Eat These Words


"P"

Pain Perdu

WHAT? Leftover loaf. To make pain perdu, or "lost bread," stale slices of baguette or brioche are revived by a soak in an egg and milk bath and then browned in butter until crisp. We know it as French toast in the U.S., but versions of this custardy concoction can be found throughout most of Europe. In Portugal, the dish is called rabanadas; in Spain, families tuck into honey-coated torrijas; and in England the strangely named "poor knights of Windsor" has been a delicacy since the 17th-century (when it was often doused in wine and finished with almond milk). Pain Perdu's origins are unknown, but a similar recipe appears in the writings of Roman chef Apicius from the first century A.D.. Today, New Orleans chefs have claimed pain perdu as their own, adding cinnamon and vanilla to the egg mixture and serving the dish with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and a dollop of jam or a drizzle of cane syrup. Join Nola restaurateur Dickie Brennan and his chefs at the Beard House as they reinvent this Crescent City classic as an elegant and savory crawfish pain perdu.

WHEN? May 31, 2007: Flavors of New Orleans

Paris-Brest

WHAT? A wheel treat. Since the summer of 1891—long before the Tour de France was even a twinkle in the Gallic eye—France has celebrated another arduous bicycle race, which stretches from Paris to the coastal town of Brest and back again. It took the winner of the inaugural event 72 long hours to traverse the Herculean 1,200-kilometer course, though competitors in more recent years who have forgone sleep to bike the route nonstop have completed the race in as few as 44 hours. To honor the racers in the very first Paris-Brest, a baker along the route designed a cake in the image of a bicycle wheel, naming it after the competition. Today, this ring-shaped pastry is made with pâte à choux and is traditionally filled with a praline-flavored pastry cream called crème Saint-Honoré. The delicious delicacy is finished with a dusting of powdered sugar and sprinkled with almonds.

WHEN? July 17, 2006: Louisiana Cookin’

Pavlova

WHAT? Dancer's dessert. Named for the world-famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, this fruit, whipped cream, and meringue dessert is claimed by rival nations. Aussies have long considered it their national dessert, but New Zealanders argue that they invented the Pavlova, and they back up their claim with citations from cookbooks. The dancer toured both countries in the late 1920s. In Perth, Australia, she stayed at the Esplanade Hotel, whose chef, Herbert Sachse, is often credited with creating the dessert some six years later. Supposedly the Pavlova acquired its name after someone proclaimed his dessert was "as light as Pavlova." Others think the name stems from the fact that the ring-shaped meringue resembled Pavlova's frilly, white costume in her most famous role, the Dying Swan. Pavlovas—which are showing up on American tables of late—are traditionally filled with passionfruit.

WHEN? November 2, 2002: Pierre Schutz, Vong

Peameal Bacon

WHAT? Cured pork from the Great White North. Any relationship between what’s marketed in the United States as “Canadian Bacon” and the peameal bacon it is supposed to represent is purely coincidental. According to the website of the Michigan-based Real Canadian Bacon Company, Canada’s peameal-bacon industry began at the turn of the last century, when a pork shortage in England was addressed by shipping cured boneless pork loins or “sides” to the Mother Country. In England, this cured pork was smoked and marketed as Wiltshire Sides. At some point it was discovered that a coating of ground, dried pea flour (peameal) helped preserve the integrity of the loins and prevent bacterial growth during shipping. These days peameal bacon is actually coated in cornmeal, but the name has stuck. Peameal bacon is also sometimes referred to as back bacon, because the loins come from the back of the pig, not the belly, from which most bacon comes. Peameal bacon is a cured, raw pork product that isn’t smoked. One of the best and most common ways to enjoy it is sliced thin, fried, and piled high on a fresh, crusty roll, as is the custom in Toronto’s bustling St. Lawrence Market.

