Idaho is no longer a "meat and potatoes" type of state: it is becoming a veritable culinary melting pot! New and interesting ethnic restaurants and grocery stores are opening up in cities around the Treasure Valley and a growing group of "new" Idahoans is introducing exciting unfamiliar ingredients, different approaches to old-fashioned foods and secret family recipes that have been handed down from one generation to the next.

This blog allows us a peek into the pots and pans of these travelers that have chosen to make Idaho their new home. It captures a compilation of stories and dishes from people who, far away from their country of birth, recreate familiar elements in the dishes they prepare. For many, food from their home country is a comfort to the soul: for some it's an important part of their cultural or religious celebrations and for others, it's just good eating!

Monday, November 15, 2010


Name: Raci Erdem
Born in: Turkey
In Idaho since: 1996

"If you are not here to put your heart into the food, don't bother showing up," Raci says to the staff at the White House Grill, one of his restaurants in Post Falls. "People need to feel the heart, the love you put into the food. That's what they pay for, not for opening a jar of spaghetti sauce and throwing it over some pasta and charging $16 a plate."

Fourteen years ago, Raci opened his first restaurant, serving Mediterranean dishes with a strong Turkish influence. "We go through 200lbs of fresh garlic every week", he smiles. "I love fresh food. In Turkey you go to the store and buy whatever is fresh that day, regardless of whether it's beef or lamb. You buy whatever is freshest and that is what you cook with. And I love homemade food. Some dishes are not feasible to make in a restaurant setting, especially the ones that are made with fresh dough, like su borek and manti. Those are my two favorite dishes. My mom and my sister both are excellent cooks and when I fly home, I look forward to eating their food. It is so good that I feel like I gain fifteen pounds in a couple of days!"

Raci was unable to cook with us that day, since he's opening a new restaurant in Spokane. The following recipe is an example of one of his favorite foods.

Su Borek
For the dough:
2 1/2 cups of flour
3 eggs
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of water

For the filling:
1 cup of feta
1/2 cup of parsley, minced

1/4 stick of butter
1/4 cup of olive oil

Mix the flour with the eggs and the salt, adding a tablespoon of water at the time to make a kneadable but slightly stiff dough. Let it rest for a couple of minutes while you crumble the feta and mix it with the parsley.

Divide the dough in six equal parts. Roll each as thin as you can, slightly larger than the circumference of the springform you are going to bake this in. Bring a large pot with water to a boil. Now boil each "sheet" of dough for about 30 seconds. Take it out carefully and put it in a pot with ice cold water to stop the cooking process. Because the dough is boiled it will puff up, so rolling it as thin as possible is key to making this an edible dish.

Melt the butter and the olive oil and mix together. Brush a round springform with the oil and place your first boiled and drained sheet in the pan. If the dough tears, don't worry, it will all come together beautifully. Brush the dough with the butter/oil mixture. Boil another sheet, cool and drain in and place it on top of the first sheet. Brush with oil and repeat. After the third sheet, brush, cover the dough with the feta and parsley mixture, drizzling oil over the cheesey filling. Cover with a boiled sheet, brush and add another boiled sheet. Brush this one too and place the last sheet of dough, unboiled, on top. Brush lavishly with the remainder of the grease, then place in a 350F oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the top is golden.

Let rest for several minutes, then open the springform and take out your borek. Slice it in squares. Tastes great both warm and cold!

Tip:  you can make this borek with two layers of cheese by putting down two layers of dough, filling, two layers, filling and finish with the last two layers, top one unboiled.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

South Africa

Name: Estelle Bester
Born in: Zimbabwe
In Idaho since: October 2010

"Bobotie is a traditional South African dish. I was born in Zimbabwe but I moved to South Africa after I finished high school to be with my dad. I learned from my South African stepmother how to make bobotie. As with every national dish, there are many variations.Over the years I've changed my stepmom's recipe a little bit, as everybody has their own little additions to personalize the dish.  Before moving to America, I typed up all my recipes for my son who married earlier this year. Yesterday I received an email from him in which he told me he was making bobotie for his wife."

Bobotie, pronounced boh-buoy-tea, is considered the national dish for South Africa. Each family or region has its own slight variations on the theme. Some people will add vegetables such as peas and carrots to the dish, others will flavor it with lemon peel or bay leaves: it is a dish that lends itself beautifully to become a family favorite. A flavorful ground beef dish with a custard topping, it can be eaten with rice or the next day with a fried egg and some toast for breakfast. The dish has been known since the 17th century in the Cape of Good Hope, but it is said to have originated in Malaysia. The curry and ginger spices, the yellow rice colored with turmeric and the use of dried fruit in a meat dish clearly point to its Malay roots.

