(21) Costa Rica – Carne en Salsa with Gallo Pinto

To close out the week we are in Costa Rica! I decided to make two dishes that are very popular in the Costa Rican diet. Costa Rica is found in Central America and is known as the hummingbird capital with over 50 species native to the region. It is full of spectacular nature, an overwhelming amount of insects, and active volcanos. This country has it all- amazing views and food!

Nauyaca Waterfalls of Costa Rica. Source: Pinterest

The first portion of this meal is carne en salsa – a shredded beef dish that soaks up a flavorful red sauce. The finely shredded beef is very versatile and could be used for tacos, tamales, sandwiches or even nachos! I was able to find the highly recommended Salsa Lizano on Etsy which helped give the meat and rice a wonderfully sweet and smoky flavor. This sauce has been a Costa Rican staple for over 100 years!

The recipe I used for the lovely carne en salsa can be found here. This blog also has a separate link for the preparation prior to the shredding. If you don’t have an Instant Pot I would recommend slow cooking the beef for 6-8 hours or until it easily shreds.

For the second part of this dish I decided to make the national dish of Costa Rica- Gallo Pinto. Gallo pinto translates to spotted rooster and was likely given this name due to its contrasting appearance. Nicaragua also claims this dish as its own, however it is controversial.

I used this recipe which was very easy to follow. It required 1/2 of cup of the locally made sauce, but have no fear Worchester sauce is a good substitute. This paired well with the beef and once again seemed like a dish that could be used for many different meals. In Costa Rica it’s commonly served up with eggs for breakfast.

Additionally I fried up some plantains which brought a wonderful crunch to the dish. This meal was well balanced and honestly one of my favorites! It was pretty straight forward to prepare and not too time consuming. Another bonus is how each element could be used in various dishes or stand out alone.

We could not recommend this meal more and gave it an 8.5/10 rating (definitely suggest frying some green plantains as well). Next on the menu is Guyana 😊

(20) Finland – Lohikeitto

Finland is a northern European country and it’s known for more than just polar plunges and saunas. Recently Finland has been repeatedly rated as the happiest country in the world. We think it may have something to do with this soup!

Helsinki Finland Tech
Finland’s capital Helsinki. Credit www.pymnts.com

Lohikeitto is a traditional Finnish salmon soup that is packed full of flavor. This soup reminded me a lot of the Greek Avgolemono soup. It was creamy and hearty, but not too heavy. Enough rambling, here is how simple this recipe is.

Start by sautéing the sliced leek in butter.

Add fish stock or water to the leeks once they become translucent. Bring this to a boil and add potatoes and carrots. Once the potatoes are almost fully cooked add your salmon and heavy cream.

Finally, the addition of fresh dill transforms the dish into something more bright and refreshing. You can find the recipe here.

In nontraditional fashion I chose to add a splash of lemon juice, because I love how it compliments fish.

There is no doubt we will be making this soup again. Simple and delicious!

Score 8/10

(19) Kosovo -Tavë Kosi

Welcome to another day in Europe! Today we are in Kosovo, the second youngest country in the world. It gained independence from Serbia in 2008 (although not all countries view it this way). This little Balkan country is roughly the size of Delaware. The name Kosovo is derived from Serbia meaning “field of black birds.” Below is a picture of the stone bridge of Prizren which sits in the center of this very historical city.

Prizren, Kosovo. Source: Chasing the Donkey

To honor this little known country I will be making tavë kosi. This dish is a national dish of Albania technically, but due to recent independence it was hard to find a truly authentic Kosovan dish. The dish is thought to have been created back in the 14th century when lamb was being marinated in yogurt in preparation to feed the sultan. Leftover grilled lamb was then baked with yogurt and voila the dish was born!

I used this recipe from a fellow international food blogger and it was very easy to follow! I personally added extra oregano and nutmeg because I enjoy those flavors. The four cups of yogurt equaled an entire large container for this recipe. I also substituted stewing beef for lamb which I thought worked well.

Layer one
Layer two
Done!

We were surprised with how good this dish tasted! It was well seasoned, rich and creamy with slight sourness on top and the beef was tender and had a wonderful flavor from the garlic and butter. I did not prepare this meal with any side dishes, but I would recommend a side dish of salad or cooked vegetables to balance it out. We rated the dish 7.5/10 👍👍

(18) Romania – Sarmale

Welcome to our final week of February which is our 8th week traveling by taste bud! I started out this week in Romania dreaming of roaming the Carpathian Mountains and exploring several medieval castles. Scărișoara Glacier hides underground inside a 105m (344ft) cave and Berca Mud Volcanoes spew out occasionally colorful bubbles of the earth- it feels like we are in a fantasy land!

