Qué Rico: My 4 Favorite Recipes from Around The World

  • Luke Armstrong
Apr 06, 2017

What can we say about food from around the world? How to say this in a way your taste buds will understand?

Friends, there are dishes out there that have restored my faith in humanity. There are meals I have shared in exotic lands with locals that have lifted my culinary soul to such heights of delicious delight that just to recall them sends shivers through my entire digestive system.

People travel for many reasons. For some, eating exotic dishes in a new land is reason enough to board a plane (I am thinking about you, Anthony B).

In far-flung places, I often find myself between mouthfuls vowing to learn how to make the delicious exotic dish at hand. I even go to the effort of sometimes obtaining a local recipe to a delicious dish.

But when I return from my trip, all too often I find myself eating delivered pizza in my kitchen rather than trying to re-create these culinary wonders of the world.

In this article, I release the guilt of hoarding recipes from around the world and share with you freely your favorite recipes I've picked up in 10 years traveling the globe. Just because you can't travel all the time, doesn't mean you can't eat your way around the world from the comfort of your own home.

1. Recipe for Guatemalan Pepian

If you read my article last month about delicious dishes you must try on a trip to Guatemala, then you already read about this must-try national dish. But why wait until a trip to Guatemala? Why leave such deliciousness to the hands of travel fate? Why not make it tonight? Why not call up all of your friends and say, "Amigos, we're having a shindig and cooking up the stew to end all stews—Guatemalan Pepian.

This recipe is for "pepiàn de pollo," chicken pepiàn, but you can sub that for pork or beef as you are inspired (who knows, maybe the culinary muses will inspire you to make it with all three. . .).

Guatemalan Pepiàn

Some of these ingredients are things you may have never heard of, like chayote. So don't worry about omitting something. No single ingredient makes or break your pepiàn.

Guatemalans make pepiàn in their own familial way. They tend to get pretty wild with it and include everything. So if there's something that you would like to add, you are free to modify this recipe to include any vegetables you have on hand.

8 Servings

-3 pounds of chopped chicken
-1 celery stalk
-2 carrots
-1 cup of quartered, peeled mirletons or chayotes
-2 cups of quartered and peeled potatoes
-6 plum tomatoes
-8 tomatillos (cherry tomatoes)
-4 garlic cloves
-1/2 cup of sesame seed
-1/2 cup of shelled, raw pumpkin seeds
-1 large chili pasa (a dark dried chili)
-2 small chili guaques (a dried spicy red/brown chili)
-1 medium onion
-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
-1 cinnamon stick
-teaspoon of full cloves
-3 whole allspice berries
-1/2 cup of corn masa dough made with corn flour and water
-3 branches of fresh cilantro
-6 oz of raw cacao or unsweetened chocolate

Cook the chicken and 6 cups of water with two carrots, the celery stock, and in onion until done. Then strain and set aside the chicken and broth but discard the vegetables (I know, so wasteful, but how can we argue against hundreds of years of tradition? Do you know anyone with a pet rabbit? Maybe you can give it to them.)

Cook the remaining chopped vegetables in the chicken broth and set both aside.

Toast the tomatoes, garlic, and tomatillos in a skillet. Peel them and set them aside. Now toast the sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, chiles, and onions. If you don't want the dish to be too spicy, remove the seeds of the chiles and discard them (or save them for uncle Bill, who loves his spicy food). Now grind all the toasted items in a blender. In a large cooking pot fry the blended sauce in 1 to 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil for five minutes.

Toast the cinnamon stick, cloves, and allspice berries. Then grind these with the chocolate and add to the sauce. Then add 6 cups of chicken broth, stirring in the corn dough masa and cilantro and cook until thickened (usually around 20 minutes). You may add more corn dough masa if you like a thick sauce.

Add the chicken and vegetables pieces and reheat. Now you are ready to feast upon Guatemala's national and most popular dish—pepián! This dish is usually served with rice.

2. Eat into The Heart of East African Culture With Ugali and Sukuma Wiki

When I was in high school, my parents adopted two adolescent Kenyan boys. One of them, Calvin, would nostalgically pine about missing his national dish of Ugali and Sukuma wiki. So since my mom was kind enough to adopt them, she was also kind enough to attempt to make this meal her new son missed. The results were disgusting. The inedible ball of mush certainly seemed to give wings to the stereotype that no one was eats very well in Africa.

A decade later, when I lived in Kenya, I had sakuma wiki and ugali just about every day for three months and I can tell you that over in Kenya, they know what they're doing (sorry mom).

