Passport needed; no gluten required

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I’ve always been a fan of various ethnic and fusion cuisines. Growing up in NYC, there was never a shortage of different foods you can try, and I guess it’s something I’m pretty fortunate to have grown up with. And ever the foodie, traveling has always been about food.  Some people make note of must-see sights and activities, but my husband and I prioritize the must-try foods and can’t-miss restaurants, food trucks, and local haunts across the globe. I’m proud to say we have instilled that in our daughter who is a four year old who will try anything and eats a diverse range of foods from hummus, to curry, to fresh green salads, quinoa, and veggie smoothies.

But now more than ever, my gluten-free journey has brought me to the door of various ethnic cuisines, both drawing on an existing arsenal of food knowledge and testing my chef skills in cooking new kinds of foods. I am currently obsessed with:  Latin food – which I’m no stranger to, Middle Eastern – which I have always loved in restaurants but never tried to cook myself, and Indian – which again, I’m a pro for dine-in or take-out but now I’m cooking it on my own.  I’m drawn to these flavorful dishes of rice, legumes, veggies, proteins and spices. You don’t need nor miss wheat.

I recently tried making falafel, a favorite street-food of mine. It wasn’t perfect but it was tasty and I’m working on it. And I am proud to say I have officially perfected my chicken curry. More on these in another post.

But I have always been a Spanish & Latin food kinda girl.  When ever I’m asked what I’d take with  me on a desert island or what my last meal would be – latin food, no doubt. Part is cultural and familiar, part is exploratory. Spanish and latin cuisine is incredibly diverse, representing a wide-range of culture, geography, and foods. I have always celebrated this but have now also found it a great go-to for gluten-free cooking.   Fresh, vibrant produces and spices; flavorful, nurtured proteins, and rice or potato is a main starch (depending on the region) so no you don’t miss the wheat.

Pictured above is our Christmas dinner of pernil (pork roast), lentejas (lentils), rice, aji criollo (salsa), curtido de cebolla (picked onions), and a fresh avocado salad (not shown).  The pernil is a traditional dish of many Caribbean and South American countries. Seasonings and cut of pork can vary, but the common factor is the soft, melt-in-your-mouth pork slow roasted for hours and the crispy chicharron or cueritos (crunchy skin). For me, the pork must be pasture-raised and certainly not factory (for the treatment and respect of the animal and for the health of my family).  I actually used green lentils for the first time because they were the only organic lentils in the store. This was a trial and error because they were not softening as the red lentils I’m used to.  Dinner was ready, people were hungry, but my lentils weren’t there. But I googled and learned that these tend to be firmer so I called it a day. The taste was right on, and my husband actually loved the firmness.  I missed the stewed texture of my red lentils for this dish, however, I am super excited to make these in a cold lentil salad with some bright cilantro and lemon!  The aji criollo is a typical condiment of Ecuador; you’ll find it in every restaurant, usually of varying degrees of spiciness.  Mine is quite hot; I use habaneros.  Curtido de cebolla is another Ecuadorian condiment (other countries as well), where you pickle thinly sliced red onion in lime, salt, and water; it takes the harshness out of the raw onion.  The meal is just not complete without these condiments!

Another thing I’ve been planning on – pastelon! It’s actually the first dish I ever learned to cook. It’s a dish from Puerto Rico and is sort of like lasagna -but without noodles! You use platanos (green banana) instead! How perfect, right?!  You see how good this can get? I am so excited to explore other cuisines that may have a wonderful and delicious arsenal of foods with no gluten required.  Please share your favorites with me!

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