Baco Flatbread


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How could you not want something described as a “gyro-pizza-taco”?

When I read the LA Times piece about the baco last year, I made a mental note and a digital bookmark to come back to it. Since then, the chef who invented the baco, Josef Centeno,  has opened another restaurant in LA, and the baco is back in the press. Though I haven't made it yet to the Lazy Ox Canteen for an official baco, I baked up some of Centeno's signature flatbread and created some sandwiches of my own. (For something fun to do, read the Lazy Ox menu.)

From what I've read, there are two things that make a baco a baco. First is the bread. Like my naan recipe, this flatbread calls for plain yogurt. What's different is the addition of lime juice, ginger, garlic and dried lavender. Second is the mix of sauces and international influences:

  • In addition to the original baco, now made with pork belly and red wine-braised paleron (pot roast), Centeno makes four variations. The vegetarian baco centers on crisp Japanese eggplant; lamb sausage baco has croquettes made from potato and morcilla (a Spanish blood sausage) and caraway-pepper sauce; the el pollo baco features chicken escabeche (marinated chicken) radicchio and zhoug, a spicy chile sauce from Yemen; and the pesco baco is a tasty composition of panko-crusted albacore, pickled onion, and four (count them) different sauces. (From the LA Times)

After I made the bread, we did a Mexican-spiced chicken with fresh tomato-avocado salsa, the ginger-lime-lavender yogurt mixture, and a smoky homemade chili sauce. Another afternoon I filled one with a mixture of chicken, pork and sausage in a sweet Vietnamese sauce, along with lettuce, cucumber and tomato in a Persian yogurt-based dressing, and the spicy chili sauce — basically whatever leftovers I found in the fridge.

So now that you have the flatbread recipe, what will you put in your baco?

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North Indian Style Spinach Chicken

I love Indian food, but sometimes those curries can be heavy. This dish, on the other hand, is more brothy than saucy, and still has that flavor I love. It has tomatoes, spinach and chicken breast, but it would be good with garbanzo beans instead, if you wanted to make it vegetarian.

I saw this in Sunset Magazine, which has been full of good recipes lately (See: Ginger Pear Crisp). My mom and I loved how light it felt while still filling us up.

Of course we changed it up a bit. Instead of serving with plain yogurt on top and cucumber salad on the side, I combined the two in a raita. I liked the cool crunch of cucumbers mixed in with the cooked vegetables. It’s all about layering flavors, textures and temperatures.

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Cooked Cabbage Kimchi-Style

I know, I know. Kimchi isn't cooked. It's pickled.

But what if you want the flavors of kimchi and don't have time for the fermentation process? That's how I came up with this dish. I thought about kimchi: cabbage that ferments in a brine including chilies, garlic, ginger, green onion and other ingredients.

I minced some garlic, ginger and onions, then mixed it with sriracha hot sauce. I added soy sauce because it is salty and made from fermented soy beans. To add to the fermented flavor, I used a little bit of fish sauce. (Some regions use salted anchovies or shrimp.) I also added some rice vinegar for more acid and because it too is fermented.

I briefly cooked some cabbage (regular green since I didn't have napa) in a hot pan with just a little water to soften the leaves, but maintain crispness. Then I added it to my sauce, which I wanted to leave uncooked to keep the sharpness of the onions and garlic. I sprinkled on some sesame seeds and let the whole thing cool.
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It's not quite kimchi, but it worked well with the kogi-style beef and lettuce cups we had for dinner. The next day I made some more kimchi-flavored cabbage and ate it hot over rice.

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Balsamic Vinaigrette with Garlic and Basil

There’s one salad dressing I never get tired of, and that’s my mom’s balsamic vinaigrette with garlic and basil. It’s so simple, but people love it. Both Michael’s mom and my friend Becky’s mom asked me to make it within hours of arriving in their states (Illinois and New Jersey, respectively). Little does my mom know she’s starting a salad revolution. She’s satisfied just getting my brother and sister to eat their leafy greens.

My mom washes a bunch of fresh basil, squeezes the water out and freezes the whole stack wrapped in plastic wrap and foil. Then she takes it out and slices however much she needs. So resourceful.

Also, I’d like to refute Russ Parson’s offhand comment about balsamic vinegar: “Balsamic vinegar is known for its sweetness, but in a burnt-sugar-caramel kind of way that doesn’t fit most culinary purposes (and certainly not salads).” I know, who am I to argue with the food editor at the LA Times? But it’s just not true. This vinaigrette is great for so many salads — whether it’s just lettuce, a garden mix or something with shrimp, steak or chicken.

Steak salad with peppers, onions, avocado and balsamic vinaigrette
Steak salad with peppers, onions, avocado and my mom's balsamic vinaigrette — fast but amazing lunch

Sorry Russ, I’ll take balsamic over a red wine vinegar and dijon version any day.

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