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Spice up your meals with foods from other countries

Carapulcra, a Peruvian dish with papa seca

Are you bored with your diet?  Are you looking for ways to spice up your meals?  Do you believe that healthy food can’t also have flavor and taste great?  Spice up your meals by exploring food from another culture.

I was a foodie long before I became a nutrition student.  I grew up in Texas and found myself exposed early on to Mexican flavors – still one of my all-time favorites.  Over the years as I explored other Latin American cultures I have discovered a certain kinship to the people, the food and the culture.

For me, learning and experiencing a culture includes developing an appreciation of their food and the role it plays in the lives of its people.  As an added benefit, it is also an opportunity to add some variety to your cooking.

I recently attended an event at MOFAD, a museum here in NYC about food and drink.  The event featured a cooking demo by Erik Rodriguez, a Peruvian-American chef who has a restaurant in Brooklyn.  He prepared a dish called, Carapulcra, a hearty stew-like dish with papa seca, dried potato, as the main ingredient.

Papa seca – dried potato which makes the base for Carapulcra

Peru is well known for potatoes and it is a common ingredient used in Peruvian cooking.  Chef Erik explained in pre-Colombian times papa seca was made with fresh potatoes that were freeze dried and then sundried.  After repeating this process five times, the potatoes are then stepped on until there is no moisture left. Leaving a product perfect for storing and preserving, but also resulting in a product with a dense texture that creates a base for hearty dishes.

Other flavors in his recipe include: aji amarillo paste, found in most Peruvian cooking and can be quite spicy.  As well as aji panca, which has a smoky flavor, red wine and chocolate. Topping the dish is salsa criolla, a widely-used condiment in Peru, made from shaved red onion, cilantro, lime juice, oil, salt and pepper.

Chef Erik in action

According to Chef Erik, the dish varies by family, region and availability of ingredients. It’s like any dish common in a culture where food and money is sometimes scarce and meals often include simple ingredients that are on-hand. This type of preparation allows the cook to stretch expensive ingredients and still leave everyone satisfied.

I realize that not everyone can travel to another culture or has access to the same variety of restaurants and events in their city as I do in New York. But today you can find tons of information and recipes on the internet.  And many hard to find ingredients are available on the internet.  One of my favorite sources for cultural food is Pinterest and I have several boards  on my page you are welcome to explore.

So, I hope you start today!! Take advantage of friends you may have from other cultures. Try out a cooking demo of a new cuisine. Travel. Use the internet or library to find new and interesting ways to spice up your meals.

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