It might sound unconventional, but whether you’re attempting to recreate holiday memories, seeking inspiration for an upcoming trip or dreaming of far-flung bucket list-type destinations, your kitchen is the perfect departure point.
As well as embracing some of the hottest food trends around, while simultaneously taking you (and your taste buds) on a global eating tour, the recipes and ideas that follow might just provide you with the inspiration for your next trip. After all, what could be more important than the food you’ll sample when you’re there?
Hawaiian poke bowls
First things first, let’s get the particulars of this dish straight from the get-go: poke (meaning to cut) is pronounced “poh-key” and originates from the ruggedly beautiful American coastal state of Hawaii.
At its most basic, poke is a seasoned combination of diced raw fish, seaweed and roasted nuts that has been enjoyed by native Hawaiians for hundreds of years – and with good reason. Savvy fishermen used salt to help preserve the day’s catch, added edible seaweed for saline flavour and texture and looked to nuts such as kukui to provide richness. It is a classic (and delicious) example of reaping the benefits of nature’s bounty.
Fast-forward several hundred years and while poke today still has its roots in tradition it has certainly evolved over time. Thanks to the arrival of explorers, migrants and missionaries from Europe, Japan and China, condiments and fresh ingredients such as soy sauce, sesame oil, onions and chillies can now be found in many preparations. In the 1970s an increase in commercial deep-sea fishing meanwhile meant that ahi (tuna) became far more widely available and is now the fish most commonly used for poke.
What has changed most dramatically of all though is the popularity of poke. Nowadays as well as being a ubiquitous – and much loved – presence in homes, restaurants, fish markets and roadside shacks all over Hawaii, poke is attracting international attention, with restaurants and recipes popping up all over the globe.
While purists may shudder at its modern day incarnations, part of the appeal of poke is its endless versatility. Swap raw fish for cooked, add wasabi or spicy mayo, try sesame seed-speckled avocado, noodles instead of more conventional sushi rice – it’s up to you. As well as being highly adaptable, once you get the knack of it poke bowls can be put together easily; with barely any cooking involved, this is an assembly job at most. It also scores highly on the health front, thanks to the protein-rich fish, abundance of fresh vegetables, array of nuts and seeds and side of carbohydrates. Considering these key elements (flexibility, simplicity and health) and the impact they have on the way we eat today, is it any wonder that the poke trend looks set to stay?
HOW TO POKE
1. Choose the base for your bowl
Sushi or wholegrain brown rice, quinoa, faro, noodles or shredded greens all work well.
2. Select a protein
Spanking fresh fish is of course the traditional choice and a great option if you can get hold of it. That said, cooked prawns, smoked or roasted salmon and even tofu all yield tasty results.
3. Add flavour
Marinating your chosen protein in a punchy dressing will take your poke bowl to the next level. Feel free to experiment, but some tasty options include soy, garlic and sesame, ponzu with coriander and lime juice, red onion and sriracha sauce.
4. Select your extras
This means vegetables (think avocado, bean sprouts, thinly sliced carrot, diced radish, shredded kale, mango and edamame beans), but also ingredients that provide crunch factor. Nuts and seeds (toasted sesame, golden cashews, spiced almonds and roasted peanuts) are ideal for this, but so too are crispy shallots and dried seaweed. A hint of something pickled adds an extra dimension to the dish: sushi ginger works well, as do vinegar-dressed cucumber slices and jalapeño peppers. You’ll also want a bit of heat in there, be it in mild form (crushed wasabi peas or fresh ginger), or more intense finely chopped fresh red chillies.
Scandi-style sharing platters
With its simplicity and cool, pared-back aesthetic, the influence of the Nordic nations has seamlessly infiltrated the international arenas of art, design, décor and food over the last ten years or so.
Scandinavian cuisine is of course synonymous with an experimental, highly localised and often high-end new Nordic style of cooking. This approach was first really brought to the attention of the wider world in 2008, when Copenhagen restaurant Noma was awarded a Michelin star. A second star followed and Noma went on to top the World’s 50 Best Restaurant List several times over, before closing in 2016 (it is scheduled to reopen in a new location with an urban farm concept later this year).
Yet despite this reputation for fine dining, there’s a strong and long-held tradition for rustic home cooking in Scandinavia. This was felt keenly in one of
the buzz words of last year, the Danish concept of hygee (pronounced hoo-gah and meaning to take pleasure in the simple things). Hygee is often associated with embracing the long, cold Nordic winter by seeking comfort in relaxing, quiet moments. Yet in culinary terms at least the idea can be also be successfully applied to making the most of Scandinavia’s fleeting summer days, with fresh, simple, unfussy food that calms and revitalises. And in the midst of a hazy, humidity-filled September in the Middle East, what better way to eat?
