Tag: off the beaten aisle

Honeycomb — Off the Beaten Aisle

by in How-to, Recipes, August 25th, 2011

honeycomb brie english muffin
It’s time to think beyond the bear bottle. Because honey comes in way more forms than just plastic squirt bottles. My favorite? Honey in the comb, pure and simple.

And yes, the comb is totally safe to eat. People have been keeping bees — and eating the honeycomb — for several thousand years. But first, some honey 101. No, honey is not bee spit. But bee saliva does play a role.

When bees gather nectar from flowers, it is stored in a honey sac inside their bodies. During storage, the bee’s saliva mixes with the nectar, which (shocker!) is made mostly from sugar. Enzymes in the saliva convert those sugars into honey.

The honeycomb comes into play when the bee gets back to the hive. The comb itself — a network of hexagonal cylinders — is made from waxy secretions of worker bees. As these cylinders are filled with honey, they are capped with yet another layer of wax.

The bees do all this to create food for themselves. In fact, for every pound of honey gathered by people, the bees make and consume another eight.

Six delicious ways to use honeycomb »

How to Use Berbere — Off the Beaten Aisle

by in How-to, Recipes, August 19th, 2011

chicken burgers with berbere
Imagine the best Southern barbecue — cooked up in northern Africa.

That’s what this week’s ingredient — the Ethiopian seasoning blend known as berbere — tastes like. And it’s as good as it sounds.

Berbere is the flavor backbone of Ethiopian cooking, a cuisine built around heavily seasoned meats and stews served with a spongy flatbread called injera.

Berbere ties all of that together, doing duty as a dry rub for meats, a seasoning for stews, lentils and grains — even as a tableside condiment.

As with so many traditional seasoning blends, what goes into berbere can vary by region, town and by house.

But most versions begin with a base of ground chiles, ginger, fenugreek, cumin, cloves, coriander, cardamom, black pepper and salt.

Incorporate berbere into chicken burgers »

Off the Beaten Aisle: Anchovies

by in How-to, Recipes, August 11th, 2011

flatbread pizza with anchovies
If anchovies gross you out, know this: Compared to what people ate before there were anchovies, they’re practically cake and ice cream.

Because until about the 16th century there were no anchovies as we know them today. That is, small silvery fish that are boned, salt-cured and packed in oil.

Instead, there was garum — the juice of salted and fermented fish guts. Garum lost favor about 500 years ago when people learned how to make anchovies.

Can’t imagine why.

Anchovies, however, are not a singular fish. Most cuisines around the world have their own “anchovy,” most of which tend to be variants of one variety of fish, a relative of the herring.

Anchovies demystified »

Off the Beaten Aisle: Red Curry Paste

by in Recipes, July 28th, 2011

red curry chicken noodles
It’s red, but it isn’t red hot. And that’s why it’s the sort of curry the average American is going to love.

I’m talking about red curry paste, one of a literal rainbow of intensely flavorful Southeast Asian seasonings.

To be clear, curry pastes are not the same as the curry powders most people know, though they do share some ingredients.

Curry pastes — which are used in Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian and Indian cooking — combine dry spices with ground fresh herbs and roots, garlic, chilies and other ingredients to form thick pastes.

These pastes often are classified by color. Green curry paste, for example, is a fiery Thai blend that combines green chilies, lemon grass, garlic, shrimp paste and kaffir lime leaves. It’s usually blended with coconut milk to season beef, pork and chicken.

Get the recipe for Red Curry Chicken Noodles »

Off the Beaten Aisle: Capers

by in Recipes, July 21st, 2011

easy puttanesca sauce
This week, it’s flower power.

Because that’s exactly what capers are and do: They are the flower buds of a wild bush that lend serious flavor power to your cooking.

Our story starts several thousand years ago, when capers moved from simple would-be blossoms to culinary colossus.

That’s when the people of the Mediterranean realized that if they picked the buds of the caper bush before they opened, they could pickle them and use them to add a deliciously pungent flavor to their cooking.

And the pickling is key — fresh caper buds are insanely bitter.

Find out what you can do with capers »

Off the Beaten Aisle: Pepitas

by in Recipes, June 23rd, 2011

grilled flank steak
Plenty of people have a tough time taking pumpkin seeds seriously.

