Homemade menudo

My homemade Menudo

It’s an almost otherwordly experience to walk into an Asian supermarket and be greeted with Christmas carols sung in Chinese. A few blinks and a smile later, it’s time to shop.

I’ve been asked what kinds of ethnic foods I like to eat. That’s an easy question to answer. All of them, frankly.

While most of my everyday shopping is confined to Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and the neighborhood supermarket (in that order), every now and then I get a hankering for something that’s a little off the beaten path. Time to hit the ethnic markets!

I really don’t have a favorite ethnic food. I’ve been to Ethiopian restaurants, Glatt Kosher restaurants, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Mexican – of all levels – Japanese, French, and more. And, of course, good ol’ American food. Pizza. Just kidding.

As far as my favorite restaurants are concerned, I usually end up either at an Italian or a Thai restaurant, with an occasional excursion to La Cañonita at the Venetian for high-end Mexican cuisine.

One of my favorite combinations of food and wine is Pho and Pinot Noir. I can’t explain it; it just works.

But back to my original subject: what about ethnic foods and how do they play in my kitchen?

As I mentioned earlier, shopping in a market while Christmas carols are being sung in whatever Asian language (I confess my ignorance), is enough to make me smile and makes the shopping experience pleasant. And such was the case during my latest excursion. While I stopped at one of my favorite Pho restaurants for a bowl of the spicy steaming beef broth, flank steak, tendon, tripe, herbs, and veggies, I still had to have a few items for fun. I purchased some chicken carcasses for stock, beautiful green onions, amazingly cheap Korean chestnuts, and fresh red corn. I haven’t done anything with the corn yet, but stay tuned. I’m sure this will be a culinary adventure.

During Thanksgiving weekend I went nuts in the kitchen. I made a highly reduced beef stock and finally tackled real French Onion Soup, loosely following the recipe made famous by Thomas Keller.

My other recent cooking adventure was Menudo. I spent a lot of time investigating different recipes and methods online and in some of my old cookbooks, found one I liked, tweaked it to my needs, and was rewarded with a beautifully spicy, luscious, and better-than-I-could-have-hoped-for Menudo.

I’d had restaurant and canned Menudo before, and found quite a few differences between them. The restaurant Menudo (from a local “greasy spoon” walk-up, which I figured would be the most authentic tasting) was tasty, but didn’t have a lot of tripe and hominy in it. The canned Menudo, was, well, *canned * in taste and texture, but gave me an idea about how the flavor was supposed to be.

I did a Sonoran-style Menudo, which incorporated a homemade roasted chili paste to add to the color and flavor. Frankly, the flavor was stunning. I used both librillo, a white, light-textured tripe, and regular, more rustic tripe. I admit to not knowing the “official” name of the rustic tripe. The next time I make it, it’ll be with the rustic tripe which, although fattier, was tops in flavor and texture. A lot of other people like the airiness of the white types of tripe. I’d like to attempt making hominy, but I’ll stick with the canned for now!

So what has happened to my tastes in food during this time? It’s made me want to have more culinary adventures, such as trying my hand at making Injera, the soft, tasty Ethiopian bread made from a fermented grain called teff (you can see the challenge, can’t you?), I’ve developed a tolerance and love for more spice (read heat) in foods, and don’t shy away from trying anything. Except for maybe the sheep’s eyeballs in the Hallel market. Can’t quite go there yet.

I’ve also discovered that Pinot Noir goes with just about anything. As expected.


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