(87) Chile – Pastel de Choclo

Atacama Desert, Chile. Source: Wanderlust Chloe

Time to get back to blogging- today we traveled to Chile for our 87th country. Chile can be found on the Western border South America and is the closest country to Antarctica. It has an impressive coastline along the Pacific Ocean (4,000 miles) and neighbors Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina. Chile is home to unique landscapes besides its extensive shoreline-the Atacama Desert nestles between the Andes Mountains and ocean and is the driest place on Earth. There are parts of the desert that have never experienced rain! Off the coast of Chile (about 2,100 miles away) is Easter Island, once a sheep farm is now a tourist destination with incredible caves and lava tunnels. Have you packed your bags yet? When you visit maybe you’ll pick up the native dance “cueca” which mimics the courting ritual of a hen and rooster -that’s no chicken dance!

Chilean cuisine clearly has a lot of Spanish influence, but it also has other European influences like German, Italian, French, and English. Like Europe, Chile is a large producer of wine making it in the top ten. Common ingredients used in Chilean cooking include maize, onions, cumin, beef, beans, poultry, coriander, wheat, and potatoes.

Pastel de Choclo is a layered dish of ground meat and onion, hard boiled eggs, chicken, and corn. It is traditionally cooked in a clay dish inside a wood-burning oven, but of course no access to that here so an mini electric oven will have to do.. The recipe can be found here.

So I underestimated how long it would take to cut the corn off the cob. Props to cooks that do this on a regular basis, it is not fun! I of course appreciate the fresher taste but man there was corn everywhere when I was finished!

A tip for anyone wanting to try this recipe is use your food processor (blender works too) to get a thicker consistency of corn. Mine was not as crusty as I would have liked and I think this would have helped.

Oh Chile I tried.. The flavors were all there but I didn’t achieve that crispy corn crust on top. It was a super meaty dish which was really nice with the cooked corn. Despite the mishap it was very yummy. It had some shepherds pie vibes (of course without the potato). The basil was seasoning I would never think to pair with corn but it works! We rated it 7.5/10.

(88) Taiwan – Niu Rou Mian Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup

Welcome back to The Messy Aprons, a place where you can travel by taste buds! Today we are heading to Taiwan to try a fiery dish.

Taipei, once home the tallest building in the world. Source: Architect Newspaper (Francisco Diez/Flickr)

Taiwan is situated in the East China Sea south of Japan and South Korea, East of China. It is slightly larger than Maryland/ half the size of Scotland. Only 3% of the population is native to the region, the vast majority being Chinese. Because of this a lot of their culture is influenced by the Chinese. Taiwan sits in the “ring of fire” which makes it very prone to earthquakes. There is controversy over the current status of Taiwan and depending on who you ask the answer could differ. As far as I know some see Taiwan is independent from China, others say they are a providence of China and also referred to as The Republic of China. Nonetheless Taiwan is a beautiful place with unique buildings, wildlife, and noteworthy cuisine.

Taiwanese cuisine as some may have guessed has heavy Chinese and Japanese influence filled with the savory flavors of soy sauce, sesame oil, cilantro, and chili peppers (to name a few). As most countries do they take advantage of local resources such as seafood which is the primary protein of their diet. Rice often is at the root of the meal. Today I made a spicy noodle soup known as niu rou mian.

The dish has roots in China, however it was brought from China to Taiwan by refugees that fled China after the Chinese Civil War. Prior to this beef was not eaten on the island due to lack of resources and it was once illegal to kill cattle in China. Taiwan even has a saying that roughly translates to “don’t eat beef and dog and prosperity follows; eat beef and dog and hell is inevitable.” 

So back to this dish.. this hearty yet spicy soup has a bone broth base (which was not included in this recipe- this cuts down the cook time) that gets its spice from several ingredients besides the chili bean sauce. Over time ingredients are added to form a savory soup that warms you inside and out. The recipe can be found here.