WHEN? November 14, 2004: Bonnie Stern, Bonnie Stern School of Cooking, and Anthony Rose, Stissing House Restaurant & Tavern Pine Plains

Pea Shoots

WHAT? Trendy tendrils. Long used in Chinese cooking, pea shoots are just beginning to find popularity on menus in this country. The pretty green tendrils, actually the leaves and shoots of the young pea plant, are a spring delicacy in China. Pea shoots, called dau miu in their native land, may be grown from a variety of pea plants but are traditionally culled from immature snow peas. Lee Jones, who grows them at his farm in Ohio (and who has experimented with 27 varieties), says his father considers the whole thing a puzzlement. "He's an old-time farmer--you grow the peas for the peas and the corn for the corn. We harvest them at three or four inches, and he just shakes his head." Pea shoots are sweet, tender, and have a strong pea taste. You cook them as you might any green--very quickly in hot oil with, perhaps, salt, garlic, and a splash of sherry or rice wine.

WHEN? March 16, 1999: Greg Parks, Four Columns Inn; March 25, John Villa, Park View at the Boathouse

Périgord Truffle

WHAT? Black diamonds. “Nobody dares admit that he has been present at a meal where there was not at least one dish with truffles,” wrote France’s favorite foodie, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who also coined the diamond metaphor in his Physiology of Taste (1825). Truffles are mysterious, underground fungi that grow in some areas, on some trees (mostly oak), in some years. They have been known throughout history, though their popularity peaked during the nineteenth and late twentieth centuries (right up to our time). Truffles are hunted by dogs and pigs (although some people swear by flies) trained to recognize the unique, pungent truffle scent. Périgord, a region in southwest France that lies between the Vézère and Dordogne rivers, is famous for its black truffles. Their taste, which is largely determined by their aroma, has for centuries been deemed indescribable. “They seem to speak of the earth’s secrets and the forests’ riches,” suggested American food writer Barbara Kafka. Perhaps Waverly Root put it best, “Truffles taste like truffles.” One thing’s for sure, you always want to have enough truffles around—a determination contingent in large part on your net worth, since this year Périgord truffles are expected to fetch about $1,000 a pound wholesale.

WHEN? November 21, 2005: John Fraser, Greatest New York Chefs

Phosphate

WHAT? Soda's pop. Before there were bottles of Coke on every street corner, there were soda fountains on every block where soda jerks would mix carbonated water with flavored syrups and talk to each other in a cryptic food language of illusions and symbols — "burn a crowd of van" (an order for three vanilla malteds) and "bucket of mud" (for a scoop of vanilla ice cream). Some of those syrups contained phosphoric acid, a tart flavor enhancer that also added fizz. In the new lingo, these sodas became known as phosphates. Think back to old movies, and you can probably conjure up at least a couple of ice-cream-parlor scenes in which orders of cherry phosphate figure. Only the use of the name, not the practice of adding phosphoric acid to soda, waned. Today an eight ounce glass of Coke Classic, a formula developed in 1886, contains 41 milligrams of phosphorous derived from phosphoric acid.

WHEN? November 26, 1998: Stephen Gontram, Harvest

Picket-toe Crab

WHAT? From trash to cash crab. Perhaps you remember the days of menus without peekytoe crab? Once upon a time, chefs clamored for Dungeness, blue, and king, but no longer. The man credited with this sea change is Rod Mitchell, owner of the esteemed Browne Trading Company in Portland, Maine, who, in a brilliant marketing move, renamed the cancer irroratus—aka the bay or rock crab, that lobstermen had previously thrown away—peekytoe™ crab, which he sells in 7-ounce containers for $9.50. Maine locals had been calling these crabs picket or picked toe (stretch “picked” into two syllables for the correct Down East pronunciation) after the sharp point on the crab leg. The assistant to chef Kent Rathbun told us that Rathbun prefers the name “picket” to “peeky” because it jibes better with the Western theme of his restaurant. “What really makes peekytoe crabs better than other crabs is the care with which they are handled, cooked, and picked,” according to New York Times writer Marian Burros. Pickers take the crabs straight off the boat, cook them, shell them, and send them out for restaurant service the next day. Moreover, peekytoe are picked by individual home pickers, rather than in a big warehouse. Burros compared a container of home-picked peekytoe to one of Maine commercial crabmeat and found 10 pieces of shell in the commercial, but none in the peekytoe.