For the meat
5 heaping teaspoons of ground ginger
Pouring the egg and milk mixture
3 heaping teaspoons of soft brown sugar
3 heaping teaspoons of curry
3 heaping teaspoons of turmeric
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 stick of butter
2 medium onions, peeled and diced
1lb of ground beef
2 tablespoons of cranberry chutney
2 tablespoons of apricot jam
2 tablespoons of vinegar
3 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
2 slices of white bread, crust removed
2 cups of milk
2 eggs

For the rice
2 cups of rice
4 cups of water
1 heaping teaspoon of turmeric
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons of golden raisins

Adding the soaked bread
Preheat the oven to 350F. Add the ginger, brown sugar, curry, turmeric, salt and butter to a pan. Stir on medium heat until the butter melts, then add the onions and sauté. Make sure the spices don't burn. Add the beef and stir until the meat is no longer pink, then stir in the chutney, apricot jam, vinegar and tomato paste. Keep stirring until everything comes together and is hot. Soak the bread in the milk, squeeze milk out and add wet bread to meat mixture. Stir, taste and adjust the flavor according to your own liking. Transfer the meat mixture to an oven dish. Scramble the eggs with the rest of milk and pour it over the meat mixture. Bake at 350F for about 20 minutes or until the eggs are set.

In the meantime, wash the rice, add the water and the turmeric. Boil rice until done, stir in the raisins and let stand until you are ready to serve.

Place some rice in the middle of a plate and add one or two generous scoops of bobotie on top. Be prepared to serve seconds!

Monday, July 12, 2010


Name: Kate Wallace
Born in: Halesowen, England
In Idaho since: 2001

Kate lived in San Francisco before making Idaho her new home. She's an athletic and energetic woman who enjoys good food and cooking. Her beautiful kitchen is perfect for entertaining friends and family and cooking up wonderful meals, like this amazing dessert.

"Cooking is one of the ways that I can express myself, it's my way of showing people that I care," says Kate. "I must have that from my dad, he loves to bake and is very good at it. For Idaho's Melting Pot, I chose to make sticky toffee pudding because it's one of my favorite English desserts. I have fond memories of sharing it with my grandma Nancy, who is 96 years old and still lives in England. It's her favorite, too."

Sticky toffee pudding, a delicious combination of soft and moist date cake soaked in sweet, gooey caramel sauce, is a fairly recent newcomer to the English dessert table. It's considered traditional "pub food" and shares the list with bangers and mash, fish and chips or cottage pie.

"The English tend to have a sweet tooth. This dessert has quickly become England's top choice for comfort food. After working hard all day in the office, I'd go to the pub with my coworkers to have a drink, a bite to eat for dinner and sticky toffee pudding for dessert. It was something we would all look forward to!" says Kate, while she stirs the toffee sauce.

The recipe she uses for the cake is adapted from Joyce Hickey's Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe, as featured in the British cookbook published by the local chapter of the Daughters of the British Empire, an organization that Kate is actively involved in. The caramel, or toffee sauce, is Kate's own recipe.

"I love living in Idaho", Kate smiles, "but I also miss my family in England. If I could choose, I'd live right in between the two countries and have the best of both worlds!"

Sticky Toffee Pudding
3 cups of dates, pitted
1 cup of water
1 stick of butter, unsalted
1 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature

Preheat the oven to 325F. Butter a 9-inch baking pan.

Add the dates and the water to a saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer for ten minutes, or until the dates are soft. Set aside and cool. When they have cooled down, process them with a stick blender or a food processor into a moist, liquid paste.

In the meantime, mix the flour, the baking powder and the baking soda in a separate bowl. Set aside.

Mix the butter, the sugar, the eggs and the flour mixture together into a cohesive batter and add the flour. Mix until blended but don't overmix. Pour the batter into a buttered 9-inch pan and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the cake is done. Let the cake cool in the pan for about ten minutes, then carefully invert onto a rack. Pour 1/3 of the warm caramel sauce into the bottom of the pan, place the cake on top and pour 1/3 slowly over the cake. Let it soak for about five minutes, then slowly add more sauce, one ladle at a time. Cut into squares and serve warm.

Caramel Sauce
1 stick of butter, salted
1 cup of brown sugar, packed
6-8oz of evaporated milk
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

Melt the butter and sugar slowly in a pan, carefully add the evaporated milk while stirring (the sauce scorches easily) until a beautiful golden brown sauce emerges. Take the sauce off the stove, and stir in the vanilla extract. Taste. If the sauce is too thick (it should coat the back of a spoon lightly), add a little bit more evaporated milk.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Name: Asija Jusufbegovich
Born in: Derventa, Bosnia
In Idaho since: December 1999

Bosnian food is an interesting mixture of Eastern and Western flavors, a combination of Mediterranean and northern-European influences. The dish that Asija prepared for the Idaho's Melting Pot is called sarma, a wonderful meat dish made with sour cabbage leaves and simmered in a tomato-based sauce. Its name stems from the Turkish word sarmak which means "wrapping or rolling", according to Wikipedia.

