I’ve had some requests for a how-to article about how I, as a person who was born and raised in Middle America, navigate the seemingly endless maze of online ethnic recipes to then create and publish on the blog.Like with most things in the world, I’ve found that this skill comes with 1) having intense and
semi obsessive curiosity and 2) experience, experience, experience. At this juncture I feel fairly confident in my Indian cooking skills, but, for example, would definitely need to start at square one in developing Korean recipes.
One day I’m sure I will feel comfortable with Korean cooking, but, as a great piano teacher once told me as, you must always start any process as you would eat an apple: “a bite at a time.” (Otherwise you might choke :P) Seriously though, you can’t begin a process expecting perfection as the end result; it’s all about taking small bites and learning along the way.
So here are my “bites.” Or, with less metaphor, here is my attempt at distilling my “skill” into the semblance of a methodical process.
So what do I look for?
- I go to YouTube. Seriously. There are a ton of at-home chefs from other countries who are on the internet showing us how they cook in their traditional kitchens. I cannot express how helpful this resources is, because you can learn not only a good recipe, but also watch their method, which is often different (or sometimes surprisingly not so different!) from traditional European/American cooking methods.
- When in doubt, find the chefs. I have a preference for stalking international chefs (also on YouTube), or people who have worked in the culinary industry. I find that typically their recipes are a little more sophisticated and more similar to what I’m expecting. And I am usually trying to recreate something awesome I’ve had in a restaurant anyway, so this is more likely to be similar to my expectations.
- Know your spices. I shy away from recipes that have too few spices or ingredients listed. This sixth sense comes with experience, but if you only want me to season my curry with ¼ teaspoon of spice, I know it’s going to disappoint.
- Learn to taste. Unfortunately, this isn’t really a concrete skill I can advise you on, but learn to taste as well as look at your food at restaurants. Pay attention to reading the menu for clues. You’ll be surprised, but if you pay close attention you’ll start to notice that hey, this dish tastes strongly of ginger, or this one tastes more like cumin. And if in doubt, ask your wait-person! This will help you to pick out recipes online if you are familiar with how they truly taste. Don’t go in blind.
- Method is key. Point blank, I don’t trust any ethnic recipe made in a crockpot. Sorry. I’m sure your recipe is fine, but authentic? Probably not. Aka, it won’t be made in The Gourmet Gourmand household.
- Season your food and be rewarded. I think a huge component that people forget about in ethnic cooking is seasoning- and by this I mean salting, sweetening, and souring. It helps to have a basic understanding of some of the staple flavors of each cuisine you are attempting to cook.
Sarah’s Trusted Go-To Sources for Ethnic Recipes:
The Gourmet Gourmand. (She’s awesome guys, I swear 😉)
Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats – I trust literally everything this man puts out there. Plus his commenters tend to actually try his recipes, so you can get a good picture if the recipe is good or not based on the comments section.
The Woks of Life is definitely another favorite for excellent traditional Chinese cooking.
Vah Chef has a YouTube channel that I’ve found very helpful for Indian Cuisine.
Also Chef Harpal Singh is awesome and makes me giggle.
Saveur is a great resource for ethnic recipes as well (especially for highlighting rare/unique recipes) although sometimes you run the risk that their recipes will be overly Westernized or adapted for ingredients that can be easily found in an American grocery store. I usually will cross-reference these recipes with other sources before just using the recipe straight.
So now I’ve found a recipe- what do I do?
- Make it happen! I think the number 1 reason people don’t branch out into ethnic cuisine with their cooking is due to feeling nervous, out of place, or intimidated by trying something new. Set that feeling of awkwardness aside!
- Go to the right stores. Don’t be afraid to search out your local ethnic grocery stores. Sometimes it helps to call around if you’re looking for an obscure ingredient before going on a wild goose chase.
- Don’t let intimidation be your downfall. Please, please don’t be intimidated by ethnic stores- the staff are usually more than happy to help if you have trouble locating something. Pro-tip: I have found that if you need to talk to someone to ask for a specific ingredient and you’re struggling with a language barrier issue, try talking to a cashier vs. floor stocker as they will typically be fluent in English.
- Save lots of cash. Ethnic grocery stores tend to sell staples like rice, nuts, flours, for extremely discounted prices. You might become a convert (like me) and shop there even when you don’t really “need” to.
So, I really hope this post helps the creatively inquisitive find the internet a little more approachable for accessing ethnic recipes. .
My biggest tip? Jump in and try.
It might not be perfect, but I promise you, as you explore you will become more familiar with the flavors that work together and it’ll soon feel like second nature.
So folks, hope this helps! Let’s go forth and create deliciously authentic ethnic recipes. And always remember that everyone eats the apple one bite at a time. 🙂
(Recipes from top left to lower right – Khao Soi Curry Noodles, Lamb Curry, Toor Dal, Szechuan Dan Dan Noodles).
Funny how this post relates to the one I just shared. People who read my blog tend to consider me as a “specialist in Ethnic foods”, when I consider myself as simply curious, daring, and fearless (in that order). Like you, I rely heavily on the Internet (and a few great cookbooks) to teach myself about the cuisines of Iran, Korea, Japan, and why not (some day) Ethiopia, Peru, Roumania, etc. I agree with you about knowing your spices. Authentic flavor starts with authentic spices and seasonings.
YES!!! Love this! 🙂 I totally agree with you. (And I was thinking the same thing as I was reading your post today, haha)
Great post! I love discovering new tastes and cuisines, so great resources.
What a great compilation of links to blogs for ethnic recipes! It’s so great to experience the food of another culture without having to go to that particular country (because plane tickets are expensive…)
haha my thoughts exactly!!!
I’m with you on the spice issue. I try and buy whole and grind as I need them ?
Me too! I usually buy a container of whole spices and grind a portion of them to keep in a separate bag.
Love this, Sarah! I actually made a lamb and prune tagine last night and was thinking how cool it would be if we could cook together.
AWW I totally agree (and lamb + prune tagine sounds freaking amazing..) Dave and I need to get our butts to South Africa so this can be a reality. We will make this happen one day!! 🙂
Food blogging has introduced us to so many wonderful and tasty local kitchens! This is one thing I love about it!
Yes! It’s really eye opening for sure 🙂
Jump in and try is the best advice. You just have to go for it. I have finally broken myself of saying pop. It took awhile, but it’s officially soda to me now.
Haha I still go back and forth between pop and soda. I’m sure eventually I’ll be a “soda” speaker now that I’m in California. 🙂
This is such a fun post!! I absolutely love trying new cuisines, sometimes it can be overwhelming of where to start, so this guide is super helpful <3