9 International Dishes to Cook If You Miss Traveling
What a locked-down Outside travel editor has been making to eat her way around the world during the pandemic
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As a travel editor with perennially itchy feet, staying within a three-mile radius of my house has been tough. Since canceling planned trips to Italy, Alaska, and Hawaii, with no indication of when I’ll be able to reschedule them, I’ve tried to find different ways of tricking my brain into thinking I’m traveling again: watching YouTube videos of the grizzlies I was hoping to see at Katmai National Park this summer, changing my Zoom background to a shot of me on a sailboat in the South Pacific, and tuning into 40-plus hours of thru-hiking vlogs. But despite working at Outside and not Bon Appétit, I’ve realized that while I miss the adventures, I miss the food just as much.
So my latest lockdown hobby has been recreating some of my favorite meals I’ve enjoyed while traveling. Here are nine recipes that have managed to satisfy those cravings. And I’ve included some ingredient suggestions that substitute in common pantry staples, to spare you multiple, risky trips to the grocery store. Give these dishes a try, close your eyes, and you might just believe you’re at a beach in Mexico or a food stall in Asia. At the very least, you’ll no longer be hungry.
Indonesia: Peanut Sauce
This adaptation of a classic Asian peanut sauce, or satay sauce, comes from the mother of fellow editor (and my roommate) Maren Larsen. The first time Annie made it for me, I almost cried and said, “I want to eat this every day, every meal, for the rest of my life.” It was the closest thing I’ve had to the copious amounts I consumed during my year in Indonesia. I now always have at least one jar in the fridge and one in the freezer, and I throw it on everything from stir-fry to chicken and rice. You can even dip raw carrots into it like hummus.
½ cup peanut butter (the natural, no-sugar-added chunky kind is better, but in a pinch, Skippy will work)
2 tablespoons sriracha or other hot sauce
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 garlic cloves, chopped
½ cup fresh basil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 can coconut milk
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 small scallion (optional)
Throw everything in a pot, and simmer until fragrant and combined. Put it on whatever you want, and hold back tears of joy.
Mexico: Slow-Cooker Carnitas
Since my favorite local taco stand has shut down, my mouth has been watering for carnitas, the Mexican version of pulled pork. The traditional process involves a deep copper pot and lots of lard, but because I am in possession of neither, I’ve tried to replicate the flavors and texture with my Crock-Pot and oven. I modified this recipe, using pork instead of chicken (though with the shortages, I imagine chicken thighs would be easier to find) and skipping the chipotle sauce—I found that by using the slow cooker, the meat exuded enough delicious juice to use instead.
1 tablepoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon Mexican oregano (regular oregano will also work)
2 tablespoons chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
Zest and juice of one medium orange (about ¼ cup)
2 freshly squeezed limes (about ¼ cup)
2 pounds pork butt, shoulder, or loin
5 garlic cloves, pressed or chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
¼ cup chicken stock
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
Combine seasonings, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, orange juice, and lime juice in a bowl, and whisk together until combined. Put your pork cut in a Crock-Pot, and pour the seaoning mixture over it, flipping the meat to make sure it’s coated on all sides. Add the garlic, onion, chicken stock, cilantro, and bay leaf. Cook on low for six to eight hours (the longer, the better) until the pork pulls apart easily.
Once the meat is done, shred it and spread it on a baking dish, add salt and pepper, drizzle two tablespoons of cooking liquid on top, and toss to coat. Put the tray on the middle rack in the oven under the broil setting for about 15 minutes, and cook it until the pork is crisped but not dry. Pull it out at the halfway mark to drizzle another two more tablespoons of cooking liquid over it.
Serve in warmed corn tortillas topped with more fresh lime juice, cilantro, and pickled onions; over rice and beans; in a burrito; or devour it straight from the pan.
New Zealand: Pavlova
Aussies will claim this dessert as their own invention, but any self-respecting Kiwi will tell you who it really belongs to. This recipe comes from a Kiwi grandmother I stayed with near Wellington (thanks, Nana Jackie!), and it’s still a mystery to me how something with so few ingredients can taste so damn delicious. It’s especially ideal for the current food-shortage situation, as it requires no flour or yeast, just lots of sugar, eggs, and a decent mixer.
For the Meringue:
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
For the Topping:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Fresh fruit of your choice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
With a standing mixer (or a handheld mixer if you want an arm workout), beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, about five to ten minutes at high speed. Add half the sugar, beat for another 30 seconds, then add the remaining half. Continue beating until stiff peaks form like little snowy mountains (you should be able to hold the whisk upright). When in doubt, beat some more. Add the vanilla extract, and beat for another minute. Fold in the cornstarch and cream of tartar using a spatula.
Spread the mixture in a roughly eight- or nine-inch circle on the baking sheet, making sure the outer edge is relatively tall. Pop in the oven, and immediately reduce the heat to 200 degrees. Bake for about 90 minutes, until it appears firm and dry. Try to not open the oven at all during the baking process.