I did not have the rock sugar (substituted brown sugar) and I couldn’t snag chili bean paste in any of the local stores so I used leftover Thai chili sauce instead. This fast paced recipe over all had no mishaps, prepping ahead of time is always a way to prevent skipping steps as you go. Ian’s mouth was watering the whole time, he is a sucker for ramen-esque foods!

This was spicy enough to be noticeable, however the broth was insanely savory. The beef was nice and tender, but the bok choy should have chopped up finer. Like ramen eating this dish was a little tricky (we are not chop stick savvy) but found a big spoon helped us slurp it all down. We thought the dish was worthy of 8/10 average.

(84) South Korea – Beef Bulgogi

Seoul, South Korea. Source: Cushmanwakefield.com

Welcome to South Korea, our 84th country! You can of course find South Korea on the border of North Korea, The Yellow Sea, and The Sea of Japan. The city of Seoul is the largest of South Korea and the world’s third largest city with a population of 25 million people! Outside of the bustling city you can admire the traditional Hanok architecture in Hanok Village which is situated between two of the large palaces from the Joseon Dynasty. Interestingly, in South Korea you don’t turn a year older until New Year’s Day, and from birth you are a year old. From yummy food to popular music South Korea has left its mark on the United States.

There are a few foods that come to mind when you think of South Korea- kimchi (fermented cabbage and vegetables), bibibaps, and soondae (blood sausage) to name a few. Their cuisine has evolved greatly over time due to political and social events. Rice, vegetables, seafood, and meats make up most meals while sesame oil, gochujang (fermented chili paste), doenjang (fermented bean paste), and soy sauce are common ingredients. Koreans are very into fermented foods which add a unique flavor to any dish. Our dish we are making today, beef bulgogi, will have a side of kimchi.

Beef bulgogi is a marinated, thinly sliced (oops) beef that is often grilled or sautéed served over rice or wrapped up in lettuce. The origins of the meal date back to Goguryeo era, which was 37 B.C. to 668 A.D. It started out as skewered meat known as maekjeok and over time evolved to neobiani which was marinated beef that was grilled and often eaten by the upper class and royalty. By the early 20th century beef was more available in Korea and ultimately became the bulgogi we know today. There is a slightly different interpretation of the dish which is more a beef broth meal. So I actually did neither preparation and sautéed the meat in its marinade- yum! Can you smell that garlic? Recipe can be found here.

After my meat marinated for 24 hours I cooked it as directed via skillet. I decided to let it cook with most of the marinade to make sure it would stay tender. Luckily this meal as another easy one to do during the work week. To achieve the cucumber ribbons I used a veggie peeler.

What a pretty plate! We loved this colorful meal and how each element brought something special to the dish. The meat was very tender and well seasoned. The ginger as always pulls through with a garlic punch. We always find the addition of cucumber refreshing and helps cut the spiciness. This dish was deserving of a solid 8/10.

(81) Italy Day 1 – Peposo

Guys we have made it to ITALY! I am super excited to dive in, especially since Italian food is my favorite!

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. Source: CNN

Italy, one of the most well known European countries, is actually one of the youngest even though Rome is over 2,000 years old. The country is home to the most UNECO sites in the world including the Roman Colosseum and Castel del Monte. The only three active volcanos of Europe can be found along with over 1,500 lakes! Italy produces the most wine out of any other country (shocker) and is the creator of the sacred comfort food, pizza. Over the next few days we will cover the Italian classics that will take your taste buds on a journey to one of the most popular travel destinations in the world!

Italian cuisine of course includes hearty tomato sauces, pastas, heavenly bread, salty cheeses, lots of olive oil and wine. All types of protein sources such as seafood, poultry, and beef can be found in daily meals. Cuisine can vary depending on what regions you are in, but every region goes by the same rule- quality above all. Many admire Italian cuisine for its simplicity requiring few ingredients for easy preparation and for the comfort a fresh bowl of pasta or slice of pizza can bring. Today I made a dish I knew nothing about, Peposo. Named for the spicy kick it offers the simplicity of only 6 ingredients. The dish originates from Florence and is a classic slow-cooker recipe that was created by furnace workers. These workers placed the diced beef, red wine, garlic, pepper, and oil in a terracotta pot to slow cook while they worked. The recipe only covers the preparation of the beef, however it was suggested the meat be served over polenta.