WHEN? December 1, 2003: Kent Rathbun, Abacus and Jasper’s

Pig's Trotters

WHAT? British for pig's feet. Trotters "are a favorite food around the world," according to James Beard, who noted their popularity on American farmhouse tables in the 18th and 19th centuries. Beard praised their "delicious flavor, tender texture, and pleasing gelatinous quality" and suggested serving them alongside barbecued pig's tails, ("much neglected and so thoroughly good"). No part of the pig escapes the attention of Larousse Gastronomique either. In a lengthy section on offal, France's classic cookbook includes instructions for two versions of a treasured French dishtruffled pig's feet (pieds de porc truffés). Some history: The 15th century King Charles VII is said to have acquired a taste for trotters during a stop in Sainte-Menehould and after had them added to the menu at court. Almost 200 years later, Poland's King Stanislaw created a craze for pig's feet in Paris, while across the channel, Eliza Acton included a recipe in Modern Cookery (1845). It's best to cook trotters slowly; some recipes suggest braising them for as much as 40 hours. They can also be eaten pickled and smoked.

WHEN? November 10, 1999: Tim Goodell, Aubergine and Troquet

Piloncillo

WHAT? Sugar cone. Mexicans have long used piloncillo to sweeten their café de olla, an earthy espresso invigorated by cinnamon and citrus. Also known in South America as panela or panocha, piloncillo is cane sugar juice that has been melted into a dense syrup and then poured into cone-shaped molds. Once solid, these small caramel-colored cylinders are pliable enough to be grated, usually with the side of a serrated knife, or crushed in a molcajete (a traditional mortar and pestle). Piloncillo imparts a unique flavor with hints of smoky molasses and deep mineral notes that distinguish it from traditional refined white sugar. Renowned modern Mexican chef Richard Sandoval uses the versatile ingredient in savory dishes like seared sesame-crusted tuna or on crunchy buñelos layered with fresh whipped cream. Alejandro Rojas of Sal y Fuego will highlight this exotic sugar at the Beard House with flambéed finger bananas.

WHEN? May 1, 2007: Alejandro Rojas, Mayan Riviera Dinner

Pimento Sandwiches

WHAT? Sentimental sandwich. Pimento sandwiches are “an exceptionally emotional food for Southerners,” according to Jenny Brule, in Second Round: Tea-Time at the Masters. They are, she continued, the South’s “summertime soul food.” A longtime staple on Southern picnics, pimento sandwiches are typically served on white bread, which is spread with a paste made from mayonnaise; chopped, canned pimentos; and Cheddar cheese, making for a “simple, piquant, utterly addictive combination,” according to a paean to the sandwich written for Gourmet by James Villas. (The article won a Beard Foundation Award in 2000). Cherished recipes variously add Worcestershire, cayenne, hot pepper sauce, chopped celery, hard-boiled eggs, or lemon, and devotees hotly debate the merits of each. The sandwich seems to have been well-established by 1927 when two recipes for it appeared in Salads and Sandwiches: Being a Collection of 150 Tested Recipes for Home Cookery Arranged by Month. And it’s creeping back onto fashionable menus today—this month at the Beard House, as well as at the trendy Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar in Manhattan, which offers patrons crocks of tangy pimento-cheese spread with bread. But, laments Villas, “the sad irony is that I’ve still never quite succeeded at creating what I perceive to be the ideal spread. I’m not alone, for if you challenge any honest southerner to augur once and for all a definition of the world’s perfect pimento cheese, the elusive and frustrating response remains the same: Mom’s.”

WHEN? December 21, 2004: Angelo Vangelopoulos, The Ivy Inn Restaurant

Pineau des Charentes
[pee-NOH day shah-RAHNT]

WHAT? The accidental appertif. Legend has it that this sweet blend of wine and cognac was created by accident in Burie, France in 1589. A winemaker mistakenly poured grape juice into a barrel that already contained some cognac. The man stuck the barrel in a corner and forgot about it until a few years later. Upon draining the barrel, he made a happy discovery: the liquid inside had been transformed into a beautiful, fruity blend. Today, Pineau des Charentes is drunk as an aperitif and dessert wine. Made from three parts grape juice to one part cognac, it is strictly governed by a committee of tasters, who have the power to approve or disapprove the blend. According to committee rules, the two components must be from the same vineyard. Pineau des Charentes, which can be either white or rosé, is the only liquor with two appellations contrôlées, one for the area and one for the cognac.

