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Flavorful Fusion

Cool, bright papaya and spicy hot black beans. An Italian pasta sauce with a curried overtone. A Middle Eastern dip with Mexican flair. Unexpected, delightful fusions! Fusion cooking sometimes means taking locally available ingredients and dressing them up with ethnic flair—like a harvest of fresh Brussels sprouts served with a spicy Vietnamese sauce. Other times it involves melding ingredients and techniques from different cultures—such as Chinese vegetables stir fried with Mexican spices, or a French omelet sprinkled with Asian seasonings. Fusion may mean East meets West, or it may combine the various cuisines of one large region, like Indian, East and Southeast Asian, or Thai, Vietnamese, and Malaysian fare. Sometimes it’s simply the result of unusual combinations, like cool fruits and spicy grains, meats, or seafood. One constant, though, is the liberal use of a wide variety of spices.

Fusion cooking is fun by definition. If you’re reluctant to concoct your own dishes, you might want to start with one of the recipes we’ve provided. Once you enjoy the results of your unusual combinations, though, you’ll probably be eager to think outside the recipe box.

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Tropical Fruit and Black Bean Salad
This salad is a delightful fusion of warm and cool, tropical and Latino flavors.

There’s just no good way to combine the names of these two recipes as smoothly as their ingredients meld. Make this combo of Mexican guacamole and Middle Eastern hummus just as mild or as wild as you like.

Hot Hawaiian Tempeh
Asia meets Hawaii in this sweet and spicy dish. Serve it as a side dish or atop brown rice or couscous.

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Ask the Experts

I’m eager to experiment with my own fusion recipes, but I never know how much of a spice to add to a dish. Where do I start?
Begin with much less than you think you’ll need, then taste—and season—as you go. For starters, try 1/8 (for very pungent spices) to 1/4 teaspoon of a spice for a dish that serves four. In most cases, you’ll wind up with at least twice as much spice by the time your dish is ready to serve, but since it’s impossible to remove (and easy to add) spice, a light hand makes sense.

Keep in mind when making ingredient substitutions that it takes about half the quantity of dried herbs and spices as fresh. (That’s because oils are concentrated in the drying process.)

I’d like a safe way to try some spices that I don’t normally use. (I don’t want to ruin a meal’s worth of pasta or rice experimenting) Any suggestions?
You can always make an extra portion of your main dish and remove it before seasoning for experimenting. (Take aside a cup of plain pasta, or rice, for example, and play with flavors without jeopardizing the evening’s dinner!) Another easy way to sample new flavors is by making flavored butters. Simply add herbs or spices to melted butter (or butter whipped with oil) and use on breads, vegetables, fish, grains, pasta, and many other dishes. Traditional butter seasonings include parsley, lemon pepper, thyme, marjoram, garlic, basil, oregano, chervil, tarragon and dill weed. But you can combine any spice at all with butter to test drive some ideas: a curry butter for your green beans, or a cardamom butter for your pumpkin bread, for example.

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What spices lend themselves to fusion fare?

No spice is off limits. If you’re thinking ethnic combos, though, the following guidelines might be helpful. (Be sure to take advantage of ethnic spice blends, too.)

chili peppers, chili powder, cilantro, cinnamon, curry powder, garlic, ginger, mustard, orange peel, salt, star anise

basil, bay, cinnamon, chervil, cloves, coriander, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, lavender, marjoram, mustard, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, peppercorns, rosemary, saffron, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme, turmeric

basil, bay, chives, fennel, garlic, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme

asafetida, cardamom, cayenne, chili peppers, cinnamon, cilantro, cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, mustard seed, nutmeg, peppercorns, saffron, star anise, turmeric

allspice, annatto seed, cayenne, chili peppers, chili powder, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, mint, nutmeg, oregano, sage, thyme

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