Cook International When Things Get Dull

cook-interlRachael ran down the hall To get to her International Foods class before the last buzzer. Each week the class studied a different country. On Fridays, they made some of the popular foods served there. Today they were cooking foods from Norway. When Rachael opened the door and inhaled, she scrunched up her nose.

“What is that smell?” she asked her friend Terri.

Terri laughed. “It’s called lutefisk (LOOT-fisk). I guess it does smell kind of strong.”

Rachael remembered that lutefisk was dried codfish soaked in lye, then cooked and served with a white sauce. “What else are we making today?”

Terry pointed at the board where the teacher had written the menu for the day. “It looks like we’re having lutefisk, boiled potatoes, and lefse (LEF-suh) with butter and brown sugar.”

“I missed class the day we talked about lefse,” Rachael said. “What is it?”

Terry said, “Think of it as a tortilla–with butter spread all over it and brown sugar sprinkled inside. Roll it up and enjoy.”

Rachael smiled. “That sounds good. Let’s get started.”

Rachael and Terry are enjoying food from Scandinavia this week. Even though America is the melting pot of cultures around the world, many people have never tasted the traditional dishes served in other countries. Here is just a sampling of some of the popular foods in other cultures.

Scandinavia: Smorgasbord

The Land of the Midnight Sun includes the countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. Along with long summer days and long winter nights in common, these five countries have similar tastes in food.

A Scandinavian tradition that dates back to the Viking feasts is the smorgasbord. Smorgasbord means “bread-and-butter table,” but there is much more available than just bread and butter. This buffet has many different kinds of foods, including herring, salmon, caviar, varieties of bread, thin-sliced meat, hot dishes, and Tiger Cake or Christmas cookies. Anyone enjoying a smorgasbord will leave with a full stomach.

Russia: Hearty Slavic Food

More than two-thirds of the Slavic people live in the republics of Russia, Byelorussia, and Ukraine, making Slavic food the most popular in the region. Slavic cooks have used these recipes for generations. Before the Russian revolution, peasants introduced borscht.

Borscht, or beet soup, is a hearty vegetable soup served either hot or cold with a dollop of sour cream. The main ingredients are red beets cooked in meat or fish broth with added mushrooms or smoked sausages. You also can add cabbage, onions, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and spinach to pack it full of vitamins. Some borscht recipes call for vinegar or lemon juice, giving it a characteristic tang.

Greece and the Middle East: The Mediterranean Diet

Dried beans and legumes have been an important source of protein in Greece and many Middle Eastern countries for centuries. Beans, lentils, and dried peas are often used to make soups, stews, spreads, and dips.

Hummus, a popular dip, blends chickpeas (garbanzo beans) with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and tahini, a sesame seed paste. Hummus served with warm pita bread triangles is a savory and filling treat.

“Everyone should make this recipe at home,” says chef Stephanie Green, R.D., president of Nutrition Studio in Phoenix, Arizona. “It’s so easy when you use a food processor. It’s healthy, too, since you can use hummus as a protein substitute.”

South Africa: Many Influences

South Africa is home to many different cultures. For instance, in one part of the country, Great Britain influences people’s tastes and manners. In other parts of the country, Portuguese, Jewish, Dutch, French, Indonesian, or Malay customs may dominate.

Some favorite foods include bobotie (meatloaf with curry), vegetables prepared with butter and sugar, koeksusters (fried twirled dough dipped in syrup), and biltong (dried salted meat). South Africans also eat elephant and Mopani worms, but tourists seldom do.

Maye Musk, a registered dietitian in private practice in South Africa for 20 years before she moved to North America, says that she loves the traditional African food.

“Puthu pap, a stiff cornmeal porridge that is served with meat, tomato, and onion sauce, is delicious,” says Musk. “It tastes very much like polenta [mush] but is white and looks like mashed potato. Because many Africans are lactose intolerant, the cooks are very happy when milk goes sour. Then it can be used to make sour puthu pap.”

China: Steamed and Stir-fried

Cantonese cuisine is probably the best known food outside of China. Ingredients used include snakes, turtles, sea urchins, shark fins, and even rice worms. Food is tightly steamed or stir-fried and is served with a blend of sauces, including soy sauce and oyster sauce.

One famous Cantonese specialty is dim sum, which means “heart’s delight.” This light meat features bite-sized steamed or fried dumplings, shrimp balls, steamed buns, and Chinese pastries. In dim sum restaurants, servers walk between the tables pushing carts with freshly prepared food. Diners pick their favorites. This type of “sitting buffet” is a great way to experience these culinary delights.

Most groceries and specialty food stores in this country carry many of the ingredients needed to make each of these foods. Libraries also are full of international cookbooks. Check one out today and start experiencing the tastes of other cultures for yourself.

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