Cooking Up Some Culture: 9 Easy Dishes from Around the World

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Woman making summer rolls

The Coronavirus pandemic may have limited your travel options this year, but there are still ways to experience different cultures without having to leave your home. Simply cooking up new ingredients and flavors from different parts of the world will give you a taste of different countries, with this being something that is surprisingly easy to do. 

Vietnam: Fresh Summer Rolls

Although summer may now be drawing to a close, traditional Vietnamese summer rolls are delicious no matter the time of year. They can be enjoyed as either a side or a main, with the beauty of this dish being that you can fill the rolls with whatever you may have on hand. 

The trickiest part of this dish is getting the technique right when it comes to using the rice paper sheets. These are super-thin and delicate – you will need to put these in a bowl with some warm water for about five minutes, until they’ve softened enough and are flexible for rolling. 

Then, arrange your filling in the middle before folding and rolling. 

Traditional Vietnamese summer roll fillings include: 

  • Cooked prawns and meat 
  • Cooked tofu
  • Grated carrot
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Matchstick cucumber slices 
  • Fresh herbs, especially mint, coriander, and Thai basil 

Summer rolls are traditionally made in large quantities and served up on a platter. If you are cooking for a group, then creating a few different fillings will guarantee that this dish is a huge crowd-pleaser. 

USA: Southern Fried Chicken 

Southern fried chicken in bowl

Fried foods are pretty popular in the South, and this is all down to the many cultural influences that this part of the USA experienced back in the day. It was actually the Scottish and their love for deep fried foods that can be credited for Southern fried chicken. The dish has really made a name for itself over the years, quickly becoming a much-loved national classic. 

Recreating this dish at home does take some time – you will need to first marinate your chicken pieces in a spiced buttermilk mixture for a few hours, or ideally overnight. While there are many recipes out there that don’t use buttermilk, this is what you will need for the chicken to taste as authentically Southern as possible. 

You will then need to make your batter, toss the chicken through, and then deep fry each piece until they are golden brown. Placing them into the oven for a final ten minutes is the secret to that iconic crunch. 

Serve with some biscuits to really emphasize your Southern theme. Mashed potatoes, coleslaw, and baked beans also work well. 

Spain: Paella

Just about everyone has tried some form of paella before, with this classic Spanish dish having been served up for centuries. A short-grain rice is a must to really achieve the texture that this dish is famous for, which needs to be cooked in a mixture of broth, saffron, and water. 

You will then need to cook up all of your other ingredients. Don’t worry if you don’t have a special paella pan – any large skillet will do, so long as it can comfortably fit everything in. Popular ingredients to include in a paella are: 

  • Shrimp
  • Mussels or clams 
  • Chicken 
  • Onions
  • Bell peppers
  • Tomatoes 
  • Fresh parsley 

Don’t forget to add a squeeze of lemon over your finished dish to give it that extra zing! 

Greece: Moussaka

Moussaka on plate

Moussaka is a baked dish made with either eggplant or potato, or a combination of the two. It also sometimes features ground meat, although this is easy enough to leave out if you want a vegetarian version of the dish. Although moussaka is popular throughout the Middle East and the Balkans, it is the Greek version that has really taken off around the world. 

The dish looks impressive when served up, but is surprisingly easy to make. Begin by frying up some aubergine slices before setting aside, moving on to cooking up your mince in a large casserole dish. If you want to include potato slices too, boil some up while you’re waiting for your mince to cook. 

Then, add some herbs and spices, along with tomatoes and wine, to your mince mixture. Set aside and whip up a quick bechamel sauce. 

It’s now time to assemble the dish…

Begin with a layer of your meat mixture at the bottom of an ovenproof dish, followed up with some aubergine and then some potato. Keep layering until you’ve used everything up, and then top your dish with the bechamel sauce. Cook until golden brown, and serve with a fresh salad

Jamaica: Jerk Chicken 

Jerk is actually a style of cooking from Jamaica, consisting of meat that has been marinaded, either wet or dry, in a jerk spice. This means that the jerk spice mix you use is key. Fortunately, this is relatively simple to prepare, requiring readily-available ingredients that are combined to create an explosion of different flavors. 

While there is nothing wrong with a wet-marinade for your chicken, jerk enthusiasts are adamant that a dry rub is much more authentic – this is what gives you that delicious crust on the outside of the meat. If this is what you want to go for, these are the ingredients to include in your spice mix: 

  • Black pepper 
  • Cinnamon 
  • Nutmeg
  • Scotch bonnet peppers
  • Allspice 
  • Salt 
  • Fresh thyme
  • Spring onions 
  • Regular onions 

After leaving your meat to marinade, ideally overnight, it’s time to cook it up. This is best done on a grill, but, rather than placing the meat directly over the heat, the authentic way to cook it would be to wrap each piece in foil first. After the meat has been cooked halfway, slash through the foil with a knife so that all of those charcoal flavors can penetrate through. 

If you are not a fan of chicken, try the jerk seasoning with other meats, such as pork or goat, or even fish. Eggplant works well too if you are seeking a meat-free option. 