The Carpathian Mountains. Source: Lonely Planet- Image by Michal Sleczek / Getty Images

I chose to prepare the beloved sarmale which is very representative of this country. It is believed to by Turkish in origin, however Romania has definitely put it’s mark on the dish. It consists of sauerkraut or boiled cabbage which is filled with ground pork, rice, onions, and spices. The rolls are then layered or placed side by side in boiling water along with bacon and occasionally spare ribs to cook for several hours. Tomatoes are used in various stages of this process depending on what recipe you use. The very lengthy recipe I used can be found here if you have 6+ hours to spare. There are other variations that are a little less time consuming, but it is for sure a labor of love.

I found it challenging to roll the pork mixture in the cabbage, but I was able to get two full layers as the recipe called for. I would recommend prepping as much as you can before hand so the cooking and assembly takes less time. I felt like a chicken without her head trying to juggle cooking bacon and spare ribs while prepping the cabbage and onion! Also it was very difficult to assemble the boiled cabbage leaves without the filling oozing out.. I tried to make Romania proud 😅

This dish was well seasoned combining savory and pickling flavors together. I was glad I had triumphed with this very long process, it was very satisfying to watch it come together along with the sides of polenta and topping of homemade pickled hot peppers. I will say though it came down to texture for me due to the I rated this dish lower than Ian bringing our average to 6/10. Don’t let my review scare you away, if you are motivated for a 15+ step process this might be your recipe! Up next Finland!

(17) Oman – Omani Shuwa

Greetings from Oman! This old country (one of the oldest inhabited countries in the world dating back over 106,000 years) is home to some of the best ship builders of the world. Oman is also known as one of the more elite Arabian horse breeders. Port Sultan Qaboos (pictured above) is the largest port of Muscat and is the main connection between India and the Far East to Oman.

Port Sultan Qaboos in Muscat. Source: Getty Images The National News

To celebrate one of Oman’s delicacies I made omani shuwa which is a slow cooked lamb dish. As stated in a previous post we are not huge lamb eaters, but I was able to substitute short ribs for lamb shanks. Traditionally, this special occasion meal takes days to prepare. The first day it marinates in Omani spices, then it is wrapped in palm or banana leaves and is places in a sand oven underground slowly cooking for 1-2 days! I was able to follow this recipe for a modified version.

I ended up letting the meat marinade two days and cut slashes in the meat as recommended to allow the flavor to absorb into the meat. Then I slow cooked the ribs in my crockpot for 3ish hours with 1 cup of water and a little extra lime juice. Above is the end result served aside a bed of spinach, turnip fries with middle eastern inspired seasoning, and red peppers for garnish. The meat was so delicious and we loved the punchiness of the lime with the dynamic garlic and ginger duo. Personally we felt the meat choice was a little too fatty, but we would definitely use this marinade and slow cooking method for other cuts of beef or even chicken. We rated this dish 7/10!

Next week we will arrive in Romania for a totally new dish unlike anything I’ve ever had before! Talk to you soon!

(16) Mali – Tigua Degué aka Mafé

Welcome back to another day traveling around the globe by your taste buds! I have to admit we had another dish failure this week when trying to recreate Lithuania’s cepelinai. 3 hours and 8lbs of potatoes the recipe we used just did not work. We will return to this country in the future to redeem ourselves!

The Grand Mosquée of Djenne, Source: Wanderlust

Mali is the biggest West African country and is home to the Grand Mosquée which can be found pictured above. This building is made from sun-baked earth bricks, clay, earth based mortar, and plaster to coat the outside and is the largest of it’s kind. It sits on top of a 246ft x 246ft platform and is 52 ft in height.

The meal I made today is called Tigua Degué aka Mafé which is yet another chicken in peanut sauce dish. This one differs from the rest by having several more vegetables involved and has more of a soup like flavor (in my opinion). This is the national dish of Mali and is also prepared similarly in Senegal (referred to as Mafé). I could not find out much information on the dish, but it definitely reminds me of other African dishes we have tried.

I followed this recipe, but unfortunately my sauce split and it was definitely more soup-like. That mishap aside it was successful. It was a good hearty meal filled with several vegetables. I served the chicken/vegetable concoction with white rice as recommended which seems to be the norm in African cuisine. The meal didn’t compare to the previous African dish from DRC, but was still enjoyed by both of us. We rated this meal 6/10.

Lastly we travel to Oman to try something quite a bit different than the previous two dishes. Stay tuned 🥩

(15) (Democratic) Republic of the Congo – Poulet à la Moambé

Hello again! Welcome to the Democratic Republic of the Congo! We decided to make this meal together for Valentines day with some wine (obviously!) Let’s dive back into Africa, we will be here a lot this week!

Source: World Nomads

The second largest country in Africa is home to 250 different languages and 200 unique ethnic groups. DCR’s capital, Kinshasa makes up the second biggest French-speaking country in the world. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is actually named after the Congo river which flows throughout the country. The Congo river is the deepest river in the world reaching depths of 722ft.

