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!

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!