"We make our own sour cabbage", Asija explains while she unfolds the rubbery yellow leaves. "In the fall, my husband and I prepare a big vat with four or five heads of green cabbage, add water and salt to it, cover it and let it "sour" over the winter." It's the traditional way of making sauer kraut, or sour cabbage, except that Asija does not shred the heads but leaves them whole.

"Sarma is traditionally served during Christmas and New Year's Eve" Asija continues to explain, "but my husband and I will eat it pretty much all year long. When I cook it, I usually make a big pot. Whatever we don't eat that day gets served the next day. Sarma also freezes well and the good thing about sarma is that it improves each time it is reheated."

For the leaves
1 medium size green cabbage
3/4 cup of salt
Enough water to fill

Wash and core the cabbage, filling the hollow with salt. Place core-side up in a crock or stone container (not metal), cover with the water and place a dish on top so that the cabbage remains submerged. Check after two to three weeks to see if the cabbage is sufficiently pickled. The leaves will be yellow and flexible and a slightly sour but clean smell will come from the water. (Instead of pickling the cabbage and waiting three weeks to make this dish, you can also just separate the leaves from the cabbage head, boil them in water with a cup of vinegar and a tablespoon of salt until soft. It's not the same, but it beats waiting!)

For the filling
1 lb of ground beef
1/2 cup of rice, washed and rinsed
1/4 cup of shredded smoked beef (or roast beef or the meaty part of bacon)
1 tomato, minced
1 medium yellow onion, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tablespoon of sweet paprika powder
Salt and pepper
Vegetable seasoning such as Vegeta* or Aromat to taste

Mix the meats with the rice, the vegetables, the spices and the seasonings. Take some of the meat, about the size of a golfball, and roll it into a cylinder. Unfold a sour cabbage leaf, place the meat at the bottom (toward the stem) of the leaf and wrap the meat tightly into the leaf, tucking in the ends. Keep rolling until you are out of leaves or out of meat.

Now place each roll snugly next to each other in a Dutch oven. Build two layers. Add half a cup of warm water and simmer on the stove for about 2 hours. Make sure it doesn't burn or cooking too fast: the key is in the slow simmer!

For the sauce
1 tablespoon of flour
1/2 cup of water
1 small can of tomato sauce

Make a paste with the flour, the water and the tomato sauce and pour it over the sarma. Sprinkle the paprika on top. Maintain the simmer for another fifteen minutes.

Serve with a nice piece of pogacha, a white Bosnian bread, or any other type of bread for sopping up the sauce.

*Vegeta can be found at the Bosnia Express store on Emerald in Boise.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Name: Maria Trujillo
Born in: Guatemala City, Guatemala
In Idaho since: 1993

Funny how some foods can have the same name and yet be something completely different. Maria's husband Carlos pointed this out to me when we visited on a sunny Saturday morning in their Middleton home. Enchiladas in Mexican Spanish are a dish of meat-filled tortillas baked in tomato sauce, whereas the Guatemalan enchiladas are practically the opposite: a crispy fried tortilla as a base for lettuce, ground beef, pickled vegetables, onion, egg, cheese, tomato sauce or salsa and parsley. The color combination is so pretty that it is almost a shame to eat (and you better put shame to the side because there is no way of eating these delicious enchiladas while upholding your table manners! ).

Maria tells me that these enchiladas hold special memories for her. "One of the many things my grandmother taught me was how to make the curtido for the enchiladas", she says while she stirs the pickled vegetable mix. "My kids also love this dish, especially my daughter Joanna. Enchiladas are a typical dish that you make on Sundays to share with the family for lunch, or on special holidays like Christmas. They are also served during Easter but on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, you leave out the meat."

Enchiladas are also much appreciated outside the Trujillo home. Entire websites are dedicated to the national Guatamalan dish, also called the Queen of the Appetizers, and in Los Angeles where many Guatemalan expats live, people line up for the colorful snack at the local bakeries.

Enchiladas Guatemaltecas
For the curtido
2 medium size red beets
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1/2 cup of green peas
1/2 cup of shredded cabbage
1/2 cup of green beans, sliced in 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup of cauliflower, cut into small florets
1/2 cup of white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme (or 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves)
1 bay leaf

Scrub the beets, cut off the tail and the top and boil in enough water to cover them until they can be pierced with a fork, about an hour or so. Take them out of the water and let them cool. Now add the carrots to the water and boil until soft, about ten minutes. Scoop them out of the water and place them in a bowl, then boil the beans, the cauliflower and the cabbage in that order until done. Peel the beets, dice them and mix them with all the other vegetables and add the peas. Add the vinegar and the thyme, taste and add salt and pepper. Stir well, add the bay leaf and refrigerate overnight.

