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18 R.D.s Share Their Absolute Favorite Foods From Their Cultures

Bring on the comfort food.

3/1/2021 6:55:00 AM

Trying foods you may not be familiar with from other cultures can also be a really special way for you to respectfully learn about and experience them.

Bring on the comfort food.

There’s something just so, well, comforting about comfort foods: Not only do they taste delicious, but in many cases, they take us on an emotional journey, bringing back memories that make us feel safe, calm, and just plain satisfied.Comfort food means different things to different people, but for many of us, they’re rooted in tradition—they’re

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the kind of foods we grew up on, that we’ve learned to associate with these feel-good emotions. Lots of times, these are foods that play a big part in not only our families, but in our larger culture too.“Eating cultural foods can take us back to a comforting experience, which has a sentimental or nostalgic value,”

, R.D.N., C.D.N, a registered dietitian based in New York, tells SELF. “Food has the power to connect us back to simpler times.”But there’s a flip side benefit: Trying foods you may not be familiar with fromothercultures can also be a really special way for you to respectfully learn about and experience them, which can give you a greater understanding of these cultures in more of a firsthand, active way. As another plus, trying different foods from other cultures can also help expand your palate, which is especially helpful if you’ve been in a food rut.

Different cultures tend to use different ingredients—including fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices—and different preparation techniques, which bring unique bursts of flavor and texture to dishes that you may not be familiar with otherwise, explains Gina DeLuca, R.D., C.D.N., registered dietitian at Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Hospital–Long Island.

Chances are pretty good that you have a few favorite cultural foods of your own, which you may turn to when you need a little pick-me-up. But if you want to broaden your tastes and try something new (or hear someone sing the praises of a food you already love), check out these 18 registered dietitians’ favorite dishes from their cultures.

1. Horiatiki Salad“I grew up eating Greek food, and one thing I could eat every day is a Greek salad, also called a horiatiki salad. It contains simple, fresh ingredients that include tomato, sliced cucumber, green pepper, sliced red onion, Kalamata olives, and of course, feta cheese, and is dressed with extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, salt, and pepper. When using high-quality

olive oilwith the remaining fresh ingredients, the flavors pop.I was introduced to it daily at the dinner table, particularly in the summertime when the ingredients were grown fresh from our garden. I eat it with fresh bread—sometimes pita bread—alongside my main entrée, which is usually lean poultry or fresh fish. Sometimes I eat it with just bread as my main course and it leaves me perfectly satisfied.” —Sarah Galanis, M.P.H., C.D.N., director of food and nutrition at NYU Langone Hospital–Brooklyn

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2. Eggplant Parmigiana“My favorite cultural food is—hands down—eggplant parmigiana, which is essentially a casserole of lightly breaded, fried eggplant slices layered with tomato marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese. It’s best if the eggplant is crisp, and the cheese cooked well-done or slightly burned. Toss in some fresh basil, and you’re set. The commingling of flavors is simply superb.

My mom would make it as a dish classic to our Italian culture. There’s a process of steps involved in it, for instance, ‘sweating’ the eggplant, which means slicing it into disks, lightly salting them, and placing them on and between paper towels to draw out the solanine—the ingredient that gives eggplant its initial bitter taste. It can be eaten for dinner, but

leftoversreheat well for lunch, and I’ve also been known to eat leftovers for breakfast when there was nothing else I wanted. When I was pregnant with my son, my husband laughed at my open-mindedness to food possibilities—like eggplant parmigiana for breakfast.

AdvertisementI adore that this dish can be modified in so many ways. You can make it classic style by frying the eggplant slices, but you can also grill or roast them to opt for a moreheart-healthyoption; you can change up your types of sauce or cheese; you can even use zucchini in place of eggplant if you have an eggplant allergy, or use dairy-free cheese and gluten-free bread crumbs if you have additional food allergies or intolerances. The possibilities are endless.” —DeLuca

3. Goulash“I come from many cultures (English, Irish, Hungarian, but mostly Slovenian), so it was always fun watching my mom cook from very different cultures. My dad was not very adventurous, so looking back, we often had heartier Hungarian-type foods like goulash. The goulash my mom made was a saucy mix of beef, vegetables, and caraway seeds—she would often put them over buttered noodles. Sunday afternoons, my grandparents would come over and we would eat all together. My mom would often make this dish since everyone seemed to like it—and quite frankly, trying to cook for a crowd can be very expensive, and this was

budget-friendly. My 98-year-old grandfather asked for it on his deathbed, so it was good enough to leave a lasting impression!I think it’s one of my favorite dishes because it does remind me of the dinners we had when I was little. Now when I make this dish, I often will substitute the beef for venison, just as a personal preference that doesn’t change the taste of it. Although you can often tweak a recipe to make it healthier, the base of the dish should remain the same and should be passed on to loved ones to keep the tradition going.” —

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, R.D., registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition4. Sweet and Savory Sweet Potatoes“Sweet potatoesare a root vegetable that are prepared multiple ways in my African American culture. Sweet potatoes—specifically baked sweet potatoes—are sweet and savory, and I eat them as a side with my dinner. I simply bake them in the oven at 400°F for 30 to 40 minutes, and once done, I top with cinnamon, mash with a fork, and enjoy. Baking sweet potatoes in the oven gives them an amazing texture and brings out their sweet flavor.

Sweet potatoes come in many forms at holiday events: baked, whipped, in a pie, or topped with marshmallows. And you’re considered a top chef in my culture if you can make the best sweet potato pie or dish. It’s a badge of honor to prepare sweet potato dishes—only a few family members are trusted to bring sweet potato pie and candied yams or sweet potatoes to holiday gatherings. Also, a sweet potato recipe is passed down through generations. Each family has their own twist.” —

, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.5. Arroz con Gandules“My ultimate favorite dish is arroz con gandules, a famous Puerto Rican Rice dish with a small type of legume. I have been eating this dish since I was a toddler—even now, everywhere we go, we are welcomed with a plate of arroz con gandules. It’s a staple for any gatherings, holiday celebrations, or special dinners.

Read more: SELF »

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