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Globe-hopping tastes for at-home escapes

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Christine Moore/Special to the Town Crier
Columnist Christine Moore offers Summertime Gumbo, left, and Seafood Tostadas with Harissa Cream as two vacations for your palate as you linger at home this summer.

Variety is the spice of life, so the saying goes. With the rinse-and-repeat nature of our stay-at-home days, variety can be in short supply. Let’s flip the old adage a bit and use spice to bring variety. A pantry stocked with globe-hopping flavors will help your dinner table become an escape.

Pairing these far-flung seasonings with locally produced wines makes for the perfect combination of inviting in the new while celebrating the bounty and talent found in Northern California. The wines listed below are all available for online purchase. What’s more, purchasing from these small businesses means more than ever at this time.

Spicy twist

My easy seafood tostadas rely on harissa, a North African spicy paste. Once you have harissa in your refrigerator, I suspect you’ll actively look for ways to incorporate it into your cooking. In the winter, I use harissa like tomato paste, adding a new and spicy twist to stews and braised meats. In the spring and summer, I keep the ingredients for a harissa cream sauce (shared below) on hand at all times. It is a versatile dip. Try it with fried calamari, baked sweet potato fries or grilled chicken skewers.

A beautiful pairing for the spicy harissa and fresh seafood would be 2019 Okapi Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon ($32, okapiwines.com). This refreshing, crisp and minerally wine will become an outdoor dining favorite.

Cajun style

We had ambitions to visit New Orleans this summer. Instead, we got there around the dinner table, thanks to Cajun seasoning and file powder. Made from the leaves of sassafras, file powder is used to flavor and thicken foods in the traditional cooking of Native Americans and was adopted by Acadian settlers in Louisiana. For those who didn’t grow up eating within those cuisines, gumbo is a meal that can be equal parts familiar comfort and mind-expanding flavors.

The perfect wine to pair with this gumbo is the vibrant and enticing 2017 Brown Estate Zinfandel – available at Draeger’s Market in Los Altos and online (brownestate.com). The light tannins and complex spice of this wine are ideal for enjoying beside gumbo, but would be stellar with hamburgers, grilled sausages or lamb tagine.

Virtual wine escapes

I’ve been having a lot of fun virtually visiting new-to-me vintners in Napa and Sonoma counties. One online wine destination that will surely take you away while remaining at home is McBride Sisters Collection (mcbridesisters.com). A force for diversity, female empowerment and great wine, the real-life sisters, Robin and Andrea McBride, have created a web destination with loads of educational information, recipes, style and joy.

The Domaine Curry label provides another happy rabbit hole of discovery as you explore online. Food celebrity, restaurateur and social activist Ayesha Curry is one half of the force behind Domaine Curry. Its critically acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are both available for purchase at domainecurrywine.com. After you’ve picked a bottle or two, find Curry online (@ayeshacurry) to watch cooking videos and learn more about her latest cookbook.

Simple Summertime Gumbo

  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 4 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • Large handful Italian parsley, chopped (approximately 1/2 cup)
  • 4 Andouille sausage, sliced
  • 1/2 pound bay scallops
  • 1/2 pound shrimp
  • 4 cups broth
  • 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons gumbo file

Add oil to Dutch oven and heat over medium-high. Once oil is heated, add flour and stir approximately 20 seconds to avoid clumps. Allow flour to cook in oil until it becomes very brown, which will take roughly 10 minutes.

Add vegetables and Cajun seasoning and sauté 5-7 minutes. Add broth. Bring to boil and then add sausage and simmer on low 30 minutes. Add scallops and gumbo file and cook an additional 10 minutes. Serve over white rice with hot sauce on the side.

Seafood Tostadas with Harissa Cream

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
  • 1/2 cup Vegenaise (or regular mayonnaise)
  • 2 tablespoons prepared red harissa
  • 1 pound cooked seafood (I have used a combination of lump crab and shrimp-meat)
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 3 spring onions, diced
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
  • 1 lime
  • 1 lemon (1/2 of lemon sliced and ready for dinner squeezing)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 tostada shells
  • Chopped lettuce for serving
  • 1/2 cup shredded Cojita cheese for serving

Heat oven to 375 F. Prepare spicy cream by combining yogurt, Vegenaise, harissa and juice of 1/2 lime (for nonspicy version, omit harissa).

In medium bowl, combine avocado, tomatoes, spring onions and cilantro. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix and set aside.

Place crab and shrimp into medium serving bowl and squeeze juice of 1/2 lime and 1/2 lemon over top. Mix and set aside.

Heat tostadas in oven 3-5 minutes.

Christine Moore is a Mountain View resident. Visit sheepishsommelier.blogspot.com to read more of her work.

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