Rather than mixing cultural references in food for trendy effect, Anita Lo has created a cooking style that truly re-imagines dishes by drawing on flavors from different corners of the world. Her new book, Cooking Without Borders, presents her unique and sophisticated approach to delivering traditional flavor combinations in unexpected ways. Through her multicultural upbringing, world travels, and training in French cooking techniques, she has been influenced by many disparate culinary traditions.
Many of the recipes in the book are from past and present restaurant menus, but some are family favorites and dishes she prepares at home. Some recipes present a challenge with hard-to-find ingredients, and some are more time-consuming than others; but Lo always offers suggestions for substitutions or simplifications for the home cook.
Her inspiration ranges from what grows in her garden and whatever she catches from her fishing boat off Moriches Bay to a mix of Asian cuisines. Lo expanded beyond her background in classic French cooking by learning about Korean cooking in Seoul before opening a pan-Asian restaurant in New York. She might combine flavors common in Eastern European food while using Japanese ingredients, but the different influences come together in extremely refined ways. It's enlightening to read her explanation of how she built each dish the way she did.
A great example of Lo's approach is the Chilled Sweet Pea Soup with Smoked Sturgeon and Caviar. There are several ideas at play in this one soup. First, the Japanese flavor combination of peas, shiso, and wasabi is present. Next, the Eastern European tradition of serving smoked fish with horseradish is achieved with the smoked sturgeon and horseradish in the form of wasabi. From the American South, smoky flavors are often paired with peas, and here that smoked element is fish. And, lastly, the English mix of peas and mint is there due to the minty flavor of the shiso. The full recipe includes instructions for smoking the sturgeon yourself, and for all of the garnishes added when this is served at Lo's restaurant, Annisa. Of course, for serving at home, you could purchase pre-smoked sturgeon or other white fish and present the soup as simply or as accessorized as you wish.
Moving on around the globe, for her Zucchini Blossoms appetizer she looks to Spain and stuffs the blossoms with a grated young Manchego. The stuffed and fried blossoms are served with a pureed sauce made from piquillo peppers and sherry vinegar. Mediterranean and North African flavors are found in the Fried Mussels with Overnight Tomatoes, Harissa, and Saffron Sultanas. In the From the Sea chapter, you'll find Pan-Roasted Sea Scallops with Uni, Bacon, and Mustard Greens; Sautéed Fillet of Halibut with Fennel and White Anchovies; and Miso-Marinated Sable with Crisp Silken Tofu in a Bonito Broth, among others. In the Poultry chapter, there are dishes as diverse as Chicken Paprikash; Pan-Roasted Duck Breasts with Chestnut Puree and Honey Gastrique; and Chicken Wings with Korean Chile. In the Meat chapter, Lo includes her mother's BBQ Spareribs; Dry-Aged Ribeye with Raclette-Stuffed Rosti Potatoes; and the Annisa Beef "Pot-Au-Feu" made with ginger, soy sauce, Tokyo turnips, purple potatoes, boiled kombu, and wasabi.
My first trip to the kitchen with this book was to explore the Desserts and Drink chapter. I was intrigued by Lo's transformation of flavors usually found in a salad into a rich and sweet dessert. She started with the components of a beet salad with goat cheese and vinaigrette, and then turned the goat cheese into a cheesecake and candied the beets to bring out their natural sweetness. A citrus salad and candied citrus zest delivered the acidity. Like all of the dishes shown in the book, this one was stunning on the plate. It was a thoughtful composition of flavors from the richness of the cheesecake to the vanilla-scented sweetness of the beets and sauce and the freshness of the citrus. This dessert was eye-opening and fun to experience, and most importantly, it was delicious.
Read more from Lisa on Cooking without Borders on her blog Cooking with Lisa.
Goat Cheesecakes with Citrus and Candied Beets
Recipe from Cooking Without Borders by "Anita Lo, Charlotte Druckman" ("Stewart, Tabori and Chang", 2011)At Bouley, where I held my first professional cooking position in Manhattan, my initial job was at the canape station. We made miniature terrines out of fresh goat cheese, roasted beets, and fresh herbs. It was a standard French combination, borrowed originally from Joel Robuchon, for whom David Bouley had worked. Each ingredient heightened the other: The saltiness of the chevre was offset by the earthiness of the beets. We drizzled a vinaigrette over the top of the bite-size savory. Made with mushroom juice, sherry, and red wine, the sauce's acid balanced the fat of the cheese and accented the saccharine notes of the beets. This dessert relies on the same concepts, but focuses on different aspects of each ingredient: the cheese's creaminess and the beet's sweetness. Here, the idea is to borrow the beet's sugar-not to draw out its vegetal nature, but instead to use it as a sweetener for dessert. The citrus adds further complexity while providing the acid that the vinaigrette had in the savory version. It's an interesting compromise between a dessert item and a cheese course, although it is pretty sweet; in fact, it's very much like a New York cheesecake.
For the cheesecakes:
- ¾ cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 15 ounces cream cheese
- 15 ounces fresh creamy goat cheese (chèvre)
- 1 large egg, separated
- ½ cup heavy cream
- ½ vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped (bean pod reserved for below), or an additional 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
For the candied beets:
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ vanilla bean pod (from above)
- Pinch of salt
- A few grinds of black pepper
- 2 small beets, peeled and cut into thin slices
- For the candied zest:
- 1 cup sugar
- Julienned zest of ½ grapefruit, 1 orange, and ¼ lime, white pith removed
For the citrus salad:
- 8 grapefruit sections
- 16 orange sections
- 8 lime sections
Make the cheesecakes: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Liberally spray 8 (4-ounce) molds with nonstick cooking spray. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar and cornstarch and mix until the cornstarch is no longer clumpy. Add the cheeses, egg yolk, cream, vanilla-bean seeds, and vanilla extract and beat with the paddle attachment until soft and uniform. Using the whisk attachment and a clean bowl, whip the egg white together with the salt until soft peaks form. Fold the two mixtures together and transfer to the prepared molds. Bake until light golden brown on top. Let cool and refrigerate, covered, until use.
Make the candied beets: In a large saucepan, bring the sugar and 1 cup of water to a boil with the scraped vanilla-bean pod, the salt, and pepper. Add the beets to the pan and cook over high heat until tender and the syrup is reduced. Set aside.
Make the candied zest: In a saucepan over high heat, combine the sugar and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Add the zests and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes, until cooked through and glossy. Drain, reserving the syrup.
Make the citrus salad: In a bowl, combine the sectioned fruit together with the zest cooking syrup. Place on one side of each serving plate. Use the beet syrup as a sauce on the other side and top with an unmolded cheesecake, garnished with the candied beets and candied zest.
Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.