From the Competition to Your Kitchen: Global Ingredients
This week, the five remaining Food Network Star contestants needed to nail their food POVs during the Mentor Challenge. Some struggled with the concept of their food brand (we’re talking to you, Dom), while others knew exactly who they were (Hi, Arnold!). Did anyone else notice how diverse the food was? Our final five took us on a journey around the globe with Middle Eastern (Alex), Italian (Dom), Caribbean (Eddie), Cajun (Jay) and Thai (Arnold) inspired dishes. So taking a cue from the finalists, here are some fun facts about ingredients common to each cuisine, but perhaps unfamiliar to some fans:
Pomegranate Molasses: This sweet and tart syrup is used throughout the Middle East, and its tartness means a little can go a long way; it's great drizzled in marinades, vinaigrettes, stews and dips. Find it in specialty food stores, or make your own by slowly reducing pomegranate juice until it’s syrupy.
Grana Padano: This semi-aged, hard cheese may not have the nutty-salty pop of Parmigiano-Reggiano, but its subtleness is appreciated in dishes like risotto, where Parmesan can steal the show. Made from skimmed cow’s milk, Grana Padano can be produced in only the Po River Valley in Northern Italy. It’s also less expensive than Parmesan — another reason to try it!
Plantain: A member of the banana family and super common in the Caribbean, plantains are starchier, with less sugar than bananas, and must be cooked. We are huge fans of them in Food Network Kitchen because of their amazing versatility. They can be fried, boiled, baked and broiled, depending on their stage of ripeness. Green (unripe) plantains are best fried, while sweeter yellow-to-black plantains can be boiled and mashed — in addition to many other preparations!
File Powder: The secret ingredient in gumbo, file powder is used almost exclusively in Cajun and Creole cooking. Made from the leaves of the sassafras tree, which are dried and then ground into a powder, it has a slight root beer flavor and gives gumbo its slippery texture.
Fish Sauce: Key in Thai cooking, but found in almost every pro chef’s kitchen nowadays, fish sauce is made from anchovies that have been salted and fermented in barrels. It’s salty, funky and fishy on its own, but it adds not-fishy-at-all intensity to everything you put it in. Found in Asian markets, fish sauce doesn’t need to be refrigerated after opening.
What will the remaining Food Network Star finalists cook next? Tune in Sunday at 9|8c to watch the competition continue.
Photo courtesy of Heather Ramsdell