8 Foreign Dishes to Master Abroad
Pierogi in Poland
Pierogi are to Poland what empanadas are to Argentina, though this Polish spin on stuffed dough is made with unleavened dough and boiled instead of baked. Though they began as a cheap and filling peasant food, they are now dressed up and sold at restaurants all over Poland.
Common fillings include mashed potatoes, farmer’s cheese, cabbage, sauerkraut, meat, and sweet fillings like cherry and blueberry, consumed for dessert. Onions, mashed potatoes, and cheese is the most common combination in Poland, though there are endless variations you can try.
Mix 2 ½ cups of flour with 1 teaspoon salt, 1 egg, ½ cup of water, and 2 tablespoons of sour cream until the dough is sticky. Let the dough rest for ½ an hour while you make the fillings. Finely chop 2 pounds of onions and fry in butter until golden brown. Peel 5 pounds of potatoes, cut into thirds, and boil until tender. Mash the potatoes with the onions, ½ cup of cheddar cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Roll out the pierogi dough to 1/16 of an inch thick. Use an inverted glass to cut circles in the dough about 3-4 inches in diameter.
Boil a large pot of salted water. Spoon 1 tablespoon of filling onto each dough circle and use a wet finger to bring the edges together and close into a crescent shape. Boil the pierogi for 10-12 minutes, rinse quickly in warm water, and serve.
Tamales in Mexico
Tamales were created by the Aztecs centuries ago and are now one of the most-popular dishes in Mexico. A steam-cooked corn mixture (masa) is filled with meat like pork or chicken and a sauce like salsa or mole, wrapped in a dried cornhusk, and steamed.
There are reputed to be more than 500 varieties of tamales in Mexico, with each region putting its own twist on the tradition. Tamales can be made savory or sweet and are consumed as breakfast, dinner, dessert (stuffed with raisons or dried fruit), or a snack. You can find them in restaurants or sold from street vendors all over Mexico.
Cooking tamales is notoriously difficult and time-consuming. To save a little effort, buy premade corn masa at your local market. Cut a 6-8 pound pork roast into large chunks. Put the chunks into a pan, cover with water, and boil until tender (about 2 hours). Remove the meat and save the broth. When the meat is cool, shred it by hand, discarding any fat. Warm ¼ cup of corn oil, 1 tablespoon salt, ½ tablespoon pepper, 2 tablespoons garlic powder, 2 tablespoons ground cumin, and 3 tablespoons chili powder in a pan and then mix thoroughly into the meat.
Mix one pound of the masa with 2 tablespoons paprika, 2 tablespoons salt, 2 tablespoons chili powder, and 2 tablespoons garlic powder. Slowly add in 1 cup of corn oil and 1 cup of the reserved meat broth until the mix has the consistency of peanut butter. Soak the corn husks for about 2 hours, dry and then spread about ½ cup of the masa mixture onto each husk. Cover 2/3 of the corn husk vertically and 2/3 horizontally with masa. Layer 1 tablespoon of the meat mix on top. Roll the tamales closed and tie with string. Fold over the top and bottom edges and then tie length-wise with string. Place the tamales in a steamer pot over simmering water, and steam for about 2 hours until the masa is soft and thoroughly cooked.
Baklava in Turkey
Baklava is a dessert pastry made of phyllo dough filled with chopped nuts (usually pistachios) and sweetened with honey. While it is popular in many Middle-Eastern countries, it is believed to have originated in Turkey.
In fact, baklava was a favorite food of many of the Turkish sultans, who believed in the aphrodisiac properties of the nuts and honey. Originally reserved for the rich and for special occasions like weddings, baklava is now an everyday treat sold at bakeries, markets, and cafés. It’s also incredibly easy to make at home.
(Related: 15 Incredible Desserts to Try on the Road)
Dedicated chefs can make their own phyllo dough, but it’s much easier to pick up some premade dough from the frozen foods aisle of the grocery store. Place a sheet of phyllo on a buttered baking pan. Brush phyllo with butter and add another layer, continuing until you have used ½ pound of dough. Sprinkle pastry with 2 cups of chopped pistachios (walnuts can be substituted) and then cover with alternating layers of phyllo brushed with butter. Brush the top layer with butter and then cut the dough into triangles. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown.
Melt 1 pound of sugar with the juice of 1/2 a lemon and 1 liter of water over medium heat to make a syrup. Pour the syrup over warm baklava, allow to cool, and serve.
These are but a few of the options for dishes you can learn to cook while traveling and then recreate at home. Every country or region has its own specialties — roll sushi in Japan, make gumbo in Louisiana, and bake samosas in India or cannoli in Sicily. Check out a professional cooking school or just spend an afternoon watching a local family create their favorite meals. When you learn to make a special native dish, revisiting its place of origin can be as easy as entering your own kitchen.