While the meringue is baking, pour the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla into a mixing bowl and beat on medium-high speed until medium peaks form or the cream has a nice, thick texture. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Turn off the oven, and let the meringue completely cool inside it (this could take several hours). It’s important that you don’t skip this last step: if you do, the nice golden crust formed by the caramelized sugar will crack—not that I know from experience or anything.
Top with cream and fruit.
Asia: Wahyu’s Special Ramen
My friend Wahyu, a ranger who I worked with doing forest conservation in Borneo, Indonesia, showed me how to take an ordinary pack of instant ramen and turn it into something I’d constantly crave long after returning to the U.S. I’ve since added some other ingredients and adopted a new egg-cooking technique from another friend. But just a few basic foods, including tomatoes, onion, and garlic, make a world of difference.
1 cup water
1 onion, diced
1 fresh tomato, diced
4 garlic cloves, diced
1 package instant ramen noodles and its flavor packet (or, if you’re a purist, use fresh ramen noodles and chicken broth, altering the cooking instructions accordingly)
1 tablespoon oil (preferably sesame)
1 tablespoon fish sauce (substitute soy sauce if you can’t find it)
Additional vegetables (bok choy and mushrooms work particularly well)
1 teaspoon diced fresh ginger or powdered ginger
Sriracha or other chili sauce to taste
Boil water in a kettle or pot. In a separate pot, sauté the onion, tomato, garlic, and ramen flavor packet together in sesame oil until the tomatoes are soft and have broken down completely and the onions are translucent. Add the boiling water to the pot with the sautéed veggies, along with the fish sauce and any additional vegetables. Cook until the vegetables are just soft, then add the noodles. Let them soften for two minutes.
Crack one egg into the mixture, whipping it until the egg has almost dissolved into the broth. Separate the yolk and white of the second egg, setting the yolk aside to use shortly. Add the egg white, whipping it until the broth becomes creamy.
Turn off the heat, but leave the pot on the hot burner. Add the egg yolk into the still boiling liquid, cover, and wait about 30 seconds, until the yolk is set but still runny. Pour out the contents of the pot into a bowl, carefully scooping out the intact yolk last.
Turkey: Chicken Hot Pot
Senior travel editor Erin Riley kindly brought me a tray of this when I was having a rough week recently, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about—or making it—since. The original recipe calls for rooster, but because I’m not yet living my best life as a full-blown homesteader, I’ve been using chicken. While the more authentic version calls for Turkish red bell pepper paste, which uses sun-dried peppers, this recipe works just as well with the regular paste found at most grocery stores.
1 pound chicken breast, cubed
1 pound potatoes, cubed
4 to 5 medium tomatoes, chopped
3 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons red bell pepper paste
1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
1 tablespoon dried oregano
¾ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl until fully combined and your chicken pieces are thoroughly coated. Transfer the mixture to a casserole dish or Dutch oven, and bake for an hour and ten minutes.
This goes especially well over rice and with some homemade cacik, or Turkish yogurt sauce.
North Africa/Middle East: Shakshuka
Outside director of event marketing Nicole Barker (my other roommate—Santa Fe is a small town) spent a few months in the Middle East eating this deliciously eggy concoction, and it’s been in her breakfast rotation ever since. But in our house, we have it for dinner, because it’s quarantine and the rules no longer matter.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
⅛ teaspoon ground cayenne (or to taste)
1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes with their juices, coarsely chopped
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
¼ teaspoon black pepper, plus more as needed
5 ounces feta, crumbled (about 1¼ cups)
6 large eggs
Chopped cilantro, for serving
Hot sauce, for serving
Heat an oven to 375 degrees. Warm oil in a large skillet (preferably cast-iron) over a medium-low flame. Add the onion and bell pepper. Cook until very soft, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and cook until tender, one to two minutes, then stir in the cumin, paprika, and cayenne, and cook for another minute. Pour in the tomatoes, and season with the salt and pepper; simmer until tomatoes have thickened, about ten minutes. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if needed. Stir in the crumbled feta.
Crack your eggs into the skillet over the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the skillet to the oven, and bake until the eggs are just set, seven to ten minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and hot sauce, and serve.
This can be made without the feta, but I wouldn’t skip it—the cheese turns into nuggets of ooey goodness in the oven. While the dish can be eaten on its own, it goes especially well over some sort of flatbread or regular toast.
Yes, you could just buy frozen pizza. But since visiting Sicily last September, my now spoiled taste buds refuse to accept it as even a less than worthy substitute. Why go with DiGiorno when you can make a big batch of dough and sauce ahead of time, stick the dough in the freezer, and essentially have pizza on demand for the duration of quarantine? This recipe came from my mom, who got it from the Italian owner of her local pizza place in New York. It was also approved by my Sicilian grandmother, who has gotten us kicked out of multiple restaurants for arguing with the chef. Inside tip: Having trouble finding yeast or flour? Check with your local pizza place. To make extra cash, many of them are selling their stock.
