I think of my kitchen as “international” because of the wide range of products I discovered in my travels and use at home. Most of these, thankfully, can be ordered online now, and during the long months of the pandemic, I truly appreciated the opportunity of going into the kitchen to make a meal or a snack and instantly being transported to the foreign lands where I discovered each of these wonderful foods and drinks. Reveling in the international cuisine that could be created with them, I maintained my Traveling Gourmet status even when I couldn’t travel! Here are some of my favorites.
THE SPICE OF LIFE
For me, the best way to give an international touch to a meal depends on the spices you use. I love the international selection at Penzey’s (www.penzeys.com), one of the country’s leading spice purveyors. They happen to have a branch near me so I can order and go pick them up, but you can always have them shipped. Their West Indian nutmeg makes me nostalgic for my visits to Grenada, which produces so much of this wonderful spice. But that’s just a small part of Penzey’s international array, from Vietnamese cinnamon and Spanish paprika to a beautiful Indian mixture called Rogan Josh. I also find a lot of great stuff at smaller merchants. Heart Rock Herb and Spice Co. (www.heartrockherbandspice.com) is my go-to place for everything from Mexican and Hungarian blends to Ras el Hanout that’s so good it brings me right back to the souks of Morocco, or jerk spice that lets me think for one brief moment I’ve returned to Jamaica. Sonoma Spice Queen (www.sonomaspicequeen.com) makes a fabulous Moroccan Spice mix as well as such international favorites as Garam Masala and Thai yellow curry. Recipe pages at Penzey’s (www.penzeys.com/shop/recipes) and Heart Rock (www.heartrockherbandspice. com/recipes) offer a wide variety of spice-laden ideas, or you can drizzle slices of bread with olive oil and sprinkle different spices on each, and you have the world on your plate.
Well, I couldn’t do a column like this without foods from Italy, the country I’ve traveled to most frequently. So I consulted with the friendly folks at Rogers Collection (www.rogerscollection.us), and sure enough, this invaluable importer gave me a list of retailers who sell the products they import. Any questions, contact Rogers, and I guarantee they’ll help! Let’s start with some pasta from Ditalia (www.ditalia.com). Please, don’t use just any old pasta, use the best. In Italy, the pasta is as important as the sauce, and that’s my philosophy too. I love the bronze-tinged pasta of Gragnano, near Naples, and the Gentile brand is one of the best, with varieties from bucatini to spaghetti alla chitarra to “Vesuvio,” which creates a volcano of flavor on your plate! Let’s add some Parmigiano Reggiano, the most perfectly Italian cheese, from Zingerman’s (www.zingermans.com). The version here comes, of course, from the Parma area and is made by Valserena, claimed to be the oldest dairy farm in the region (and some say in Italy). A bit higher in fat than most Parmigiano because it’s made with milk from rarely-used Sola Bruna brown cows, this estate cheese has a richness and a perfect texture that’s just unbeatable. Both of the websites listed above carry high-quality Italian olive oils as well, and I’m sure you’ll want some Sicilian bay leaves, Castelvetrano olives, or ready-made Bolognese sauce straight from Bologna’s region of Emilia- Romagna. I’m also sure you can figure out how to put these products together into an amazing Italian meal, but if you want ideas, consult Rogers’ recipe page (www.rogerscollection. us/recipes).
WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU…
One of my favorite homemade international treats, preserved lemons, immediately recalls my travels through Morocco. This one I make myself. It’s super-easy, though you’ll need some patience. Just take some organic lemons (preferably Meyer lemons, if you can find them), cut them into quarters, but don’t cut quite all the way through, so you can reform them. Pack the insides of each lemon with kosher salt and push the quarters back together so the lemon is whole again. Put another couple of tablespoons of salt in the bottom of an airtight jar, add some lemon juice, push the lemons tightly into the jar, and continue adding lemon juice till it’s full, along with some peppercorns and/or bay leaves (or even a chile pepper). Easy, right? Here’s the kicker, though: they have to sit for a month while the salty brine preserves them, and you’ll have to give them a shake or turn the jars upside down every couple of days. Your patience is rewarded, though, with one of the most delicious ingredients on earth, and they keep more or less forever. I really, really want you to make these yourself, but I thought: where can I send someone if they want to just buy them ready-made? The answer, of course: Rogers Collection, who imports them from Tunisia for sale by our old pasta friends Ditalia (www.ditalia.com). Whichever route you go, use them for a traditional Moroccan chicken with preserved lemons and olives (check the Heart Rock (www.heartrockherbandspice.com/recipes) and Rogers Collection (www.rogerscollection.us/recipes) recipe pages for details), or puree them into a versatile paste that can liven everything from seafood to salad dressings.
