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Old 11-30-2021, 04:44 PM   #1
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Dishes or Ingredients that opened your eyes

Are there any dishes, cuisines or ingredients that totally opened your eyes as being so unique or different than anything you had ever experienced before??

At the moment 3 come to mind for me.

1) My first was Indian food. MY parens were very good at introducing us to things that may have not been main stream ( especially at the time). I remember the first time they took me to an Indian restaurant. I was probably a teenager. I had never experienced such a variety and mixture of spices.

2) I remember eating over a friends house and they made a Moroccan Dish. All the veggies were common to me, but using cinnamon in a savory dish blew my mind. I always thought of cinnamon as a sweet ingredient until this day. That was 25 years ago, and I still make a variation of the dish. ( First time I had ever tried or heard of couscous too.

3) About 5 years after the cinnamon experience , I ate over another friends house. Her bf ( now husband ) is from Burma ( Myanmar). He made a noodle dish which basically was coconut milk based. Once again, I always thought of coconut as being sweet. Having it used as a savory ingredient , once again, blew my mind. I couldn't actually try the dish a the time ( cause it had chicken and quail eggs in it) but I paid close attention to everything else, and made it the second I got home. Sill making it 25 years later.

Just curious if anyone else has a memorable eating experience that may have introduced you to something you never knew was so good and blew your mind.

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Old 11-30-2021, 05:12 PM   #2
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cornflakes with quark and berries (Norway)

herring bar(s) - Sweden. makes whole meal from a little fish....and many sauces! / methods.

hominy - enroute south, prior to interstates - ole fashioned diners....
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Old 11-30-2021, 05:22 PM   #3
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Cilantro. I didn't used to like it. But when I lived in Tucson, it was everywhere, and it eventually grew on me. Now, in our house it seems to go on everything.
Fish sauce. The salty, funky taste just 'makes' so many Asian dishes. Nothing substitutes. When I first smelled it, I thought it was awful, but I can't imagine not using it today.
Vinegar. Most dishes need a splash of acid to brighten them. Learning to add it, really changed my cooking.
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Old 11-30-2021, 06:17 PM   #4
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Old 11-30-2021, 08:37 PM   #5
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Baby artichokes. I found them in the market about 15 years ago. Remove the outer leaves, there´s no choke in the middle, and you can fry them, boil them, sauté them, bake them, deep-fry them - delicious.
Butter Fish. I was in London in 2015 and we went to a Vietnamese restaurant. First time ever, and I ordered the butter fish. Phenomenal.
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Old 11-30-2021, 08:56 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by karadekoolaid View Post
Baby artichokes. I found them in the market about 15 years ago. Remove the outer leaves, there´s no choke in the middle, and you can fry them, boil them, sauté them, bake them, deep-fry them - delicious.
I knew this thread would pay off!
I always see baby artichokes in the produce aisle and always wondered what people do with them. This makes so much sense, Im almost embarrassed that I didnt come across this sooner in life.

The other day I got some large artichokes on he discount rack. I knew the outer leaves were crap, but that I could salvage the choke. But the time and effort to clean them made it almost not worth it. Had I seen this earlier, I just would have gotten a bunch of baby artichokes. Definitely on my ' to do list' this weekend.

Thanks for the reply. I can now add this to my list of ingredients that opened my eyes.
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Old 11-30-2021, 10:02 PM   #7
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One of the earliest things I learned how to make was bread. When I went away to school, there was a co-op, where they had organic flours and beans really cheap (and back then, organic was only available in health food stores, and the like, not supermarkets), and this is why I learned to bake, at first, to save money. They sold frozen 1 lb whole grain breads in the co-op, while I could bake 1˝ lb loaves for 30˘! And 1 lb white loaves for 3˘! I started selling bread, for $2 a lb, but eventually I had to stop - I was just getting too many orders. But I kept baking it for myself, to this day.

Chinese was the first cuisine I got hooked on, partly because that was the only Asian cuisine that I could find all of the ingredients for, back in the early 80s. Back then, even in Chinatown in Philly, I couldn't find all of the ingredients, so I'd take trips to NY Chinatown (as well as all the other neighborhoods up there, where I could find other ethnic foods). I taste tested all different brands of all different Chinese seasonings, finding my favorites of all of them. And I discovered Chenkiang Vinegar - a black rice vinegar, unlike any other vinegar, even other Chinese black vinegars, and is essential in many Chinese recipes.

