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Fresh Corncakes with Cheese | Cachapas

“There’s nothing hidden between heaven and earth.” Venezuelan Proverb Nothing hidden indeed… except, perhaps the cheese inside a steaming, hot Cachapas. Brittle autumn days require an extra slathering of comfort. Ooey gooey cheese-filled corncakes, a.k.a. cachapas fit the bill nicely. Think of them as the South American version of pancakes. The cakes are made with just two ingredients: corn and masa harina, plus the requisite sprinkling of salt and pepper. There’s a simplicity to the recipe that means a batch can be made as easily at midnight as in the afternoon. Which means you can stovetop travel to the beaches of Venezuela any time you like. While you can make cachapas with fresh corn in the fall, you can also use frozen corn any time of year. Corn gives the cachapas sweet overtones. Masa harina – a flour made from hominy, the big-kerneled cousin to corn – binds the mixture together so the corncake holds its shape (all the better for topping with ooey gooey cheese!). Speaking of cheese, the key to the cachapas is to sprinkle them …

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Emirati Date Crêpes | Muhalla

I’ve had a lot of breakfast treats over the years, but I’ve never tasted anything quite like these whole wheat date “crêpes” beloved in the United Arab Emirates. Made with whole wheat flour and a hearty helping of dates, they are a mildly sweet  and wholesome way to start the morning. I call them “crêpes” because of how they look, but, in truth, they’re called “Muhalla,” and quite different than a French crêpe. For starters, these are leavened with yeast, whose bubbles give the muhalla a more lacy texture. While you could make these with white flour, the whole wheat flour gives them a rich, nutty flavor – a nice contrast to the sweet note provided by the dates. The dates are the real star of Muhalla. In the United Arab Emirates, dates are one of the few ingredients which can grow, so they wind up in many of the local recipes such as this one. They are delicious, hot, warm or at room temperature. Be sure to serve them with some yogurt, fruit, or even a …

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Turkish tabbouleh | Kisir

What happens when you eat a lot of international food, but still get in a rut? Is it like when you live by the sea but get tired of looking at the lapping waves (is that even possible?). It’s so easy (and delicious), to return to old favorites like stuffed grape leaves, hummus and tabbouleh, but sometimes a little shakedown is in order. We’re big tabbouleh eaters in this house, so when I found out there’s a Turkish version of this popular bulgur salad, you can bet I jumped on board. This guy knows what I’m talking about… He’s been waiting for a bite for nearly three centuries. What makes kisir different from mainstream Tabbouleh is the addition of two ingredients: tomato paste and pepper paste. These stain the bulgur grains orange-red, and gives the finished dish a rich, earthy flavor. If you use hot pepper paste, the kisir will also go down with a lovely burn. And then there’s a bit more red, too. Say “Merhaba,” or “hello” to a couple of tomatoes from my garden… I was so …

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Tomato Cornmeal Cakes | Djenkoume

Even grownups need to build sandcastles from time to time. The urge comes from deep within our hearts – some far away love for fantasy, perhaps formed in childhood. Today, we’re listening to our inner child; we’re making edible sandcastles… from Togo. At least, that’s what I’m calling them. If you want to be a serious adult, you can call them cornmeal cakes. In Togo, corn is everything, ever. Sometimes it is served as porridge. And sometimes it’s served as Djenkoume, a.k.a. cornmeal cakes, a.k.a. edible sand castles. Djenkoume is a cornmeal, tomato, and red palm oil corn cake, rather like polenta. But there’s so much more about the dish… there’s onion, garlic, and ginger in the mix.  And a mound of homemade, spiced tomato sauce. Hello. How could that not be wonderful? Friends, sometimes, I wonder if I’m really going to be able to find a dish I like in every country in the world. So far, I’ve had 100% success rate, and it’s not just because I’m fairly open minded.  It’s also because there …

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Battered Plantains with Peanut Sauce | Bakabana

Bakabana is a traditional treat in Suriname. All you do is take very ripe plantains (i.e. blackened), deep fry them, and dust the crispy, fried goodness with powdered sugar. Alternatively, you can serve them with homemade peanut sauce. The result is a crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside, finger-licking snack. What could go wrong? (Actually, a lot.  I made this recipe three times, before I finally figured out that I needed cornstarch to make the batter crispy. For reference see below. The piece on the left is an all flour batter, the lighter piece on the right is half flour, half cornstarch – and much crispier… …I also made a really bad peanut sauce…so bad I had to toss the recipe. Thankfully, I have an amazing peanut sauce recipe… my old standby, from when we cooked Indonesia. If you decide to make this peanut sauce, it will look like the picture below, not like the one pictured with the plantains.) Thanks to our readers on Facebook, Megan H. and Natalie F., who suggested we try Bakabana. This was a fun one. …

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Cassava Pudding

I secretly love it when a word like “pudding” takes on a whole new meaning than “the sweet chocolate goop  found in the refrigerator cases of American supermarkets” (although I do enjoy that sort of pudding as much as the next sugar crazed mom). I love surprises like this because they teach me not to take so much for granted. They remind me that there are people all over this beautiful world who have different ways of doing things. And, in case you didn’t get the memo, different is a beautiful thing. Imagine how boring our world would be if we all looked the same, talked the same, and… ate the very same pudding? In Solomon Islands and throughout Oceania, pudding is any goupy mixture that’s been grated and baked. Or sometimes steamed. Confused? Let’s get specific. The most popular pudding in Solomon Islands is Cassava Pudding. This is more of a savory cake than pudding.  It’s made with grated cassava, sweet potato, and coconut milk. The whole shebang is traditionally baked all afternoon in …

