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Fiery vegan dishes from around the world.

AS A TRAVEL AND FOOD WRITER WHO HAS TRAversed the world for more than a quarter century, I always enjoyed sampling fiery dishes in the countries where hot foods and spicy foods are the usual fare. From Central and South America to North Africa and the Arabian Gulf to the Indian subcontinent and beyond, I've dined on countless vegan dishes made tasty and appetizing by the inclusion of hot peppers.

During my many trips to the Caribbean, Mexico, and South America, I relished hot foods in both peoples' establishments and luxury hotels. Some restaurants, especially in the grand hotels with their tourist clientele, offered safely mild dishes. However, like the Mexicans, I love mine fiery hot.

Halfway around the world from Mexico, I found an array of satisfying hot foods on my numerous trips to Tunisia. Unlike some other North African cuisines, Tunisian food is noted for its spicy hotness. It is said that a husband will judge his wife by the amount of hot peppers with which she prepares her food. Some men even believe that, if a wife's cooking becomes bland, it means the love for her husband is fading.

Further away still, in the United Arab Emirates, I've enjoyed another version of hot-spicy foods, dishes with origins in the Indian subcontinent. The majority of workers in the United Arab Emirates are recruited from that region, and they make up some 50 percent of the population. Not surprisingly, they have brought their culinary traditions with them and have saturated the land with their eating places. In the kitchens of Arabian Gulf countries, exotic herbs and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, turmeric, and all types of curries and hot peppers are now used to create a world of gourmet delights. The spices of the lands to their east have become an integral part of Arabian Gulf dishes.

In addition, the foods of the Far East, especially Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, are a twin to the foods of the Indian subcontinent. These kitchens have the quality and consistency of Chinese food integrated with the hotness and spiciness of Indian and Mexican cuisines. Indian cuisine, and to a much lesser extent Portuguese-, Dutch-, French-, British-, and Japanese-introduced foods, have left an indelible mark on these Southeastern Asian menus. I greatly enjoyed these foods, which ranged from the mild to fiery hot and spicy, oozing with unique flavors and mouth-watering aromas. Indian condiments, coconuts and their milk, galangal, lemon grass, lime juice, mango, salted cabbage, palm sugar, tamarind, and hot pepper sauces give the kitchens of these lands a luring appeal to those, like myself, who enjoy exotic hot dishes.

THE INGREDIENTS

Chilies, the fiery fruit of some capsicum plants, are what give hot dishes in all parts of the world their fire and succulence. They come in many varieties and can be eaten interchangeably fresh, canned, or dried. When dried, they become a spice, and they can be used whole in pickles or pickled themselves and served as a relish.

The best chilies, both in appearance and in flavor, are picked when they are bright red. The larger the chili, the milder it will be; the smaller the fruit, the more volcanic it becomes. The seeds are the hottest part; if cooks want a fierce, fiery effect, the seeds should remain. Without the seeds, the dish will still be hot but somewhat subdued. It is no wonder, then, that chilies are known as "little devils" in parts of Italy.

When chilies are ground, they become cayenne, a spice highly favored in hot countries. Cayenne gives an essential zest to food and is used to season curries, sauces, and vegetable dishes.

When ground chilies are mixed with other spices, the product is called chili powder, a versatile spice utilized to flavor stews and other foods. In most dishes, it can be used to replace cayenne.

Paprika, a cousin of the hot powdered chilies, is a spice made from dried, finely-ground large Hungarian or Spanish red peppers, which range from sweet and mild to semi-hot and slightly aromatic. The finest paprika in the world is made from the brilliant red variety grown in Hungary.

Many times after I returned from exotic locales, I have duplicated a good number of their hot dishes with one type of chili or another that I relished on my meanderings. Try the following recipes, which I have recreated to my own taste. They will make a successful party meal for fieryfood lovers. The amount of hot peppers that you use in these recipes can be adjusted according to your tastes.
QUINGOMBOS GUISADOS
(CARIBBEAN OKRA STEW)
(serve 5)

This dish is believed to have originated
in Puerto Rico, but it has
spread to the other islands of the
Caribbean.

