Mexican cuisine is considered one of the most diverse in the world, and traditionally passed down through the generations in an unwritten form. This cuisine relies more on intuitive cooking skills, so today’s class was more of a “watch and learn, then do” lesson.
Techniques for Mexican cooking are basically the same across the country of Mexico, but it’s the ingredients that differ by region. Contributing factors are Mexico’s vast size, diverse climates, geography, and different levels of influence by the Mayas, Aztecs and Spaniards
Typical herbs and spices used in Mexican cuisine are chili powder, oregano, cilantro, coriander, cumin, epazote, cinnamon, and cocoa.
The grain staples are corn and rice. Other popular items are pinto beans in Northern Mexico and black beans towards the south.
The one ingredient that seems to make its way into more Mexican recipes is chilies. They are grown in every state, there are over 150 varieties, and each one has its own distinct flavor. Continue reading →
Mediterranean cuisine is not the result of a specific culture or ethnic group. It is more the culinary collaboration of a diverse range of people that live in the Mediterranean Sea region.
The term Mediterranean means “in the middle of earth” or “between lands” as it is between the continents of Africa and Europe. Twenty one countries have a coastline on the Mediterranean Sea. Quite a bit of diversity to explore in one cuisine!
Our class concentrated on the eastern side of the Mediterranean.
Chef Carol Cotner Thompson began this week’s culinary class by demystifying the term “Mezze” which means, “to eat with pleasure.” It is the pleasure of savoring little bites of food, accompanied by feelings of peace and serenity.
The Oxnard Companion of Food traces the roots of “Mezze” to Persia, where wine was the center of an emotional and esthetic experience that also included other forms of entertainment, such as food and music. No matter how you define it, mezze is a fabulous idea for enjoying food with friends and family.
Most European food begins on a subtle note, builds with each course, then crescendos to a finale. Not so with Mediterranean food! It starts with a bang.. like if you played the Hallelujah Chorus in reverse. Continue reading →
Looking for a meal that is inexpensive, simple and delicious? This week’s classroom technique of braising and stewing makes that possible as it uses inexpensive cuts of meat and cooks an entire meal in one pot.
Alas, in class I had to cut up a whole chicken again! After hitting the erase button on last week’s experience, Rona graciously walked me through the harrowing procedure again.
To see what I am stewing about click here for Poultry Part 1 )
Braising is a cooking technique in which the main ingredient is seared, or browned in fat, and then simmered in liquid on low heat in a covered pot.
What comes to mind when you hear the word poultry? Hopefully it’s not chicken McNuggets! Actually, the word poultry refers to any domesticated bird used for human consumption including chicken, duck, goose, ostrich, turkey, pheasant, mute swan and emu.
This week’s blog focuses on chicken because, according to the USDA, chickens are the number one species consumed by Americans. I’m not a contributor to that stat, but after sampling some great recipes from class, I may convert. To understand my sordid past with chickens on the farm, please read my other chicken blog.
This week we learned how to cook your chicken using dry heat methods such as broiling, grilling, roasting, baking, sautéing, pan-frying, and deep-frying.
Something to Crow About
No matter how you cook your chicken, it can be a tasty and nutritious meal. No wonder chicken is the world’s primary source of animal protein. Chicken is also a great source of niacin, protein, vitamin B6 and selenium. It is low in fat and cholesterol and has no carbs.
If I told you we are learning about plants, grasses and seeds in school this week, you might think I took a wrong turn and ended up at a gardening class… not so. We learned about nutritious foods that our ancestors ate. Today’s recipe is a contemporary twist on an old classic.
Legumes are plants with seedpods. The seeds are released by splitting open along two seams. Edible seeds in the legume family include beans, peas, lentils, soybeans, and peanuts. Some seeds are eaten fresh, canned, frozen, dried or as flour.
Legumes are rich in protein, fiber, B vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting phytochemicals, low in sodium as well as gluten free. They are inexpensive, versatile, and have a long shelf life. What more could one want?
To prepare dried legumes
Remove stones or shriveled beans.