For the meat
1 lb of ground beef, lean
1/4 medium size onion, diced

Brown the beef in a skillet, add the onion and sauté until done. Pour off the fat and set the meat aside until you are ready to serve.

For the toppings
3 cups of shredded iceberg lettuce (or 4 iceberg lettuce leaves, torn in halves)
8 crispy tortillas
4 tablespoons of cheese
8 slices of onion
2 tablespoons of minced parsley
2 boiled eggs, cut in 4 slices each
2 cups of tomato sauce (optional)*

Put the tortillas on a serving platter. Top each with lettuce, then a heaping spoonful of meat. Place two generous scoops of curtido on top, sprinkle cheese over it, and top with parsley, a slice of onion and a slice of boiled egg.

You can break the tortilla and use it as a scoop, you can attack the whole thing with a fork and there are those that don't need a fork, a plate or anything but who are able to eat the whole enchilada (no pun intended) while holding it, and without dropping one little bit. I'll have you know that I am not one of those!

The tomato sauce can go over the top of the egg, on top of the tortilla or on top of the meat, that's a personal preference. I prefer to leave it out altogether.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Name: Sonia Montelongo
Born in: Laredo, Mexico
In Idaho since: 1995

"This soup is traditionally made with pork, but for my family I choose to make it with turkey breast. It's a healthier choice." Sonia is chopping onions for the soup in her Boise home where she lives with her husband and her son.

Sopa de albóndigas, or meatball soup, is a traditional Mexican dish. Every Mexican mom has her own version and it can easily be considered the country's favorite 'comfort food'. It is often served for lunch: three or five bite-size meatballs, chunks of potato, carrot and a flavorful broth constitute a full meal, especially served with homemade tortillas. Sonia also uses the same recipe for meatballs in a tomato sauce to serve on a roll or with pasta. Because of the few ingredients in the soup, make sure you get quality produce: each flavor will contribute to the end result. The soup will have an excellent fresh and refreshingly pure taste.

"My mom used to make this soup for us all the time when we were kids," Sonia says, "and now I make it for my own son. He loves it!".

Sopa de albóndigas
1 lb ground turkey breast
1 egg
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup jasmine rice
4 stems fresh cilantro, chopped
4 stems fresh cilantro, whole
1/4 cup white onion, chopped
6 cups water
1 medium sized red potato, in bite-size chunks.
8 baby carrots, halved

Chopped cilantro for garnish
Slice of lime

Mix the turkey breast, egg, garlic, rice, the chopped cilantro and onion until well blended, add a pinch of salt and form into golf ball sized meatballs. Bring the water on the stove to a boil, and add the albóndigas one at a time, maintaining a rolling boil. Turn to a simmer, add a couple of sprigs of cilantro to the water for added flavor and boil for ten minutes. Blend the tomatoes into a smooth sauce and bring up to a slow boil on the stove. Now add the potato and the carrots to the soup and stir in the tomato sauce. Simmer for another ten minutes or until the meat is ready (when the rice kernels are puffed up and split open.). Taste the soup and adjust according to taste.

Serve garnished with chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Name: Ansarul Haque
Born in: Dhaka, Bangladesh
In Idaho since: December 1999

"Butter chicken is one of my favorite dishes. It's a very rich dish so I only cook it once every two or three months. But it's the first thing I order when I go back to Bangladesh to visit my family! My friends and I used to cook this dish all the time, so one day we went to the store and bought a hundred packages of butter chicken mix, just to make sure we would not run out!"

Bengali cooking is not fast cooking. The spices (turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, chili, cumin, ginger and garlic) are key ingredients to its cuisine and it takes time to permeate the meat and the sauces. Ansarul frequently smells the food cooking on the stove and claims that the food will be ready when "it smells right".

"I spent more time learning how to cook all my favorite foods once I moved away from Bangladesh. When I was there, I didn't pay much attention because it was all around me but once I moved, I missed it. Living with my sister for a while was a great help because she is an awesome cook and I learned a lot from her. I love to grill so she calls me when she has a question on grilling and I call her to ask about everything else."

