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Give an international flair to traditional holiday meals

As the holidays near, you may be wondering how to add a different touch to traditional recipes such as the tried-and-true turkey and those staple side dishes of green beans or mashed potatoes.

An easy way to spice up your meals is to explore international flavors and serve unexpected recipes to go alongside your family's favorite traditions. To get started, some spices and pantry items Chef Rudy Kloeble, an instructor at The Art Institute of California - San Diego, recommends adding to your kitchen include olive oil, wine, honey, cinnamon, lemon pepper, dijon mustard, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, basmati rice and a quality brand of vegetable or chicken bouillon cubes or stock. On the more adventurous side, consider stocking up on garbanzo beans, herbs de provence, agave nectar, hearts of palm, different tapenades and water chestnuts.

In approaching how to incorporate new flavors in a meal, The Art Institute of California - Los Angeles Chef Jimin C. Bruen recommends leaving the bird alone and adding one or two new side dishes as a great way to go exotic.

"Utilizing cumin, coriander and curry powder makes an Indian-inspired version of sweet potatoes or add ginger, soy, sake and garlic to broccoli for spiced up greens," says Bruen.

If you are more comfortable just testing the waters, consider serving an exotic beverage, appetizer or dessert instead of experimenting with the main meal. In Mexican culture, a drink called champurrado is very popular, which is similar to a cocoa and made out of milk and Mexican chocolate. You can go with a Caribbean touch by grilling a fruit such as pineapple and shrimp for a quick appetizer, or add an Asian touch with a spring roll made of sauteed winter vegetables.

"I love going the cheese and charcuterie route because it's easy, but delicious," says Bruen. He recommends a Spanish-influenced appetizer cutting a baguette into little crostinis, toasting them lightly and drizzling each piece with good olive oil. Then top the crostinis with manchego cheese (a cheese made in the La Mancha region of Spain from sheep's milk), Spanish chorizo (sausage) and a little quince jam.

For dessert, consider picking up a French-style apple tart or assemble Italian cannolies made with a pumpkin puree to replace traditional apple and pumpkin pie.

Don't be afraid to mix and match flavors. "Typically families enjoy many dishes at a holiday meal that most everyone will find something they like, so mixing it up is part of the fun," adds Bruen.

To learn more about The Art Institutes schools, visit www.artinstitutes.edu.

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