The national dish of DCR we prepared is poulet à la moambé or “chicken in palm oil sauce” and it was what we made for a special at home date night for Valentine’s Day. This dish has French cooking influence, but it is dominated by African flavor. There are several variations on this dish, the one we decided on having peanut butter, ginger, tomatoes, and garlic to name a few ingredients. The remainder of the recipe can be found here. We decided to serve the dish with jasmine rice and fried plantains which is fairly common.

This meal was amazing! What a wonderful Valentine’s treat!! We enjoyed this candle lit dinner with traditional African music playing in the background. The ginger really pulled through and tied together the dish. The fried plantains were a great additional and gave a nice crunchy texture. We rated this dish 8/10.

Continuing on this African adventure we head to Mali for another hearty meal!

(14) Sudan – Maschi

The Sudd. Source: Amusing Planet

Sudan was formerly the largest country in Africa. But on July 9, 2011, following decades of civil war, the southern portion seceded and declared its independence. In the south, the Nile and its tributaries form a vast swamp known as the Sudd which is one of the largest wetland areas in the world. Extending up north lies portions of the vast savanna, a border along the Red sea, and blending with the Egyptian deserts.

The Meroe Pyramids Source: Northern Sudan Expedition

The Sudanese cuisine has influences from bordering countries as well as traditional roots stretching far back in the past. This recipe includes a staple ingredient for Sudanese cuisine- tomatoes!

The ingredients and spices used were true to this recipe. I decided to ditch the measurements of the spices and just go by taste. I ended up using quite a bit more of all the spices than what the recipe called for.

The tomatoes were cut and hollowed creating perfect vessels for the ingredients to be piled into. Due to the difficulty of trying to fry the stuffed tomatoes and cook all sides in a skillet, I opted to place them in a baking pan filled with the recipe’s sauce and briefly cook them at 500 degrees in the oven.

This dish was really good! The meat and rice remained tender because of the high moisture content of the tomato. Subtle hints of fresh dill were appreciated. Surprisingly the real highlight of this dish was the combination of cinnamon and tomato in the sauce which complimented each other very well. Final score 7/10.

Next week we will explore more of Africa starting with The Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Bangladesh – Aloo Bhorta

Source: 121 Clicks- M. R. Hanson

Bangladesh is a younger country and has been independent since 1971. It is known for having not 4, but 6 seasons- spring, summer, monsoon, autumn, late autumn, and winter. Bangladeshi citizens celebrate each season with new crops and festivals. Additionally, Bangladesh is home to the world’s longest beach called Cox’s Bazar, which spans 150 km/ 93 miles along the Bay of Bangle.

I decided to make aloo bhorta, a Bangladeshi comfort food to represent the country. It is not a full meal, but often served as a side along with curry and rice. I decided to make this along with chicken seasoned with common Bangladesh flavors. I will post this recipe soon.

Aloo Bhorta is a mashed potato base combined with a chili paste, cilantro, and onions. It is very similar to the Indian dish aloo bharta the only difference I could find being green vs red chilis. Either way this dish has Indian influence due to the country’s history. Bhorta dishes are part of the countries cuisine consisting of easily accessible ingredients mostly vegetables, greens, and fish which are either boiled, steamed, or fried.

Well folks this was my first fail. I don’t know what went wrong but we could not eat it.. There are good words to describe the taste, so for that reason I will not post the recipe I used. However I can’t live with a failed meal so I will in the future return to Bangladesh and do them proud (hopefully). Sorry to disappoint anyone.. but hopefully Ian will do represent Sudan well with his dish later this week.

(13) Cuba -Ropa Vieja

Hello! Today we are in Cuba and will be taking a shot at another national dish. Cuba is home to passionate son music, cigars, and classic cars. These cars can be found all over the country, especially in Havana and are a popular tourist attraction. There are two reasons why classic cars dominate the country- one being the cars and parts ban from 1959-2016 from any foreign country or US; second being the cost of buying new cars is not affordable for most citizens. Since the ban Cubans had to become crafty with their car upkeep and often painted their cars bright colors to hide panel and body work.

Classic cars in Havana, Cuba. Source: Kim.kim.com

Ropa Vieja, the national dish of Cuba, is also popular throughout the Caribbean. This meal consists of slow cooked beef in a slightly spicy, tomato based sauce. This dish originated in the Canary Islands of Spain and with colonization brought Spanish influence to Cuba. Unfortunately with the beef restrictions in Cuba, it is not cooked as often as it once did.

The Roasted Root had a great recipe that allowed me to break out my Instant Pot again (slow cooker works as well). I love me some plantains and was happy to fry some up to accompany the beef. We loved the meal and thought it was very satisfying with all the different elements working well together. The cabbage especially brought a beautiful pop of color to the dish.

We rated this dish 7.25/10 between the two of us, the meat being the stand out aspect of the dish. Come back in a few days for a classic comfort food from Bangladesh.