Morocco: Tagine

Moroccan tagine

Tagine isn’t just the name of this popular Moroccan dish, but also refers to the actual conical clay pot that the dish is traditionally cooked in. However, don’t worry if you don’t have one, as this slow-cooked stew does well in any ovenproof dish, or even a slow cooker. 

Popular flavor combinations include lamb and prune, and chicken and lemon, but, just like the other dishes on this list, feel free to experiment with whatever you may have available to you in your kitchen. 

Begin by frying your ingredients, starting with onions and celery before adding in some garlic, ginger, and other spices. Some key ingredients that you may need to purchase specially for this dish include: 

  • Harissa paste
  • Honey 
  • Apricots
  • Preserved lemons 

Once you move the dish into the oven, keep it cooking on low until the meat is tender. You can then top with some fresh chopped parsley before serving up with a Moroccan couscous salad. It usually takes about three hours for this dish to cook, but this varies quite a bit depending on the size of the meat pieces you have included, as well as how you are cooking it. 

Thailand: Green Curry

Green curry is one of the most well-known Thai dishes, and for good reason too. When cooked correctly, this curry is full of deep flavors and complex textures, making for such a satisfying meal. 

Now, many people out there have cooked a Thai green curry before, but these are usually made with store-bought curry pastes or sauces. After all, isn’t it pretty difficult to make your own? 

Surprisingly, no, it’s actually quite easy. Yes, it takes some time to gather together all of the ingredients you need, but if you have an Asian grocery store nearby, these should be easy enough to find. 

Here’s what you need to blitz up in your food processor for an authentic Thai green curry paste: 

  • Green chilli 
  • Shallots 
  • Fresh ginger
  • Garlic cloves
  • Lemongrass stalks 
  • Kaffir lime leaves
  • Fresh lime juice
  • Galangal 
  • Cilantro seeds
  • Ground cumin
  • Black peppercorns 
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Fish sauce 

That may seem like a lot of ingredients, but your paste will keep in the fridge for up to three weeks, so you could easily batch cook this. You could also store your paste in the freezer for much longer. 

Once your paste is done, fry this for a few minutes to dry it out a little, and then add in some coconut milk and broth. Mix in some sugar, salt, and fish sauce, before stirring in the rest of your ingredients. Chicken is always a popular addition, along with eggplant, but you could use pretty much anything in this curry – the authentic flavor mostly comes from the paste, rather than the other ingredients used. 

Mexico: Enchiladas 

Enchiladas in dish

Although one of the most popular and well-known Mexican dishes out there, many still prefer to purchase enchiladas from restaurants and food trucks, rather than making them at home. However, the homemade version, when done correctly, is absolutely delectable, making them well worth the effort. 

Enchiladas consist of a corn tortilla that is wrapped around a filling, before being topped with a sauce and baked. The sauce is usually a spiced tomato sauce, meaning paprika, chilli powder, and cumin, along with fresh herbs, cooked up with tomato passata and fresh tomatoes. 

What should you use for the filling? 

Chicken is usually the most popular option, but you can use whatever you enjoy eating the most. Seafood works well, as do vegetarian options, such as spinach and cheese or black beans. 

Cook the filling first before wrapping the tortillas around them. Then, place into an ovenproof dish, top with the sauce, as well as some cheese, and bake until golden. If you’ve got all of the ingredients in your kitchen, this dish can be made in as little as half an hour, making it the perfect filling meal for when you don’t have much time to cook. 

Japan: Okonomiyaki 

In English, okonomiyaki means “what you like cooked”, which should give you an idea of just how versatile this dish is. While you can use a wide variety of ingredients when creating this one, it is most commonly made with cabbage, which has been mixed into a savory batter for a pancake-like delight. 

This is a dish that is found throughout Japan, although each region will put their own unique spin on things. It has also become quite a popular street food in other Asian cities too, especially Bangkok, Manila, and Taipei. 

Wondering how to make it? 

You first prepare a batter with some flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder, before grating in some nagaimo and then leaving it to rest for an hour or so. Then, chop up a cabbage and mix this into the batter. Thinly slice some meat too – pork belly is always a popular choice. 

Heat a frying pan and spread a layer of batter over the surface, before placing your meat slices over the top. Cover and cook for about five minutes, and then turn over once the base has transformed into a crispy golden brown. Press it back into shape and continue cooking until it’s ready. 

Now it’s time to get even more creative…

Okonomiyaki is usually topped with zig-zag stripes of Japanese mayonnaise, as well as a special okonomiyaki sauce. This is made by mixing together the following: 

  • Oyster sauce 
  • Ketchup
  • Sugar 
  • Worcestershire sauce

Other garnishes that beautifully complement this dish include bonito flakes, pickled ginger, dried seaweed, and finely-chopped green onions. 

Okonomiyaki also freezes really well, making this a great one to batch-cook in advance for quick and easy weekday meals. 

For many, much of the joy that comes from traveling the world is in eating the various local foods that each country has to offer. While cooking these up yourself at home may not have quite the same effect, this is still a great way to learn more about different places and cultures, while also elevating your culinary skills and making you a better chef! 

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