As everything becomes more interconnected, it's easy to find yourself surrounded by a diverse array of culinary influences. Thanks to China and Japan, for example, pretty much every fridge in America has soy sauce in it. And Sriracha? That gift came here from Thailand via Vietnam. Or what about salsa? Can anyone remember a time when it wasn't readily available at every corner store in the U.S.?
These are just a few examples of how international ingredients and condiments have changed the way Americans cook and eat. We here at Reviewed think it's about time for even more diverse, delicious foreign foods to go mainstream. Here's our five picks for international foods that we think every 21st century kitchen should possess.
Origin: Middle East
Uses: Ingredient in many sauces and sweets
Hailing from the mid-east, this simple ingredient has tremendous possibilities. Tahini is just ground-up sesame seeds. It has a slightly nutty flavor and separates naturally when sitting around for a while (make sure you mix it up before use). There's a strong possibility that you've had tahini, as it's used in many traditional North African, Greek, Turkish, and middle eastern dishes. Combine it with lemon and crushed garlic, and you get a tasty dipping sauce for pitas. Mix it with ground chickpeas and seasonings, and, voila! Hummus. It's also a key component in baba ganouj.
Though it's great as a component in savory dishes, our favorite use of tahini might be in a sweet one. Halva is one of the world's oldest treats, and it's a simple one to recreate with store-bought tahini. Simply mix thoroughly with honey and enjoy on toast. We've also heard of people using it as a way to make smoothies extra creamy. There are few ingredients as versatile as tahini.
Origin: Southeast Asia
Uses: Flavoring agent, ingredient, sauces
This southeast Asian condiment is full of flavor. Fish sauce is made from salted and fermented anchovy, which sounds a little gross at first, but once you taste it in dishes, there's no going back. This powerhouse of fishy goodness is creeping into restaurant kitchens across the country, and being adapted to western dishes as well.
Since it hits that tasty umami spot on your tongue, fish sauce is perfect as a seasoning for chili and meat, as well as part of a Vietnamese-style egg roll dipping sauce. Dinner guests will all be beside themselves guessing what the mystery ingredient is in your dishes.
Uses: Natural sweetener, pancake syrup, baking
It's not uncommon for Americans to have a few different sweeteners in the house, but there's no doubt that sugar still rules the roost. But, did you know that agave nectar is an excellent alternative to honey and table sugar? The agave plant is loaded with natural sweetness, and it's also where tequila comes from.
It's sweeter and has more calories, but it's high in fructose with a lower glycemic index than sugar. Since agave has a distinctive, strong character, you can use less of it than sugar or honey and still get the sweetness you're looking for. As a syrup, agave nectar is also excellent on pancakes and great for cocktails.
Origin: South America
Uses: Staple grain good on its own or as a side
Rice and potatoes, watch yourselves! Oatmeal, Cream of Wheat—you're not safe, either! Quinoa is on the scene here in the States and it's here to stay. While it's a great staple or side to any meal, quinoa is also a nutritious option just about any time of the day. Cooked quinoa with milk, a bit of honey, and some nuts is a filling, energy-packed breakfast option. It's an ancient grain that has been a popular option in South America for centuries, and it's now gaining traction in the US, too.
What sets quinoa apart from most other grains is its abundance of protein. Naturally gluten-free, quinoa is also high in dietary fiber and calcium. Contrast that with the quick-shot-in-the-arm starchy alternatives, and it's clear that quinoa has earned its place in North American kitchens.
Uses: Spicy condiment for savory dishes, flavoring agent, marinade
Not to jump on the bandwagon, but gochujang is totally going to be the next hot sauce superstar. It's not entirely unlike our beloved sriracha, but we think it's a bit more versatile since it tends to be sweeter. If Korea had its own national sauce, it'd be gochujang. Aged in earthenware pots, this thick sauce is made from red chilies, rice, and fermented soybeans.
In Korean cuisine, gochujang is used to marinate meats, flavor stews, and add a bit of zest to pretty much any dish you could imagine. If you've ever had the popular Korean dish bipimbap, you've most likely been served a ramekin of gochujang to flavor the dish to taste.