I guess I was feeling bold, but I decided to forgo the recipe and make my own rendition of the meal. I thought I could cheat with the help of my Instant Pot and cut some time off the preparation- wrong! After 40 minutes of pressure cooking and 10 or so minutes of building pressure/releasing I was left with very bitter, potent beef. In a panic, Ian and I tried to add ingredients to improve the flavor like butter and tomato paste. We were left with a slightly more tolerable taste and unfortunately could not finish our meals.

I opted to use up the orzo I had acquired from other meals which as you known is typically partially cooked in the sauce or broth it is being added to.. I also became bitter 😐 At the end of it all an importance lessen was learned.. when cooking with wine- especially an ENTIRE BOTTLE, make sure to follow to cooking directions to burn off the unwanted flavors. We could not give this meal a good rating as you probably know by now. We plan to make it up eventually with another traditional Italian dish.

I promise the next meal was a success!

Vietnam Day 4 – Caramel Shaking Beef and Asian Cucumber Salad

Hey guys welcome to our final Vietnamese entrée. Today I made shaking beef with an Asian cucumber salad. Shaking beef is a traditional meal that also has French influence. It can be mixed with various vegetables or without like this rendition. I followed Jet Tila’s cookbook 101 Asian Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die to make this super simple yet incredibly delicious dish. Another great thing about both the salad and beef is that there were minimal ingredients required and it was done in less than 30 minutes! That is my kind of meal!

You can find the recipe for the cucumber salad here.

It is key to cut the beef thin and not to skimp on the garlic (but that goes without saying). Once your wok/fry pan is hot you “shake” the pan to constantly mix and cook the meat. Jet suggested serving the meat with a slice of baguette or French bread to absorb the juices of the meat.. we listed and boy was he on the money there!

This was the tastiest and ironically the simplest out of the bunch we made for Vietnam. The meat was very savory and tender. The cucumber salad was very refreshing and actually paired well with the meat. The bread soaked up of the liquid goodness on the plate and left us craving more. This meal proves that you don’t need all the fancy gadgets or ingredients to make an amazing meal. We thought it was worthy of a 9/10!

Next week we travel to the tropical Grenada to serve up a highly rated meal.

(41) Zambia – N’shima, Fried Rape, and Roasted Beef

We are now over 40 countries, that is crazy! I have a little surprise for you once we hit 50 😉. Today we explore Zambia, a South African country famous for its safaris and the beautiful Victoria falls. It is considered one of the safer countries of Africa and has tons of opportunities for tourists to really explore the country and the protected wildlife by car, boat, foot, or jump.. Yes you can bungee jump off of the Victoria Falls Bridge which is 420 ft high! The wildlife is so crazy here that you can find termite mounds the size of small houses!

Victoria Falls. Source: Telegraph.co.uk Credit- AP/FOTOLIA

The meal I made today is a combination of “grilled” goat (I used beef), fried rape (I used red swiss chard), and n’shima (similar to grits or polenta). N’shima is considered to be the national food of Zambia due to the abundance of maize in the country. You can find n’shima served up with most meals accompanied with a relish, stew, or vegetables.

Rape leaves are a green also found in Zambia and are relatable to swiss chard. I used the suggested substitutions from this recipe. This dish was only seasoned with salt, however I decided to add a little chilli powder and mustard to give it more flavor.

The meat was similar with seasoning, once again only requiring salt. From learning from past dishes that this may not be enough to really allow the dish to shine I added a little cumin, coriander, and pepper after researching common spices in Zambian cooking. The recipe I referenced can be found here.

We thought overall it was a tasty meal thanks to the addition of spices. All of the components tasted good together and there was a mild heat from the chili powder and peppers. It is definitely a healthier dish than some of our other meals we have tried. We rated this dish 6.5/10 averaged between the two of us.

