Joy in the Journey
Cuisines are moving targets. People are always traveling and migrating, and though they leave their homes behind, their foods often come with them. Over time the ingredients, techniques, and dishes that they cherish from their previous lives tend to become integrated into, and sometimes even emblematic of, the cuisines of their new home. In fact, many of the dishes we think of as embodying the very soul of certain cuisines are, when seen from a longer perspective, not so much comforting classics as startling innovations.
The classic—and most dramatic—example of this is the Columbian Exchange. This is the name given to the worldwide transfer of plants, animals, and ideas that occurred when the Americas and the Old World came into regular contact after Columbus’s voyages. Before the Columbian Exchange, there were no tomatoes in Italian cooking, no chile peppers in the cuisines of India or Morocco, and not a single potato to be found in Ireland, just to name a few of the most difficult-to-fathom examples.
Though it’s much less dramatic, the same thing is happening around us every day. Dishes once deemed “exotic” or “foreign” now form part of our national cooking repertoire, and ingredients that just a few years ago were nearly impossible to find are becoming commonplace in supermarkets.
Here at Cook’s Illustrated, we follow along in this continuous culinary metamorphosis. Some dishes in this issue, such as Grilled Lamb-Stuffed Pitas with Yogurt Sauce and Sichuan Braised Tofu with Beef, are variations on traditional dishes from other cultures and will no doubt be new to many of you. But even in a dish as familiar and straightforward as Crispy Pan-Fried Chicken Cutlets, you’ll find evidence of culinary exchange: We found that panko bread crumbs, originally from Japan, made the best, crunchiest coating.
You get the idea. Things are always changing, but all that means is that we’ve got more options—more dishes and ingredients and ideas to explore and appreciate in the kitchen.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for something that is in every detail 100 percent American, we’ve got that for you, too. The incredibly flavorful and supertender Baked Sweet Potatoes contain only one ingredient, the sweet potato itself—and that originated in the Americas.