3 Tablespoons oil
1 pound thawed frozen okra
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 doves garlic, crushed
1 large sweet pepper, thinly sliced
1 small hot popper, finely chopped
2 large tomatoes, finely chopped
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon allspice

Heat oil in a non-stick saucepan
and saute the okra over medium
heat until it turns light brown,
turning it over a few times to
cook evenly. Remove okra with
a slotted spoon and set aside on
paper towels to drain excess oil.

In the same oil, saute the
onions, garlic, and peppers over
medium-low heat for 10 minutes.
Stir in tomatoes and water and
saute for another 10 minutes.
Gently stir in the okra and the
remaining ingredients. Cover
and cook for approximately 15
minutes or until okra is tender,
adding more water, if necessary,
to prevent sticking. Serve hot
with cooked rice.

Total calories per serving: 138 Fat: 9 grams
Carbohydrates: 15 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 478 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

AGUACATES RELLENOS
(STUFFED AVOCADOS)
(Serves 8)

This dish is from the Guadalajara
region of Mexico.

4 medium-sized ripe avocados
1/2 cup ground almonds
4 Tablespoons finely chopped scallions
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh
 coriander leaves
2 doves garlic, crushed
4 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon popper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Cut unpeeled avocados in half
lengthwise and remove pits. Scoop
out the pulp and place it in a mixing
bowl, reserving skin. Add the
remaining ingredients to the pulp
and thoroughly combine. Spoon
mixture into avocado skins and
serve immediately.

Total calories per serving: 216 Fat: 20 grams
Carbohydrates: 10 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 157 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

CARAOTAS NEGRAS
(VENEZUELAN MASHED
BLACK BEANS)
(Serves 8)

This dish can be served hot or cold.

2 cups black beans, rinsed and soaked
 overnight, then drained
6 cups water
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 doves garlic, crushed
112 cup finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
1 large hot pepper, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon cumin

Place pre-soaked beans and water
in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
Cover and cook over medium
heat for 1 hour, adding more
water, if necessary.

In the meantime, heat the oil
in a frying pan and saute onions
over medium heat for 10 minutes.
Stir in garlic, coriander, and peppers
and stir-fry for another 5 minutes.
Add frying pan contents, salt,
pepper, and cumin to the beans
and simmer over low heat for 30
minutes or until beans are well
done. Serve this recipe as is or
mashed, either hot or cold.

Total calories per serving: 209 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 31 grams Protein: 11 grams
Sodium: 309 milligrams Fiber: 10 grams

MARKAT OMMALAH
(TUNISIAN CHICKPEA
STEW)
(Serves 8)

In Tunisia, this dish usually contains
meat, but it was served sans
meat at a farmer's home.

3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 pound chopped mushrooms
2 medium onions, chopped
4 doves garlic, crushed
1/2 cop finely chopped fresh coriander
 leaves
1 large hot popper, finely chopped
4 cops cooked chickpeas
4 medium tomatoes, chopped into small
 pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon popper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon thyme
3 cops water
1/4 cop green olives, pitted and chopped
2 Tablespoons lemon juice

Heat oil in a saucepan and saute
the mushrooms over medium heat
for 5 minutes. Add onions, garlic,
coriander, and peppers and stir-fry
for another 5 minutes. Stir
in chickpeas, tomatoes, salt, pepper,
cumin, thyme, and water and
bring to a boil. Cover and simmer
over low heat for 30 minutes, adding
a little more water, if necessary.
Stir in olives and lemon juice and
simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.
Serve hot.

Total calories per serving: 229 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 31 grams Protein: 10 grams
Sodium: 390 milligrams Fiber: 8 grams

HUMMUS WA 'ADAS
MAZZA (CHICKPEA AND
LENTIL APPETIZER)
(Serves 8)

This dish makes an excellent appetizer
when scooped up with crackers
or pita bread.

