I’m one of those “all-or-nothing people”.
If I don’t think I can cook a dish authentically, I don’t even really attempt it. In my mind, this means that if I haven’t eaten a dish that has been fairly authentic, or as close to its traditional form as possible, I can’t possibly attempt to recreate it.
So I have never dabbled in Japanese cooking, am hesitant to plunge into Ethiopian cooking, and would only ever refer to “Mexican-style flavourings” when talking about something I’ve cooked rather than a Mexican dish. Vegan Thai cooking is a mystery to me (which is one of the reasons I have been particularly enthralled by JoJo of Vegan In Brighton’s posts throughout her South East Asian travels). I have, however, eaten a lot of Indian food, and a fair amount of Lebanese food, and feel it’s something we get at a high standard in London, so I’m happy enough to play around with those flavours.
The first time I heard of “fusion” cuisine I was genuinely excited about what novel pairings might be offered up – I am definitely a weird food combo enthusiast! My mind drifted to Bombay potato steamed buns and pizza tacos… But instead what I found was that fusion cuisine tends to be used as a catch-all term, or a euphemism for “we don’t really know what we’re doing with these flavourings” (the latter is certainly how I intend to use it).
At best, more subtle regional cuisines have all been fused together to form a generic “national” cuisine that often doesn’t really exist. At worst/weirdest, totally different cuisines have been tentatively combined, usually substituting one defining ingredient for another (I think the latest thing is wrapping a burrito in nori sheets) – or they awkwardly co-exist on the menu, like that Mexican-Japanese restaurant in Gran Canaria, SushiMex, where you can get a starter of sushi and follow it up with fajitas.
So technically, every night in the kitchen is a bit of a fusion challenge for me. I have certain Indian spices that I like better than others (cumin, Madras curry powder, coriander), and certain ingredients I enjoy together better than others (coconut milk and mushrooms don’t work in my head), so I will cook with them even if they normally wouldn’t be found in the same dish or if they would normally be joined by other key flavourings. If I decide I want something Mexican-flavoured, it basically means I’m cooking with smoked paprika, beans, and lime juice. A stir-fry always contains ginger, garlic, fresh chili, and soy sauce, and rarely much else because I don’t know what I’m doing.
Exhibit A: we wanted fajitas + I don’t like shop-bought tortillas because they taste of play-dough + we decided on fajitas too late to make our own tortillas = Mexican-flavoured seared tofu with sweet potato and corn-chipotle salsa, served with India-inspired chickpea pancakes. Unintentional fusion!
Lately, we’ve been keeping it simple: Ben’s been making some very good arrabiata pasta sauces, I’ve been grilling and roasting everything, and occasionally if we’re feeling like something richer and more comforting we’ll have a mango curry. So I’ve been a pretty bad blogger and despite having a month to throw something together that was a little more ostensibly “fused” (“fusioned”?) I… didn’t.
To be honest, besides the actual desire for more distinct flavours, I lacked a bit of drive as I do believe I may have reached my fusing (fusioning?!) peak about eighteen months ago.
It might not look overly refined and the photo certainly doesn’t do it justice, but this curried sweet potato tofu pizza I threw together last year when my friend Viv stayed the night before embarking on her 100km walk turned out far better than I could have imagined.
Pizza crust has never been my forte, as you can see, and the tofu was tofu (i.e. didn’t impart much flavour, but because I sautéed them lightly first they did add a bit of a chewy texture) but the sweet potato base was a revelation. I had no idea what I was making and just put things together as I went, and as my guest looked on somewhat bemused, but for some reason I decided to sauté or roast some diced sweet potato with my favourite spice pairings – probably cumin, a touch of cinnamon, and possibly a little Madras curry powder – and blend it up with a bit of creamed coconut. It was so smooth and fragrant, and the flavours shone through without stealing from any of the other ingredients. The frozen green peas were the perfect accompaniment, so green and fresh.
And speaking of green and fresh… thus concludes my first ever Vegan MoFo! Can you believe I’ve written over 30,000 words? In a month! I’ll try to remember that when dissertation time comes around… Congratulations to my fellow MoFoers and a huge, huge thank you to my readers and new e-friends I’ve made! I’ll be taking a bit of a break – and I dare say you’ll all be needing it too – but I’ll be back as soon as I can for a quick little round-up of my posts and a few words on my MoFo experience. I’ve really enjoyed it, overall, and I really hope you have too!