There is absolutely no reason in the universe for anyone to say, “I can’t cook.” Cooking is one of the most basic human activities, the first thing our prehistoric ancestors did after rubbing two sticks together to make fire and warming their hands over the flames. Anyone can cook, and, in my opinion, everyone should.
This is true even for the most exotic dishes and foreign cuisines. I nearly stopped ordering takeout altogether once I discovered that recreating my favorite Indian curries and Ethiopian stews requires little more than a well-stocked spice cabinet and a willingness to get your hands a little garlic-y. Even better? Assuming you already have some of the staple items (salt, olive oil) in your pantry, most homemade dishes cost far less than their restaurant counterparts.
The following four recipes aim to replicate some of my favorite international foods — and they do a pretty good job of it, if I do say so myself. Put together, they comprise a homemade meal exotic and delicious enough to impress the most seasoned restaurant critic — and leave plenty of leftovers for you to munch throughout the week.
Thai Coconut Rice
It almost seems crazy to me that a recipe with as few ingredients as this can taste so rich, but it does. The trick is to let the rice sit in the milk for as long as possible, allowing it to become creamy and glutinous.
Serves: Six people
- 1 1/2 cups of rice
- 3 cups of water
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 can coconut milk
- Rinse rice under warm water for about a minute.
- In a large pot, bring rice and water to a rolling boil over high heat.
- Once water is boiling, toss in salt, turn down the heat to a simmer and cover the pot. Allow rice to cook
- until it has absorbed all the water and rice is moist to taste.
- Turn off heat, add coconut milk and allow the rice to sit for at least two hours. (You can also store it like this in the refrigerator overnight.)
- Before serving, reheat rice over medium heat.
Moroccan Lentil Curry
I have an almost unhealthy affinity for curries — add cumin to just about anything and I’ll happily eat it. This one comes together quickly and easily and tastes just as great eaten out of a Tupperware at work three days later as it did the day you made it.
Serves: Six people (with leftovers)
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 4-6 medium carrots, diced
- 3 tbsp. curry powder
- 1 tbsp. cinnamon
- 2 cups red lentils
- 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
- 4 cups water
- salt and pepper
- handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
- Cook olive oil and garlic in a large pot over medium heat.
- Add onion, pepper and carrots and saute until vegetables are soft.
- Add spices, lentils, crushed tomatoes and water and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until lentils are cooked through and soft to taste.
- Add salt and pepper as needed and serve warm over rice. Top with chopped cilantro
Biscotti are among my favorite things to bake. There is something both sophisticated and comforting about their sweet crunch, and I can excuse eating five of them all by myself because they contain no butter. But a warning: These cookies come out incredibly hard and crisp. If your teeth aren’t hardy, you’re better off dunking these biscotti in tea, coffee or milk first!
Makes: Two dozen
- 2 cups flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans, roasted
- 3 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Mix dry ingredients, then wet, then combine.
- Form two logs, each 12 inches long and two inches wide, and bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove from oven and cool. Slice the logs into 12 cookies each.
- Turn the slices onto their sides and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until crisp.
Mexican Spiced Hot Chocolate
This hot chocolate is hot in both the temperature and flavor senses of the word. The Mayan-inspired recipe incorporates spices that add a warming sensation that enhances the rich taste of dark chocolate. It is exactly the kind of comforting drink to ease the ache of a frigid winter’s night. Dip your biscotti in it, and you’ll wonder how you got through January any other way.
Serves: Six people
- 4 1/2 cups of milk
- 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup of cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- 2-3 pinches cayenne pepper
- In a medium saucepan, melt chocolate chips over low heat.
- Add cocoa powder, spices and 2 tbsp. of milk; stir vigorously until mixture is smooth.
- Little by little, continue adding tablespoons of milk and stirring until thoroughly combined.
- When the mixture is more liquid than solid, pour in the rest of the milk and continue to warm the mixture slowly until it reaches the desired temperature.
- For a sweeter hot chocolate (this one is really rich!) stir in a tablespoon or two of brown sugar while the milk is heating up.