references to it are found in the Middle East and Mediterranean, hence the near universal use of the word “kebab“–derived from the Persian word “kabap” meaning “fry”–to describe this type of food. (Apparently, Medieval Persian soldiers used to grill meat speared on their swords over open fire.) No surprise then that Spain has its own version known as Pintxos Morunos, a reference to the Moors who colonized the Iberian Peninsula starting in the 700s. (Pintxo or pincho is the Spanish for spine.)