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'Fusion' to describe replacing a longtime ingredient in a staple recipe has fallen out of favor, replaced by the phrase 'global food.' But the concept is the same as shown by Korean-style beef tacos, which hold traditional Asian beef in a Central American wrapper — the tortilla.
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'Fusion' to describe replacing a longtime ingredient in a staple recipe has fallen out of favor, replaced by the phrase 'global food.' But the concept is the same as shown by Korean-style beef tacos, which hold traditional Asian beef in a Central American wrapper — the tortilla.

Fusion cooking rocks taco’s taste

By Addie Broyles
Cox Newspapers

1 Comment | Leave a Comment

AUSTIN, Texas – Many people tend to hold their noses at the word “fusion” when it comes to food.

After two decades of chefs mashing up every cuisine imaginable to create one too many fried wonton-topped chicken salads, the food professionals who wanted to be taken seriously backed away from using that F-word.

But that doesn’t mean they stopped blending cuisines. The truth is, even the most “authentic” foods are the result of mashing up one food culture with another, said David Joachim, the prolific cookbook author whose newest book, “Global Cooking,” explores international cuisines from Chile to China.

Now, instead of calling it fusion, we’re calling it “global food,” Joachim said.

So why are tacos, which we think of as Mexican even though many Central and South American countries also serve them, so frequently fused with other cuisines?

“Tacos are an interesting case study in global cuisine because every culture has some sort of bread wrapped around food,” Joachim said.

Tortillas aren’t that different than pita, which is just a stone’s throw from flatbread. When people move from one place to another, even one continent to another, they continue to cook the foods of their homeland but start to incorporate some new techniques and ingredients. Over generations, these small changes become widespread, and suddenly no one remembers an Italy in which there was no tomato sauce.

Take tacos al pastor, Joachim said, which actually is a descendant of the Middle Eastern gyro. A wave of immigrants from Iraq and Lebanon moved to Mexico in the first part of the 20th century, and before long, they weren’t putting the meat sliced from an upright pit into pitas but into corn tortillas instead.

 


Americans are cooking more globally than they ever have before, either fused with foods they already know or recreating dishes they’ve tried elsewhere, Joachim said.

“There’s so much flavor available now, thanks in part to the global economy and the skyrocketing interest in food, plus the changes in immigration in our country,” Joachim said. “There’s just so much available in mainstream markets that many (cooks) might not have been aware of even 10 years ago.”

But don’t expect your dish to taste exactly the same as the street food you had in Thailand.

“You’re making concessions any time you cook outside the home country because the ingredients are slightly different,” he said.

The quest for authenticity, though noble, is almost always quixotic because “authentic” only exists in the minds of those seeking a singular beginning. Food, however, is a collective, collaborative experience.

“You have to look at cuisine as a flowing river of flavor with different tributaries coming in,” Joachim said. “Over the course of history, that river is always changing.”

In his book, he also he shares an unexpected mash-up of cuisines: a fiery Kung Pao chicken taco seasoned with sambal, an Indonesian chile paste.

The book also features a recipe for Joachim’s spin on what has become a Los Angeles classic: the bulgogi Korean taco. Traditional bulgogi is beef that has been marinated and grilled and is often wrapped in large lettuce leaves. Serve it in a tortilla instead, and you have one of the hottest food truck trends of the past decade.

So, where is the line between a taco and a wrap? It gets blurrier by the week, Joachim said. At a youth sporting event recently, he came across a “walking taco,” a small bag of tortilla chips topped with chili, a spin on the Frito-pie-in-a-bag that Texans know well.

“That’s not even a wrapped food but they call it a taco,” he said.

 


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MAIN DISH

Kung Pao Chicken Tacos

6 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces

3 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce, divided

1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch, divided

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons canola oil, divided

1 1/2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon dark sesame oil

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste)

1 large garlic clove, minced

3 tablespoons coarsely chopped dry-roasted peanuts

3/4 cup diagonally sliced celery

8 (6-inch) corn tortillas

1/3 cup sliced green onions

1/2 medium red bell pepper, thinly sliced

4 lime wedges

Place chicken in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add 1 tablespoon soy sauce to bag; seal. Marinate at room temperature 30 minutes.

Remove chicken from bag; discard marinade. Place 1/4 cup cornstarch in a shallow dish. Sprinkle chicken evenly with salt. Add chicken to cornstarch in dish and toss chicken to thoroughly coat. Shake off excess cornstarch.

Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon canola oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add half of coated chicken; saute 6 minutes or until done, turning to brown. Remove chicken from pan using a slotted spoon; drain on paper towels. Repeat procedure with remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil and coated chicken.

Combine remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch, remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, honey, dark sesame oil, rice vinegar and sambal oelek in a microwave-safe bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Microwave at high for 1 1/2 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring twice. Stir in garlic. Combine soy sauce mixture, chicken, peanuts and celery; toss to coat chicken.

Toast tortillas under broiler or on a griddle until lightly blistered, turning frequently. Place two tortillas on each of four plates; divide chicken mixture evenly among tortillas. Top each taco with green onions and bell pepper strips; serve with lime wedges.

Yield 4 servings.

Recipe from “Cooking Light Global Kitchen” by David Joachim.

 


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MAIN DISH

Korean-Style Beef Tacos

1/3 cup sugar

5 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean chile paste)

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon dark sesame oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

12 ounces flank steak, sliced against the grain into thin strips

1/8 teaspoon salt

Cooking spray

8 (6-inch) corn tortillas

Kimchi or quick-pickled cabbage, for garnish

3 tablespoons sliced green onions

Combine first six ingredients in a shallow dish. Add steak to dish; cover. Marinate in refrigerator for 1 hour, turning after 30 minutes.

Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

Remove steak from marinade, and discard marinade. Thread steak onto eight (8-inch) skewers; sprinkle with salt. Place skewers on grill rack coated with cooking spray. Grill two minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness.

Grill tortillas 30 seconds on each side or until lightly charred; keep warm.

Place two tortillas on each of four plates, and divide steak evenly among tortillas. Divide the garnishes evenly among tacos and sprinkle with onions.

Yields four servings.

Recipe from “Cooking Light Global Kitchen” by David Joachim.

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