Fair enough. Americans unfamiliar with (or lacking a taste for) Hispanic foods generally only encounter them in the glop you scrape out of jack-o’-lanterns.

But roasted, hulled pumpkin seeds (properly known as pepitas) are a delicious, nutty backbone of many Mexican dishes and well worth getting to know.

And thanks to the popularity of Hispanic foods, they are easy to find. Trader Joe’s alone sells several varieties — raw, roasted, salted and plain, among others.

Pepitas resemble long, narrow teardrops and are greenish in color (because their hard, white hulls have been removed). Don’t buy regular “snacking” pumpkin seeds still in their hulls.

Get the recipe for Grilled Flank Steak With Pepita-Cilantro Sauce »

Off the Beaten Aisle: Pancetta

by in Recipes, June 16th, 2011

pancetta hummus with balsamic tomatoes
Are you about over bacon yet?

Neither am I. In fact, our national obsession with cured pig has only made me all the more eager to explore lesser-known –- but equally delicious -– pork parts.

And there are plenty to choose from. One of the most widely available, yet often overlooked, is pancetta, a close relative of American bacon.

So let’s start there. Bacon usually is made from the belly or side of the pig. It is cured (either dry or wet) with salt, spices and sometimes sugar, then smoked.

Pancetta is the Italian version. Typically made from the belly, the curing process is the same, but the meat usually is not smoked. During curing, it often is seasoned with black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and herbs.

While most American bacon is sliced into thin strips, slabs of pancetta usually are rolled into a log.

Get the recipe for Pancetta Hummus after the jump »

Off the Beaten Aisle: Mint

by in Recipes, June 9th, 2011

feta mint penne pasta
It’s time to move mint beyond juleps and mojitos.

Because in the U.S., mint has struggled to land on the dinner table. We tend to associate it with sweets (after all, it does pair nicely with chocolate) and breath mints.

But elsewhere in the world, especially North Africa, the Middle East and Asia, mint is used to lend a crisp, almost peppery contrast to savory dishes, especially fatty ones (think lamb with mint sauce).

First, the basics.

You’ll find mint sold with the other herbs in the produce section, often in large bunches that you’ll never manage to entirely use. No worries — it’s cheap.

Most of the mint sold in American grocery stores is spearmint or peppermint, just two of the many varieties (that grow like weeds) available. It should have a mix of large and small leaves that are bright green and firm.

Find out what you can make with mint »

Off the Beaten Aisle: Fig Jam

by in Recipes, May 26th, 2011

tomato, avocado and feta salad
A jam would seem an unlikely ingredient to be overlooked.

After all, legions of parents rely on the many offerings of the grocer’s PB&J aisle to maintain peace with the lunch-box crowd.

Except that when you peer past the usual suspects — strawberry, raspberry, grape, apricot — you find some seriously wonderful hidden jam gems that belong as much at the dinner table as they do slathered between slices of bread.

My favorite? Fig.

Fig jam has a thick, almost dense consistency and a rich, full sweetness that isn’t cloying the way many preserves are. My theory on that? Much of the sweetness comes from natural sugars; figs have one of the highest sugar contents among fruits.

Except they aren’t technically a fruit. Figs actually are flowers folded in on themselves. The tiny, crunchy seeds inside are the fruit. But I digress.

Find out what you can make with fig jam »

Off the Beaten Aisle: Sweet White Miso

by in Recipes, May 19th, 2011

miso mac and cheese
Fermented bean paste? Doesn’t exactly scream party in your mouth.

And yet we happily slurp it in that salty, savory soup doled out every time we sit down for sushi. That’s because miso really is a flavor bomb worth knowing.

So let’s start there. Miso is a broad term for pastes made from fermented cooked soybeans that are aged, sometimes for years.

Miso has origins in China, but is best known for its role in Japanese cooking, where it is used in soups, sauces, marinades, glazes and dressings.

There are many varieties of miso, which can vary widely in color and flavor intensity based on how long it is aged and which ingredients are added.

Sweet white miso, for example, is made from fermented soybeans and rice, then aged for just a few months. The result is a smooth paste with a sweet, salty, savory flavor and a light golden color.

Find out what you can make with sweet white miso »