WHAT? If you take two of these tablets, you’ll certainly be better in the morning. That’s because a Scottish tablet is a sort of fudge: grainy, creamy, white candy that can be flavored with practically anything, including cinnamon, ginger, rose, lemon, or orange. Some Scots even stir in nuts. Once formed, the mass is cut into little pieces, or “tablets.”
WHAT? Persian prize. In France, the omelette is said to be the measure of a good cook. In Iran, it’s the tahddeg (alternately tahdeeg or tah dig), the crusty bit that Iranian cooks intentionally let form at the bottom of a pot of rice. As Margaret Shaida writes in The Legendary Cuisine of Persia, “The crusty bottom of the rice is considered a great delicacy in Iran and is much sought after. It is rich, crisp, and tasty, and has a habit of disappearing in the kitchen before it ever reaches the table: the many helpers who always appear on the scene when the rice is being dished up exact a price for their assistance, which is often paid unwittingly with a crunchy piece of tahdeeg. Nevertheless, the cook usually prevails to keep most of it intact. It’s important that she should because the golden tahdeeg is the ultimate proof of her ability to prepare perfect rice.” Iranian cooks make the tahdeeg by mixing a bit of parboiled rice with egg, or yogurt, or slices of potato, or stale bread “to make a sort of batter that they spread, crêpe-like over the bottom of the oiled pot,” Kimberly Decker wrote on foodproductsdesign.com. “There, it sizzles into a crackling, caramelized crust.”
WHAT? Japanese corn-dog. No Japanese street fair or festival would be complete without takoyaki, a fried doughy ball filled with octopus. Incidentally, "tako" means octopus, and "yaki" means grilled, as in "yakitori," an item that is far more common on American menus. Takoyaki are cooked in what look like small, iron muffin tins. It's hot work, turning the jawbreaker-sized balls so that they cook evenly. Once they're ready, each ball is pierced with a toothpick (for neater eating), slathered with a sticky brown sauce, and sprinkled with bonita (fish) flakes. A Dictionary of Japanese Food describes takoyaki as "a simple, popular snack requiring strong powers of digestion." But an American friend who lived in Japan for seven years strongly disagreed: "We always searched them out. I liked everything about them-the crispiness on the outside, the gooeyness of the eggy batter on the inside, and the little surprise bit in the center," she said. "It was like a prize getting to that morsel of chewy octopus."
WHAT? Port with pallor. When blended ports are aged for extended periods of time in wood, they lighten in color and develop a more gentle flavor than their vintage cousins. These ports, described as "tawny" and sometimes referred to as "wood-aged," are smoother and lighter than most other wines from Portugal's Oporto region. But the best tawnies, aged 10 to 40 years or more, command impressive prices. The blends can be made from different grape varieties of different vintages but because of the long aging process, the flavors mingle to produce a singularly sensational libation.
WHAT? Greybeard grain. An ancient Ethiopian grain that is relatively unknown in the United States, teff is a "cultural artifact, the living equivalent of an arrowhead or a carved mask," according to a biologist quoted in All-American Waves of Grain by authors Barbara Grunes and Virginia Van Vynckt. Since prehistoric times, Ethiopians have used teff, which they grind into a flour, to make injera, the sour, spongy pancake-like bread that is daily fare in that country. Ethiopia is the only place in the world where the grain is a staple. Teff is related to millet, but smallereach grain is littler than a pinhead. Grunes and Van Vynckt write that teff has a "pleasantly robust flavor like wheat, tea, and hay rolled into one."
WHAT? Hawaiian Ubiqui-Ti. As reported in Culinaria: The United States (Könemann), it is assumed that smooth-leaved green ti plant, a member of the agave family also found in Australia and Asia, was first introduced to Hawaii by migratory birds. In Hawaii both the edible roots and the sizable leaves, which radiate from a single stem, were used by the natives to full advantage: for hula skirts and sandals, as thatch for roofs, as all-purpose carryalls, and as talismans against evil spirits. Their use in food preparation continues to this day. The boiled liquor of the root is distilled into both a beer and a harder alcohol, and the fibrous leaves, which have a sweet taste when chewed, are used not only as serving plates, but also to wrap food that is steamed or roasted, such as the traditional luau foods laulau and kalua pork.
WHAT? American trifle. Tipsy pudding, tipsy cake, tipsy parson, and tipsy squire were names given in America, often in the South, to a dessert very like England’s trifle. In I Hear America Cooking, Betty Fussell describes the New World designation as a “19th-century vulgarization” of the original name. The tipsy presumably refers to the state of the pudding eaters after enjoying the generous amount of sherry (or Madeira) used to make the dessert. Traditionally, tipsy pudding is sponge cake soaked in sherry and served with custard and, often, almonds; trifle typically adds fruit, jam, and whipped cream, all layered in a cut-glass bowl. In modern recipes, the distinction between the two seems to disappear. Writing in Ladyfingers & Nun’s Tummies, Martha Burnette proposed that tipsy pudding is one of a series of culinary names that “suggest a certain love-hate relationship with certain clergy...a certain delight that pious folks may slip up and succumb to worldly inducements like the rest of us.”
