Sunday, January 13, 2013

Around the World - In 14 International Dishes

Imagine, like Phileas Fogg, departing foggy London on a bet to embark on a trip around the world.  From England to Continental Europe, to the Middle East and from there to India, the Far East, up to Russia and through America, back to England. Now imagine what one would be eating during such a journey!  

This is clearly not a rated list but, rather, a geographical progression one. Foods one would eat as he is travelling east. The items selected for this list had to comply with the following criteria: the dishes had to be characteristic of the country (even if not exclusive to it – they hardly ever are); they had to be main dishes, no entrées, no deserts (no promises but I will try to include those into another list); they had to be relatively easy to prepare, both ingredients and equipment-wise (no expensive ingredients or open fire roasts, for example); even if they might require spending some time in the ethnic section of your local supermarket, they had not to be overly exotic or acquired tastes. In any case, I am sure this list will be completed by the comments.

More importantly, though, this is an attempt to help answer the age-old question: “what should I cook (or…order in) today?” I limited the number of dishes (and countries, consequently) to 14 so that, for two weeks, cooking planning problem solved! 

Day 1 - England: Cottage Pie
English cuisine jokes aside, this is one of the most delicious and most easy to prepare English dishes.  Most major food groups are represented and yet it is a very effective comfort food. Cottage Pie is made with beef. Substitute that with lamp and you have the equally famous Shepherd’s Pie. Just make sure to bring it to the table intact because it is a beautiful dish and you should never forget to feed your eyes first.
(Best recipe can be found here)

Day 2 - France: Fricasée de Poulet à Tarragon  
Second day of our trip and I think we should feel a bit adventurous. The traditional French chicken fricassee recipe calls for tarragon. However, if you do not favour this herb (or cannot find it at your local market), not to worry, it can be easily substituted with either thyme or rosemary.  Et voilà!
(Best recipe can be found here)

Day 3 - Italy: Spaghetti alla Carbonara
This you can do right or you should give it a pass. My mouth waters just by thinking about a good old fashioned carbonara. So, please, do not try to find a light version of this. Its calorie content is supposed to be hard to contain. But this was supposed to be a vacation, remember? 
And you know the best part about pasta? It is even more delicious the next day. Breakfast of champions, if you catch my drift.
(Best recipe can be found here)

Day 4 - Greece: Dolmadakia Avgolemono 
This is the Greek equivalent to sushi. Everybody has heard of musaka but after yesterday’s carbonara I think it is time for something more refined and light. Dolmadakia is a traditional Greek dish with grape leaves wrapped around kernels of rice and ground mutton or beef. Wrapping the grape leaves is the tricky part. However, even if your dolmadakia do not look picture perfect the first couple of tries, this still is a hard to fail recipe.  
The egg-lemon sauce (avgolemono) is optional but in case you omit it my advice is to substitute it with some thick Greek yoghurt on the side. (This last combination works miracles if you are nursing a hangover by the way!). (Best recipe can be found here)

Day 5 - Turkey: Lahmacun
I have visited Turkey twice and both times the food was unbelievable! This is the Turkish equivalent to pizza. This carries the fragrances and tastes of the near East, it is very filling yet light and it can be prepared in a very short time (provided you buy pita bread instead of making the flatbread from scratch). (Best recipe can be found here)

Day 6 - Syria: Kofta kebab
Syria is the crossroads of tastes. It is the geographical focal point of European, Middle-Eastern, Christian, and Arabic cuisines.  If you had kofta before (popular anywhere east of Rome and west of Tehran) you know what I am talking about: this is the very best way to savor meat. If you cannot convince your butcher to grind lamp meat for you, beef or pork can also be used. The herbs and spices both compliment and intensify the flavors and the end result is one unforgettable experience.
(Best recipe can be found here)

Day 7 - Iraq: Shish taouk
Mesopotamian cuisine may be the most ancient in the world yet they still cannot improve on the shish taouk. For centuries it has been prepared in billions of kitchens, from Lebanon to Bangladesh, and it is very hard to find someone who does not love it. What is not to love? It is chicken kebab, usually on a stick, with garlic, lemon, mustard and mushrooms. If it were a symphony, it would be the Beethoven’s fifth!
(Best recipe can be found here)

Day 8 - India: Tandoori Chicken
This is the Indian subcontinent so if you want meat, most probably it will be chicken.  Classic tandoori chicken from India is marinated in yoghurt, lemon juice, and plenty of spices, then grilled or broiled. Plan ahead. This recipe needs to marinate at least 8 hours or overnight. But I promise you, the end result will more than compensate you.
(Best recipe can be found here)

Day 9 - Thailand: Gai Med Mamuang 
Whoever thought of combining chicken with cashew nuts deserves a Nobel Prize. Seriously! They gave Henry Kissinger and All Gore one, and they have contributed nothing positive to humanity. This dish though, this will remind you that life is beautiful and full of surprises. An explosion of tastes and fragrances that will take you to beautiful Phuket - even if it is only for the duration of your meal. 
(Best recipe can be found here)

Day 10 - China: Sweet and Sour Pork
One of the most popular Sze Chuan dishes. The traditional recipe calls for pineapple, however, keep in mind that most children will just push it aside. So, in case you are cooking for children, I would suggest adding some extra baby corn which they usually like.  
(Best recipe can be found here)

Day 11 - Korea: Bul-Dak 
This one will take a bit of bravery. It is spicy stir-fried chicken and (allegedly) it will make a bull out of every man who would try it. Then again, most spicy foods come with such claims. Every time I try it I swear it is my last time. Only to dream about it the very next day. Anyway, it is Thursday night, I say bite the bullet and go for it.
Remember: only milk can make the hotness subside.
(Best recipe can be found here)

Day 12 - Japan: Ramen 
They have made movies based on this traditional Japanese delicacy. It is a soothing soup that also packs not a small portion of protein. Supposedly, no two ramen dishes are identical. Every chef and every cook and every homemaker has his or her secret recipe handed down by a parent or a grandparent who swore them to secrecy. Well, my grandmother used to say that if more than two people know a secret, it is only a matter of time…(Best recipe can be found here)

Day 13 - Russia: Pelmeni
After leaving Japan, we travel up to the frozen port of Arkhangelsk. It is cold and we may be well fed but still tired so it is time for some pelmeni. It is easy to prepare (especially if you visit your frozen good section of your supermarket and buy  the dough to avoid having to make it from scratch). You can play around with the stuffing and they can be served either hot or cold. Leftovers are the ideal late-night snack. (Best recipe can be found here)

Day 14 - USA: Texas-style Fajitas
Out trip around the world is almost complete. Last stop: North America. I remember the very first time I ordered fajitas at a restaurant: I was so embarrassed because they made a big scene bringing in the steaming dish. I also remember the fun I had wrapping up my own fajitas. You can make them with either beef or chicken. Children love them and adults will remember how much fun food can be. 
(Best recipe can be found here)

Now, as to that diet, there is always Monday...

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