WHEN? September 11, 2004: Memphis Friends of James Beard Benefit, Bon Appétit Y’all

Pipette

WHAT? A dose of flavor. From sushi-flavored edible paper to prosciutto cotton candy, chefs all over the world are using tools usually found in scientific laboratories to create cutting-edge food. “In this realm,” wrote Frank Bruni in the New York Times, “centrifuges, dehydrators and chemical and technological transmogrification of food are not reviled methods of corporate kitchens, but paths to discovery.” Ferran Adrià of El Bulli in Spain, for example, uses liquid nitrogen to make his caipirinhas. José Andrés of Minibar at Café Atlantico in Washington, D.C., serves a lightbulb made of spun sugar. And Homaro Cantu of Moto in Chicago has tried to make his food levitate with a hand-held ion particle gun. One avant-garde, though less futuristic, tool that recently we’ve been seeing more of is the pipette, a dainty dropper usually used in labs to transport small volumes of liquids. On the plate, pipettes provide diners with a tiny, but powerful, boost of flavor in an innovative presentation.

WHEN? July 12, 2006: James Wierzelewski, Softshell Crab Extravaganza

Pipikaula
[pip-EE-kow-lah]

WHAT? Hawaiian beef jerky. A traditional nibble at a Lu‘ au feast, pipikaula did, in fact, evolve from beef jerky. According to Time-Life’s Pacific and Southeast Asian Cooking, islanders were introduced to the snack by Yankee whalers who plied the seas around Hawaii. Traditionally, strips of beef are marinated in salt, soy sauce, and garlic, then dried outdoors in a screened box that keeps flies away. Contemporary recipes often give instructions for cooking in a very low oven. "Pipi," by the way, is the Hawaiian word for beef or cow; "kaula" the word for rope. It’s neither here nor there, but we were interested to learn that Tibetans make their own version of jerky from yak meat.

WHEN? January 26, 2002: George Mavrothalassitis, Chef Mavro

Piri Piri
[PEER-ree PEER-ree]

WHAT? Peripatetic peppers. According to Jean Anderson's The Food of Portugal, "The Portuguese can't get enough of [these incendiary peppers] so they keep bottles of Molho de Piri-piri (a sauce somewhat like Tabasco) on the table alongside the salt and pepper, then sprinkle this liquid fire over virtually everything—French fries, steamed greens, shellfish." The word piri piri comes from the Swahili for "pepper pepper," and their path to Portugal was circuitous. In an article about the pepper, www.fieryfoods.com explained: Christopher Columbus brought the seeds back from the New World. Portuguese traders took them to their African colonies, where they spread faster than molten chocolate cakes on Manhattan menus. Eventually, a taste for the hot stuff migrated back to Portugal from Angola.

WHEN? December 3, 2002: John Villa and Daniel Rundell, Pico

Pitahaya
[pee-TA-ya]

WHAT? Freakish Fruit. Pitahaya, aka pitaya, aka dragon fruit, looks like an “outlandishly flaming pink…artichoke from Mars,” according to “Fruit Detective” David Karp in the Los Angeles Times. Karp is credited with familiarizing Americans with pitahaya, which has been grown commercially in Central America and Southeast Asia for some time. The fruit of the pitahaya cactus, pitahaya is native to tropical forests in Latin America, and has recently been planted in Southern California. Karp says the fruit tastes like a cross between a watermelon and a strawberry while the texture and the seeds resemble those of a kiwi. Pitahaya flesh ranges from white to red to violet. The fruit is typically eaten fresh, but it has also been used in sorbets and ice cream and is an ingredient in the soft drinks Fire, by Snapple, and Dragon, by SoBe Beverages.

WHEN? April 23, 2004: Michael Cordúa, Américas

Poke
[po-kay]

WHAT? Sashimi, Hawaiian–style. The Hawaiian word for “cut crosswise into pieces,” poke is also one of Hawaii’s most beloved dishes. Poke was originally developed as a way to preserve local seafood: the fish was cut, salted, and seasoned for extended shelf life. In its most basic and traditional form, poke combines cubes of raw ahi tuna, limu seaweed, ground kukui nuts, and sea salt. Sliced green onions, chile peppers, and soy sauce are more recent additions that reflect the 50th state’s melting-pot status. Once primarily served in the home, this island favorite can now be found everywhere from Hawaii’s supermarkets to the pupu, or appetizer, menu in fine-dining restaurants. Poke reached celebrity status in 1991 when local luminary and poke promoter Sam Choy (who calls the dish Hawaii’s “soul food”) started the Annual Poke Festival and Recipe Contest. Now in its 14th year, the contest has inspired thousands of amateur and professional chefs and has helped expand the definition of poke to include any dish containing diced and seasoned seafood.