THE GREEN TEA WONDER:
When I sip a matcha smoothie made with this green tea powder, I always think of wandering the streets of Kyoto, and I’m eternally grateful to my friend Kim for introducing me to this uniquely-flavored Japanese wonder. I order mine from Matcha Outlet (www.matchaoutlet.com), which offers various grades from culinary to ceremonial, and what I particularly love is that their powder isn’t pre-sweetened like so many, so I toss it in the Ninja with some ice cubes and a little sweetening, perhaps a little milk, and voila! It’s not just for tea, either: check out Matcha Outlet’s recipe page (www.matchaoutlet.com/blogs/recipes) and you’ll find everything from matcha salad dressing to breads, cake, and even cocktails.
MOLE AND MORE: FLAVORS OF MEXICO
Amazing Mole Negro is like a ticket back to Mexico every time I have it. There are many types of mole, but I’m talking about the one that hails from the Oaxaca region, often used with chicken and made with chocolate, sesame seeds, nuts, chiles, and many other ingredients. You can order it online from Zingerman’s (www.zingermans.com). The mole pastes they offer are crafted in Oaxaca, and all you have to do is simmer them with tomatoes, tomatillos, and broth, and you have a perfect mole, spicy and complex as true mole is. Another great possibility is the wonderful Kakao Chocolate (www.kakaochocolate.com) found at the St. Louis-based chocolatier who makes a mole paste for a sauce that’s beautifully rich and flavorful (and just try to resist the truffles and other confections on their website). Kakao also offers several recipes for using this incredible sauce (www.kakaochocolate.com/kakao-molesauce). So there’s your main dish, but wait, I hear you say, don’t I need chips and salsa to serve while my friends wait for the mole? Luckily, I’m one step ahead of you, since I’ve found the best in the world at Sabor Mexicano (www.sabormexicano.com). They’ve partnered with Whole Foods to offer their chips from regular to unsalted to (my favorite) blue corn, salsas like Salsa Verde and the hellishly good, habanero-laced Salsa Infierno, as well as a spreadable plant-based queso. If you don’t have a Whole Foods branch near you, check Sabor Mexicano’s website, where at press time they were about to add direct ordering.
You could easily travel the world in your kitchen just with coffee, from Jamaican Blue Mountain to Kona to the many single-origin coffees now being offered in many places. There are two I particularly love: Café Lalibela, located in Tempe, Arizona, is a wonderful Ethiopian restaurant, and while I have to go in person to get their great cuisine, I can order their Ethiopian coffee online (www.lalibelahealthyfoods.com). With two varieties available (earthy Sidamo and mellow, fruity Yirgacheffe), every sip reminds me of how much I adore Lalibela, whose food and coffee are so delicious that it makes me feel like I’ve taken a trip to Ethiopia even though I’ve never been there. On the other hand, I have definitely been to Istanbul, and I’ll never forget the first time I approached the Egyptian Spice Market (itself a gourmet’s delight) and found the air totally saturated with that amazing caffeinated smell. It was wafting out from Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi, the city’s leading coffee roaster and one of the world’s primo coffees. I still remember walking down the street in Berlin, which has a large Turkish population, and being delighted to see that familiar gold can with the man in profile lifting a coffee cup. You can order it from Tulumba (www.tulumba.com), the best source for Turkish products online.
THE GRAND FINALE…
SACHER-TORTE FOR ALL
To end the meal, nothing beats the one and only Sacher-Torte, that rich chocolatey cake with a thin layer of jam. It was made famous, as the name implies, at Vienna’s Hotel Sacher (www.sacher.com) and I can’t count how many times I’ve sat at their café and indulged in this rich treat and some coffee: their sidewalk seating is one of my favorite spots to watch the world go by. While I definitely suggest a trip to Vienna to pick some up, you can have this uniquely Viennese treat without leaving your house by ordering right from the hotel (www.shop.sacher.com/originalsacher- torte). Packaged in a super-cute gift box, it’s a perfect present for someone, including yourself! If you want to try making your own, the Sacher even provides a “this is pretty much it but we can’t reveal all our secrets” recipe (www.sacher.com/en/original-sacher-torte/recipe). Happy cooking!