For days when turning on the oven for more than a few minutes seems like too much effort, the Swedish-born smorgasbord is the perfect solution. Essentially this is an elegant take on a sharing board – a build-your-own buffet with Scandinavian influences, if you will – based on principles that work equally well whether you’re catering
To master the art of smorging (and while there is an art to it, it’s an easy one to pick up), the malty tang and substance that comes from rye bread is a must, in one from or another. Smoked fish such as salmon, trout and mackerel are a frequent addition, as is pickled herring and an array of cured meats. Wedges of cheese (Jarlsberg is popular) add bulk to the board, while crunchy vegetables provide colour and texture. A generous selection of condiments be that pickles, mustard or a dip similar to the horseradish number that accompanies the recipe that follows, also go down well.
Japanese matcha green tea
While there are countless different types of green tea, each with their own purported health benefits, it is vibrant antioxidant-rich matcha that stands out from the crowd – and not just because of its colour.
This stoneground, fine green tea powder has been made, consumed and indeed revered in Japan for hundreds of years. It is the tea of choice for traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, which are influenced by the teachings of Zen Buddhism and are believed to promote a sense of harmony and focus that leads to spiritual awakening.
Japanese matcha differs from other green teas in the painstaking way it is first cultivated and later processed. The leaves are grown in the shade, which boosts the chlorophyll and amino acids levels, meaning that not only does the finished tea have a brighter colour, its health benefits are greater. Once ready, only the finest leaves are plucked from the tea bush by hand. They are then gently steam dried (rather than roasted) to ensure that as few nutrients as possible are lost and that the natural, deep green hue is maintained. When the time comes to mill the leaves, only the vein and stem are discarded. The rest of the leaf is ground to a fine powder by hand to ensure that all the goodness contained within ¬makes its way into end product.
Research has suggested that consuming matcha green tea can help to prevent certain types of cancer, boost immunity levels and promote cell regeneration, which goes some way towards explaining its recent rise in popularity outside of Japan. Yet using matcha in other forms is the real driving force behind it becoming one of the most talked about products of the moment. Due to its slightly bitter, earthy, full-bodied flavour, alluring colour and versatile powder form, matcha is something of a dream ingredient for the keen cook. It can be used for everything from flavouring cakes, cookies, macaroons and macarons, to coating meat and fish and making making drinks (matcha smoothies and lattes are particularly successfully). As you’ll see from the recipe that follows, it also makes an excellent base for no-churn recipe.
Tasty, inexpensive, quick to prepare and best eaten with your hands – the taco really sells itself. A staple in Mexican cuisine and an absolute essential when it comes to sampling the country’s street food, the origins of this dish can be traced back to the early 20th century. Miners in Mexico City are thought to have snacked on tacos sold from stands on street corners and it’s believed that one of the first forms of taco was known as taco de minero – miner’s tacos.
From there the presence of the taqueria (taco shop or house) spread throughout the country and over the years it became the culinary staple that it is today. And yet while Tex Mex food and restaurants – essentially an American interpretation of Mexican-style cooking in fast food form – enjoyed a certain popularity around the world, it’s only really now that proper, authentic Mexican cuisine has started to cause a real buzz around the world.
Tacos, which long been associated with working-class neighborhoods and street-food eating, are now hot culinary property. In order to truly embrace taco fever any thoughts of the hard-shelled tacos sold in supermarkets must be disregarded as an American invention. Instead, a certain importance must be placed on the circular rounds of tortilla (usually around 10cm in diameter) that form the base of the dish and are most often made from corn – although reinvention allows certain tweaks on this base – and fried or grilled to order.
Barbacoa, slow cooked meat (commonly beef, lamb or goat) steam-baked in underground ovens until smoky and meltingly tender, is perhaps the most traditional of taco fillings, and delicious it is too. The modern interpretation of the taco demands a certain experimentation though and in the restaurants that have appeared outside of Mexico of late – from refined interpretations to cosy, shack-style spots – this is very much in evidence.
With fresh ingredients and bold flavours at their core, imaginative interpretations of the Mexican staple have seen tacos topped with elegant takes on classic barbacoa, as well as rich, highly spiced mole (Mexican chilli) and tender carnitas (slow-cooked pulled meat). More off piste options include crispy shredded lamb, tempura-battered seafood, braised octopus and spice-crusted seared steak finished with additions such as vibrant, fresh salsas, tomato-based tacos sauces, all kinds of crunchy slaw, charred vegetables, herb dressings, lime-spike grilled corn and more. And while they might not bare the strongest of resemblances to the street-side taqueria original, the dish is not being abused – there’s still a certain respect for tradition in the execution that harps back to the original.
PHOTOGRAPHY AND PROP STYLING: SUKAINA RAJABALI
WORDS, RECIPES AND FOOD STYLING: SARAH PRICE