Your guide to the food and culture of the tropics

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Step-by-Step: The Ultimate Taco Pizza

I had become obsessed with this idea of an ultimate taco pizza recently, but I wanted something with a Mexican authenticity that hasn’t been attempted. I wanted to take the flavors of the region and apply it to a tantalizing dish. I made this happen in my own home and I’ll show you how you can do it too.

I first heard of the taco pizza when I was about 12 years old. I vividly remember it sounding so strange and bold and the trepidation I felt as I sat in the pizzeria waiting for it to arrive to our table. Tacos and pizza couldn’t possibly go together… so what did we just order? When there was finally a slice on my plate, I dissected the elements: lettuce, tomato, beef, cheddar cheese, and crushed Dorito’s. While my taste buds accepted this, something didn’t seem right. I felt betrayed; lied to. As an adult, I have never ordered a taco pizza.

There have been a number of pizza’s that have gone viral in the past year, like the pizza served in a box made of pizza or the $2000 squid ink pizza with the 24k gold leaf sprinkled on top, yet there was one that really caught my attention: Tony Baloney’s taco pizza. The motif was so simple, and thus brilliant. Just put some tacos on top of the pizza. This was the taco pizza I had been expecting since I was a child! However, I am not going to New Jersey for a slice.

There are three simple elements in play here: pizza, tacos, and guacamole.

We will infuse the pizza with the smokey heat of chipotle peppers and use a blend of mozzarella and oaxaca cheese. We will build a simple street vendor style taco and make guacamole from fresh avocados.

How to Make the Ultimate Taco Pizza 

Pizza crust

  • Tortillas
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes with chipotle peppers
  • 1 ball of fresh mozzarella
  • 1 wheel of oaxaca
  • 1 lb of steak, diced
  • 2 limes
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • Fresh cilantro
  • 4 avocados
  • Pineapple salsa

taco pizza, pizza, tacos, tropics, tropicsgourmet

I prefer to throw the steak, ¾ of the chopped onion, and juice of 1 lime together to marinate and then throw it all in the pan to cook.

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While it’s cooking, mash up your avocados and throw in the remaining chopped onion and squeeze the juice from the other lime for a simple, fresh guacamole.

Build the pizza using the tomato and chipotle pepper blend as the base and be generous with the cheese! Bake at 425 for about 8 minutes or until the cheese is nice and bubbly. Protip: use the broiler briefly to get that nice touch of brown on the cheese. Slice the pizza into… let’s say 4 to 8 piece, depending on how generous you’re feeling that day.

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When the meat is ready, scoop into the tortilla and sprinkle some cilantro on it.

Add as much guacamole and pineapple salsa as you prefer.

From here, just build a ring of tacos directly on the pizza until you can’t fit any more. On my pizza, I was able to fit about 12 tacos all the way around.

taco pizza, pizza, tacos, tropics, tropicsgourmet, mexico, mexican food

Did you figure out how to eat this thing? Let me know how you tackled this glorious pizza!

Step-by-Step Guide to the Perfect Crockpot Red Curry

I love curry in all its glorious forms: from India to Japan. That being said, there’s something truly special about its Thai red curry incarnation that utilizes coconut milk, herbs, and aromatic leaves that makes such a great impression on my taste buds.

Traditionally, ingredients were chosen based on regional and seasonal availability like pork, chicken, fish, and shellfish and sometimes frogs, snakes, snails and wild boar. Some of the commonly used vegetables are eggplant, squash, and pumpkin. I share this because I believe it’s important to understand that anything is possible in cooking; that you have to experiment and find what you love to eat.

Naturally, I turn to my crockpot because slow cooking dishes like these brings out the best experience.

Follow this step-by-step guide and enjoy this non-traditional but awesomely delicious Thai red curry and spoiler alert: it’s even better the day after!

 

The Perfect Crockpot Red Curry

Red curry, crockpot, slow cooker, recipes, recipe, Thai

This is all you’ll need:

1 ½ pounds of small potatoes

1 yellow onion

1 red pepper

1 green pepper

1 can of full fat coconut milk

1 cup vegetable stock

¼ cup peanut butter

2 tbsp red curry paste

3 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp chopped garlic

1 tsp lemongrass

½ tsp ground ginger

1 lime

Freshly chopped cilantro

 

First, chop your onion.

Then chop up your potatoes into perfect bite sized pieces.

Mix the potatoes, onion, coconut milk, vegetable stock, peanut butter, curry paste, fish sauce, garlic, lemongrass, and ginger in the crock pot on low for 2 and ½ hours. A note about fish sauce: it smells awful but will make your curry taste amazing.

While that simmers, cut up both the green and red peppers and add them for 30 minutes. You want them to retain some of the texture.

When it’s finished, squeeze all the lime juice you can into that crock pot and garnish with some freshly chopped cilantro.