Basmati rice

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1/2 red onion
3 cups of basmati rice
5 1/2 cups of hot water
4 tablespoons of ginger paste*
1/2 cinnamon stick
2 kardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven. Slice the onion in thin slivers and sauté until golden. Add the rice and stir, sautéeing for several minutes. Crush the cardamom pods with the flat side of a knife and add to the rice. Peel three matchstick size lengths of bark from the cinnamon stick and add those to the rice as well. Stir in the ginger paste. When the rice kernels are translucent, add hot water, stir everything together, add the salt, bring to a boil, cover and simmer on low for about twenty minutes or until the rice is done. Do not stir the rice after you've covered it and make sure it's on low enough heat so that it doesn't burn.

Butter chicken

4 tablespoons of vegetable oil, divided
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 red onion, peeled and sliced thin
2 lbs of chicken thighs or breast, skinless and cut in bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons of garlic paste*
4 tablespoons of red onion paste*
3 tablespoons of ginger paste*
1 teaspoon of dark chili powder
1 tablespoon of white vinegar
3 cardamom pods
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 package of Butter Chicken Mix**
1 cup of half-and-half milk
1/2 cup of sour cream

In one skillet, heat two tablespoons of olive and quickly brown the chicken on all sides, then turn the heat low and let it simmer. In the meantime, heat the rest of the oil in a Dutch oven with the butter. Add the onion and stir until the onions are translucent and start to caramelize. Add the garlic, red onion and ginger paste, stir in the chili powder and add the vinegar. Now add the contents of the butter chicken mix package. Stir everything together. Drain the chicken (you may want to keep the fat for other uses) and fold it into the sauce until all pieces are well covered. Turn down the heat and add the cup of half-and-half, stir it in. Now fold in the half cup of sour cream. Stir again, making sure the heat stays low so that the dairy products don't curdle and simmer for another ten to fifteen minutes.

Serve over Basmati rice.

* Ansarul makes his own garlic, onion and ginger paste. Peel and dice each vegetable, put it in a blender with one or two tablespoons of water and blend until fine. You can freeze the paste and use when needed. The pastes will add genuine flavor to the dishes and make for a creamy, consistent sauce without too many lumps

** The Butter Chicken mix can be found in Indian food markets, but it is also easy to make this dish from scratch. Check this link for a simple and easy to follow recipe, with video Most ingredients are available from your local Winco or the India store on Orchard in Boise. Methi leaves are better known as fenugreek leaves.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Name: Kamilla Gazieva
Born in: Pavlovsk, Russia
In Idaho since: August, 2009

"I might be the only Russian person that some people in Idaho will ever meet." Kamilla is explaining why she is excited about organizing the International Food, Dance and Song Festival at Boise State University this April where she is studying for her master's degree. "I want to make sure they know that there is more to Russia than bears, vodka and fur hats. There is more to it than great scientists and athletes: we also have great actors and writers. And we have really good cartoons!"

Another thing Russia is perhaps not so well-known for is its cuisine. During the previous regime, food was scarce and often basic but Russian food has a strong and diverse history. "I'm going to cook borsch. It is a traditional Russian and Ukrainian dish and probably it is the first dish you think about when you hear "Russian food". Every family cooks it and it is a must for Russian girls to know how to cook it, although I learned it just recently, when two friends came to visit. Of course the best borsch is the one cooked by my mom!".

Traditionally, borsch is prepared with meat, most often beef, although the areas closer to the ocean sometimes will use fish or herring instead of beef. Kamilla chose to prepare a non-meat variety, adding additional flavor by using a bouillon cube.

5 medium size potatoes
1/2 beef bouillon cube
4 medium size beets
2 carrots
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
1/3 cup of warm water
1/2 green cabbage, cut in thin strips
1/2 cup of onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lemon
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley or dill

Peel the potatoes, quarter them and add enough water to cover them about an inch. Bring to a boil and add the bouillon cube. Peel the beets and the carrots and grate them into thin strips. In the meantime, sautée the onions in a tablespoon of oil until golden. Add the carrots and the beets to the onion and stir until soft, then stir in the tomato paste and the warm water. Squeeze the lemon and add the juice: this will brighten the colors of the carrots and beets. When the potatoes have boiled approximately ten minutes, add the cabbage. Stir in the beet/carrot mix, add the garlic and simmer until all the vegetables are done. Add chopped parsley and/or dill, taste and adjust.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and some chopped parsley and bread.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Name: Barbara Haines
Born in: Warsaw, Poland
In Idaho since: October 2nd, 1994

Barbara lived in Australia and London before settling in Idaho. She and her husband Tom, who's American, live in their Boise East End home. They share their backyard space with a skunk, several deer and the occasional cougar.