Late in the 80s, I got hooked on Thai food, when SE Asian markets opened in S Philly, so I started making even more of that, taste testing the brands of fish sauce, and other seasonings (though there were fewer than there are Chinese seasonings), and would buy jasmine rice in 50 lb bags, with a friend of mine! We also bought cases of coconut milk, and split them, to save money. I learned early on that many SE Asian seasoning sauces and pastes are best homemade, and toasting shrimp paste is essential - an ingredient that most people don't want to cook with, but, even though even stronger than anchovy paste (suggested as a substitution for it, but it doesn't work), it is amazing the umame flavor it gives. Fish sauce is another thing that can also be used, even in many non-asian recipes, where anchovies work well. I keep a bottle of fish sauce and chopped Thai peppers on the door of my fridge, to add heat and umame to things - the fish sauce can be refilled a couple of times, before the peppers need replaced. In the late 90s, they outlawed the importing of Makrut/kaffir lime leaves, due to citrus disease, so I had to grow them myself, starting in 2000. I had found that lime leaves were an absolutely essential ingredient in Thai, and other SE Asian foods.

I used to not like Indian food, as a rule, because the cinnamon was almost always raw tasting. Every garam masala I'd buy had a raw cinnamon flavor. Eventually, I found a recipe in which every spice was toasted, and I learned that this is what made it good! I also found another way of giving the spice mixes another unique flavor was to mix all of the spices and the curry leaves with a small amount of oil, before toasting them, in a skillet. And, like the spice mixes in Thai cuisine, homemade masalas are better than store bought, by far. And they really aren't that hard to make, with the proper ingredients. And once I got hooked on Southern Indian food, I also got hooked on the many dals, and other legumes, as well as many grains, which I use in many non-Indian cuisines, as well.
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Old 11-30-2021, 10:33 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by larry_stewart View Post
I knew this thread would pay off!
I always see baby artichokes in the produce aisle and always wondered what people do with them. This makes so much sense, Im almost embarrassed that I didnt come across this sooner in life.

The other day I got some large artichokes on he discount rack. I knew the outer leaves were crap, but that I could salvage the choke. But the time and effort to clean them made it almost not worth it. Had I seen this earlier, I just would have gotten a bunch of baby artichokes. Definitely on my ' to do list' this weekend.

Thanks for the reply. I can now add this to my list of ingredients that opened my eyes.
I learned about these when I was a kid, in Spain, but we could almost never find baby artichokes here. It wasn't until many years later, when I was going to the Italian market on a regular basis, when I'd see them occasionally - a seasonal thing, though I don't recall when they were showing up. I'll have to look in some of the markets here, if they are showing up now - may have been there, and I just wasn't really looking!
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Old 11-30-2021, 10:40 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by pepperhead212 View Post
I learned about these when I was a kid, in Spain, but we could almost never find baby artichokes here. It wasn't until many years later, when I was going to the Italian market on a regular basis, when I'd see them occasionally - a seasonal thing, though I don't recall when they were showing up. I'll have to look in some of the markets here, if they are showing up now - may have been there, and I just wasn't really looking!
I see them and just walk right by them wondering what anyone ever does with them. I just didnt put 2 and 2 together. If I see them next week ill be sure to pick them up and give them ago.

I haven't been to the Italian market in a few years, I miss it. Actually, haven't been to Philly in almost 2 years. Really miss that.
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Old 11-30-2021, 10:55 PM   #10
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Larry, You're been to Philly since I have! lol I used to have to go to get to Asian markets on Washington Ave, but one opened over here, and it's much cheaper than going over the bridge, parking, and all that fun stuff.

Back in the 80s, I had to go to the Italian Market, before supermarkets got good produce section, and it paid for going over there, it was so cheap. How times change...

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Old 12-01-2021, 02:26 AM   #11
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I guess the first thing was brown rice. I didn't actually start cooking until I was about 19 and started a macrobiotic diet with brown rice. I love the stuff. To this day, I have never cooked any kind of white rice. I also learned about tamari at the same time. That is one tasty condiment and ingredient. This was when I took an interest in cooking. At the time, I was a vegetarian. I was a vegetarian on and off and didn't really start cooking meat regularly until I was 27.

Fish sauce, that's a much more recent addition. That stuff is magic. I don't even think about making gravy without it. I add fish sauce to all sorts of foods. Good apple cider vinegar. I find it flavourful, but softer tasting than most other kinds of vinegar. Okay, balsamic is just as soft, but there are limited places where balsamic is what you want.
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Old 12-01-2021, 09:58 AM   #12
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Larry, You're been to Philly since I have! lol I used to have to go to get to Asian markets on Washington Ave, but one opened over here, and it's much cheaper than going over the bridge, parking, and all that fun stuff.

Back in the 80s, I had to go to the Italian Market, before supermarkets got good produce section, and it paid for going over there, it was so cheap. How times change...