This red curry goes great with rice or noodles, but I wouldn’t hold it against you if you just jumped in with a spoon.

Oh, you noticed there’s no meat? I made this for my mother, who happens to be a vegetarian. If you like meat, all you have to do is chop up 1 lb of your preferred animal protein and throw it in the crock pot at the beginning and follow this exact recipe.

Step-by-Step Recipe to the Perfect Lomo Saltado

There’s a popular, traditional dish in Peru called lomo saltado that is a combination of sirloin, onions, tomatoes, and french fries, typically served with rice. While this simple family recipe is widely accepted as Peruvian, it actually comes from the chifa tradition, or rather the Chinese cuisine of Peru. As Peru worked to abolish slavery, Chinese workers came into the country to replace African labor and naturally assimilated into the Peruvian culture. Lomo saltado exists as an example of the fusion of Chinese immigration and the culinary customs of Peru and most importantly — it’s delicious.

You can make this simple family recipe tonight at home tonight for dinner and believe that your taste buds will thank you.

Steps to the Perfect Lomo Saltado

Here are the ingredients you’ll need:

16 oz sirloin steak

1 can of diced tomatoes

1 red onion

fresh cilantro

steak fries

canola oil

¼ cup soy sauce

¼ cup rice vinegar

1 tsp cumin

salt and pepper to taste

Steamed white rice

Directions

Cut the steak into long ¼ inch strips and season with salt and pepper.

 

Cut the onion into thin pieces.

Heat canola oil in a pan on medium-high heat and brown the meat and cook the onions. 

When the onions are starting to soften, add tomatoes, soy sauce, cumin, and rice vinegar and simmer for about 10 minutes.

 

I personally like to pan fry my steak fries, but if you like to deep fry or oven bake them: do you, express yourself.

Chop that cilantro. It’s better when it’s fresh.

Garnish and serve.

Step-by-Step Guide to the Perfect Tres Leches Cake

A princess once said,Qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” which roughly translates to “Let them eat cake.” Trust that I take every opportunity to have my cake and eat it too. I think about all the birthday parties, weddings, and impromptu midnight cupcakes and all of the joy attached to such delights. Naturally, I would go to social media and profess my sweet tooth which inspired others to share their love for cake, and a phrase kept coming up: pan tres leches. Apparently, it’s to die for.

Sometimes, it’s sponge cake and other times it is a butter cake but both are soaked in three types of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. It’s very popular in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean, but the origin of the tres leches cake is a bit harder to pinpoint. Recipes for soaked-cake desserts were present in Mexico in the 19th century, which may likely have been the byproduct of European cultural transmission into the Americas.

In the 1930s, Nestle had established subsidiaries in Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Chile, and Venezuela and the company had been publishing pan tres leches recipes on cans of La Lechera – their condensed milk marketed to Latin America – which may have played a key role in spreading the word. So, thank you capitalism. Thank you for bringing a cake that is (allegedly) to die for into my grasp.

Please understand, I am the type that needs to try a new food for myself before I sing any praises and I do my very best to have my cake and eat it too. So, I’m going to make my own pan tres leches and you get to watch the kitchen insanity unfold.

Tres Leches Cake Recipe

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Here are the ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Tres Leches:

  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 14 oz sweetened condensed milk
  • 12 oz evaporated milk
  • Topping:
  • 1 can of whipped cream
  • Cinnamon for a light dusting

So first, we need to preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour your cake pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into one large bowl.

Beat the egg yolks with ¾ cup  of sugar on high until the yolks are pale yellow and then stir in the milk and vanilla.

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Pour this mixture over the flour mixture and stir gently until it’s combined.

Beat the egg whites on high until soft peaks form. While still mixing, pour in the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and beat until the egg whites are stiff but not dry.

Fold this very gently into the batter until it’s just combined and then spoon it evenly into the prepared pan.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the cake is done. Allow it to cool in the pan and then turn upside down onto a platter with a rim.

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To make the tres leches, we will combine the three dairy products in a small pitcher.

 

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I’ve always liked layered cakes so I cut the cake in half, stacked them and then pierced the surface of the cake several times. Then drizzle the tres leches mixture over the top and allow the cake to sit and absorb it. Yes, soak the cake.

Tres Leches, Tres Leches Cake, Baking, Dessert, TropicsGourmet, recipes

Last we will spread some whipped cream evenly over the top and sides and decorate with a bit of cinnamon. Refrigerate until it’s time to serve because the cooler the cake, the better.

On my first bite, I immediately thought of horchata in the glorious form of cake and having it in two layers allowed for a balanced texture. This cake is definitely a keeper.

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Host the Perfect Tropics-Inspired Brunch for All Your Friends

Brunch exists in a strange, beautiful place that allows breakfast, appetizers, and lunch to coexist on the same table. I love everything about brunch. I love the food and the cocktails and blowing off afternoon plans. I even love waking up disoriented after an accidental booze-induced nap.

