I always choose to approach cooking as playtime instead of a chore, and the best way to play around with food is to see it in a new light, dress it with exotic flavors and cook it just a little differently than the way you’re used to. The best inspiration for that comes from traveling the world. Now, we can’t all hop on a plane for a trip around the world, but what about “traveling” the world through weeknight dinners? I know a family that picks a country once each week, makes a traditional dish from that culture, and plays music from that part of the world while they cook and eat. Every family member has to show up to the dinner table with an interesting fact about that country. This family can’t afford to travel the world, but they can afford a meal that makes them feel like they escaped to a foreign location. What a fun way to explore different cultures!
The truth is, preparing an international meal isn’t any harder than preparing the dinners you grew up with. Ziploc’s® 180˚ campaign, Fresh Feats, is challenging us all to step out of our comfort zone and explore the world through our culinary skills. I’m in! Who’s with me?
Put a Twist On It
You can start your international culinary adventure by just putting a twist on your every day dinners. For example, instead of the regular all-American chicken fingers your kids love, change them up a bit and introduce your kids to a new Japanese twist on their favorite dish. Season the chicken tenders with salt, dip them in egg wash and place them in a Ziploc® brand Freezer Bag with panko Japanese-style breadcrumbs. Seal the bag and shake it until the tenders are completely coated. After baking or pan-frying them, serve the tenders with teriyaki sauce instead of the ketchup or barbecue sauce that your kids are used to. Now you’re in a whole new country with a new world of flavors!
Or when making a grilled cheese sandwich for your lunch, add feta cheese, Kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes for a Greek flavor. Opa! Pizza toppings are another great way to explore the world. Instead of tomato sauce, spread peanut sauce on the pizza crust and top with grilled steak or chicken slices and the cheese of your choice. Once the pizza has baked, top it with chopped scallions, fresh cilantro and crushed peanuts. You’ve just traveled to Thailand, and you didn’t even need a passport!
Go All Out and Learn Something New
Once you’re ready to do more, research some recipes and start making authentic international dishes from scratch. A friend of mine, who traveled all over Asia learning to cook, taught me how to make Kung Pao chicken. At first the idea of making it from scratch seemed intimidating, especially since the list of ingredients was long. However, I quickly learned that the trick with many Chinese dishes is to have all the ingredients prepped and ready before cooking.
(Tip: Find small pockets of time throughout the day to chop veggies and meats and to mix any sauces the recipe calls for. Store the ingredients in Ziploc® brand Containers in the refrigerator. When it’s time to make dinner, you’ll have everything prepped and ready for cooking.)
As my friend walked me through the steps of Kung Pao chicken, I realized I was actually taking similar steps to the ones I take in my everyday cooking. The chicken needed to be marinated, so I did some of the same things I do when making lemon chicken, except this time instead of tossing the chicken in a Ziploc® brand Freezer Bag with lemon juice and garlic, I was tossing it with corn starch and soy sauce. In the end, this seemingly intimidating dish ended up being a breeze and—more importantly—even more delicious than takeout! (See recipe below.)
The most important thing to remember on this new journey around the world is to have fun with it! Get the entire family involved, or invite a bunch of friends over to cook with you. Trying out new recipes and cooking techniques is more fun and less intimidating with people who are just as excited as you are to explore the world through food. Bon voyage and bon appétit!
KUNG PAO CHICKEN
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
2 tablespoons canola oil
4 scallions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
½ cup roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 ½ tablespoons water
1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1 teaspoon white vinegar
Combine the marinade ingredients and pour over chicken cubes in a Ziploc® brand Freezer Bag. Seal the bag and “massage” the chicken, making sure it is well coated. Refrigerate for about one hour. Mix the sauce ingredients and set aside. Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until lightly browned on all sides. Remove the chicken to a plate and cover it with foil. To the same pan, add the sauce, stirring for about a minute, until it starts to thicken. Add the chicken, scallions and red pepper. Cook, stirring, for about five minutes. Add the peanuts. Serve over rice.
Disclaimer: I was paid to develop this post for Ziploc®. As always, all opinions are my own.
Photos courtesy of Kristina Kuzmic