Category Archives: Global Cuisine

My New Favorite Food


(Geo)graphic of the Incan Empire stolen straight off the WWW.

Quinoa(keen-wah) comes to us from the Andes,where it has long been cultivated by the Inca. Botanically a relative of swiss chard and beets rather than a “true” grain, quinoa contains all the essential amino acids that the human body cannot make on its own.

Not only is it my new favorite ingredient, but Wikipedia gives it pretty cool coverage which I plagiarize beginning now:

The Incas,who held the crop to be sacred,[3] referred to quinoa as chisaya mama or mother of all grains, and it was the Inca emperor who would traditionally sow the first seeds of the season using ‘golden implements’.[3]. During the European conquest of South America quinoa was scorned by the Spanish colonists as food for Indians, and even actively suppressed, due to its status within indigenous non-Christian ceremonies.In fact, the conquistadors forbade quinoa cultivation for a time and the Incas were forced to grow corn instead.[citation needed]

Not to mention that it is good for lowering my epically bad cholesterol.  In searching out the health benefits of quinoa, I found this great article entitled How to lower your cholesterol absolutely free (no prescription required).  The scariest segment of this article, which had nothing to do with quinoa per se, is this –

“It is the hydrogenation of these oils that makes them toxic to the human body. They belong to a class of ingredients known as metabolic disruptors. This is a class of ingredients that interferes with normal human metabolism and includes ingredients like sodium nitrite, MSG,aspartame, and white flour.”

Could you imagine the difference it would make if the FDA changed the food labeling rules to require that hydrogenated oils, sodium nitrite, MSG, aspartame and white flour were all called metabolic disruptors!  Hard to sell that as healthy.

Quinoa baby!

Tell Al Gore that Food Matters!

Food Matters

This (geo)graphic was pulled directly off the cover of Mark Bittman’s new book “Food Matters”.  It is of an unknown spatial reference system.

For those of you who found Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” very insightful, but less than actionable, you will like Mark Bittman’s new book “Food Matters”.  It does a good job of describing the impacts of our food consumption on our Planet (Earth), from global warming to transmogrified landscapes due to the ever growing demand for meat, and other animal-derived food products.  I think many (including myself) never think about how the supply chain behind animal-derived product consumption has completely reshaped the Earth over the past half century.  Not to mention how it has reshaped the labor markets associated with food production (see Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation” for more on that topic).

As for “Food Matters”, there is a nice FORA.TV Video Podcast with Bittman talking about the origins of his book (did I mention that I have become addicted to FORA.TV?).  He references a UN report entitled “Livestock’s Long Shadow” which addresses the impacts of our animal-derived food chain on the Earth, a report which is very interesting.  But, his summary zingers in the Podcast (and the book) really drive home the point.  He really makes you ask yourself why you are eating so many animal products (remember, milk and eggs are also products of animals – which are kept no more humanely than those primarily raised to be slaughtered for their meat, and which have a huge impact on the Earth).  And, whether we could reduce the amount of animal products by 10 or 20% percent – which would have a massive impact on greenhouse gases.

Unfortunately, Bittman did not focus his point on overpopulation, which I still see as the major challenge.  The number of domesticated animals impacting the Earth is directly tied to the number of people consuming animal products in their daily meals.  While Bittman is correct that we (us First Worlders) all could consume less and live more healthy lives, as we succeed at bringing people worldwide out of poverty, their tastes will begin to mimic ours – only ballooning the existing population of domesticated animals (the US processes 10 billion animals a year).

So, I am happy to follow Bittman’s cookbook.  But, if everyone on Earth ate that well, our planet would collapse from ecological devastation and accellerated global warming.

Who is Jarch Capital?

Great Land Grab_Africa_Agriculture



I had missed this one when it was published a few days ago in the Financial Times.

At first the idea of ex-Intelligence and State Department folks buying up a tract of Sudanese land the size of Dubai from warlords didn’t strike me as falling into the “what a great idea!” category.

But if you check out the Jarch Capital website and the (geo)graphic to the left, it seems like all these deals could actually bring some sort of economic development and stability to the region.  If only the graft and warlord culture don’t completely thwart them.

However, I am also reminded of Jared Diamond’s discussion of the ecological sources of the Rwanda genocide in his bookCollapse, and the link that Ban Ki-moon (United Nations Secretary General) has drawn between the environmental degradation, the symptoms of global warming, and the crisis in Darfur.  Even though a massive underground lake has been discovered underneath the Darfur region, it seems like the increasingly stressed Sudanese landscape will make it hard for this venture to succeed.

