Ingredient TM_IN_TAHINI_FI_001

I sometimes feel bad for tahini. It’s one of those pantry orphans, an ingredient you bought with the best intentions of using only to let it sit untouched on the shelf. Perhaps you once scooped out a spoonful to make your own hummus or drizzled a bit over roasted broccoli for dinner. But then you ran out of ideas, forgot about it, and neglected that poor jar of tahini in the back of your refrigerator. Or worse, you left it in your pantry to spoil.

While it may be essential to many signature Middle Eastern dishes, tahini still remains foreign to many home cooks. Aside from hummus, tahini isn’t commonly utilized in the American kitchen – partly because people aren’t entirely sure what tahini even is.

Though it’s never called sesame butter, that’s essentially what tahini is – much like peanut or almond butters. A paste made from ground sesame seeds, tahini is creamy and nutty, with the same mouth-coating consistency as peanut butter and its own pleasantly bitter taste. MORE

Ingredient TM_IN_RUTAB_FI_001

The Rutabaga. It sounds like the name of a retro car, like a cross between a Studebaker and a Winnebago. It might just be me, but this inconspicuous root vegetable is puzzling, and frankly, doesn’t look any more appealing than a Studebaker-Winnebago hybrid would. A waxy turnip-like nub that’s slightly purple-brown in color, the only thing that caught my eye about the humble vegetable was its price – on sale for 99 cents per pound. I loaded up my grocery basket with rutabagas.

Soon, I found myself in a conundrum, as I often do. As a thrifty shopper, my budget decides what I pick up in the grocery store, which usually includes in-season produce that, sometimes, is unrecognizable to me. Which is why I was staring at three pounds of rutabagas in my kitchen without the slightest clue what to do with them. I had never even eaten a rutabaga before, let alone cooked one. Are you supposed to peel it? Which side is the top? Clearly, I needed help. So I began researching recipes online, trying to find something to do with this week’s sale item.
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Ingredient TM_IN_CHILE_FI_001

Halfway into my first real Midwestern winter, it’s taking some creativity to figure out how to do warm, comforting meals night after night without everything tasting too rich, hefty and well, boring. There are only so many soups I can blend without craving something chunky and textured, and don’t ask me to make yet another delicious but depressingly dull roast.

Enter the dried chile pepper. Most commonly known for their starring roles in salsas and sauces, dried chiles are a great way to bring heat, complexity and warmth to any dish, without the weight of roasted veggies and thick stews.

Living and cooking in Texas for the past eight years, I generally took the nuances of many varieties of chile pepper for granted. Since moving up north, I’ve noticed that many menus in the Midwest tend to lump all kinds of dried peppers into one generic “chile pepper” category. Yet each kind of pepper has a unique personality, and once you become adept at incorporating them into your meals at home, it’s easy to appreciate the subtle nuances between the guajillo, pasilla, chipotle or ancho.
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Ingredient TM_IN_KOREAN_FI_003

“Westernizing a cuisine isn’t all that challenging,” said Jonathon Deutsch, program director of Drexel University’s Center for Hospitality and Sport Management. “You take an ingredient, add a new sauce, and make it your own dish.”

That may be true in theory, but after decades of Asian fusion experiments and attempted innovations, the list of success stories when East meets West is a relatively short one. Asian fusion, after all, is a wide umbrella that includes items such as Cheesecake Factory’s SkinnyLicious® Asian Chicken Salad, California Pizza Kitchen’s Thai Chicken pizza, and Buffalo Wild Wings’ Asian Zing® wings.

Still, nothing seems to extinguish the burning desire of the American chef to bring Asian flavors into mainstream Western dishes. Which is why I recently found myself in a kitchen with a bunch of Drexel culinary students and their professor Mike Traud as they prepared their final projects for the term’s Korean Cuisine class. The assignment was one we all imagine lies behind Subway’s Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki Sandwich: Create a take on a classic Western dish using Korean ingredients. MORE

Ingredient TM_FP_SCRAPPLE_FI_001

When I was a child, no breakfast was better than a scrapple breakfast. I preferred a plateful of the crispy, savory mystery meat to any bowl of Lucky Charms or stack of chocolate chip pancakes. But then, when I was 10 years old, I learned what scrapple really was.

Honestly, I could have lived happily without ever figuring out what constituted one of my favorite breakfast foods. Surely, most of us could. In case you’ve lived into adulthood in blissful ignorance, this is how scrapple is made: Pork scraps — everything from skins and hearts to livers and tongues — are combined with flour, cornmeal, and spices, then molded into a one-pound brick. It’s not the best food for people who insist on knowing exactly what is in what they’re eating, and certainly isn’t for those that are particularly health-conscious.

I always wondered if there were many scrapple lovers who appreciated it as much as I did. MORE

Ingredient TM_IN_SWPOT_FI_003

The great American sweet potato. We all recognize it as a staple of any Thanksgiving dinner, and see sweet potato fries now offered as a healthier alternative to white potato ones at almost every restaurant. They’re even showing up more often as a substitute in traditional potato salad recipes. But though the orange-fleshed vegetable is an occasional visitor for lunch and dinner, we almost never see it on our plates before noon.
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Ingredient TM_IN_TOMAT_FI_001

When it comes to summer cooking, I often find myself falling into the same monotonous rut. Fish. Salad. Burger. Repeat. When it’s over 100 degrees outside, everyday tasks like making dinner turn tedious, and up until recently, very few things get me inspired enough to set up shop up in my tiny, poorly ventilated apartment kitchen.

Until I started paying attention to the tomatillo. MORE

Ingredient TM_IN_RADISH_FI_002

If you grow your own vegetables, have a CSA, or shop at a farmer’s market, you’ve already experienced the seasonal abundance of radishes. You’ve done all you can imagine to use them up. You’ve eaten them raw — sliced into salads, layered onto sandwiches, garnishing the top of tacos. You’ve pickled jar after jar to save for later in the year. And now, you’re frankly just tired of dealing with them. You want nothing more than for the fresh corn, tomatoes, and peaches of summer to arrive.

I understand, I do. But don’t be too quick to bid radishes adieu. You’re likely not really bored of the actual radishes; you’re only bored of how you’re eating them. It’s time to mix up your radish routine — these vibrant and spicy bulbous root vegetables can, and should, be enjoyed in more than just salads. MORE

Ingredient TM_CK_SUNCH_FI_001

Celebrities go through identity crises and need to reinvent themselves all the time. Rarely do vegetables face the same problem. But for the Jerusalem artichoke, the rebranding process has been crucial to its revival. The first step? A new, friendlier name: Everyone, meet the sunchoke.

Will sunchokes steal the spotlight away from kale, become the new cauliflower, or out-trend Brussels sprouts? It’s too soon to tell. Regardless, sunchokes are the next dowdy vegetable that wants to be a star.
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