Next up we head to the Caribbean for a curry, pineapple, and coconut fusion😋

(36) Uganda – Sweet Chili Mbuzi Choma Rolex

Mutunda Lake with Virunga volcanoes in the distance. Source: Yellow Zebra Safaris

Hey guys we are back in Africa this week visiting Uganda! Uganda is an Eastern African country that is made up of tall mountains and volcanos, unique wildlife and vast lakes including Lake Victoria at the southern border. This country is one of few that the equator passes through and can be “found” in Kayabwe, Uganda. If your feeling daring you can try fried grasshoppers as they are a delicacy here and are a sign of endearment.

The meal I chose represents multiple countries of Africa, but today it will shine for Uganda. A rolex is not only a watch, but a very tasty chapati wrap that is filled with marinated, grilled meat, omelet, and veggies. Chapati is a type a flatbread similar to a roti that is used is several different countries to hold or mixed in with savory dishes. The name rolex comes from the method the meal is made, rolled up egg “roll-eggs” . It was first created for college students as an affordable and portable meal, but soon became popular to everyone throughout Uganda.

I used a recipe that included a wonderful marinated meat, mbuzi choma, that had the whole apartment smelling amazing! You can find the meat recipe here. I did substitute the goat for pork since that was what I had on hand along with tortillas instead of chapati (sorry guys). I had fun making this dish and liked the minimal prep time needed. This could easily be eaten for any meal of the day or for a snack if desired.

This meal was damn good. It was not complicated by a long list of ingredients and fun to prepare (I have finally mastered making an omelet)! I think any marinated meat (or no meat) would work great here and there is a lot of room for creativity with what vegetables are mixed in. Bell peppers would be a great addition. The spice mixes are important to the dish and what make it Ugandan. Cilantro also shines in this dish giving the wrap a nice freshness.

Do yourself a favor and make yourself a rolex for breakfast, lunch, 3 am… there isn’t a bad time! We will definitely make this again and rated it 8.5/10.

(33) Kyrgyzstan – Beshbarmak

For our next country we visited Kyrgyzstan which is situated in Central Asia. Kyrgyz is thought to be derived from the Turkic word “forty” because of the forty clans of Manas. These forty clans can be found represented as the rays of sun on their flag. -stan translates from Pakistani to “country” or “place of.” 80% of the landscape is made up of the Tian Shan mountain region, the highest point of elevation being over 24,000ft. It is also known to have some of the world’s largest walnut forests.

Mountainous landscape of Kyrgyzstan. Source: Iceland Photo Tours

I made a traditional dish of the Central Asian and nomadic Turkic people, beshbarmak. This dish is also the national dish of Kyrgyzstan. Beshbarmak translates to “five fingers” because it was eaten without utensils originally by the nomadic people. The authentic version if made with lamb, however I have opted to use beef once again as a substitute. The recipe I used today can be found here.

This is another quick and simple meal which would work well on week nights. It consists of boiled meat, noodles, onion, broth, and sprigs of dill for garnish. Although it seems pretty basic I had read high marks on this recipe and that the flavor of lamb was able to stand out in the simplicity.

We really wanted to like this dish, but unfortunately it fell short and did not wow our taste buds. Reading up on the nomadic history and how they had to rely on their animals and resources for their meals it made sense why there was only a handful of ingredients. Maybe there could have been something we could have changed to bring out more of the beefy flavor or maybe lamb is the only way to go.

On a positive note we did enjoy the freshness and pop of flavor dill brought to the dish, but it still rated on the lower end of our reviews at 5/10. Once we come full circle with our culinary endeavors we will come back to Kyrgyzstan and create another traditional dish to better understand and appreciate the country.

(28) Bulgaria – Kebapcheta and Shopska Salata

Bolata beach along the Black Sea. Source: Eff it I’m on Holiday

Onto our 28th country- Bulgaria! This Balkan country is known for having the second richest natural mineral springs, producing 85% of the world’s rose oil, and bordering the Black Sea. Bulgaria is also one of the oldest European countries estimated to by established in 681 A.D. This country has Greek, Ottoman, Persian, and Slavic influence that definitely impacts their cooking style and flavors.