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Caribbean Pumpkin & Coconut Cream Bisque

I know three things for sure: this Caribbean soup cannot wipe out old college debt, or go gift shopping for us… or even stop that dog from barking a few houses over (unless that particular dog likes soup?). That being said, I have personal proof that this soup can help you bring love into the kitchen and give your family just a little escape from the ordinary.As you whip it up, the house will fill with the scent of pumpkin, ginger and coconut cream – that’s when it’ll start. Your family will come wandering in to see what you’re doing. The neighbors will come knocking.  Soon the house will fill with spirited chatter and spoons clinking against bowls. This taste of the islands is the best thing after a week of pumpkin pie and turkey leftovers (but not to0 big of a leap – it’s still pumpkin season after all!).In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (as well as all over the Caribbean), they enjoy this soup, often with some really spicy scotch bonnet peppers, ginger, and …

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Rwandan “Agatogo” with Collard Greens

There’s an old Rwandan saying “The most extensive land is the human belly.”  I like to think there’s mountains and streams in there, glorious sunsets and easy, glimmering sunrises. Is that somehow unsavory? I don’t know. I do know I want this land to be vast, and include as much variety as possible. I want to fit the whole world in there. And this, my friends, includes the plantain. Plantains have been an issue for my family from the beginning. Ava isn’t really keen on them (or bananas). Mr. Picky has consistently pushed aside his in favor of other foods (except for that time I made Plantain Chips with Sea Salt for Panama and that other time I used them as a butter-fried cheese wrapper, a.k.a. tortas de plantano). It’s time for us to love the plantain, after all they are the starchy cousin to the banana, but more savory and filling. For this reason, they are an important staple all over the tropical regions of the world. Plantains fruit all year round, which makes the crop …

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Lumpia Shanghai

Are you the sun or the moon? Do you shine hot and bright, or glow cool and blue? Is there a better of the two? There’s a Filipino folk tale that says the sun and moon once had an argument. The sun angrily told the moon “you only shine because I shine on you.” The moon spat back, “no one likes you because you’re too hot – at least at night the women can go out and dance under my cool glow.” This made the sun so angry, she threw sand in the moon’s face. And that’s how they say the moon got dark spots all over her face. There’s nothing quite like bitter emotions to bring out our worst characteristics. All too easily we become blindsided by anger, jealousy, and resentment. These are normal parts of living. Of being… well… human beings. But in the midst of all this emotion, there’s a better path than acting out in anger. The key is to realize that we all glow. And that every single glimmering spirit is valuable. …

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Paraguayan Cheesy Cornbread | Sopa Paraguaya

Rumor has it, no meal is complete in Paraguay without a slice of warm, cheesy cornbread. While sopa means soup in Spanish, this is definitely bread and… traditionally, all mixed up with a happy bundle of homemade cheese. One of our readers – Emily – says everyone in Paraguay makes their own cheese so that this would be no big deal to a local. I read up on the origins of this bread… there are two main versions. In the first version, Don Carlos ( President of Paraguay from 1842-62) requested his favorite white soup for dinner – one made with cheese, egg, corn flour, and loads of milk. One day the chef put too much corn flour in the soup and decided to bake it up as bread in cast iron. The new dish became a hit and Don Carlos dubbed it Sopa Paraguaya. Here’s the second story, from Wikipedia: In ancient times, this food was made with fresh corn and cooked in the “ñaúpyvú” (clay pot), not in the oven “modern” inherited from the …

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Tapioca & Banana Dumplings in Coconut Milk | Saksak

I don’t make a lot of really, really weird things on this blog. You won’t see deep-fried tarantulas or monkey brains. This is because I feel strongly that regular people (and by that I mean regular-really-special-all-kinds-of-wonderful  people like you), living in average towns (that they love with all their heart, like you do) should be able to replicate this adventure without pulling their hair out by the roots. Simply put: the more people cooking the world, the better. And I’m here to make it as easy as possible. That being said, sometimes I run across really strange recipes made with really normal ingredients. These are like culinary goldmines for the stovetop traveler. Unique learning experiences that are not an impossible nightmare to cobble together. Fun, fun, fun. Take today’s recipe from Papua New Guinea: Saksak, a.k.a. Sago Dumplings. This slippery treat is made with nothing more than tapioca, bananas and sugar, wrapped up in a banana leaf “blanket” and swimming in a warm coconut sea. I found everything for the Saksak in our grocery store except for the banana leaves. …

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Plantain Chips with Sea Salt | Tostones

Fried plantain chips are a slice-it and deep-fry-it situation that you’ll find all over Panama (and beyond). They’re the kind of yummy you can enjoy whether you’re grouchy and glum or over-the-moon happy. Today I made a nice “thick cut” chip – for a little crispy-chewy action, although tostones are often shaved skinny, like potato chip. Either way you’ll find it helpful to use a mandolin for nice, even slices. This is nothing like a sweet banana (looks can be deceiving). This is her savory cousin – full of good fiber and lots of potassium. I like to remind myself of that, as I reach for my second and third helpings. Serves 2-4 as a snack Ingredients: 2 green plantains vegetable oil for deep frying sea salt cracked black pepper Method: For starters, peel your plantain. Tip: Peeling a green plantain can be a little tricky. The easiest way is to cut off the top and bottom and score a line along the length of the plantain. Lift up from this line to remove the peel. If …