I have spent many a pretty penny searching for the best late-morning delights that my city has to offer, yet I realized that it wasn’t quality food that made me drag myself out of bed at 10 AM. It was the camaraderie in eating with good friends and copious amounts of liquor that I came to love. The next time brunch is on your radar, invite your friends over and show them a delicious spread with a tropical twist.

Tropics-Inspired Brunch Recipes Ideas

The following recipes and ideas will turn your brunch from basic to bananas.

Appetizers

In lieu of biscuits, toast, or English muffins, I am going to offer you an Indian carbohydrate that will not last long on your table: fried naan. 

Naan with Peanut Butter & Bananas
 
Ingredients
Naan
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup curds
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • ¼ tsp onion seeds
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¾ tsp dry or fresh yeast
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • ½ tsp sugar
Whipped Peanut Butter Topping
  • 16 oz whipped topping
  • 3-4 tbsp creamy peanut butter
  • 2-3 tbsp powdered sugar
  • Sliced Bananas
Instructions
Naan
  1. Warm the milk a little bit, maybe in a sauce pan or by microwave, and then add the sugar and yeast.
  2. Cover it and set in aside and in 10 minutes, it should be very frothy.
  3. Sieve your flour and salt and rub in the butter.
  4. Afterwards, mix in the onion seeds and yeast mixture and mix it all as well as you can.
  5. Last, you will add the curds and knead all of this into a moderately firm dough.
  6. Cover with a wet muslin cloth for 2 hours.
  7. Punch down your newly risen dough, dust it with flour and roll it into some nice oval shapes.
  8. Heat a well-oiled frying pan at medium-high and fry that naan on both sides until they puff and turn light gold.
Whipped Topping
  1. Pull that old mixer out and beat the peanut butter into the whipped cream, 2 tbsp at a time. Add more to achieve your desired taste.
  2. Next, add the sugar and then chill for several hours to allow this mixture to firm up.
  3. When you serve the naan, garnish with the sliced bananas.
 

 

chicken empanadas, brunch, Tropical, TropicsGourmet, recipesLet’s add something indulgent, savory, and South American inspired to the table. This deep fried comfort food will always satisfy and you can make them small enough to snack on and the bonus is that they’re still delicious when they have significantly cooled down. Have you figured it out yet? Let’s make chicken empanadas!

Chicken Empanadas
 
Ingredients
  • 3 cups chopped, cooked chicken
  • 8 oz Monterey jack cheese
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup chopped red pepper
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 package of refrigerated pie crusts
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl, combine all of the non-pie crust ingredients.
  2. Unroll the pie crust onto a lightly floured surface and roll it into a large circle.
  3. Using a 3 inch cookie cutter, you can cut out rounds and re-roll the dough as needed until you are out of pie crusts.
  4. Arrange each round on a clean, flat surface and place a teaspoon of that chicken mixture into the the center of the round.
  5. Brush the edges with a little water, fold the dough over the filling, and press the edges with a fork to seal. (You can actually make and freeze these ahead of time.)
  6. Fry the empanadas in 350 degree oil for 3 to 5 minutes.
Waffle, Waffles, Fruit, Tropical, Pineapple, Mango, Brunch

Breakfast

Waffles are a must for any significant brunch, and the great part is that most waffle irons split the waffle into smaller, shareable pieces. A few waffles can go a long way and in the tropical spirit, let’s top these with cooked pineapples and mangoes with a bit of whipped cream and shredded coconut. However, don’t let your fruit be ordinary.

Tropical Fruit Waffle Topping
 
Ingredients
  • Pineapple
  • Mango
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • Water
Instructions
  1. Heat the butter in a large nonstick skillet on high heat.
  2. Coat the fruit in sugar and place in the hot pan with the butter.
  3. It should take 8 to 10 minutes to get your fruit a nice golden color and when that happens, remove the pineapple and mango.
  4. Stir a little water in that pan with a touch of heat to make a syrup
  5. Pour caramelized fruit and syrup over waffles.
 

Brunch, Breakfast, Lunch, Tropical, TropicsGourmet, Eggs, Omelet, Vegetarian, Veggie Omelet, Vegetable OmeletEggs are a cornerstone to any hot breakfast and we shall not disappoint! Instead of scrambling a huge pan of eggs or relying on a breakfast casserole, here’s a vegetarian omelet option with a spicy curry twist.

Vegetarian Omelet
 
Ingredients
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Carrots
  • Mushrooms
  • Baby spinach
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • ½ lemon
  • Plain Yogurt (just a dollop)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Heat an omelet pan at medium and melt 1 tbsp of butter and cook the vegetables for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the lemon juice and spice while cooking for 1 more minute. This will be your omelet filling, so treat it well and set it aside.
  3. Clean your pan a bit and set it to medium-low and throw on another tbsp of butter and add 1 single scrambled egg.
  4. Cover the pan and let it set for a couple minutes. When the egg is firm, loosen it from the pan and add your curry vegetable filling and fold the egg around it.
  5. Heat it for 1 more minute and serve.
  6. Garnish these with a dollop of plain yogurt and sliced green onions.
 