1/2 cop split red lentils, rinsed
3 cops water
2 cops cooked chickpeas
2 doves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
5 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
One small tomato, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon olive oil

Place lentils and water in a saucepan
and bring to a boil. Cover
and cook over medium heat for
20 minutes or until the lentils are
cooked but still somewhat firm.
Drain and allow lentils to cool.

Place lentils, chickpeas, garlic,
oregano, salt, cumin, pepper,
cayenne, and lemon juice in a
food processor and process into
a paste. Spread on a flat serving
platter and decorate with parsley
and tomato pieces. Sprinkle with
oil just before serving.

Total calories per serving: 127 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 20 grams Protein: 7 grams
Sodium: 302 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

SHAWRBAT 'ADAS BILTAMAR
HINDI (TAMARIND/
LENTIL SOUP)
(Serves 6)

Besides being on the daily menu
in the Indian subcontinent and
Southeast Asia, tamarind is utilized
to a great extent in the Arabian
Gulf countries.

2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 large hot pepper, finely chopped
4 doves garlic, crushed
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 cups stewed tomatoes
2 Tablespoons tamarind paste, dissolved
 in 7 cops hot water
1 cup lentils, rinsed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon popper
4 Tablespoons chopped hash mint

Heat oil in a saucepan and saute
onions, peppers, garlic, and ginger
over medium heat for 10 minutes.
Stir in remaining ingredients,
except mint, and bring to a boil.
Cover and cook over medium
heat for 40 minutes or until
lentils are well cooked, adding
more water if you desire a thinner
soup. Stir in mint and serve.

Total calories per serving: 209 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 31 grams Protein: 11 grams
Sodium: 549 milligrams Fiber: 12 grams

YAKHNIT BATATA
(HOT POTATO STEW)
(Serves 8)

I enjoyed a dish similar to this one
in the United Arab Emirates, where
taste buds have become accustomed
to hot Indian foods.

3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 medium sweet peppers, finely chopped
2 medium onions, finely chapped
1/2 cup finely chopped coriander leaves
8 doves garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons ground cumin seeds
6 large polatoes (approximately 2 pounds),
 peeled and chopped into large pieces
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 lemon rind, finely chopped

Heat oil in a saucepan and saute
peppers and onions over medium
heat for 10 minutes. Stir in the
coriander and garlic and stir-fry
for another 3 minutes. Add the
remaining ingredients and bring
to a boil. Cover and cook over
medium heat for 40 minutes or
until potatoes are well done but
still somewhat firm, adding more
water, if necessary. Serve hot.

Total calories per serving: 158 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 26 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 307 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

KHAO PAD KRAPOW
(THAI FRIED RICE
WITH BASIL)
(Serves 6)

This is my own version of a well-known
Thai vegetarian dish.

3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
4 doves garlic, finely chopped
1 large hot pepper, finely chopped
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cups cooked rice
2 cups green beans, broken into inch-long
 pieces
1 large sweet red popper, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons say sauce
4 Tablespoons chopped basil leaves

In a heavy frying pan, heat the oil
until sizzling and stir-fry garlic and
hot peppers over medium-high
heat until the garlic turns golden
brown. Add the mushrooms and
onions and stir-fry for 2 minutes.
Add cooked rice and stir-fry for
a few more moments. Add green
beans, sweet peppers, and soy sauce
and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Stir in
basil leaves and serve immediately.

Total calories per serving: 226 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 35 grams Protein: 5 grams
Sodium: 338 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams


Habeeb Salloum is a regular contributor to Vegetarian Journal. He recently authored Arab Cooking on a Saskatchewan Homestead: Recipes and Recollections.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Vegetarian Resource Group
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Salloum, Habeeb
Publication:Vegetarian Journal
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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