I met Barbara a couple of days before our interview and asked her what she would be cooking. "Lazy Kluski" she said, without really explaining what those were. "I'll make lazy kluski. Tom is excited because I have not made them in a while and he loves them, so that's what I'll be doing." I could see Tom in the background with a grin on his face and nodding his head. Almost as cryptical as the name of the dish itself, Barbara mentioned right before I left that she'll "be making the cheese this weekend, because we will not have time to make the cheese and make the kluski both in one evening." When she said "roll" she demonstratively made a rolling movement with both her hands, as if she was rolling a long piece of dough.

Okay, so now I knew that kluski were made with cheese and were rolled, but that's all. So when I finally arrived at Barbara's home last Monday evening, I was curious to see what this dish was all about: what are kluski and why are they lazy?

Turns out that kluski are a kind of dumpling and they are called "lazy" because you roll the filling right into the dough, saving you the trouble of filling them, like pierogi. "I used to live on this stuff as a young girl". Barbara is standing at the kitchen counter, crumbling up the cheese. Her kitchen is warm and inviting and her predilection for yellow makes the room seem extra bright. "Living in Warsaw, we would eat often at a bar mleczny in the city and I would always eat this." The bar mleczny is a traditional type of cafetaria that was instituted during the 1960s as an affordable way to provide meals to workers. Its name translates to "milk bar" and originates from the predominantly dairy-based items on the menu, although nowadays the selection of dishes is more varied. The concept of the bar mleczny could be considered fast-food, but most of the dishes are traditional Polish fare and require long, slow cooking methods.

Leniwe Kluski
For the cheese
1/2 gallon of buttermilk
Simmer the buttermilk on low for up to two hours. The cheese will curdle and separate from the whey. Pour off the whey and drain the cheese in a cheese cloth. Crumble the cheese into tiny curds.

For the kluski
1 cup of all-purpose flour, divided
1 egg
Sprinkle half a cup of flour over the cheese, add the egg and knead to a dough-like consistency. If the cheese is wet, add more flour. If it's too dry, you may want to add a tablespoon of water at a time until the mixture rolls like dough.

Cut the dough into three pieces and roll each one out on a lightly floured counter. Put a criss-cross pattern on top of the rolls with a knife, then cut into slices.

In the meantime, put a pan with water on the stove and bring to a rolling boil. When the water is boiling, drop two to three pieces at a time into the pan, making sure that the boil remains. The kluski will be ready in a couple of minutes and will start to float to the top. Take them out and place them on a warm plate.

For the topping
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 cup of breadcrumbs

Panko breadcrumbs work well as they are slightly sweeter than standard breadcrumbs. You can also consider making your own. Slowly melt the butter in a frying pan until lightly caramelized, make sure it doesn't burn. Choose a good quality unsalted butter: because of the simplicity of the dish, the quality of the ingredients will make all the difference. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the kluski, then cover with the melted butter. Sprinkle with sugar and serve. Another way to serve them is by omitting the butter and adding a dollop of sour cream instead.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Name: Ursula Draeger
Born in: Landshut, Germany
In Idaho since: 2006

"I'll make Kartoffelsalat", Ursula tells me on the phone when I ask her what she will be preparing for Idaho's Melting Pot. "I've been making this traditional German potato salad for the last 45 years and it comes out great every time."

Ursula and her husband Horst have been in the United States since 1956 but have only lived in Idaho for the last four years. When I meet them in their Meridian home, I immediately notice how incredibly efficient and energetic Ursula is. Her home and her appearance are impeccable. While we chat, she shows me how to prepare the kartoffelsalat, but she also makes schnitzel and a cucumber salad on the side for dinner, tells me about her homebaked breads and gives me numerous tips and tricks to save time and money in the kitchen, all within a two hour timeframe. And somehow nothing seems hurried or hastily done: Ursula is all smiles, very charming and a wonderful hostess. 

"I like using tools that help me to be more efficient in the kitchen," she says. I see that she has a variety of items at hand: a chopper, a mandolin, a salad spinner, a meat mallet, a jar opener and one little tool that I wouldn't even know what to call: it has little extendible arms that grasp the pickles from the jar so you don't have to stab them with a fork or, heaven forbid, reach in the jar with your fingers. Half the efficiency is having the tool, but the other half is knowing where it is when you need it. And Ursula knows. Her movements around the kitchen are like a well choreographed dance, and it is a pleasure to watch. "This is my favorite one," Ursula says pointing to a slender wooden spoon she is using to stir the frying bacon pieces, "I gave it to my mother when I was ten years old. As a child you don't have a lot of money and I wanted to give her something that was practical. When she passed away, I took it with me and still use it to this day."

"For the potato salad, I prefer white potatoes. Yellow potatoes will do too, but they tend to be a little sweeter and it changes the flavor of the salad. I boil the potatoes the day before so that they're cold when I slice them. That way, they keep their shape better and don't turn into mush when I toss them with the rest of the ingredients. I also freeze the salted pork. It keeps longer and is a little easier to dice as well. And for the salad, I use canola oil. It has the same nutritional qualities as olive oil, but does not have that typical olive oil taste and is much more affordable."