WHEN? November 26, 2005: Ben Smith, Seafood Spectacular

Pommes de Terre Parmentier
[pom duh tehr PAHR-mon-tyay]

WHAT? Promotional potatoes. If it weren’t for Antoine-Auguste Parmentier, there would be no such thing as French fries. This 18th-century economist and agronomist spent much of his career trying to popularize the tuber, which most French feared or disliked. Parmentier had been exposed to potatoes while a prisoner in Prussia during the Seven Years War, and he knew from experience that they were harmless, tasty, and economical—important qualities at a time when famine was rampant. As a free man, Parmentier tried to popularize the potato through a number of methods, including hosting potato-themed dinners for royalty and other high society; Benjamin Franklin is rumored to have attended one. Parmentier also wrote a Treatise on the Growing and Use of Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, and Jerusalem Artichokes. After the fall of the Bastille, potatoes were grown in the Tuileries to help feed starving Republicans. These days, Parmentier can refer to any dish in which potatoes are included. It also frequently means potatoes cut into 1/2-inch cubes, sometimes tossed with butter and parsley.

WHEN? May 17, 2004: Christian Mir and Roman Roth

Pot-au-Feu
[poh-toh-FEUH]

WHAT? A "pot on the fire." Much more than the earthenware or cast-iron pot it is cooked in, pot-au-feu refers to a hearty, family-style French dish of meat (usually beef or chicken, with the addition of marrowbones, veal, pork, or mutton) and vegetables (traditionally carrots, turnips, celery, onions, and leeks) that is slowly cooked in water or consommé. The rich and meaty broth that results is served with crisp croutons or pasta as a first course, followed by a main course of the meat and vegetables, which is accompanied by mustard or horseradish and cornichons.

WHEN? September 28, 1998: Pascal Olhats, Restaurant Pascal, Newport Beach, CA

Pouilly-Fumè
[poo-yee few-MAY]

WHAT? Not what you're thinking. Many wine dilettantes confuse this grassy white wine from the central part of France's Loire Valley with the pretentiously expensive and even-more-difficult-to-pronounce Pouilly-Fuissé [fwee-SAY] of Burgundy's Maconnais region. The former is a crisp, tart 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc wine often described as having a smoky (fumè in French) or flinty flavor. The latter is a lightly oaked 100 percent Chardonnay wine that became de rigueur in expensive French restaurants in the United States during the 1950s and '60s. In the hands of the best producers, both wines can be exquisite.

WHEN? January 7, 1999: Rad Matmati, American Park at the Battery

Poulet Rouge
[poo-LAY roozh]

WHAT? Tastes like chicken. Though cross-breeding and industrialization have led to the proliferation of bland commercial poultry on American dinner tables, several alternatives have cropped up from some innovative U.S. food companies. One such example is the Poulet Rouge, modeled after the French Label Rouge program. Created over 40 years ago by farmers in Landes in Southwestern France who wanted to differentiate their traditionally raised poultry from its increasingly industrialized counterparts, Label Rouge dictates not only that its chickens are heritage breeds, but that they are raised on a specially formulated all-grain diet, raised in roomy houses, and spend a certain amount of time outdoors. In 2005 Joyce Foods, a specialty producer of all-natural poultry and game in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, introduced their version of the fine French birds—raised from the same breeding stock, the red-feathered cou nu (literally "naked neck") chicken, and according to the same exacting standards. Like their French siblings, the American birds take twice the amount of time to grow as commercial chickens (70 to 84 days as opposed to 40 to 42 days), which allows their immune systems to develop enough so that they can spend a significant amount of time outdoors. In addition to their signature featherless necks, Poulet Rouge chickens are characterized by smaller, elongated breasts and long legs. The meat is dark and firm with a deep chicken flavor, and the thin, parchment-like skin crisps up nicely when cooked. This premium poultry costs about three times what you would pay for chicken from the supermarket, proving that you get what you pay for.