Brunch, Sliders, Burgers, Caribbean, Tropical, TropicsGourmet, Recipe, Recipes

Lunch

In the Dominican Republic, you could buy a chimichurri from a street vendor; have “una fria” and we are going to bring that Dominican spirit and flavor into our brunch with this Caribbean hamburger.

Host the Perfect Tropics-Inspired Brunch for All Your Friends
 
Ingredients
Burger
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 2 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • Hawaiian Sweet Rolls
Special Sauce
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Toppings
  • 1 onion, cut into rings
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
Instructions
  1. Mixed together ketchup, mayo, orange juice, and Worcestershire sauce. Chill.
  2. Pulse everything that isn't meat in a food processor until you have a paste.
  3. Mix this paste in with the ground beef and make adorable, little slider patties!
  4. Grill patties or pan fry them to your own burger tastes.
  5. Cut Hawaiian rolls in half and assemble burgers with onion rings, tomatoes, cabbage, and special sauce. Use a toothpick if sliders seem too slippery.
 

No matter the meal, there’s always a side of potatoes be they fried, broiled, or baked; mashed, sliced, or diced. Here’s an idea for a Peruvian roasted purple potato that will have your guests astounded.

Peruvian Fried Purple Potatoes
 
Ingredients
  • 2 lbs purple Peruvian potatoes, scrubbed
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp Mexican oregano
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp cilantro
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Halve the potatoes and put them in a bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and oregano.
  4. Toss the potatoes in the olive oil mixture and spread them on a sheet pan.
  5. Roast for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
  6. Sprinkle clinatro on top and serve.
 

Bacon, brunch, Tropical, TropicsGourmetYou know what? Go ahead and serve some bacon, too. People love bacon and will resent you for not having it. I just saved your brunch. You’re welcome.

Alcohol

But wait…a brunch without an alcoholic option is merely a shadow of the glory that is brunch. The brunch favorite, the mimosa, is such a brilliantly simple beverage. Traditionally, it’s equal parts champagne and chilled orange juice served in a tall champagne flute, undiluted and without ice. Even if one were to butcher the proportions, the delightful fizz and oncoming buzz will likely persuade you to keep drinking.

Brunch, Cocktails, Mimosa, Screwdriver, Cocktail, Alcohol, Drink, Drinks, Tropical, TropicsGourmetTo sweeten the experience I offer some alternative tropical juice options that may have you never looking back to orange juice again. Papaya juice is a wonderful option that tastes like a sweet mango, but remember to get the juice and not the nectar. If you’re wanting something a bit lighter, Guava juice may vary in color but the flavor is something between a pear and strawberry. If you are feeling bold and daring, Pomegranate juice can be both sweet and tart, but you will have to be careful with this one since alcoholic beverages and spilling go hand-in-hand. If you want a truly unique experience with a southeastern Asian flair, try Lychee juice. The flavor lies somewhere between a grape, a strawberry, and a watermelon. These mimosas will definitely leave an impression.

If you need a cocktail with more of a punch, let me recommend a twist on one of my most absolute favorite drinks: the screwdriver. In lieu of using regular vodka, use a mango passion fruit flavored vodka and pair it with pineapple juice. Like the mimosa, the measurements are equal parts vodka and juice and be sure to add a splash of orange juice to bring the tropical fruit medley in this cocktail to completion.

Go forth! Eat, drink, be merry and drop me a message when the hangover clears.

A Tropical Take on the World’s Best Snack Food — Nachos

Legend tells of a maître d’ in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico named Ignacio who, under the pressure of serving the wives of US soldiers stationed nearby with little available in the kitchen, used his creativity to cut tortillas into triangles, fry them, and add shredded cheese and pickled jalapeños. He served them “Nacho’s especiales.”

Thank you, Ignacio. I love him and here’s why.

His inventive combination of the most basic ingredients has brought so much joy to my stomach and taste buds – and maybe a little regret to my wallet. My enjoyment of nachos is deep and profound; my Facebook friends and acquaintances can attest that in December of last year, I enthusiastically announced an engagement to nachos to resounding excitement and support. By the end of the day, however, the relationship came to a depressing end as I had become hungry and could not resist temptation. I’m so weak, if I see nachos on a restaurant menu, 93.74% of the time I will get them and then ignore my dining partners whilst eating.

Considering that many of us have enjoyed barbecue nachos or pizza nachos and have deviated from old Ignacio’s traditional improvised recipe, we must reassess what constitutes the nacho dish. I believe it is simply the combination of chips, meats, vegetables and various dairy products which opens up the door for culinary possibilities! Considering our focus on the tropical, let’s see what we can come up with.

