Military occupations are not a pleasant thing. But, one of their more fortunate side effects is the cross-cultural hybridization of gustatory traditions.
The French occupation of Vietnam gave the world bánh mì sandwiches, a culinary wonder that combines the delicate flakiness of French bread with the exotic flavor of Vietnamese cuisine.
When the Spanish traversed Mexico in search of the lost city of gold, they left behind olives and their oil, citrus, and spices from the Middle East, such as cumin, which then became an integral part of Mexican cuisine.
So, where did the Spanish Conquistadors get the cumin? Well, before becoming a colonial maritime superpower, Spain itself was invaded by a people known as the Moors, a group of people from Northern Africa.
The Spanish took a Moorish favorite, al-sikbaj, which was a dish that typically consisted of fish or other meats and vegetables cooked and simmered in a broth containing vinegar, and added a Hispanic twist.
The result was what we now know as escabeche. The Spanish take on this savory, tangy entrée is created by cooking fish, often tuna, bonito, sardines, or other fish, and soaking them in an acidic marinade overnight, after they have been cooked. The Moorish tradition of making the marinade with vinegar is generally followed, but marinades made with citrus fruit are not uncommon.
Served hot or cold, this dish has become a popular favorite throughout the world. And, though Spanish-style escabeche is traditionally made with seafood, escabeche can also be made with other meats, such as chicken and lamb, or even without any meat at all.
Jamaican escoveech, as it is called there, is made with scotch bonnet peppers, onions, carrots, and chayote, a squash-like fruit native to central America.
In Mexico, escabeche is made with white onions, carrots, white vinegar, garlic, olive oil, salt, and sugar.
Puerto Rican escabeche eschews fish in favor of chicken gizzards and cassava. Several other cultures all have their own take on this enduring Mediterranean/Arabic hybrid, too. So, maybe it owes its longevity to its adaptability.
Laughing Planet’s House Escabeche borrows more from the Mexican variety than the others. Their vegetarian blend of red onions, green beans, jalapeños and garlic, is spicy, savory and a little bit sweet. Pickled to perfection in white vinegar and sea salt, this escabeche is tangy, light, and delicious, and certainly worth a try.
[Photo Credit: norecipes]