For Bulgaria I made two smaller dishes that worked well together and are very traditional to the country. The first part of this meal is kebapcheta a minced beef sausage that is well seasoned with paprika, cumin, and a little bit of clove. The name kebapcheta is derived from the word kebab, -che meaning small aka small kebab! Typically they are served as three with a side of chips (fries).

The traditional way to cook these little guys in on a grill, but I decided to put my new air fryer to use! 8 minutes later and some flipping mid way they were done!

The second part of the meal was shopska salata, an easy to assemble salad that is made up of the three colors of the Bulgarian flag (I accidently grabbed an orange pepper, silly me) – red, green, and white! Chopped cucumber, tomatoes, pepper, and onion are the base of the meal. Parsley and a good amount of feta is mixed throughout. Vinaigrettes are great to use as a dressing, but any light dressing will work!

Together it makes a beautiful spread! We thought the meat was well seasoned, the salad was refreshing and crisp, and the fries obviously did not take away from the meal. It was quick and simple so this is another great option for week night cooking. We rated it 7/10.

(26) France Day 1 – Boeuf Bourguignon (Julia Child Recipe)

It is an exciting week here at The Messy Aprons- we have arrived in France! I absolutely love French food (and wine) and can not wait to try cooking some classic French dishes. Before I dive into today’s meal I want to talk about a little more about France.

Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne- Nantes, France. Source: Trip.com

France is part of Western Europe and actually is the largest European country. It also is the most popular place to travel in the world, Paris being a top destination. France is well known for its top notch wine and cuisine along with incredible historic museums and culture. There are several French inventions that we use on a daily basis such as the stethoscope, braille, pasteurization, food preservation/tin cans, and sewing machines to name a few. Above is a picture of a medieval castle complete with water mote in Nantes, France. Nantes is were my ancestors originate from and I have a special dish dedicated to that region to finish our week!

Calling Julie and Julia fans- I channeled my inner Julia Child today when making her adored Beef Bourguignon! I definitely watched the movie the night prior to get me in the right spirit! This hearty beef stew originates in the province of Bourgogne, France where wine and beef are high quality. This dish dates back to medieval times as a common peasant food. They would combine tougher pieces of beef with vegetables cooking for long periods of time in order to save meat that may had gone to waste. Fast forward to the 1960s when Julia Child put her own spin on the dish. This recipe can be found here and to watch Julia make it herself you can find the video here. Since I don’t own a Dutch oven I opted to slow cook mine on high (this is around 300 degrees depending on your model/make) for the same amount of time.

Boeuf Bourguignon is a timely process that consists of slow cooking dried beef (key step!) that has been browned in butter then bathed in a red wine sauce.

Shallots and mushrooms are prepared separately and added into the dish once the slow cooking is complete. The red wine is an important element which brings a rich flavor to the meal. You better believe your kitchen is going to smell like a slice of French heaven by the time you’re done!

I referenced Julia’s video and recipe to get a better understanding of how to process each aspect of the meal. Julia suggests slitting the bottom of each shallot of making a small “x” prior to cooking them so they will stay whole. I simmered mine in beef stock as the recipe suggested.

Watching Julia Child for reference

As for the mushrooms I followed Julia’s video once again, taking care to wash and dry the mushrooms as she does. I will admit I am not a mushroom fan, but I was hopeful that the lovely wine sauce would help distract me from the texture.

I served my stew with a French baguette, side salad, and a glass of that red wine (obviously!). It was so savory and delicious, each part of the stew melting in our mouths!

The red wine brought a unique yet very appreciated flavor and it was well seasoned. I have to admit I did not like mushrooms, but after having this meal my mind has been changed. I mean how could something taste bad after being sautéed in butter?

We rated this dish 8.25/10 and I would definitely make it again! Next we will try another peasant dish.. the well known ratatouille!