However, please note this prediction attributed to Jarch Capital’s Chairman, Phillippe Heilberg, in the FT article:

Mr Heilberg “believes that several African states, Sudan included, but possibly also Nigeria, Ethiopia and Somalia, are likely to break apart in the next few years, and that the political and legal risks he is taking will be amply rewarded.”

I wonder if that one is in a National Intelligence Estimate?  I’ll have to check!

Or, it could just mean more pirates

Avocados in the Levant


This (geo)graphic is another one of those orphaned pieces of World Wide Web data that is difficult to trace, but yet is still found on Wikipedia!

I was enjoying the cuisine at The Pita House in Old Towne Alexandria, VA today and had their avocado salad.  I didn’t even think about it when it was ordered, but when it showed up, I wondered whether my entire conception of the avocado’s natural history was wrong.  I thought it was of Mexico/Central American origins.  Could it be that it was, like citrus, of Meditteranean origins, transplanted to the New World by the Spanish?  Rather than interrupting lunch to search Wikipedia on my Blackberry (iPhone users, insert heckling here), I went all afternoon suffering from self-doubt.

First of all, the avocado salad was delicious.  I haven’t tried to replicate it yet, but I quickly did some  WWW forensic reconstruction of the dish based on similar recipes.  I will post an update once my wife and I (e.g., primarily my wife) have perfected it.  As best as I can tell, the ingredients are something like:

  •  2 Large Avocado — peeled and sliced into large chunks
  •  1/2 Cup green bell peppers – coarsely diced
  •  1/2 Cup tomatoes – coarsely diced
  •  1/2 Cup white onions –finely diced
  •  2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  •  2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
  •  Salt And Pepper — to taste
  •  2 Loaves Pita Bread – halved

Once I had the opportunity to consult Google, and the font of all knowledge returning the first link on nearly every topic – Wikipedia – I was able to confirm that indeed, the avocado did originate in current day Mexico/Central America.  That’s where the World Wide Web and/or the sad state of avocado scholarship began to fail me!  Let’s take, for instance, the following wikipedia paragraph.

P. americana, or the avocado, has a long history of being cultivated in Central and South America; a water jar shaped like an avocado, dating to A.D. 900, was discovered in the pre-Incan city of Chan Chan[1] though there is evidence of cultivation in Mexico for as long as 10,000 years.[2] The earliest known written account of the avocado in Europe is that of Martín Fernández de Enciso (c. 1470–c. 1528) in 1518 or 1519 in his book, Suma de Geografía que Trata de Todas las Partidas y Provincias del Mundo.[2][3] The first written record in English of the use of the word ‘avocado’ was by Hans Sloane in a 1696 index of Jamaican plants. The plant was introduced to Indonesia by 1750, Brazil in 1809, the Levant in 1908, and South Africa and Australia in the late 19th century.

Such precise dates!  This paragraph must be the totality of all knowledge on the subject since a pretty exhaustive search of the WWW turned up nothing other than links to Wikipedia entry, or outright plagiarism of this entry (other than this nice chronology which is restricted to the Spanish and American experience).

But, alas, the WWW fails me.  I can suppose that the avocado made it back to the Iberian peninsula near the time that Suma de Geografía que Trata de Todas las Partidas y Provincias del Mundo was published.  After that, its next destination was Indonesia?  Perhaps this is true, but the source that is used in the footnote (citation #2, which used to, but no longer exists at the end of the last sentence) offers a 404 Not Found, and is marked as an unreliable source.

So, I think that this is a pretty modern dish (as opposed to an age old, traditional Lebanese dish), if indeed the Wikipedia entry is correct in its assertion that avocados did not come to be cultivated in the Levant until 1908.  Hell, for all I know, the dish could be a really recent item by one of  Wolfgang Puck’s former Lebanese sou chef’s who runs a very popular restaurant in Beirut.

I would appreciate any intel that anyone has on how traditional this dish is.

BTW, the (geo)graphic of dubious origins (above) is a bubblemap – which apparently is a real cartographic “no-no”.  If you are interested in best practices in statistical cartography, you may want to read this entry.

BTW also, there is no bubble in Florida.  I believe this is a huge oversight.

UPDATE:  Oranges likely originated in SouthEast Asia, and weren’t introduced to the Mediterranean until around the 11th century…or something like that.  Though lemons originated in India, northern Burma and China, and were introduced to the Mediterranean in the first century A.D.   Wikipedia can’t help me out on limes but it looks similar to lemons. Grapefruit in Barbados.