WHAT? The new lemongrass. We thought we had spotted a trend. First, there were the tobacco-flavored millennial chocolates at Richart with a subtle, smoky aftertaste. Next, Michael Lomonaco told us he'd be serving tobacco onion rings at his Beard House dinner. Could smoked John Dory with tobacco oil or tobacco-flecked ice-cream with menthol be far behind? Alas, it turned out Lomonaco wasn't referring to a seasoning trend. "It's just a very thinly sliced sweet onion dusted with a flour and spice mixture and deep fried until they are the color of aged Connecticut tobacco," said Lomonaco, a non-smoker. "It's a beautiful, rich, organic, earthy color." He cuts the onions in a manner known in tobacco-making circles as the navy cut. As for the chocolates, Richart spokeswoman Linda Tang said the bonbon in question is filled with tobacco and Madagascar Trinitario cocoa ganache. For his exotic Millennial Collection, "Mr. Richart traveled the world for the best of the best," she said. Among the other chocolates in the set is one filled with royal jelly, another with Bulgarian rose petals and mimosa blossoms, and a third with fleur de sel.
WHAT? French pastry. As is so often the case with French words, tourtière means something slightly different in France than it does in French Canada. In Paris the word tourtière is obscure. It refers to a generic meat pie (sometimes also called a tourte) in a pastry crust that's baked in a mold called a tourtière. (Like tagine, terrine, and tian, the name of the dish comes from the name of the vessel in which it is cooked.) In Montréal, tourtière refers to a specific meat pie, usually ground pork, that's seasoned with cinnamon and clove and baked in a lard crust. It is traditional at Christmas, but it is eaten throughout the year. There are regional variations, such as the tourtières made along the Saguenay River that are filled with potatoes, onions, and cubed meat. Whereas in France it's unlikely to find someone who has ever had a tourtière, in French Canada, just about everyone has probably had one within the last year.
WHAT? Easy as uno, dos, tres. Pastel de tres leches, "tres leches" for short, is a dessert that just doesn’t know when to quit. This gooey confection contains a butter cake that is perforated and soaked with a combination of heavy cream and evaporated and condensed milks, and then topped with meringue frosting or whipped cream. Sometimes it is also topped with cajeta, a sweet caramel made from goat’s milk, or doused with coconut milk—making it cuatro or cinco leches, accordingly. The history of tres leches is ambiguous: although it has been embraced by Miami’s Cuban community, scholars place its origins in either Nicaragua, Mexico, or Guatemala. In Texas Monthly, Patricia Sharpe wrote that this "insanely rich" cake possibly originated with a "promotional recipe once distributed in Latin America, perhaps on cans of evaporated milk or with a brand of electric mixer." Tres leches is certainly doing its part to promote dairy products. As Sharpe writes, it’s "definitely got milk."
WHAT? To tell the trouchia: A soufflé may be “just eggs,” according to the old VW commercial, but a trouchia is just eggs and swiss chard and onions—with a little salt and pepper thrown in. Let the rest of Provence make their omelettes with tomatoes and artichokes, pooh-poohs the didactic website la_provence_et_a_vous.com. The traditional trouchia is a specialty of Nice, where slices of it are sold and eaten cold on the street. The same website dismisses as “amateurs” those who ask for their trouchia to be warmed up. Of course, people tinker with the recipe, adding grated cheese here, a touch of nutmeg there. Some professionals (like Andy D’Amico, for example), even serve it warm. But one thing’s for sure, without Swiss chard, a trouchia it is not.
WHAT? A true Norman’s stomach settler. In Normandy, home of Camembert and other decadent delicacies, meals can stretch on for many hours—and many, many courses. Even the most intrepid gourmand has been known to suffer from a bout of indigestion before the feast is fini. Thankfully, Normandy is also home to an abundance of apples from which the strong apple brandy, Calvados, is made. Not only is Calvados featured in Norman desserts and savory sauces, but it is also used to help revive languishing appetites. Le trou normand (literally, “a Norman hole”) is a pause between dishes in a multi-course meal during which diners partake of a glass of Calvados or Calvados-soaked apple sorbet. The brandy not only helps make room for the remaining courses, but also aids in digestion. The practice of consuming this mid-prandial spacemaker is said to be over 200 centuries old.
WHAT? Poor man’s saffron. The golden rhizome of Curcumadomestica, better known as turmeric, was first used in dishes with religious significance by the ancient Vedic culture in India some four thousand years ago. Today it plays a dual role as a spice—popular in curries, pickles, and prepared mustard—and as a dye. If you’ve only ever purchased turmeric from a grocery store, you might not be aware that freshly ground turmeric has a distinctive flavor, somewhere between mustard and ginger. The color of turmeric is so intense that it’s not uncommon for saffron robes in India to be dyed with turmeric, and practical home cooks know to wear yellow on curry-making days to avoid permanent stains. White turmeric, a rare, pale cousin of yellow turmeric, is eaten fresh as a delicacy in northern Thailand.
WHAT? Proud punch. If "I want to see the Guggenheim" is the only w(h)ine you know from Basque country, just wait until you try this light, clean-tasting white. According to Basque chef and The Basque Table author Teresa Barrenechea, txakolí is practically the Basque national drink. Made from either of the area's two indigenous grapes, the getariako txakolina or the bizkaiko txakolina, which grow along the region's rugged coastline, the wine is vinified to be refreshingly acidic, low in alcohol, and sometimes slightly sparkling. Don't let the Euskeran spelling scare youIt's easier to drink than it is to pronounce.
WHAT? The first fusion dish? As it is interpreted in the Ashkenazi Jewish culinary canon, tzimmes is a long-cooking stew of vegetables, fruits (almost always prunes), sugar or honey, and often meat. In Him with His Foot In His Mouth and Other Stories, Saul Bellow recounts a joke about a Jew who walks into a restaurant, points to a spot on the stained tablecloth and says, "What's this? Tzimmes? Bring me some." On the way out, the cashier points to a similar spot on the man's tie and says "You ate tzimmes." The customer belches and she says, "Ah, you had radishes, too." Tzimmes is also colloquial Yiddish for "mess" or "hullabaloo," similar in usage to the French bordel and the Italian casino.