Peruvian Nachos

What fascinates me about Peruvian cuisine is that it’s influenced by the indigenous Inca population and also the immigrants from Europe, Asia, and West Africa. Lacking access to their traditional ingredients, these immigrants modified their recipes using Peruvian staples like potatoes, corn, quinoa, and beans. Eventually, the Spanish would import rice, wheat, beef, chicken, and pork.

We are going to slightly alter a recipe for Lomo Saltado to more appropriately fit the nacho motif. It’s one of the most popular dishes on the coast and is usually served with French fries and rice.

 

Peruvian Nachos
 
Ingredients
  • 12 oz steak, diced
  • Salt, pepper, and garlic, to taste
  • ⅛ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • ¼ medium tomato, sliced
  • 3 teaspoons vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 2 oz beer
  • 3 pinches chopped parsley
  • Flour tortillas
Instructions
  1. First, you’ll want to brown the meat by itself.
  2. Next you’ll add the onions and cook it all together until the onions have become soft.
  3. Afterwards, add the tomato, vinegar, and soy sauce and finally the beer. You will simmer until the vegetables are cooked through and don’t forget to garnish with the parsley.
Just to be different, serve this on fried flour tortillas cut into triangles and top with shredded Monterey Jack cheese. It’s soft enough that it should melt fairly quickly, which happens to be my favorite part!
 

Thai Nachos

Thai food is built on the complex interplay of at least three (and up to five) fundamental flavors – sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and spicy – in each dish. There is also a profound preference for fresh herbs and spices, rather than dried ones. Palm sugar is used to sweeten dishes and lime and tamarind add sour notes. There are five main chilies in Thai cuisine from the tiny, very spicy “garden-mouse-dropping chili” to a mild, large pale green chili that is used more like any other vegetable. Other common flavors often present in Thai food come from garlic, cilantro, lemon grass, lime leaves, shrimp paste, and fish sauce. Fish and crustaceans play a vital role in a traditional Thai diet, but it is not uncommon to use pork, chicken, duck, and beef.

Thai Nachos
 
Ingredients
  • ¼ onion, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 bird chilies, chopped
  • ½ green chili, chopped
  • Handful of holy basil
  • 1 egg
  • 4 prawns, shelled and chopped
  • A meat of your choosing, diced
  • 2 stalks of Chinese broccoli, sliced at an angle
  • A dash of soy sauce, oyster sauce, and fish sauce
  • White pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. First you have to sauté the garlic and chilies and follow with the prawns and meat, ideally in a wok.
  2. Push that mixture to the side once it has cooked and add a little oil and fry the egg, but you have to let the egg settle a bit before you scramble it.
  3. Next add your seasonings and sauces and follow with the Chinese broccoli and sliced onion.
  4. Fry it briefly so the broccoli is cooked but still crisp.
  5. Finally throw in the holy basil and cook for another 30 seconds, and it’s done.
Serve on fried wonton chips! You could purchase them in stores, however I prefer to make them fresh. Get your hands on some wonton wrappers, cut them into fun shapes and then fry them in a pot of 350 degree oil for just a couple minutes. They are incredibly light and crisp and mild in flavor.

Instead of cheese, make a Thai green curry to drizzle on top to add something sweet, savory, and aromatic.

Green Curry Sauce
 
Ingredients
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • ⅓ cup chicken stock
  • ¼ cup basil, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 4 tablespoons green curry paste
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
Instructions
  1. Put all of these wonderful ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil on medium-high heat.
  2. Boil this mixture down until it has the consistency of gravy.
  3. The curry will thicken as it cools and once it has reached this consistency, go ahead and drizzle it on those nachos.
 

Indian Nachos

One thing I have fallen for in the enormous wonderland of Indian cuisine is curry (I know, it’s in Thailand too.) There are many varieties of curries based on spice selection, cultural tradition, religious practice, and even family preference. The main spices found in most curry powders of India are cilantro, cumin, and turmeric while a large array of additional spices may be included dependent upon region and the foods included. Curry may contain fish, beef, pork, chicken, or shellfish, alone or in combination with vegetables. And yeah, curry can also be entirely vegetarian.

Let’s go with this vegetarian option, and transform Paneer Butter Masala into something nacho worthy. Paneer is a fresh, non-melting cheese that requires no aging or culturing.

