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!

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.