WHEN? November 3, 2007: Farm to Table

Pousse-Pied
[poos PYAY]

WHAT? Aquatic asparagus. Popeye may have preferred spinach, but the seafaring vegetarian’s dish of choice is pousse-pied. These briny green branches are known by many aliases, including salicornia, glasswort, marsh samphire, sea pickles, and sea beans. The American species (a different one grows in Europe) is indigenous to both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Depending on their environment, some varieties have spiky green leaves that give the plant the appearance of a small, skinny, bald cactus; others look like Chinese long beans. Pousse-pied can be found from late spring through fall, and are best eaten when fresh. To preserve them throughout the year, chefs often pickle them. Stretching the asparagus theme, chef Franck Deletrain will be using pousse-pied to accent a white asparagus salad.

WHEN? May 23, 2006: Franck Deletrain, Softshell Crab and White Asparagus Dinner

Pruneau d’Agen
[proo-NOH DAHJZ-on]

WHAT? Not your ordinary dried plums. While the lexicon police at the California Dried Plum Board are busy making sure nobody in America uses the word “prune,” the equivalent French agency, the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Pruneau, is making sure nobody applies the term “pruneau d’Agen” to anything other than the plump, moist, intensely sweet prunes produced under their auspices in southwestern France. Patriotism aside, in terms of flavor, sweetness, and texture, there’s little in common between the two dried fruits. Mentioned by Virgil, prized by ancient Syrians, and celebrated as part of the national culinary patrimony of France, pruneau d’Agen are truly a noble snack. Ripe plums are harvested between mid-August and mid-September. They are washed in spring water and dried in wind tunnels at about 100°F. for 20 hours to simulate the sun-drying that was once the norm. The resulting prunes have a moisture content between 21 and 23 percent, which makes them soft and supple but shelf-stable. Because of their high level of antioxidants, concentrated, fat-free energy (which doesn’t spike blood sugar), and laxative effects, www.pruneau.fr recommends French prunes for everyone from pregnant women, to athletes, to smokers, to senior citizens. We recommend them to anyone who likes prunes...um...we mean dried plums.

WHEN? October 1, 2003: Cornelius Gallagher, Oceana

Pu Erh

WHAT? Aged infusion. A rare and ancient tea from Yunnan, China, pu erh is decidedly not for the dilettante. Its intensely earthy taste “can be a difficult tea for Western palates to appreciate,” according to Tea Basics by Wendy Rasmussen and Ric Rhinehart, which might be because, as Tomislav Podreka says in Serendipitea, the “defining element is their age, bacteria, and slight state of rot.” In processing the tea, pu erh leaves are aged in caves, and some are permitted to rot. The company Tea Emporium notes in its sales materials that “Pu-erh, like wine, is the only tea that gains character through aging.” The Chinese drink it to cure diarrhea and indigestion, and to offset high cholesterol, which is why pu erh is sometimes referred to as Chinese penicillin.

WHEN? April 13, 2003: Sanford 11th Annual Friends of James Beard Benefit

Pulque

WHAT? Tequila’s padre. This milky, foamy, sour, and slightly viscous drink is made by fermenting aguamiel, the sap of the maguey or agave plant (distill it and you get tequila). Sometimes, pineapples, peanuts, celery, or citrus are added as flavorings. The drink is at least 2,000 years old, and it played important social, economic, and religious roles in the pre-Hispanic civilizations of the central highlands of meso-America. It was said that the Aztec goddess of fertility, Mayahuel, the mother of the gods—collectively Centzon Totochtin (400 rabbits)—entered the heart of the maguey, and her blood flowed out when aguamiel was gathered. Her sons, the Centzon Totochtin, were thought to be responsible for drunkenness, and each one of the rabbits represented the different forms intoxication could take. According to the myth, pulque was discovered by the opossum, the world’s first drunk. With his human-like hands, he dug into the maguey and extracted the fermented aguamiel. Pulque was the favorite drink among many Mexicans up until the 1920s, when the government tried to eradicate the beverage, which it considered stupefying and unhygienic. There’s also speculation that the authorities took bribes from businessmen in the rising beer industry. Since then, pulque has been vindicated. Still, if you ask for a Corona in a Manhattan restaurant, you’ll get a nice cold brewski. If you ask for pulque, no one will know what you’re talking about.

