What can I do with pomegranate seeds besides sprinkle them on a salad?
In the UK, we’re used to seeing pomegranates merely as garnish, but they’re fantastically versatile. In India, my parents would dry the seeds for use in spice mixes. This is very easy to do: simply place the seeds on a baking tray in the centre of the oven on the lowest heat possible for roughly seven hours. Once the seeds are cool they can be kept in an airtight container for about three months, or ground to a powder in a food processor. This can then be combined with coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, desiccated coconut and black peppercorns to create a delicious spice blend for all sorts of curries. Dried seeds instil a sweet, tangy flavour and added richness to lamb and chicken dishes; I use them with onion paste, ginger, garlic and spice as a base, which makes a dark, luscious gravy. If I’m cooking a whole roast chicken, I mix ground spices with dried pomegranate powder to make a marinade. When the chicken is almost cooked, I throw in a handful of fresh pomegranate seeds, which gives a beautiful crunch and tang to the juices from the chicken. Romy Gill, food writer and head chef/owner of Romy’s Kitchen.
I’m heading to Colombia, but know nothing about its food. Where should I start?
The capital, Bogotá, has great food. It can get quite chilly, so warming soups play a large role in the cuisine; one of my favourites is ajíaco, made with chicken, potatoes, corn and a herb called guasca, which gives it a distinct, moreish flavour. It’s garnished with cream, capers and avocado, and served in most traditional restaurants in the city, such as Club Colombia. Tamales, little packages of rice or corn with pork or chicken, wrapped in plantain leaves and steamed, are also a must. In panaderías (bakeries), pick up an almojábana (cloud-like bread) and an empanada (meat-filled corn pasty). For something fancier, head north of the city to Andrés Carne de Res, which has an eclectic interior, performing waiters and a varied menu. Outside of Bogotá, go to one of the many family-run mountain restaurants that specialise in asados — barbecued meats often marinated in beer. Also try longanizas – chorizo-style sausages made from coarsely chopped meat. Head into Antioquia, north of Bogotá, for a bandeja paisa, the largest fry-up you can imagine, and all the different types of arepa cornbread sandwiches. Finally, in the colonial town of Villa de Leyva in Boyacá, an important agricultural region, you can try whole suckling pig. The brave should visit Duruelo hotel for pata (pigs’ trotters). Ruth Christianson, director of Maize Blaze Colombian street food, London.
I’m a big fan of seafood and I’m finally visiting New England. Where shouldn’t I miss?
Along with the breathtaking scenery, New England offers an abundance of fresh fish and seafood. The quality of food is exemplary and reasonably priced. Lobsters, oysters, crabs and clams are staple ingredients in the region and can be eaten in a multitude of creative ways. In Maine, head to Pier 77 in Kennebunkport for classic dishes along with spectacular views. Fried clams, crab cakes and the ubiquitous lobster roll are all tasty and satisfying. The White Barn Restaurant at Grace White Barn Inn & Spa is great too: the lobster bisque and lobster spring rolls are both excellent choices, but the lobster sous vide in herbed butter served on a bed of fresh fettuccine and mixed vegetables is simply sublime. The 1673-built White Horse Tavern in Newport, Rhode Island, is widely thought to be the oldest tavern in the United States. For generations, it has served up the freshest food — veg from farm to table, and fish right off the boat. The signature clear clam chowder is a revelation, and don’t miss the gloriously rich and silky lobster macaroni and cheese, accompanied by truffle fries. Jonathan Phang, TV chef and cookbook author.
I have a nut allergy. What precautions should I take when in Southeast Asia?
As a father of two children who carry EpiPens, I’m well aware of the dangers of travelling with a serious allergy. Firstly, research the local food culture and find out how prevalent nuts are so you know what to avoid. In countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, peanuts are commonly used, so before leaving the UK, get allergy cards printed in the local language. Always explain the seriousness of the allergy and outline the allergens clearly. In a restaurant, if the staff appear to be even slightly uncertain, just walk out. Try to keep your food choices simple so there is less chance of error; good options include grilled meats, fish, vegetables and steamed rice. Beware of sauces as these may feature nuts, and check what kind of oil is used in the cooking — this varies from country to country. If you’re staying in an international hotel in a large city, the reception staff should speak good English and can recommend local restaurants. Ask them to phone ahead and warn the chef of your allergies. Try to eat in restaurants at times when they are less busy so the staff have your full attention when you’re explaining your allergies. Ask locals to translate if they can. The risk of cross-contamination is much greater with street food, and the language barrier is often tricky. Again, keep it simple — or avoid altogether. Always carry two or three EpiPens (if prescribed) and check the location of the nearest hospital. Before you go, pack plenty of back-up tinned food; it doesn’t matter if most of it comes back with you. Adrian Quine, freelance journalist.
My falafels always come out dry and crumbly. Do you have a failsafe recipe?
Head here for John Gregory-Smith’s recipe.
As featured in Issue 3 of National Geographic Traveller Food.