Anita Lo believes “there are no true borders in food.” Cuisines are constantly changing and being influenced by different cultures. And, her food is pushing that evolution another step forward. Her new book is Cooking Without Borders, and I received a review copy. In it, she describes her approach to building dishes with multiple points of reference. With a multicultural upbringing and world travels from a young age, she draws on various influences for her cooking style. After first learning classic French cooking technique, she then gained expertise in Korean and Vietnamese cooking. Often, her dishes combine European concepts with Asian ingredients. Despite the array of ideas contributing to each dish, the result is always refined and well-articulated. The recipes in the book include some of Lo’s home-cooking favorites as well as restaurant dishes, and some of them are definitely chef’s recipes. She does make good suggestions for modifications for the home cook whenever the process is lengthy or the ingredients are out of the ordinary. For her fried oysters with buckwheat and caviar, although it sounds like blini might be involved, the buckwheat is actually naengmyum which is a Korean noodle similar to soba. The dish was inspired by a mix of soba noodles and garnishes that Lo experienced in Japan. A fried oyster and caviar add briny flavor in different textures, and there’s a ponzu-style sauce balanced with dashi broth. She recommends more affordable American caviar for this and offers tips for a quick version of the dish made with store-bought ponzu. Like all the recipe descriptions in the book, this one clearly shows her thought process and her vision for the mix of flavors and textures in a unique dish.
Some of the dishes I want to try soon are the slow-cooked salmon with smoked paprika and savoy cabbage, the roasted kabocha and maitake with bitter chocolate, and breast of duck with hoisin and figs. First, though, I was fascinated by a recipe in the Desserts and Drink chapter. The goat cheesecakes with citrus and candied beets is an interpretation of a salad turned into a dessert. Rather than fresh chevre served with roasted beets and a citrus vinaigrette, the cheese became a rich, sweet cheesecake, the beets were candied with vanilla, and the citrus was used both as a fruit salad in syrup and as candied zest. It was a lot easier to prepare than I expected after seeing the photo of the pretty, plated dessert in the book. The individual cheesecakes were baked in ramekins with no waterbath required. Thin slices of beets were candied in a sugar syrup with both vanilla seeds scraped from a pod and vanilla extract. That syrup took on the dark pink color of the beets and reduced as the beet slices became tender. It was then dribbled on the plate as a sauce. Grapefruit, orange, and lime zests were candied in a separate sugar syrup, and then those fruits’ segments were macerated in that syrup. When the cheesecakes baked, they puffed and then settled in the center making a perfect space for the candied beets and zest. The only difficulty I had with this dessert was removing the cheesecakes from the ramekins. The two I unmolded as soon as they were cool enough to handle came out fine, but the ones that were chilled in the ramekins were difficult to remove. My suggestion would be to unmold them all as soon as possible and store them in a roomy, covered container to chill.
Regarding this dessert, Lo suggests that some people may think of it as a mix of a cheese course and dessert. For me, this was entirely dessert. The beets took on sweet, vanilla flavor and complemented the cheesecakes very well. Meanwhile, the citrus was bright and fruity and delicious with the sauce on the plate. This is thought-provoking food which is interesting to prepare and delightful to eat, and I know I’ll learn something new about flavors every time I cook from this book.
See my review of Cooking Without Borders and get this goat cheesecakes with citrus and candied beets recipe at Project Foodie.