For the Dough (makes two to three large thin-crust pies):
1 package dry instant yeast (or 1.5 ounces fresh yeast)
1½ cups warm—not boiling—water (about 100 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit—just turn your sink faucet up to full heat)
3 teaspoons sugar
1½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for coating
4 cups flour
For the Sauce:
½ yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
1 16-ounce can tomato puree
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon oregano
Mozzarella or Parmesan cheese
Combine the yeast and warm water in a large bowl with a pinch of sugar to activate. Stir together until yeast is dissolved. Add the rest of the sugar, salt, garlic and onion powders, and olive oil. Stir some more. Add the first two cups of flour, mix with a spoon, then toss in the third cup and mix with the spoon.
Add the last cup of flour. But this time, knead the dough with your hands until it’s adequately infused with all of your pent-up stress and no longer sticky. Pour a good amount of olive oil (don’t skimp) all over the sides of the bowl, and coat the ball of dough thoroughly. Cover the bowl with three or four dish towels, and let it rise for about 30 minutes.
In the meantime, make the sauce. Sauté the onion until translucent, add the garlic, and cook one to two minutes more. Then add the tomato puree, salt, pepper, and oregano. Cook over low heat for 15 minutes, then remove from the heat, and let it sit for the flavors to meld.
After the dough has risen, punch it down, and plop it on a well-floured work surface. Form the dough into a log, and slice it in half or into thirds, depending on how big you want your pies.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, letting your pan or pizza stone heat up within it. Take one piece of dough, and flatten it out on your work surface. Working from the middle outward, use your fingers to stretch it while flipping it over from time to time to work the opposite side. For a thin crust, stretch the dough until it’s just about translucent; it will seem almost too thin. If you get holes, simply pinch the edges of the hole together and fold some more dough over it.
Transfer the dough to your preheated pan or pizza stone. Ladle the sauce over the top from the middle outward in that fancy way you see pizza chefs do it on TV. Add cheese (fresh mozzarella and a bit of Parmesan are my favorite) and any toppings you’d like—as long as it’s not pineapple, lest you risk being haunted by the ghosts of 10,000 Italian nonnas. Bake on the bottom rack of the oven until the crust is golden brown and the bottom is crisp, about 12 to 15 minutes.
Any extra dough can be saved in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer just about indefinitely. If you do make a pie out of the premade dough, first bring it to room temperature before you start stretching.
India: Masala Chai
There are few things I miss about the year I spent living in Boulder, Colorado. But the one thing I’m really hankering for is the chai at Dushanbe Tea House, which was within walking distance of my apartment. My cravings for its spicy, flavor-packed conconction have only gotten stronger since lockdown; in my most desperate moments, I have dreamed of making the six-hour, totally irresponsible drive there just for a cup. Then, while scrolling through social media one night to quell my existential dread, I saw someone prepare homemade chai, and my world changed.
1 fresh gingerroot, peeled
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon nutmeg
½ cup water
½ cup half-and-half, milk, or whatever your preferred dairy substitute is—just make sure it’s creamy
1 tablespoon loose-leaf black tea
Sugar to taste
Crush up your ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and peppercorns with a mortar and pestle. If you don’t have one, you can use the back of a wooden spoon and a small bowl.
Bring the water to boil in a pot, and add the ground spices (or stick them whole into a strainer and seep it in the water). Simmer for about 15 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat, and add in the black-tea leaves. Let it seep for five to ten minutes, depending on the desired strength.
Put the pot back on the stove over low-medium heat, and add your milk, cream, or bougie substitute and sugar. Stir occasionally, making sure the mixture doesn’t boil. Once the top of this becomes frothy, remove the pot from the heat, and let it sit for another minute or two before pouring through a strainer into a mug. If you’re less of a klutz than I am, pour the mixture from a height above the mug to help aerate it. Enter chai heaven.
Carribean: Cuban-ish Rice and Beans
If you’re like me and always have a ten-pound bag of rice and approximately 18 cans of beans in your pantry, you know, just in case a global pandemic hits, you should be well equipped for this dish. I ate some version of it virtually every day as a broke college student in Florida—and regularly now as an only slightly less broke editor during quarantine—and it’s a wonder what some simple additions can do to break up the starchy monotony. Breakfast? Put an egg on top. Extra hungry? Throw in some slow-cooked carnitas (see above). I cook everything together in the same pot, because the rice absorbs the bean and tomato-juice flavors and… who am I kidding? It’s so that I have fewer dishes to do.
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 jalapeño or other hot pepper, chopped (optional)
1 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped or crushed
½ cup chicken stock (or water)
1 cup white rice, rinsed in a colander until the water runs clear
1 16-ounce can black beans, or soaked and cooked dried beans
1 can diced tomatoes
Heat oil in a pan over medium-low heat. Sauté the onion until translucent, then add the chili powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, jalapeño and bell peppers, and garlic, and cook two to three minutes more. Add the chicken stock and rice, and turn the stove’s flame up to medium heat. Add the beans and tomatoes, without draining. Stir, bring the whole mixture to a soft boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook until the rice is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed—what you want left is a nice, thick sauce.
Serve with some freshly chopped tomatoes, hot sauce, avocado, egg, cilantro, cheese, sour cream—whatever you want. You’ll never regret making a double batch and having it in your freezer for days when you’re between grocery runs.