In the beginning, there was Mexican food. Next came sizzling Sichuan and Hunan dishes. Then the Thais brought in their fiery chiles and curry pastes. Meanwhile, hotly seasoned Korean, Vietnamese and Indonesian cuisines gained a foothold. And now Indian food is on the rise. As if that weren't enough, peppery Cajun dishes appeared, and Mexican food has entered a new and trendy Southwestern phase.
In short, hot foods have become old hat in Los Angeles. Bland may not be bad, but for many it can't compete with the zesty foods dispensed by the city's ethnic and regional restaurants.
Markets too have changed in response to the tastes of new waves of immigrants. Asian stores have become hotbeds of spicy seasonings--Thai curry pastes, Chinese chile oil, Korean ground red pepper, fiery Indonesian sambals, Japanese wasabi, the green horseradish that sears nasal passages when taken too liberally, fresh red chiles, which once were hard to find, and much more.
Gourmet shops stock herb and spice blends for Cajun cooking along with specialty mixes for southwestern chili. Supermarkets are sources of many hot and spicy seasonings including fresh and dried chiles, salsas and other Mexican products, cayenne pepper, mustard, horseradish, fresh ginger root and common black pepper, which, in large quantities, can be very hot.
These seasonings add pep to an astonishing variety of foods. The accompanying recipes, selected by members of the Food staff, range from contemporary American favorites such as jalapeno jelly and Mexican-style potato skins to an authentic Indian curry and a recipe from Manila for the spicy sausage called Longanisa. Other recipes represent Sichuan and Hunan cooking.
Part of the charm of the jalapeno jelly, a recipe from Saint Estephe restaurant in Manhattan Beach, is the restaurant's elegant presentation. Served as an appetizer at a showing of New Mexican art, the jelly was placed in a gleaming silver bowl and topped with plump fresh red chiles. Guests could eat it spooned onto a sopaipilla or with blue corn tortilla chips and cream cheese. For home use, crackers could be substituted for the corn chips and sopaipillas.
Genuine Indian curries are not seasoned with pre-mixed curry powders but with spices individually blended to suit the ingredients of the dish. An example is a chicken curry recipe provided by Sunil Vora, manager of Gaylord India restaurant. The curry requires many spices: turmeric, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns and ginger root. Still more spices go into the accompanying dish of basmati rice, a variety that is known for its long grains and distinctive flavor.
Philippine Longanisa sausage is sweet and spicy, the sweet coming from sugar and the spice from crushed dried chiles, pepper, allspice and paprika. Filipinos typically season with garlic and vinegar, both of which go into the sausage along with a dash of rum. The pork and pork fat are diced, not ground, and the sausage may be stuffed into casings or formed into patties. Try the Longanisa for supper with garlic-flavored fried rice and a salad or for brunch with eggs and the rolls called pan de sal (salt bread), which are available at local Filipino bakeries.
Priscilla Yee of Concord won grand prize in an almond recipe contest for her Almond-Zucchini Burritos. The vegetarian burritos are filled with zucchini, red or green peppers, almonds, cheese, cilantro and green chile salsa. More salsa is spooned over the top along with yogurt or sour cream. Since commercial green chile salsa is rather mild, those who prefer more heat can add chopped serrano or jalapeno chiles.
Potato skins come topped with everything these days. At the Second Street Saloon, a downtown Los Angeles restaurant, they are served Mexican style with toppings that bring to mind nachos. Jack and Cheddar cheeses and a mixture that includes tomato, jalapeno chile and black olives are sprinkled over the skins, which are then baked and served with sour cream, chives and salsa.
The robust seasonings of Sichuan and Hunan are reflected in two dishes--Sichuan Hot Pepper Beef, made with dried red and fresh green chiles, and Hunan Pork With Bean Curd, which is seasoned with crushed dried chiles. The latter recipe, a version of the well known dish called ma po tofu, is a way of providing a lot of protein with a little meat. Only 1 4 pound of pork is required. When combined with 1 pound of tofu, it expands to feed four handsomely.
10 jalapeno chiles, finely diced
4 sweet red peppers, finely diced
2 cups red wine vinegar
7 cups sugar
1 1 2 (6-ounce) boxes liquid pectin
Fresh red chiles for garnish
Combine chiles, peppers, vinegar and sugar in large heavy saucepan. Simmer 15 minutes. Add pectin and bring to boil. Turn off heat. Cool. Turn into sterilized jars. Seal with paraffin. Makes about 4 pints.
1 2 cup olive oil
1 2 large onion, sliced