Put in pot with cold water — remove any that float to the top as they are too dry for culinary or nutritional value.
Drain and rinse well.
To soak or not to soak
The culinary jury is still out on this one, but my research says soak.
Softens skin for more rapid and even cooking
Activates enzymes that break down indigestible starches and sugars which are responsible for flatulence as they ferment in your gut producing gas.
Two methods of Soaking
Long Soak — Place in pot, add water to cover by 2 inches. Soak in refrigerator four hours or overnight.
Short Soak — Place in pot, add water to cover by 2 inches. Bring water to simmer. Remove pot from heat and cover. Let steep for one hour.
Proper cooking techniques would include simmering or steaming.
TIP: Don’t boil legumes, as high heat will make them tough, as will adding salt to your beans while cooking.
RECIPES WE MADE IN CLASS: BLACK BEANS & GREEN LENTIL SALAD
Grains are a staple in the diets of cultures around the world and have made an important contribution to daily nutrition since cultivation began around 10,000 B.C.
In their natural state growing in the fields, whole grains are the entire seed of a plant. This seed is made up of three key parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm.
Whole grains may reduce the risks associated with heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Whole grains may be eaten whole, cracked, split or ground. They can be milled into flour or used to make breads, cereals and other foods.
Fun Fact: One of the most popular whole grain foods is popcorn.
RECIPES WE MADE IN CLASS: QUINOA SALAD W/DRIED FRUITS & NUTS & TABOULI
Cereals and Meals
Cereals are grasses whose seeds are used as food grains. Cereal grains are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, low in fat, and good sources of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Meals are whole grains that are ground until they have the consistency of sand.
Meals — grits, polenta, semolina, and cream of rice
Rice has fed more people over a longer period of time than any other crop dating back as far as 2500 B.C. Worldwide there are more than 40,000 varieties of rice.
Rice is classified mostly by the size of the grain.
Long-grain rice is long and slender. The grains stay separate and fluffy after cooking, so this is the best choice if you want to serve rice as a side dish, or as a bed for sauces.
Medium-grain rice is shorter and plumper, and works well in paella and risotto.
Short-grain rice is almost round with moist grains that stick together when cooked. It is very starchy and the best choice for rice pudding and sushi.
Most varieties are sold as either brown or white rice, depending upon how they are milled.
Brown rice retains the bran that surrounds the kernel, making it chewier, nuttier, and richer in nutrients. Brown rice takes about twice as long to cook as white rice.
White rice is more tender and delicate, but lacks the bran and germ, hence it’s less nutritious than brown rice.
Wild rice is not really rice at all. Wild rice is a remote relative of white rice, actually a long-grain, aquatic grass. It is richer in protein and other nutrients, and it has a more distinctive and nutty flavor.
Rona covers cooking rice in her blog, click here to check it out.
We also learned about pasta which I have included in a part two of this post. Click here to read about pasta and a recipe for Potato Gnoochi with Brown Butter Sauce that I made in class. Rona made Basil Pesto on Linguine and Bucatini all’Amatriciana.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a shallow 1½ quart casserole dish.
Heat the oil in a large skillet, and sauté the almonds over medium heat until they are browned and fragrant, 3 minutes. Stir in the onion, carrot, cinnamon and salt. Cook 3 minutes.
Add the rice and cook, stirring, until translucent.
Stir in the stock, cherries, orange zest and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat.
Transfer mixture to the prepared casserole and bake, uncovered until the liquid has been absorbed and rice is tender, about 45 minutes. Sprinkle with chives and serve.
Cook time: 45 mins - Serves 6
“Legumes offer a host of health benefits that make them a highly sought after, non-animal source of protein.” – Terry Walters, Clean Food
I am not ready to give up my carnivore nature, but I am willing to participate in the international campaign called Meatless Mondays. Eating more legumes and grains will make the process easier. …and then she paused for thought
Hope you have enjoyed our adventure in the culinary classroom. Join us each week as we continue learning new culinary skills.
You can also read about Rona’s experience on her blog or What’s Cookin online magazine.