WHEN? February 19, 2004: Patricia Quintana, Izote

Pumpkin Seed Oil

WHAT? Liquid green gold. Although pumpkins were first brought from America to Spain by Christopher Columbus, it was in Austria that the squash really took root. It wasn’t the deep orange flesh of the squash that interested the Styrians in the southeast of the country, however, it was the seeds, or more specifically, the oil the seeds contained. After some 300 years of cultivation in Styria, Cucurbita pepo produces a yellow-green pumpkin heavy with seeds that don’t grow a protective coating, making extraction easier. After harvesting, drying, and lightly roasting, the seeds are cold-pressed to produce the dark green oil that has become a staple in Austrian cooking. (About 5 1/2 pounds of seeds are required to produce one liter of oil.) The oil has a rich texture and deep, nutty taste. It is used to dress salads, to condiment fish and meat, and as an ingredient in a variety of spreads and dips. Increasingly, pumpkin seed oil is being marketed as a dietary supplement, for it contains vitamins A, B1, B, B6, C, D, E, and K, minerals, unsaturated fats, and vegetable proteins, and is thought to guard against bladder and prostate problems, as well as to lower cholesterol.

WHEN? February 7, 2004: Patrick Frawley, Thalia

Puntarelle
[poon-ta-REL-lay]

WHAT? Wild greens. Until very recently, this unusual ancient Roman vegetable, a relative of chicory, was available only in Italy. And even there it was known only in select geographic pockets. But now that puntarelle is being grown in the United States, chefs are rapidly incorporating it into their Mediterranean-inspired menus, noted New York Times reporter Paula Disbrowe. The unwieldy puntarelle grows in bunches that look like a cross between celery and dandelion greens. Along the long fleshy central core of each stem grow rows of short, pointy, triangular leaves. The whole thing, stem, core, leaves, and all, is eaten raw, usually in salads. Puntarelle has a delicate, peppery flavor, similar to arugula but greener tasting, and a refreshing crispness. In Rome, it is traditionally served with an anchovy sauce.

WHEN? May 14, 2001: Scott Conant, City Eatery

Pupusas
[poo-POO-sahs]

WHAT? Piquant pockets. Referred to as “a distant cousin of the empanada” by Rob McKeown of the Boston Phoenix and “the world’s most overlooked pancake” by the Village Voice’s Robert Sietsema, pupusas are less well known than their Mexican counterparts, but just as tasty. A staple food in El Salvador, pupusas are thick, handmade corn tortillas made with masa harina (a dried hominy flour) and water. Traditional pupusa preparation calls for kneading the ingredients together before slapping the dense dough into disks and frying them on the griddle until hot and golden brown. Before cooking, pupusas are often stuffed with savory fillings such as quesillo, a mild, white cheese, fried pork rinds, braised chicken, refried beans, or loroco, an edible Central American flower. The snacks are usually served with curtido, a pickled cabbage slaw, and salsa. Pupusas were brought to the United States by El Salvadoran immigrants and they are sold in pupuserías in cities across the country.

WHEN? May 31, 2006: The D.C. All-Stars

Purslane

WHAT? In the weeds. The Forme of Cury, the earliest known English cookbook (published around 1390 by Richard II's cooks), asks for "purslarye" in a salad recipe; colonists brought the plant to America, where they used it as an herb and pickled it for a condiment; and a few sources say it was Ghandi's favorite vegetable. It's a main ingredient in fattoush, a Middle-Eastern bread salad, and Arabs once believed that if sprinkled around the bed, the small, oval-shaped leaves could chase away erotic dreams. (Why they'd want to, we don't know.) At some point in this country, purslane fell into disfavor. Waverly Root quotes a certain William Cobett on purslane in 1819: "a mischievous weed that Frenchmen and pigs eat when they can get nothing else." Happily, American chefs are rediscovering the herb's subtly tart pleasures.

WHEN? June 24, 1999: Kathy Cary, Finbar Kinsella, Josh Lococo, Lilly's