World Chefs: Saad puts global spin on familiar dishes

NEW YORK Tue Jun 12, 2012 7:25pm EDT

1 of 2. An undated handout photo shows tandoori chicken from a recipe by American chef Jeffrey Saad.

Credit: Reuters/Amy Herold/Handout

NEW YORK (Reuters) - American chef Jeffrey Saad likes to play with flavors from around the world and to liven up soups, sandwiches and everyday food with Asian and Middle Eastern spices and sauces.

In his first book, "Global Kitchen: Recipes Without Borders," the 45-year-old co-owner and executive chef of The Grove restaurant in San Francisco provides recipes inspired by his travels and influenced by the traditional Lebanese meals cooked by his grandmother.

Saad, who grew up in a suburb outside of Chicago, spoke to Reuters about must-have spices, favorite meals and the versatility of eggs.

Q: What is your idea of global cuisine?

A: "To me, global cuisine is how people are eating now. It's not about I want Thai food and I'm going to a Thai neighborhood to have Thai food ... I think the difference between global cuisine, or what I call cooking without borders, and fusion is not mixing two cuisines together to come up with something new. It's borrowing from the different cultures and trying to create a signature profile.

"In my book, for example, in the Mexican chapter, you use cumin, coriander, ancho chilies, dried chilies and tomatillos. There is no doubt you are tasting Mexico in your mouth. You are going to get the essence of Mexico in your mouth. Obviously, Mexican cuisine is much deeper than that. That's the beginning point, and a way to have that flavor stamp. Now you could apply those things to recipes and everything you're cooking and you're eating globally. You are having the flavors of another country by tweaking the comfort food you normally eat."

Q: What is your approach to maintaining the integrity of a cuisine's flavor profile?

A: "People could mix cuisines and they turn out great. My endless joke is fusion cuisine could insult every country involved with something muddled ... What I do in my restaurant, The Grove, is classic comfort food with a twist."

Q: Compare the way people are eating now with when you were growing up.

A: "When I was growing up, my grandmother would make these very traditional Lebanese foods. When we went to her home, I felt like we were leaving the country. Looking back as a kid, that was my first real global experience. I would be having chick peas, grape leaves and the magic of rosewater in the baklava with the phyllo dough and ground nuts. It was so authentic.

"But ... if you wanted Chinese, it would be hard to find anything but egg foo young, at least in the Midwest. These things that were sweet and sticky or sweet and spicy or sweet and sour, they felt very one dimensional. I'm sure it made sense at the time. Now people really want the essence and what those cuisines are about more than just the shadow of itself."

Q: What are the must-have spices in your pantry?

A: "I have this power-wheel of flavors. I have five to six spices I tend to reach for. One of them is Herbes de Provence. That's like a bouquet of herbs from the south of France, which has been dried out. It's great to add to simple tuna salad and omelet. That's quick flavor in a multiple of formats.

"If you want Chinese, all you need is five-spice. You could add it to shrimps. You could saute them or stir-fry them. You could bake them or roast them as well. You would get this nice, sweet kind of crust.

"I also recommend having soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sriracha or any kind of chili paste you like. When you mix them in equal parts, you make a great instant Chinese-style sauce. I also love smoked paprika. It colors and flavors. When you put a bit of smoked paprika in oil, it just lights up. Whole fennel seeds add a great texture and flavor to tomato sauce."

Q: Why did you devote a whole chapter in your book to eggs?

A: "I call them my 12 little sous-chefs. When you have a dozen eggs in the fridge, you are guaranteed a meal. I have (not) yet met a spice, an herb, a protein, a flavor that doesn't taste great with eggs. They are super versatile and inexpensive.

Whole Tandoori Chicken with Mustard Seed-Roasted Potatoes

(Serves 4)

1 teaspoon cumin seed

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek (optional)

1 teaspoon coriander seed

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

2 tablespoons ghee or unsalted butter

1 chicken (3 to 4 pounds)

3 cups chopped fingerling potatoes (1/2‑inch cubes)

2 teaspoons canola oil

2 teaspoons whole brown mustard seeds

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degree Fahrenheit (162.Celsius).

2. Grind together the cumin, fenugreek (if using), coriander and black pepper in a spice grinder or coffee grinder. Move to a small bowl and mix in the turmeric and salt. Mix in the ghee to form a seasoned paste. Rub all over the chicken, including under its skin.

3. Place the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan. Tie together the wings and legs and place in the oven. Roast until the internal temperature at the thickest part of the breast and leg is 150 degree Fahrenheit (65.5 Celsius). Remove from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes.

4. While the chicken is roasting, add the potatoes to a medium pot and cover with water. Boil until tender, about eight minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Pat dry with a paper towel. In a medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat add the canola oil. Once the oil is hot, add the potatoes and mustard seeds and stir occasionally until golden brown. Season with salt.

5. Place the chicken on a platter and garnish with the potatoes. Serve.

(Reporting by Richard Leong; editing by Patricia Reaney)

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