Paneer Butter Masala
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup paneer
  • 2 tablespoons cashews, ground to a smooth paste
  • 2 cups of diced tomatoes, puréed
  • 2 green chilies, slit
  • 1 inch ginger, crushed
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dry methi leaves
  • 1 teaspoon tandoori Masala
  • ½ teaspoon red chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 ½ cups water
Instructions
  1. First, you will heat the butter in a saucepan and add the bay leaf. In about 10 seconds, the oil should become fragrant.
  2. Next, add the garlic/ginger paste and sauté until the raw aroma is gone.
  3. Add the tomato purée and after 2 minutes, stir in the red chili powder.
  4. When the oil and tomato purée starts to separate, add the cashew paste and stir well.
  5. As the oil separates again, add water and simmer until the curry thickens.
  6. Next, add the paneer and cook until it becomes soft, but not too long as it will become dense.
  7. Finally, add the dry methi and Masala and stir.
  8. And for the sake of an Indian themed nacho, serve this on fried naan, cut into triangles!
 

Asia By Way of Italy — A Twist on Pizza

Let’s be completely honest with each other, pizza is a perfect food (also in this category: pie and sandwiches, but that’s for another conversation). Pizza can be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert and is delicious warm or cold. The rest of world has recognized such perfection and has embraced chain restaurants like Pizza Hut all over the globe while small restaurants like Happy Pizza (marijuana is the secret ingredient) in Cambodia or Pizza Sasa in Laos are pushing the Italian tradition into unexpected cultures.

Legend suggests that pizza may have actually originated in China with a savory treat known as Cong You Bing. Rumor has it that the scallion pancake was loved so much by Marco Polo that he had chefs in Italy make him a version of the unleavened flatbread, which may have evolved into the pizza we are so familiar with.

Naturally, this caught my attention.

How have other Asian cultures expressed this simple combination of a crust and something delicious on top? As my curiosity wandered south, I found a couple of delights that I would love to share with you.

There is an Indian staple known as paratha, an unleavened flat bread that is thinner that naan but thicker than roti. It can be enjoyed plain, with a little butter or yogurt and sometimes spices or vegetables get thrown in to add flavor and nutrition. In a modern twist, some prep the dough like a calzone and fill it with their favorite pizza toppings. Follow this simple recipe and you can make your own parathas!

There is a very popular street food in Vietnam called Banh Trang Nuong and it resembles a pizza with all the assorted toppings, yet the similarities stop there. In lieu of a thick dough for the crust, a thin piece of rice paper is used instead. Then an egg is added instead of tomato sauce, as the egg holds the toppings in place. Some opt for a western flavor with cheese and cut up hot dogs while dried pork and Sriracha are used for a more traditional style. If you need Banh Trang Nuong in your life and you have access to a grill, try this:

At a very low heat, place your rice paper on the grill. Then, crack an egg directly onto the rice paper and you may want to use the back of a spoon to evenly spread the egg. Add the rest of your desired ingredients and make sure to rotate the rice paper so that all the edges are evenly grilled. Last, fold over the rice paper when all parts are crispy and serve.

Sometimes, the expression of pizza is merely taking a cultural norm and imagining it in a different culinary context.  The longganisa (it’s kind of like a sweet chorizo) and whole eggs combination is a Filipino favorite all-day breakfast meal. They’re usually served with rice and a simple tomato salad on the side. Now imagine taking these breakfast staples and having a pizza with a distinct Filipino character!

dough-943245_640A really great pizza is defined by an amazing crust. When the crust is right, everything else falls into place. With a little patience, I promise that pizza dough is quite simple. This versatile pizza dough recipe is great because it’s nice and crispy when rolled thin, but chewy when made thick. This is what you’ll need:

 

Simple Pizza Dough
 
Ingredients
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast* or instant yeast
  • ⅞ to 1⅛ cups lukewarm water**
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt
  • *If you're using active dry yeast, dissolve it with a pinch of sugar, in 2 tablespoons of your water. Allow that to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, until the mixture has bubbled and expanded.
  • **Use the lesser amount in summer (or in a humid environment), the greater amount in winter (or in a dry climate), and somewhere in between the rest of the year, or if your house is climate controlled.
Instructions
  1. First, you will combine the dissolved yeast (or the instant yeast) with the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Mix and knead everything together however you prefer be it by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle until you've made a soft, smooth dough.
  3. If you don't have any of the fancy equipment, check this out: you can just use time and physics to your advantage. Just stir everything together, cover it with plastic wrap, and let that sit out overnight. The next day, your dough will be ready for you!
  4. If you want prime flavor and texture, consider throwing that dough into a zipper-lock bag and storing it in your refrigerator for a couple days. This is called “cold fermenting” and it will make your dough not only taste incredible, but it will also improve it's browning characteristics.
  5. When you're ready to make that pizza, no matter what size or shape you're going for, don't pat it into shape. Rather, stretch that ball of dough into whatever kind of pizza you're going for. If you can't stretch it like a pro, just use a rolling pin.
tomato-soup-482403_640To offset the complexities of masterful pizza dough making, here’s an easy tomato sauce recipe to restore balance to your life. 
Simple No-Cook Pizza Sauce
 
Ingredients
  • 1 (4-ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1½ cups water
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • ½ tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves
  • ½ tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Instructions
  1. You don't even have to cook this one. Just mix them together (the longer it stands, the more the flavor blends) and throw it on your dough!
 