"Sukuma wiki" is a Swahili phrase meaning, "stretch the week" because it's made from easily grown and procured ingredients that are available when other sustenance isn't. So it "stretches the week," when other supplies have run out and meat is scarce.

In Kenya you see kale and collard greens growing in in front of almost every home. Even working professionals like government accountants who earn a good salary still tend to grow a lot of their own food, especially the kale, tomatoes, and corn that are the base of sukuma wiki.

Versions of this dish can be found across countries and cultures in Africa—Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania, and other African nations.

So even if you haven't seen for yourself what East Africa looks like, let's find out how it tastes and make up some Sukuma Wiki.

Kenyan Sukuma Wiki Recipe

4 servings

-1 pound kale -2 medium tomatoes, about 1/2 pound -1 large white onion, about 1 pound -1 tablespoon peanut oil -1 teaspoon cumin -1/2 teaspoon coriander -1/2 teaspoon turmeric -1 1/2 teaspoon salt -Freshly ground black pepper -1 lemon, juiced, about 3 tablespoons

Chop the kale into 1-inch pieces, including the stems.

Chop the tomatoes  Peel and dice the onion. Heat the oil in a wok. When it is hot, add the onion and cook for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. When the onion is getting soft, stir in the cumin, coriander, and turmeric. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for about 3 minutes.

Toss in the greens one handful at a time, stirring constantly to coat them with the onions, oil, and spices. When they have all been added, sprinkle the salt and a generous amount of fresh pepper over them and stir.

Pour in 1 cup of water. Cover the pot and turn the heat down to medium. Cook for 10 to 20 minutes, or until the greens are tender to your taste.

Take it off the heat, and toss in the greens with the lemon juice. Serve hot, garnished with extra tomato, if desired. Traditionally this is eaten with the fingers using with "ugali" like a tortilla to capture the sukuma wiki. You mean you don't know how to make ugali? Read on...

3. How to Make Ugali

If you have someone in your life who likes to be helpful in the kitchen, but tends to ruin recipes, then you can pass this person with making ugali while you handle the sukuma wiki—it's hard to screw up ugali—like screwing up a bowl of corn flakes.

-4  cups finely ground cornmeal
-8  cups water

Heat water to a boil in a saucepan. Slowly pour the corn flour into boiling water. Avoid forming lumps. Stir and mash any lumps that do form. Because sometimes in life lumps happen and panicking won't help, you just gotta keep stirring. Add corn flour until it is thicker than mashed potatoes.

Then Cook for three or four minutes, continue to stir (unless you want those lumps you just got rid of). High rollers might want to top it off with a pat of butter or margarine, if desired.

Cover and keep warm. Serve with sukuma wiki or other dish—ugali is not so exciting by itself. 

4. Vagabond Temple Dal

Dal is a traditional Indian dish that first came to my palate via and an Israeli cook at the Vagabond Temple Retreat Center in  Cambodia. Confused yet? No need to be, your tastebuds will know the truth when you try it—doesn't matter where it's from—it's delicious and nutritious!

Lentils are the base of dal and are packed full of protein, making them a regular feature on any vegan grocery list. Like pepiàn, there are as many types of dal as there are moms making it. This version includes carrots, onions, zucchini, eggplant and lots of garlic to create a balanced and detoxifying dish, but it's your kitchen— you can experiment with your favourite veggies to create your own version.

Serves 5

-3 cups yellow lentils -3 tomatoes -2 carrot -1 zucchini -1 eggplant -2 onions -5 garlic cloves
-1 tablespoon salt -1 tablespoon paprika -1 tablespoon tumric -2 tablespoons garam masala (ask your grocer, I don't know what this is either!) -1 tablespoon dried parsley -1 teaspoon cinnamon -1 tablespoon chili

Wash the lentils at least 5 times and soak for 30 minutes. Roughly chop all your vegetables while you’re waiting for the lentils.

Heat oil in a pot and add all of the spices. Let the spices fry with the oil while stirring for 1-2 minutes and keep a close eye on them to make sure they don’t burn. After 2 minutes, add the chopped onion and garlic. Fry for 3 minutes then add the tomatoes. After 5 minutes, add the rest of your chopped vegetables and fry them for 5-7 minutes.

Add the lentils and fry for 5 more minutes. Cover with water and let it cook for 15-20 minutes, then cover it with water again and cook for 15-20 more minutes.

About the Author

luke armstrong

Luke Maguire Armstrong is the author of "The Nomad's Nomad." He has spent the last decade traveling, writing and designing, and funding philanthropic programs around the world.

Read more of Luke’s blogs Visit Luke's website travelwritesing.com

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