When summer finally rolls around over here, our kitchen goes Mediterranean. The sultry breezes make it easy to forget that Paris is in northern France, far from the turquoise waters. Salads from Provence, Spain, Greece, Morocco and Lebanon appear, eggplant and tomatoes in many guises come to the table. And spicy meat dishes can play a starring role, for example meatballs of ground lamb topped with a yogurt sauce and fresh herbs.
Boulettes d’agneau aux herbes / Lamb meatballs with herbs
This dish is fun to make — everyone in the family can get into the act. Don’t expect the meatballs to be perfectly round. They take on new and interesting shapes while cooking. But the result is succulent and richly flavorful. Make plenty, as there will be calls for more. (Full disclosure: I adapted this dish from a similar recipe in Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, eliminating certain Middle Eastern ingredients and substituting others to give it a French touch).
Hot-weather-inspired cooking was also on the table in New York, where I recently had the pleasure of discovering one of the city’s fusion restaurants, Asia de Cuba. The restaurant, in a new venue on Lafayette Street in the Village, reopened late last year after a four-year hiatus. As its name implies, the menu melds Latin and Asian flavors. The food was so fantastic that I wanted to tell you about it.
For starters, I had crispy octopus with marinated escabeche veggies, lychee slices and garlic chips. Sounds incongruous, but in fact the different tastes married beautifully. I went on to chili-rubbed scallops nestled in black beans and rice (one of my favorite dishes, taught to me years ago by a Cuban friend), with roasted cauliflower and Japanese aioli. The effect was exotic and toothsome. My dining companion chose a crispy calamari salad with bananas, cashews and hearts of palm, followed by the scallops and black rice.
Part of being a great everyday chef is allowing your creativity to flow free, and the Asia de Cuba experience was a brilliant example of how this can work. It doesn’t matter where you live — you can adapt a foreign dish to the cuisine of your home country by substituting local ingredients and coming up with something new. It may not always work, but when it does, the people around your table will applaud you.