Fusion Food -Cooking without borders

By Praba Iyer

One Friday evening we went out to try a new restaurant with a friend. Our friend was curious about the cuisine. I told her they had some interesting dishes and she exclaimed, “Please don’t say Fusion – it feels like the chef has a hand in all the pots, and does not have a clue where he belongs!” That sparked an interesting conversation.

Fusion marries 2 or more ingredients, from 2 different cuisines, and creates a new dish that compliments the individual flavors and ingredients.  Many centuries ago when the Chinese came to America, the Africans moved to Europe and the East Indians and French learned to dine together, fusion was born.

Today, this blending of cuisines has gained momentum and is the new trend in many metropolitan cities around the world. This New World Cuisine requires a great deal of creativity and knowledge on the part of the chef, to come up with a dish that incorporates entirely different cuisines. The world is truly flat, when it comes to food.

Some gastronomists have complained that fusion food has no rules, no defined techniques, and is a haphazard way of cooking with lack of respect for traditional recipes.

Let’s look at some examples of fusion cuisine:

Tex–Mex cuisine: This cuisine came about when the Texan-Mexican Railway was established. Spicy sauces and salsas from Mexico were combined with heavy meats, starch and cheeses of Texas.

Fortune cookies: They were invented in San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden Restaurant. Chinese chicken salad is an American invention.

Tandoori Pizza may sound great to some of you, but there are people who say ‘Please leave my pizza alone!”

How about Crispy Dosa stuffed with lobster and served with a ginger infused béchamel sauce? This is an Indo French blend.

Thailand has been influenced by China, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Burma and India, when it comes to food. The Mussaman Curry is a fusion of Indian ingredients like cloves, cardamom and cinnamon stick in a traditional Thai curry paste. Fresh spring rolls made with rice paper are a classic Vietnamese Thai fusion. Sushi with smoked salmon and avocado is an example of Californian Japanese fusion.

In all my experiments with fusion I have found that certain ingredients just don’t work with certain cuisines. For example the pungency and sweetness  of coconut milk does not work with Italian pastas. Another example is Vathhal kolambu paired with Cabernet Wine. Both have very acidic properties and they clash tremendously. On the same note, I found that the simplicity of a fresh pesto sauce complimented the simplicity of a crispy dosa and worked well together. I believe that fusion works well when ingredients don’t overpower each other.

Some of my own fusion creations are the “Pesto Dosa”, “Tandoori Turkey”, “Cous cous Upma, “Panini sandwich with spicy tomato chutney”, “Tandoori salmon with spicy mango salsa”, “Cardamom and black pepper ice cream”, and Zataar naans.

As the world becomes a global bazaar, even purists who believe in authentic ethnic cuisine have had to accept the influences of new world ingredients to their diet.

Here are a couple of fusion recipes sure to get your guests talking –

Pesto Dosa:  Serves – 8-10 dosas

    Dosa Batter – 2 cups

    Oil   – 4Tbsps

    Pesto Sauce – ½ cup

    Stuffing

    Oil – 1 tsp

    Baby Spinach – 2 cups

    Garlic             – 1 clove

    Button Mushrooms – ½ cup sliced

    Salt – to taste

    Red Pepper Crushed – to taste

    
    Method:

     First make the stuffing. Heat oil in a pan and add the garlic. Then add the sliced mushrooms and sauté until all the water has evaporated. Now add the spinach and let it wilt. Add salt and crushed pepper to taste. Squeeze out the excess water and keep aside.

    Heat a flat dosa pan and brush it with oil. Once hot, spread a ladle of dosa batter from the center to the outside in a circle and let it cook for a minute.  Spread a table spoon of pesto on the bottom half of the dosa and add a Tbsp of the stuffing on it. Fold the other half on top of the stuffing side, like a quesadilla. Make sure it is crispy on both sides.

    Cut the pesto dosa into triangles and serve hot.

Tandoori Pizza with mangoes

    For Pizza Sauce

    
    Pizza Sauce – 1cup

    Oil – 1 tsp

    Red onion – ½  (chopped fine) 

    Ginger and Garlic Paste – 1 tsp

    Garam Masala Powder – ½ Tbsp

    Red Pepper – to taste

    Cilantro – 1 Tbsp

    Salt – To taste

    For Assembly:

    Pizza Crust – size 1 large (14 inch) uncooked dough /cooked Boboli crust

    Ripe Mango – 1 (peeled and cubed)

    Tandoori Chicken – 1cup (cooked pieces) cubed

    Mozzarella Cheese – 1 cup shredded

    Method:

    Sauce

    Heat a tsp of oil in a sauce pan and sauté the chopped onions until translucent. Now add the ginger – garlic paste, garam masala, red pepper and the pizza sauce. Cook for 5-7 minutes until the flavors are blended well. Season with salt.Sprinkle the sauce with cilantro.

    Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Place an empty pizza stone in the oven for 20 minutes to heat up. If you are using uncooked dough, roll out dough on a large mat sprinkled with corm meal. Brush the rolled out dough with olive oil and slide it onto the hot stone in the oven and cook it for 8 minutes and take it out.

    Assemble the pizza:

    Spread the pizza sauce in the middle leaving a ½ inch edge around the dough. Sprinkle the tandoori chicken cubes, mango cubes on top. Now sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on to and place it back in the preheated oven for 2 -3 minutes just until the cheese melts. Serve hot.

    For a store bought pizza crust, assemble the pizza and cook as directed.

Praba Iyer worked as the Associate Chef at Greens Restaurant in Fort Mason, San Francisco. She now teaches Thai, Indian, Mexican, Italian and Asian Fusion cooking. For more on Fusion and other cuisines, check out her blog, Rocket Bites .

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