Then for your toppings you need:

Filipino Inspired Pizza
 
Ingredients
  • 2 cups longganisa out of its casing, browned
  • 1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 12 to 15 quail eggs
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced, separated into rings
Instructions
  1. Spread the meat, top with cheese, and then crack the quail eggs one by one onto a pizza dough.
  2. Add the onion rings and bake for 8 to 10 minutes
 

With all these variations and flavors, dare you argue that pizza is not perfection?

3 Crock Pot Recipes Inspired by the Tropics

When trying to stay well-fed in our fast paced, and often busy lifestyle, easy crock pot recipes often make for healthy, simple, and effective options in your kitchen. Exotic tropical recipes may seem complicated or intimidating at first but, believe it or not, there are quick and easy healthy recipes from around the world that will work perfectly for your crock pot.

Let’s take a minute to discuss the borderline-magical wonderfulness that is the crock pot (or slow cooker, if you prefer). They are the greatest of the kitchen gadgetry because they do a lot of the work while you can go on living your life. If you’re uncomfortable with leaving the house, taking a long nap, or letting it do its culinary sorcery overnight then take the time to “treat yo self” and get caught up on the latest episodes of Scandal or The Walking Dead or finally sit down with that Deepak Chopra book that’s been on your mind all week. As an added bonus, slow cooking intensifies the flavor of the ingredients and any meat comes out tender and full of the spices and herbs it has absorbed.  Here are three recipes that are guaranteed to make your mouth water and tantalize your taste buds!

 

Ngwo-ngwo

Nigerian ngwo-ngwo, or goat meat pepper soup is like the cousin of chicken noodle soup, in that it is often used to soothe cold and flu symptoms. There are a plethora of meat options — from beef to crawfish — when it comes to pepper soup, but goat remains a traditional favorite. Additions often include yams, potatoes, plantains or other flavors depending on the region. For example: the Igbo and Rivers people use tomatoes, onions, and spices while those who originate in the Delta will use ataiko, uda, gbafilo, rigije, and lemon grass.  For the authentic dining experience, pepper soup is commonly served with pounded yams or rice and it pairs well with palm wine and beer.

Ngwo-ngwo
 
Ingredients
  • 3 lbs of Goat meat, cut into small pieces
  • 1 chopped onion
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp bouillon granules
  • 1 Cameroon pepper
  • 1 habanero pepper
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tbsp chopped ginger
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 garlic cloves
Instructions
  1. Throw it all ingredients your crock pot.
  2. Add plenty of water since you’re making soup.
  3. Cook on low for 3 to 4 hours.
 

 

Pollo Guisado

Pollo guisado, or braised stewed chicken, is a popular dish amongst Dominicans. Chicken is a favored meat not only in the Dominican Republic but throughout all of the Caribbean because of its versatility, inexpensiveness,  and short cooking time. Culturally in the Dominican Republic, every part of an animal is of some use, thus nothing is wasted. It’s not uncommon to dine upon chicken feet, giblets, and the other parts of a chicken that Westerners usually discard. You could serve this on rice or plantains. For the full experience, try it with your favorite white wine.

Pollo Guisado
 
Ingredients
To prepare the pollo:
  • 1 ½ tbsp paprika
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 4-5 chicken thighs, bone-in
Now, for the guisado part of this recipe, you will also need:
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • ½ cup chicken stock, plus 2-3 cups
  • 1 large
  • 2 bell peppers (any color), sliced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp cornstarch, plus 1-2 tbsp cold water
Instructions
Pollo:
  1. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl and add enough olive oil to create a paste-like substance.
  2. Toss the chicken into the bowl and cover the chicken completely and evenly.
  3. Allow the chicken to sit for about 20 minutes to allow the already meat to absorb the marinade.
Guisado:
  1. Heat the oil and sugar at a medium-high heat.
  2. Briefly add the marinated chicken to brown both sides.
  3. Remove the chicken and place it in your crock pot with the skin facing up.
  4. Sautee your onions and peppers and add the garlic and tomato paste.
  5. After about a minute, deglaze this mixture with the half cup of chicken stock.
  6. Add your vegetable mixture to the crock pot and add the remaining chicken stock.
  7. Finally, dilute the cornstarch in the cold water and add to the pot.
  8. Cook on low for 6 to 7 hours
 

 

Filipino Adobo Pork

This dish is so popular in the Philippines that many consider it to be the national dish and it’s incredibly easy to make. Adobo is not limited to pork or chicken but can also be applied to the likes of squid, shrimp, veal, goat meat, or even vegetables. When basking in the simplistic satisfaction of adobo pork, you will want to serve this on rice. Since pork shares chicken’s flavor versatility, you should consider matching your wine to the sauce rather than the pork and since it can sometimes be a fatty meat, you’ll want to cut through with a red or white wine with some freshness and acidity.

