Take your palate on a worldwide adventure at home

Farm Forum

While at home on a holiday break, I had a little more time to invest in food preparation than I usually have, so I decided we would focus our cooking efforts on foods from around the world.

Right after eating lunch, my kids began asking what we were having for dinner. At first, I wondered if I was preparing enough food for my two growing teenagers and 10-year-old. Turns out, they really were looking forward to the variety of recipes we were trying.

Cooking was occupying much of my “vacation,” even with my patient husband washing dishes in my wake. I then decided they needed to be in on the food preparation action. My kids learned more about cooking in the process of helping chop and assemble food.

Many of us eat more international foods than we imagine. Although we might think we are enjoying American food, the recipes we prepare at home and the ones we choose in restaurants often are melting pots of world cuisine. What ethnic foods do you enjoy?

My family particularly enjoys food of Asian, European and South American origin. In the past couple of weeks, we had chicken stir-fry, pot stickers, egg rolls, lentil curry, Swedish meatballs, homemade pizza, spaghetti, tacos and quesadillas. We enjoyed various breads, including lefse, pita bread and tortillas. We also prepared cornbread and roasted root vegetables, which can be traced to early Native American culture.

Consider trying some different recipes from other cultures in the New Year. With an adventuresome and healthful approach to cooking, we can take our plates and our palates on a journey around the world without leaving home.

Many international menus are higher in fruits and vegetables. Enjoying more stir-fried vegetables, which is characteristic of Asian cuisine, can help us meet the goal of filling half of our plates with fruits and vegetables.

Fill one-fourth of your plate with lean proteins such as meat, poultry, seafood and plant-based proteins such as lentils and beans. Many other cultures incorporate more protein-rich plant foods such as lentils, chickpeas and dry beans. These fiber- and protein-rich legumes can stretch your protein food dollar when added to soups, stews and salads.

For example, mix minced garlic, lemon juice, red pepper and tahini (sesame seed paste) with mashed chickpeas and you have the tasty Middle Eastern dip known as hummus. Try white beans in an Italian vegetable soup with a base of diced tomatoes, chicken broth, oregano and basil.

Be sure to drain and rinse canned beans to reduce the sodium content by about 40 percent. As another option, start with dry beans and invest the time in soaking and cooking them to make delicious, nutritious meals.

Fill the remaining one-fourth of your plate with grains, particularly whole-grain foods. Try less familiar grains such as quinoa or bulgur mixed with parsley, olive oil, chopped tomatoes and cucumbers to make tabbouleh salad, a common dish in the Mediterranean region of the world.

Higher-calorie, higher-sodium foods from around the world can be “tamed” by substituting ingredients. Choose fat-free or reduced-fat dairy products in place of full-fat dairy. Dairy is the fifth food group that provides protein, calcium and many other nutrients, and yogurt is a staple ingredient in many cultures.

Try using more spice when you trim the amount of butter or salt in recipes. You can perk up the flavor of foods with chili powder, garlic, ginger, basil, oregano, curry or cilantro. To reduce sodium in any of your recipes, opt for reduced-sodium versions of broths and sauces such as soy sauce. Compare Nutrition Facts labels to learn more about your choices.

For more information about healthful eating in the new year, check out the new resources for adults at

Here is an Italian recipe adapted from one found at To add fiber and other nutrients, try using whole-wheat pasta.

Chicken (or Turkey)


8 ounces fettucini noodles or other pasta (regular or whole wheat)

4 Tbsp. butter

2 c. fresh mushrooms, sliced (or substitute 2 small cans of mushrooms, drained)

1 tsp. dried thyme

1/2 c. all-purpose flour (scant)

2 c. reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 1/2 c. low-fat milk

4 c. chopped cooked chicken

1/2 c. slivered almonds, toasted

1 c. peas, frozen

1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 F. Lightly grease a 9- by 9-inch baking dish. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water by following the directions on the package but removing the pasta from the heat about two minutes early. (Note: This prevents the pasta from becoming mushy during baking.) While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and thyme. Stir and cook until the mushrooms are softened, about five minutes. Stir in the flour and blend thoroughly. While whisking, slowly add the chicken broth and milk. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer until sauce is thickened and smooth, about five minutes. Add toasted almonds, frozen peas and cooked pasta. Gently mix together. Pour into the baking dish and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is golden brown, about 25 to 35 minutes. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 360 calories, 11 grams (g) of fat, 32 g of protein, 33 g of carbohydrate, 2 g of fiber and 270 milligrams of sodium.