Results tagged chiles from David Lebovitz

Mexican Dinner with Susana Trilling, in Paris

Susana Trilling Mexican Dinner

The first time I went to Mexico was sometime back in the 1980s. And from what I’d heard, I was sure that I would never come back. Most stories suggested danger lurking from every corner of every city and town, even in the oceans, where who knows what could happen to you in there. Or at the very least, I’d certainly be laid up in bed, doubled over from accidentally drinking the water.

Since that first trip, where I happily found myself on warm beaches sipping Mexican beers and eating spicy ceviche made from seafood that the fishermen brought in each morning from the clear blue ocean, I’ve been to Mexico maybe five or six times, and each time, made it back just fine. (Except for once, when I had a rather unpleasant return flight, made worse by a full plane with one restroom that was out-of-order. Which might have been attributed to a run-in with some mezcal.)

Because I live farther away now, it was nice that a bit of Mexico came to me — and didn’t involve and unpleasant return on a plane. Susana Trilling was coming to Paris and my friends Kate and Judy urged her to get in touch with me.

Susana Trilling Mexican Dinner

Susana had invited me over for a homemade Mexican dinner at her friend’s place in Paris, where she and Jesse, her son, were staying. But having cooked in my share of Parisian kitchens, which are often tiny and not well-stocked for serving groups (or preparing Mexican fare), I invited her to my place to cook, since I pretty much have any kitchen tool and ingredient one could imagine. Including some Mexican ones.

Susana Trilling Mexican Dinner

She unpacked her haul from the market in Paris, as well as lots of little packets of spices, seasonings, and a box of stone-ground Oaxacan chocolate, ground with cinnamon and sugar. I couldn’t resist and tore into the box, pulled out one of the handmade bars, and took a sniff. I love the smell of brusque, coarsely ground Mexican chocolate, and I was happy to hear we’d be having a Mexican dessert Susana would be baking with it.

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Pickled Jalapenos

PIckled jalapeno peppers and carrot recipe-6

Yes, I know I’ve been presenting a lot of chile pepper recipes lately. But, well, ’tis the season. And when nature speaks, ya gotta listen. So I promise a chocolate recipe up shortly — fortunately, chocolate is an all-year round kind of thing — but I wanted to preserve a nice bag of jalapeños that happily made their way into my Paris kitchen. And since they’re something you don’t see at Parisian markets, I wanted to make my bounty last as long as possible.

Pickled Jalapeños

So I decided to preserve them for my next Mexi-fest, and pickle them in the style of those you find at taquerias, where they’re used as a condiment.

Pickled Jalapeños

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Thai Green Curry

Thai green curry

After my trip to Sydney, I decided I needed to learn some of the basics of making Thai food, if I’m going to get anything as spicy as I enjoyed (and as much as I like) around here. Like all cuisines, it starts with gathering the proper ingredients. Here in Paris, we have Tang Frères, a large Asian supermarket which is pretty well-stocked. (Although being Paris, it seems like it’s required that they’re out of the one essential item that I’m looking for.)

I hunted down most of the ingredients on my list, but paused at the curry pastes on the shelf. Was that cheating? Did Thai cooks use curry paste, or were they shunned and it was considered infinitely better to make your own from scratch? I was in a dilemma since I wanted to hit the flavors I was looking for, but could not find lime leaves, which seems like an essential ingredient from my reading. So I put the message out on Twitter from the supermarket aisle, and right away, all the responses said the curry pastes are fine – and sometimes preferable, if you can’t find the right ingredients.

shrimp paste Thai eggplant

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Sydney Dining

Sydney Opera House

If I ever get back to Sydney, I may never leave. And not just because it takes the better part of a full day to get there, or to recover from the jet-lag, which Australians know about all-too-well…since for them to go anywhere, it’s a considerable journey as well. But what I found interesting was whenever I told any locals how great their city was, they’d say, “Yeah, it’s pretty great.” Most of the time when you talk to people who live somewhere, they’ll invariably have something to grouse about.

I liked walking around the small, but urban center of the city, with its tall buildings, shopping centers, and compact Chinatown. And I enjoyed putting on my walking shoes (and socks) wandering the various neighborhoods, which are eminently walkable and you can chance upon little cafés brewing up excellent coffee, sleek design shops, and ethnic restaurants with food that will blow your support hose off.

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Kylie Kwong at Billy Kwong

lunch with Kylie Kwong

I crave Asian flavors, which became apparent on a couple of occasions this month. For one thing, it seems that I want to add chiles and fresh ginger to everything. Here is Sydney, Australia, where so much of the food feels Asian-influenced – clean flavors, fresh ingredients often cooked quickly over high heat (cooks using fiery woks always seem to be “attacking” the food, simultaneously pulling out and searing flavors), and served with immediacy – I mentioned to a dining companion that I loved everything I’ve eaten here. And what was particularly delightful was that my favorite flavors were used liberally in the food, including fresh ginger, which was so Asian. He looked at me, and said “Really? I think of fresh ginger as an Australian thing.” But when I said that I always saw fresh ginger piled high in Chinese markets, he said, “You know, it’s abundant in regular markets here in Australia as well.”

Being from California, Asian food is my “comfort” food and I never realized how much I depend on a bowl of spicy bibimbap for lunch in the winter or a light plate of cold buckwheat noodles with nori and ginger dressing in the summer. I like any and all Asian food, no matter what time of the year it is or where I am.

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Green Tomato-Apple Chutney

green tomato chutney

Not to stereotype, but one of the great things I’ve noticed about Indian cooks is that whenever you make or try out one of their dishes, instead of combing through the ingredients or instructions looking for cultural missteps, they’re always thrilled that you’re interested in cooking their cuisine*.

A while back I made Tandoori Chicken, which was one of the first – and only – Indian dishes I have ever made. Sure it’s not very inventive, but it was fun learning about the spices and other ingredients on my trip to the Indian market, and folks left a lot of encouraging comments and tips in various venues for me, offering advice and enlightenment.

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