3 Crock Pot Recipes Inspired by the Tropics
 
Ingredients
  • 3 lbs pork
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • ½ soy sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 crumbled bay leaves
  • 2 tsp whole peppercorns
  • 4 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 chopped onion
  • ¾ tsp ground pepper
  • 2 tsp salt
Instructions
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in your crock pot but allow the meat to sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes.
  2. Cook on low for 6 hours and enjoy!
Secret tip: Put all the spices into a stainless steel tea ball so all the flavors transfer while cooking while ensuring that you won’t bite into any peppercorns when you eat.
 

 

 

 

Jamaican Bush Tea: The Bitter Herb, the Better Body

The first time I took a sip of a loose-leaf-brewed Jasmine white tea was like falling in love. I remember every detail: being 20 and idealistic, thinking I could conquer the world but needing refuge from the whale of a task, attempting to penetrate Moby Dick with nothing but my intellect. I remember the pearl color of the stained ceramic cup, the floral aroma filling the room, the light flavors dancing on my tongue. When I finally took a drink there was no going back.

In that moment, I had become a part of the tradition and history of herbal brewing and, according to the 3rd century medical text by Hua Tuo Master Hua’s Classic of the Central Viscera, has origins in Shang dynasty China. While we may see this delicious experience as merely an alternative to coffee or as a relaxing hobby in the age of the suburban dynasty, there is a long standing medicinal history tied to tea brewing. Fun fact: Chinese Pu’erh tea was not allowed into the United States for some time because of its use as a medical remedy. This is not exclusive to China as such herbal brews exist within cultures around the world.  I was particularly fascinated by the stories I heard of the Jamaican “bush tea” and its rumored ability to fight HIV and AIDS. What I found was a much deeper belief in the potency of the herbal drink.

Origins of Jamaican Bush Tea

This “bush tea” is actually made from a very bitter herb known as cerasee that is quite revered in many tropical countries. Scientifically known as momordica charantia, cerasee originates in Africa and the Middle East but can be found all over the world today. The belief amongst the older generation is that this bitter breakfast drink serves as a blood cleanser and can even help manage diabetes. There haven’t been many official studies on the tea itself, but I doubt you could convince locals that it lacks powerful health benefits. The herb contains nutrients like iron, vitamins A and C, phosphorus, and alkaloids thus as little as weekly consumption is believed to prevent colds, headaches, influenza, jaundice, and stomach aches.

Often coerced, even kids reluctantly drink the bitter beverage. As expected, they ask that the  tea be sweetened with brown sugar, honey or condensed milk to make it palatable. If sweeteners are not quite your cup of tea, there are a number of herbal combinations and additions that are used to make “bush tea” into something you would, dare I say, enjoy. Read on to discover some of the locals’ favorite flavor combinations that add palatable flavors to the cerasee that makes us bush tea.

Lemon Grass 

A favorite of many is lemon grass, also known as fever grass as it’s used to treat, not surprisingly, fevers. Wild lemon grass is very accessible as it grows in rural Jamaica and it adds a delightful hint of lemon flavor to the brew.

Ginger 

Sometimes ginger root, also cultivated on the island, is added to decongest mucous and soothe digestive discomfort. Ginger has been shown to destroy ovarian cancer cells and slows the loss of brain cells, making it effective against Alzheimer’s disease.

Black Mint 

Another very popular herbal enhancement is the mint leaf. The addition of mint is used to combat nausea, headache, vomiting, and any general “bad feelings.” Even though most enjoy mint cerasee tea in the morning, it’s given to young children at bedtime since it aids in relaxing the muscles. It is easily grown and cared for since it requires no special handling nor fertilizer.

Bizzy 

Locals looking to relieve ailments like menstrual cramps, headaches, rheumatism, nausea, and vomiting, turn to the kola nut. Also known as the bizzy nut, it is grated, boiled, then sweetened to make it ready for consumption. Due to the caffeine in the kola nut, bizzy tea is believed to also aid in weight loss.

lime-383180_1920

Lime Leaf 

The leaves of the lime tree are just as green as the fruit it bears thus by adding the leaves, the tea is given a distinct green appearance. These leaves also carry the flavor of lime, making for a pleasant addition to cerasee.  In addition to color and flavor, it is believed the lime leaf also maintains the benefits that the fruit has and is used for high blood pressure, peptic ulcers, colds, asthma, and may also be used as a sedative.

One could find cerasee and other “bush teas” in health food and grocery stores packed in bags like any other branded tea and is less bitter for general consumption. This might be the perfect addition to your shopping list if you’re looking to bring a piece of Jamaica, and its herbal remedies, home with you.