Crispy tostones slathered in savory garlic and hot sauce. Soy steeped chicken with tea leaves. Flaked codfish bacalao with green olives and tomatoes. Chilled buckwheat noodles with hot-sour tamarind broth and cured watermelon crudo with thyme. Some of these recipes sound typically Caribbean and the rest evoke the colorful flavors and fragrant spices of Far East Asia. And while the two culinary traditions couldn’t be farther apart in technique, seasoning and preparation, chef Angelo Sosa feels right at home straddling the two cuisines and explains his passion for both with his book, “Flavor Exposed.”
A Culinary Institute of America graduate, Sosa earned impressive kitchen credentials working alongside his esteemed mentor Jean-Georges Vongerichten at several of his restaurants both in New York City and in the Bahamas. And as the Dominican-Italian chef continued to pursue his passion for Asian flavors and technique, Sosa became a sought-after chef consultant at restaurants including Stephen Starr’s Buddakan, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s Morimoto and Alain Ducasse’s Spoon Food & Wine in Paris. A Bravo’s “Top Chef” alum, Sosa now owns two New York City restaurants – Mexican tequileria Añejo and Social Eatz, which offers diners comfort foods like burgers and tomato soup with an Asian gastro-pub twist. A third restaurant Poppy Den, located in Las Vegas offers contemporary Asian-inspired cuisine.
Sosa organizes 2012’s “Flavor Exposed” into sections named for his favorite flavor profiles: sweet, salty, smoky, bitter, sour, umami, spicy, earth and nutty are all represented here. Guiding readers through recipes inspired by his Aunt Carmen (to whom he owes his love of Dominican delicacies) and sharing interpretations of dishes he ate during his travels through Bangkok, Vietnam and Hong Kong, Sosa persuades home cooks that both Asian and Latin cuisines have a place in the average kitchen as do ingredients like spicy Korean kojuchang sauce and plantains. And don’t think for one moment Sosa only shares recipes for haute cuisine. Sosa shares his affinity for kimchi-topped takeout pizza and even gives a recipe for fried rice with chorizo using leftover Chinese takeout.
“While many of the individual flavors in the book are Eastern in origin, the combinations of flavor apply to all areas of my cooking,” says Sosa. “My three restaurants all benefit from the same type of simple yet powerful layers of flavor, and now anyone with the book recreate that experience at home.”
Recipes like the one below for tender beef rubbed with coriander, cumin and chocolate tucked into corn tortillas with a pickled Asian-inspired slaw exemplify Sosa’s style best. It’s a simple dish, but jam-packed with sweet, sour, smoky and fresh flavors that immediately taste familiar yet transport you to a faraway destination.
Cocoa-Rubbed Beef Tacos
From “Flavor Exposed: 100 Global Recipes from Sweet To Salty Earthy To Spicy” (Kyle Books)
Serves: 4 Time: About 1½ hours Flavors: Earthy/Bitter/Sweet
Chef’s note: Cocoa and beef are a great combination. The chocolate undertones combined with the richness of the red meat are glorious wrapped up with the charred sweetness of the corn tortilla. The pickled vegetables and the cilantro add a welcome acidity and brightness—it all just works magically together.
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup kosher salt
½ pound skirt steak
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup shredded cucumber
1 cup bean sprouts
1 cup gochujang paste (Gochujang is a Korean fermented chile paste, traditionally aged in clay pots. It’s used as a condiment in many Korean dishes, including Bibimbap, and is available at Asian markets.)
3 tablespoons sesame oil
¼ cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
8 good-quality corn tortillas
fresh cilantro sprigs
1. In a small dry sauté pan over medium heat, lightly toast the coriander and cumin seeds until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Let cool completely, then grind the spices, cocoa powder, and 1 tablespoon of the salt in a spice grinder until very fine.
2. Pat the beef dry with paper towels and rub the meat with the oil and the spice mixture until thoroughly coated. (Reserve any extra spice rub in an airtight container to use later.) Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes to marinate.
3. Combine the carrots, cucumber, bean sprouts, and the remaining 3 tablespoons of salt in a large bowl and let stand for 30 minutes. Rinse the vegetables, squeeze out any excess liquid, and set aside. Meanwhile, combine the gochujang paste, sesame oil, vinegar, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the vegetables to the bowl and toss well to combine.
4. Heat a grill to medium-high or a grill pan over medium-high heat and cook the meat until well charred on the outside but still pink on the inside, about 2 minutes per side. Let rest for a couple of minutes before thinly slicing against the grain.
5 Wrap the tortillas in a damp kitchen towel and steam them in the microwave until soft, about 1 minute or less. Using tongs, carefully flash each tortilla over a burner, turning once, to release the corn flavor.
6 To serve, place a spoonful of the marinated vegetables on each tortilla, add a few slices of the beef, and garnish with a sprig of cilantro.