I’ve been wanting to test my new underwater camera setup for quite some time now, but it’s been taken over by other things since I bought it last June. Meanwhile I have a dive trip to Dumaguete later this month and it would be a pity not to be able to use and have fun with it. Needless to say, I haven’t been outside of the city for the last couple of months and my feet are itching while my travel diva sulks in the corner giving me the cold shoulder.
I have to do something about this or risk being burned out from excessive work and compulsive shopping!
Then a flash of brilliance while watching Anthony Bourdain on TLC! If I cannot go to the places I want, why not travel right in the comfort of my home by experiencing what I love the most about a good getaways – FOOD, oh so glorious FOOD!
I raided the ice box and the pantry to give me a sense of direction. These are good starting points for any food trip. I figured it’s like a road map and a travel agent to consult and guide me on where to go. The ice box had pork chops, chicken breasts, tofu, basil leaves and a couple of packs of frozen roti bread, while the pantry had sweet potatoes, some canned tomatoes, red curry paste and linguini pasta. I am always partial to Mediterranean and Thai food and these are the featured destinations provided I can get the required herbs and spices – coriander, flat parsley, red chilies, kaffir lime leaves, and mint leaves.
I ducked into the nearest supermarket, luckily we were in the section of town where there’s a supermarket with a gourmet section. Some of these herbs and spices are not easy to find since they are not readily used in Filipino dishes. I got most of the ingredients I needed and proceeded to plan my food trip.
I decided to go to Thailand first, then somewhere in between, and then my final destination- Italy. To taste Thailand I will cook tofu with sweet potato curry; for something in between Asia and Italy, I’m going with herb encrusted chicken breasts with roti bread; then for Italy, I will cook pork chops in pomodoro sauce with pesto on a bed on linguini. Perfect!
I prepared the chicken breasts first – crushing and combining garlic, chili, nuts, lemon, extra virgin olive oil and kaffir lime leaves to a rough paste using a mortar and pestle – then rubbing this onto scored chicken breasts, leaving it for a while until I was ready to grill it, about half an hour to an hour. Crushing the herbs and spices together already gives that sense of excitement and adventure as I look for that perfectly balanced aroma.
Then I started on the tofu and sweet potato curry – peeled and sliced the potatoes into cubes, sliced the tofu into 1 inch cubes, fried the tofu in canola oil, stir fried the garlic, onions, coriander and red curry paste. I added the sweet potatoes to the pan, mixing it to make sure that the potatoes are well covered with the spices before adding about a cup of vegetable broth. Once the potatoes have softened I added the fried tofu, seasoned with salt, left it for a couple more minutes before plating and garnishing with coriander leaves. My first dish is a creamy vegetarian curry perfect as dipping sauce for the roti bread or served with freshly steamed rice.
Meanwhile, as I was waiting for the potatoes to soften, I prepared my pesto sauce – picked the basil leaves off its stems, peeled a handful of garlic cloves, picked off chunks of Parmesan cheese. I whacked the garlic into the food processor, then the basil leaves, added about half a cup of extra virgin olive oil before putting in the Parmesan cheese. Adjusted the consistency with more olive oil and seasoning with salt, my pesto sauce is ready.
I then proceeded with grilling the chicken breasts as my first dish is just about ready to be plated. The herbs on the breasts gave off fantastic aroma of a destination I imagined to be a melting pot of cultures, where east meets west in perfect harmony. I was careful not to overcook the chicken for it will dry up and would taste like herb encrusted paper. Once the chicken were cooked I plated it and put rolled up roti breads in the center of the of the plate.
Then for the final destination – filled up a deep pot with enough water for the pasta and set it to boil, fried the pork chops in olive oil till brown, crushed some garlic and sliced some onions, then fried these till they caramelized, mixed in the sliced parsley leaves and a bit of chili, and incorporated a can of whole peeled tomatoes. I added about a quarter of a cup of left-over pasta sauce, seasoned with salt and pepper and it’s ready! I plated this on a bed on linguine, cooked al-dente, and topped with a dollop of pesto sauce and lavishly sprinkled with Parmesan cheese..
The whole cooking process took about an hour. As we sat down to eat, with a good bottle of wine, I was reminded of how my travels have enriched my culinary repertoire. I may not be able to go to these places now but I can bring them closer to home with a bit of imagination and readily available ingredients. I could see my travel diva with oil all over it’s mouth, nodding in approval, satiated.
Wanna share your favorite dishes from your travels and tell us how it brings you back or closer to these destinations?