6 medium size boiled and peeled potatoes, white
1/2 medium size onion, diced
2 tablespoons parsley, minced
1 small dill pickle, diced
2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of canola oil
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
1/2 cup of salted pork, diced

Slice the potatoes thin and put them in a bowl. Mix in the rest of the ingredients, up until the pork, and mix. Fry the bacon on the stove in a dry pan until crispy, then add to the bowl hot, fat and all. Fold the pork into the salad, taste and adjust with salt and pepper. Let the salad sit, preferably overnight, but at least for 30 minutes so that the flavors can blend.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Netherlands (Boerenkool met worst)

Name: Michiel Juch
Born in: Groningen, The Netherlands
In Idaho since: August, 2008

"Actually, that was not the first time that I came to Idaho. I'd been here before as an international exchange student in 2006, when I attended a high school in Jerome. I returned to the Netherlands after ten months when my program was done. When I finished high school and decided to continue my education, I chose to return to Idaho and enroll at BSU" says Michael. He's peeling the potatoes to prepare a dish called Boerenkool met Worst, kale with kielbasa.

"Boerenkool is traditional Dutch food and a typical winter dish. It's mashed potatoes mixed with strips of kale and topped with juicy slices of smoked kielbasa. It's not so much a family dish but it is definitely a very traditional one. It makes me think of wintery evenings in Holland, when it's cold outside but warm and cozy inside and the whole family is gathered around the dinner table, eating and spending time together."

When I ask if that would happen a lot, gathering the whole family around the dinner table, Michiel says: "Yes, every so often we'd gather at my grandpa's for dinner. He's a great cook. But my dad is also a wonderful cook. My friends thought for the longest time that he was a chef because of how good his food tasted. I don't cook a lot at home nowadays: I'm busy with school and work and often will be content with a sandwich or a cup of soup, but when I feel like cooking I always ask my dad for help. He's spoilt me with his good cooking because to this day, I will not eat anything out of a can if I can avoid it!".

"But if I want to make hachee, a Dutch beef dish, I call my grandpa. He makes the best hachee in the world, and just the other day he finally shared the recipe with me. He also makes the best meatballs. They are just amazing, but so far he has kept that recipe a secret. Well, he said he once shared it with my dad and my dad prepared the meat according to the instructions, but they tasted awful! So I guess it's fair to say he's not willing to part with that secret just yet", Michiel laughs out loud.

Boerenkool met worst
3 bunches of kale (or 1 lb)
6 large potatoes
3 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup of milk, warmed
1 smoked kielbasa

Wash the kale well as sand and mud tends to get trapped in the curly leaves. Shake off the water and rip the leaves off the stems. Roll and cut the leaves into narrow strips. Dispose of the stems. Volume-wise, you'll need 2/3s of kale versus 1/3rd of potatoes as the kale loses most of its volume after it's boiled. Peel the potatoes, quarter them and place them in a Dutch oven. Add water to barely cover the potatoes, then put the kale on top. Cover the pot with a lid and bring to a boil. Boil on a low flame for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are done.

To heat the kielbasa, you can do two things: either take it out of the wrapper and place it on top of the kale when you boil the potatoes, or place the entire package in a saucepan with warm water and slowly bring to a simmer.

With the lid on the pan of potatoes and kale, pour off the remaining liquid . Add the butter to the potatoes and mash. If you don't have a traditional Dutch "stamper", you can mash the potatoes with a masher or a whisk. Add in the milk, continue to mash until the biggest lumps are gone and the boerenkool has reached the consistency of mashed potatoes. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper.

Take the kielbasa, cut it in large slices and place on top. Serve and get that cozy wintery Dutch feeling!

As usually happens with a fairly straightforward dish such as boerenkool, almost every Dutch family has its own favorite variant. Michiel's family likes to mix in sautéed pieces of salted pork or bacon and pouring some of the fat into one of the crevices on top of the mashed potatoes, others stir in small dice of aged cheese right before serving. But boerenkool will traditionally always be paired with smoked kielbasa. Any other choice of meat would most likely not uphold the character of this sturdy, cold weather dish.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Name: Jorge Kleiss
Born in: Mérida, Venezuela
In Idaho since: January 5th, 2008

Jorge came to Idaho to attend the Culinary Arts program at CWI in early 2008. Since then he's been busy with school and volunteering at the YMCA, with the ski patrol and the Boy Scouts.

