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Om curry with dill from LAcha Somtum in Thai Town.

I attended a highly educational and also highly entertaining Zocalo Public Square lecture about food fads on Monday, with journalist David Sax of The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue, and it got me thinking about foods that could easily become trendy. My fellow home-cook brother and I exchanged a few emails about it, and here’s my list.

Gochujang
My brother and I are both a little obsessed. Miso, MSG, and fish sauce have all had their moments in the food media spotlight as ways to add flavor, umami, and saltiness to food, so, we wondered, why not one of the most ubiquitous of Korean condiments? Among foodies, it’s not for lack of trying. Gochujang — also known as hot pepper paste or red chili paste or some combination thereof — is a thick, sticky paste of red chilis, sweet rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. It’s been in (near constant) use in Korea for about 500 years, since trade routes opened up in the far east, and it is traditionally fermented in the sun. To me, it’s equal parts sweet, salty, and spicy, felt in that order. Some ascribe a fermented stink to it, but I don’t get it. It’s no kimchee.

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For this quick and easy pan-Asian dinner, I mixed sticky rice with gochujang and fish sauce and served roasted salmon over it. I cooked the green beans, bean sprouts, and onions in a wok with oyster sauce. It’s not authentically anything, but it’s delicious.

It’s not hard to find Asian recipes for beef, green beans, rice, tofu, and soups with it, but it works really well with Tex-Mex cuisine, too. You can season taco or fajita meat with it, or spice up a creamy sun-dried pasta dish with it, as I did last night. Why hasn’t it caught on? I think it’s because it’s not generally available in the oft-crappy international aisles of major grocery stores. Unless you live in a city large enough to sustain Asian grocery stores, you’re stuck with sriracha. Which I am so over.

Mustard greens
Why kale but not beet greens, arugula but not chard, spinach but not mustard greens? Well, beet greens are a pain to buy. They’re too large and unwieldy for the plastic bags provided by grocery stores in the produce section, and I usually end up annoyed with all the dirt and beet dye on my hands for the rest of my shopping trip. Chard can be found pre-washed and cut in plastic bags for easy handling, but it dries out. So kale, while tough, and arugula, while acrid, and spinach, while tannic, make some sense. They’re easily packaged and stay fresh for at least a week. So why not mustard greens, with their sturdy, manageable leaves, and big, spicy flavor? I’ll admit I’ve never trimmed, cleaned, and packaged them in a bag for a week to see how they fare, but maybe I should march myself out to the farmers market to pick up some greens and find out. And if it doesn’t work, well, it should still be a fad because it tastes pretty darn great. So there.

Bone-in, skin-on chicken

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Szechuan chicken drumsticks at Chef Sang Yoon’s Lukshon in Culver City.

We eat so much chicken. A few months ago, for the first time, chicken beat out beef as America’s favorite meat. Americans are predicted to eat 84 pounds of chicken this year — each of us — which, if broken down into quarter-pound servings, means that on the average, we eat it every day of the year, minus the New Year’s resolution to go vegan that only lasts until February. It takes 9 billion chickens a year to feed us. And yet we eat so much chicken — thinking, living things with exasperatingly unlivable lives — with so little enthusiasm. Honestly, when was the last time someone told you they had a really good boneless skinless chicken breast? Never, right? Research continues to show that fat is good for us (and fattiness hasn’t stopped pork belly and liver pâté from getting so popular), so let’s stop feeding our chicken hormones and antibiotics to grow their breasts into sinewy clown boobs and instead embrace the whole bird. I call a thigh.

Fresh dill
My brother thinks fresh dill is a strong flavor to add to a dish, and I agree. I love it. I used to buy fresh dill only when I knew I would need it for a particular recipe, though, and most of it would go bad in my refrigerator. I never thought of it as versatile until relatively recently, when it turned up in an “om” curry and broth soup at a northern Thai restaurant in Thai Town, and it made the dish. But dill? Cilantro, Thai basil, holy basil — I expected those. I asked my brother about it, since he’s pretty encyclopedic with Thai food, and he suggested an outside influence. He was right. It turns out dill is commonly used in Laos, which shares a long border with northeastern Thailand, the only region of Thailand where dill is used. And the Issan Thais that reside there are ethnic Laos. (Similarly, in Vietnam, dill is only used in the northwest, along its border with Laos.)

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A pappardelle dish with lots of fresh dill at Bestia in downtown Los Angeles.

Once dill no longer seemed so limited to traditionally Scandinavian and eastern European and Mediterranean foods, I started putting dill in everything — I finished curries with it, I chopped it up and mixed it into lunch salads, I added it to my herb mixes for roulades — I even put it over chicken noodle soup and ramen when I came down with a sore throat. Raw dill just added so much brightness to everything, like cilantro, but with a pleasantly grassy note in place of the cloying floral note. I’m not suggesting we go crazy and start making dill cupcakes. But if you were to make dill cupcakes, I bet it would taste delicious blended into a lemon buttercream.

Kouign amann
When the cronut happened, I thought, wow, that sounds a lot like a kouign amann. With cream filling. And an easier-to-pronounce name. And a really good PR firm. The kouign amann is a Breton pastry made by layering brioche dough, sugar, and butter. The top and bottom layers of sugar and butter caramelize into delicate, crisp bookends, and the contrast between them and the soft, doughy layers between is blissful. So it flakes like a croissant but has the consistency of cake — sound familiar? The pastry was probably invented around the mid-1800s, and while it’s not hard to find in major cities, if you’re from a small town, you could go your whole life without ever seeing one. (I only discovered them two years ago.) And that would be tragic.

The hot dog

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Pedalers Fork’s homemade hot dog, in downtown Calabasas.

I don’t even enjoy the standard hot dog — which is why I want it to become a food trend. It would be nice for me to want to eat a hot dog. The frankfurt was invented in Germany or Austria about 500 years ago, but it wasn’t introduced to Americans until the 1893 Colombian Exposition in Chicago. The first ballpark frank was also sold that year, in St. Louis. More than a hundred years later, the most famous hot dogs in the country are dirty water dogs in New York City and dirty dogs in Los Angeles — pale, shriveled-up, limp things that have been sitting around way too long. Time has not been kind to the hot dog.

One of the two best hot dogs I ever ate was at the East Village speakeasy PDT (Please Don’t Tell), hidden inside a dive hot dog joint in New York City. There, hot dogs from the not-secret restaurant, Crif Dogs, are dressed up and served until late with some of the best cocktails in the city. The one I fancied was similar to a Seattle style dog, with cream cheese and everything bagel seasonings. I remember thinking, wow, this is better than a lot of hamburgers. It was creative and it worked. My other favorite dog was at Pedalers Fork in Calabasas, California, just up the 101 from LA. Everything is made from scratch there — sausage, sauerkraut, mustard, bun, all homemade — and it was both close to what I knew and yet miles away. (I can even say I liked it better than their hamburger.) Not a creative departure from a German style hot dog, but a ton of effort went into it.

You can put anything you want into a sausage, use any kind of bread, add any topping, and yet the franks and buns and condiments have totally stagnated. A little creativity or a little effort, and the only dirty word anyone will be using to describe hot dogs will be “damn good.”

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