Ah, the end of January. It’s cold and we’re staying in more days than we usually would. And these gloomy afternoons have us wishing we could wake up on a beach on a Grecian island or suddenly be flying in a hot air balloon in Cappadocia or wading under a waterfall in Costa Rica, but alas here we are at our desks with our chapped lips and dry hands craving a little escape from these dark-at-five days.
I’m right there with you. Here in Normandy it’s cloudy, it's cold, and it's windy. So earlier last week in an effort to escape dark and dreary January, I took a trip through my old photos. While I found myself missing the beaches of Greece and the south of France from this past summer, I really just wanted all the food. And I suddenly got a craving for all of the fresh, warming, and tasty food I’d eaten over the course of all my travels and I thought it might be a slightly easier fix to just make a green curry than to buy a $900 flight to the beaches of Thailand.
So even though I wish I could give each of my readers a round-trip flight to their destination of choice to escape January, this week I can only offer a round-trip ticket right from your kitchen table. After being to 30 countries and trying cuisine from all over the world I’ve tried the good, the bad, and the ugly, but check out these next few recipes that are the best of the best to get you on a vacation from your spaghettis and order-in Chinese food.
1. Gemista (Greece)
Deciding on one dish from Greece was a toughie. A classic tomato, onion, and feta greek salad? Homemade, thick-cut french fries? Spanakopita? Give any of these to me any night of the week and I’m there to eat all of it. But over the summer when my 80 year old neighbor would set a plate of stuffed tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers in front of me with a wedge of feta and a hunk of crusty bread, man, it was going to be a good day.
These babies are seriously a people pleaser because they're full of flavor, pretty easy to make, and can take you all the way to a wood-paneled greek taverna on the side of the rocky hills of Santorini or a beach-side table covered with a red and white checker tablecloth, a big basket of bread, and a cool glass of white wine. Enjoy!
2. Casado (Costa Rica)
Every time I get to a new dish on this list I want to say it’s my favorite and casado is no different. Casado is the most traditional meal in Costa Rica and it’s as simple as it is delicious. It’s like a chipotle bowl took a surf vacation. This plate is super customizable as it just starts with a base of beans and rice so whatever else you decide to add to it (fried plantains, tomatoes, avocado, corn, a fried egg, meat/fish, lettuce) is up to you.
Though you can pretty much add whatever you want to pair with your rice and beans (fried plantains and avocado are my favorites), it might be tougher to find the coveted salsa lizano which is an acidic dressing which is a cult classic that most Costa Ricans eat their Casado with, but I like eating my casado with salsa or even a vinaigrette. Check out these recipes for some ideas for making a tasty casado.
3. Salade de Chèvre Chaud (France)
This is such a satiating little salad. I first had it at a French dinner party and was shocked such an easy thing could be so good. This salad’s main act is goat cheese baked onto bread. You can use either regular sliced sandwich bread or a baguette, but all you have to do is plop a chunk of goat cheese onto the bread and then pop it in the oven for 10 minutes and you've got your pièce de résistance. Feel free to add honey, thyme or balsamic reduction to your toasts for a little extra flavor and then add it to any salad of your choice. I like mine with cherry tomatoes, carrots, and pickled peppers, but you can add whatever you want.
4. Tagine/Tajine (Morocco)
Warm, spiced, and filled with vegetables, tagine will be a winner in anyone’s book. I first tried tagine when I was in Morocco three years ago, but I’ve been on the couscous train since I was little. From age 6 to age 10 I was obsessed with the stuff. So when I discovered there was this vegetarian (or not) dish filled with veggies like carrots, zucchini, onion, and carrots that went perfectly with my beloved couscous I was all there for tagine. This is a great one since it’s a type of stew and you get to throw everything together and cook it up in the same pot. It's one of my go-to's when I don't know what to make.
5. Doubles (Trinidad and Tobago)
I'm pretty sure I think about doubles more than the average person thinks about their ex. A few months ago, I met a girl from Trinidad and the first thing out of my mouth was “doubles” as if it was some sort of mutual friend or famous Trinidadian celebrity (though it might as well be) and not just a popular street food.
Doubles are this sort of chick pea stew on something called a bara which looks something like the lovechild of naan and a tortilla. You can put different sweet/spicy sauces on it, but with or without the sauces, the chickpeas and bara are towards the top of my international food list. I was only in Trinidad for two days, but I got doubles both days that I was there because there was no way I was walking around the little streets of Port of Spain without one. Here are two pretty good-looking recipes, though from what I heard they're a little hard to duplicate so this might an excuse for a quick flight to Trinidad.
6. Feijoada (Brazil)
Brazil has got you with yet another easy stew-like recipe for you. This black bean soup can be made with or without meat and is pretty dang good. I’ve had a lot of rice and beans in my life, but honestly this soup is right up there with casado (with perhaps a little more flavor). Brazil went all in when making their national dish because with just a few steps you got yourself a nice meal. I will say this soup definitely leans more towards the carnivores in the crowd as it can be pretty meaty (we’re talking bacon, pork rib, pork shoulder, and sausage all in one soup), but I’ve also had vegan/vegetarian versions of Feijoada that were pretty dang good so it's worth a try for anyone!
7. Gang Kiew Wan/Green Curry (Thailand)
Ah, Thai curry. When I was in Thailand I pretty much rotated between curry and noodle dishes for every meal and I enjoyed every single one, but there isn’t anything quite like a good green curry. I’m sure there is a red and yellow curry lover in any crowd and I’m not gonna say you’re wrong, but I’m not gonna say you’re right either.
Red curry is red due to chili powder and red curry paste (garlic, spices, galangal, and shrimp paste) and yellow curry is yellow due mostly to the addition of turmeric, but green curry is green due to cilantro, kaffir lime leaf and peel, and basil as well as fresh green chilies and several other ingredients such as lemongrass, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, and shallots. Both me and the Thais, whose most popular curry is green, agree that the flavors of chili and turmeric ain’t got nothing on cilantro, basil, and kaffir lime. I’ve attached one recipe for each color curry because I’m trying not to be too judgmental of you red and yellow lovers.
and because I love you guys...
8. Çilbir (Turkey)
This recipe comes with two confessions. First, this one is actually breakfast and not dinner which is why there are 8 recipes on your week of international meals, but I couldn't resist with this one. And second, I’ve never been to Turkey so I'm cheating a little bit here, but when I was in Dublin last year, my friend and I went to the best brunch place called Bibi’s café and, holy cow, I still think about the çilbir (pronounced “chulburr”) I ate there. At first, the idea of mixing poached eggs with yogurt might sound a little odd, but there is something SO good about this breakfast meal. Seriously check out the recipe before you go hating on the amazingness that is çilbir.
Comment your favorite international dishes!