"I became interested in cooking during the 2003 Boy Scout Summer Camp. It's not that I wasn't interested before, but the first day of camp I found out that I was supposed to cook for 8 people for the ten day duration of the camp. I didn't even know how to fry an egg!", says Jorge, laughing out loud. "But nobody really complained or disliked the food that I prepared so I figured I might have a knack for it". Once he returned home from camp, Jorge started experimenting in the kitchen and quickly became the main person to prepare lunches for his sisters and his parents. But the interest in food and cooking was not necessarily new to the family.

"My dad is an awesome cook, and so is my mom", he says when we're on our way to the store to get some last-minute ingredients. "Especially my dad has a curiosity for new things. He is always on the lookout for a new cut of meat or an exotic ingredient he has not cooked with before. I guess I turned out the same way because each time I go to the grocery store, I make sure I stroll down every aisle looking for new things to try."

Jorge's dish to share are empanadas. The empanada is a half-circle shaped, corn-based dough pastry that is filled with savory stuffing and then fried in hot oil. The filling is usually shredded beef or chicken stewed with vegetables and cheese but can be as adventurous as shark or beef tongue. The empanadas can be eaten as a main course for breakfast or lunch, or served at parties as a snack.

"I love making empanadas because it gives me room to be creative and stuff them with any kind of savory filling that I want. It is the kind of food Venezuelans will eat for breakfast, and it is usually eaten with a traditional sauce, similar to Tartar sauce. You really want this sauce with your empanadas: if the empanada is not overly stuffed or if the dough is not very tasty, the sauce will make up for all of that. When I was in high school, our cafetaria cook was Mr Alonso and he made the most amazing sauce. The empanadas were okay but the sauce made them wonderful. Actually, I love empanadas so much that my aunt Ester made me a huge platter on the day before I left for Idaho and I ate them all!"

For the dough
3 cups of harina PAN (available in Hispanic markets)
4 1/2 cups of warm water, divided
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 tablespoons of sugar
pinch of salt

In a bowl, pour the three cups of flour and add three cups of warm water. Add in the olive oil, the sugar and the salt and knead into a thick paste. Add another cup of water. Knead for five minutes or until the dough has come together and some of the grittiness of the corn grains has disappeared. Pour the last half cup of water on the dough, cover and let it sit for about twenty minutes.

For the filling
1 cup of celery, minced
1 cup of onion, minced
1/2 cup of green onion, minced
1 red pepper, de-seeded and minced
1/4 cup of carrot, minced
8 green stuffed olives, minced
1 pound of ground beef
1/2 cup of beef stock
2 tablespoons of ketchup
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire
1 teaspoon of cumin, black pepper and garlic powder each
2 cups of shredded cheese

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil and quickly sauté the vegetables until soft. Add in the ground beef, break it up in little pieces and stir until the meat is no longer pink, then add in the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low for approximately 45 minutes until it becomes a thick, meaty paste. Taste. Adjust with seasonings as needed and set aside to cool.

What you'll need
3 pieces of plastic wrap, approximately 12 inches long (Jorge uses the Harina Pan bags for this purpose)
1 small cutting board
1 small bowl with a 5 inch diameter

Place one piece of plastic wrap on a baking sheet or cutting board. Knead the dough again so that it absorbs the rest of the water and turns into a soft, pillowy dough. Break off a piece the size of a tennis ball and quickly roll it into a round. Put the second sheet of plastic wrap, long side down, in front of you. Place the dough ball on top, cover with the third piece of plastic wrap and place the small cutting board on top. Now press down with both hands, flattening the dough into a round.

Lift the top plastic sheet, and place two spoonfulls of the meat stew in the middle of the dough, lenghtwise, leaving at least an inch on each side. Sprinkle with a heaping tablespoon of shredded cheese. Now lift the plastic with both hands on one side and fold one half of the dough onto the other half.

Place the rim of the bowl, hollow side under, over the empanada and push down onto the dough, covering the filling and removing any extra dough. This will shape the empanada into a perfect half circle and seal the edges.
Peel off the top sheet of plastic and place the empanada on the baking sheet. Continue to make empanadas until either the stew or the dough is gone. This should make approximately 10 empanadas.

Heat the fryer or an inch of olive oil in a frying pan to 375F. Carefully place the empanadas, two to three at a time in the oil and fry until golden brown on each side.

Rest on a plate covered with one or two paper towels to absorb some of the oil. Do not immediately consume because the inside will be piping hot!

Venezuelan Empanada Sauce
1 cup of mayonnaise
1 tablespoon of capers, drained and minced
6 green olives, minced
2 tablespoons of parsley, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of black pepper

Mix everything together, taste and adjust accordingly.

Serve the empanadas with a side of sauce and make sure there is enough for everybody to share. Let the party begin!