Ive noticed a lot of Asian markets popping up on Washington ave over the years. Washington Ave was always my last stop before going back to New York. Always had to stop on Washington between 8th and 9th ( on the south side) at Center City Pretzels to pick up a box of freshly baked, right out of the oven soft pretzels for the ride home and to distribute to friends and family. ( it was like $30 for a box of 100, and back in the day it was like $16 ). I remember having to pull over after 5 minutes, cause the pretzels were so hot right out of the oven, they were steaming up all my windows. Couldn't see thing, but the car sure smelled good. They are one of the primary pretzel suppliers for the area ( or at least were).

Me devouring a pretzel while driving home to New York, bite by bite!

( I think that was a box of 50 instead of 100. They take up a lot of freezer room)
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Old 12-01-2021, 10:06 AM   #13
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Growing up in Michigan, we used corn oil for cooking all kinds of things. At some point, after I was married, I bought a book on Chinese cooking; I still have it and use a few of the recipes regularly. It includes a list of common ingredients, including peanut oil. The first time I used peanut oil instead of corn oil, I was struck by the fact that it tasted much more like Chinese food I'd had in restaurants. I realized then how important it was to use authentic ingredients when you want to make a dish that tastes authentic. That seems obvious now lol but it was a revelation to me at the time.

Just wanted to mention that I don't always strive to make a dish "authentically," but sometimes I do. Now I keep a variety of fats to use for different purposes.
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Old 12-01-2021, 10:22 AM   #14
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..., I was struck by the fact that it tasted much more like Chinese food I'd had in restaurants. I realized then how important it was to use authentic ingredients .... That seems obvious now lol but it was a revelation to me at the time.
I really haven't been able to tell the difference. So I will try harder...
Thanks GG.
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Old 12-01-2021, 12:29 PM   #15
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Not a flavor or any particular dish. An Asian friend was talking about a curry sauce, and she told me how they blended (hand blender or reg blender), some of the vegetables into the sauce, so the sauce was smooth, and also added those vegetables to be less cooked, crispy or just cooked. It was a technique (using the vegetables both ways in the same dish) I'd never heard of. Now I use this technique all the time with vegetable sauces that replace less healthy ingredients.
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Old 12-01-2021, 01:13 PM   #16
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Growing up in Ukraine/Soviet Union, food shortages were so bad, we barely had Ukrainian food there. After coming t the States and obvious variety of restaurants blew me away. Mexican made me sick, Though I do make some now. But still not a fan of beans. Fall in love with Chinese. Speaking of coconut milk, I do not like anything coconut, but one time my oldest son took me out to a Tai restaurant, and made me try chicken coconut soup and I totally loved it. Make at home all the time now. But the thing that really change my perspective of food was/is cayenne pepper. I hate black pepper, hate the taste, the smell, the flavor, hate the heat that it gives to any food. But Cayenne pepper, now we are talking. Love the smell, love the flavor. Love the heat it gives to any food.
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Old 12-01-2021, 01:47 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by larry_stewart View Post
Ive noticed a lot of Asian markets popping up on Washington ave over the years. Washington Ave was always my last stop before going back to New York. Always had to stop on Washington between 8th and 9th ( on the south side) at Center City Pretzels to pick up a box of freshly baked, right out of the oven soft pretzels for the ride home and to distribute to friends and family. ( it was like $30 for a box of 100, and back in the day it was like $16 ). I remember having to pull over after 5 minutes, cause the pretzels were so hot right out of the oven, they were steaming up all my windows. Couldn't see thing, but the car sure smelled good. They are one of the primary pretzel suppliers for the area ( or at least were).

Me devouring a pretzel while driving home to New York, bite by bite!

( I think that was a box of 50 instead of 100. They take up a lot of freezer room)
Those pretzels were always my last pick-up, too!!! Fortunately, there are some pretzel shops over here, and I get a few, but I used to get those bags or boxes of 50, and share, and freeze some
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Old 12-01-2021, 03:28 PM   #18
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Generally speaking, the bigger the artichoke, the less flavour.
Here´s something I do with the baby artichokes: Carciofi alla Romana
Yes, they´re a bit time-consuming, but wow do they pack a punch.
Peel off the outer leaves until you reach the heart. Keep the stems on.
If there´s the beginning of a choke in the middle, just remove it with a spoon. Gently peel off the very green parts of the artichoke and the stalks. Have a bowl of water with lemon juice in it; as you finish one choke, toss it in the water.
When you ´ve done all the artichokes, place them in a tall saucepan, bottom side down. Try to fit them in as tightly as possible.
Add a good slug of olive oil, salt and pepper, thyme, oregano, rosemary and 4-5 garlic cloves, just sliced up.
Add water to about 7/8ths of the height of the hearts.
Put a tight-fitting lid on the pan and bring to a boil, then lower to a minimum. The hearts will be ready when a toothpick comes out easily from the artichokes. It it looks like the water is drying out, just add a tbsp or two.
Remove the artichokes but save the cooking liquid. Add a bit more olive oil and a touch of white wine vinegar or lemon juice, and serve.
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