As the holidays approach, many of us look forward to celebratory feasts with family and friends. While some people prefer the same traditional meals every year, others like the idea of taking a slightly more global perspective by borrowing ideas for festive entrées from interesting cultures around the world. There is a strong human connection between cuisine, ethnicity and culture and food has the potential to help unite us in meaningful ways. So why not learn from each other to enrich and expand upon our holiday traditions?
One aspect of creating wonderful, internationally inspired meals is getting more familiar with “flavor profiles,” which are created by specific herbs, spices and other ingredients that together characterize the taste of various ethnic dishes. For example, Mexican food is largely defined by cumin, oregano, garlic, cilantro and lime, while Italian meals emphasize basil, garlic, oregano and rosemary.
Similarly, you will find a lot of garlic, basil, thyme, olive oil and sundried tomatoes in Mediterranean-style cuisine, while Asian dishes typically include soy sauce, sesame oil, green onions, ginger and garlic. Thai dishes often fuse in yellow, red and green curry paste, while East Indian entrées are built upon a range of fragrant spices, traditionally hand-ground, such as cardamom, coriander, turmeric, ginger and garam masala ─ a distinctive blend of fennel, bay leaves, black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, mace, cardamom, cumin and chili powder.
French cuisine is often accentuated with garlic, basil, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, tarragon, shallots, capers and Herbs de Provence, an aromatic mixture of dried Provençal herbs and spices that traditionally includes thyme, lavender, basil, rosemary, tarragon, savory, marjoram, oregano and bay leaf. This herb blend is especially appreciated in southern France, having originated in the Provence region where Van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso and other great masters once painted avidly.
So, whether you want to assemble an entire ethnic feast or would prefer to incorporate just a few globally diverse dishes into a menu of traditional favorites, you can count on some of the world’s most amazing flavors to lend fresh appeal to your holiday menu. Check out this array of recipes from cultures around the globe:
Salads & starters – Any festive gathering is brightened by fun appetizers and starters, which offer a great chance to launch a meal with interesting ethnic flavor notes. Why not try:
- Spinach Thai Salad with Peanut Dressing
- Vegan Avocado Summer Rolls with Sunflower Seed Butter Dipping Sauce
- Vegan Spinach Balls
- Sweet Potato-Kale Salad with Tahini Dressing
- Quinoa Tabbouleh with Chickpeas & Kale
Soups & Sides – Globally inspired side dishes make for a deliciously eclectic meal. Consider, for example:
- Herbes de Provence Split Pea Soup
- Spicy Hearts of Palm Stir-Fry Noodles
- Spanish Tomato-Mint Gazpacho
- Chilled Avocado Chile Pepper Soup
- Matzo Ball Soup with Cinnamon-Apple Latkes
- Indian Spiced Roasted Cauliflower Kebabs
Entrées – How about these culturally diverse, plant-based main courses?
- Masala Red Pepper Pasta
- Vegan Cauliflower Tacos
- Russian Mushroom Stroganoff
- Lentil-Red Curry Bake
- Curried Chickpea Pot Pie
- Edamame & Mung Bean Fettuccine with Creamy Green Tahini Sauce
- Coconut-Spiced Paella
- Pan-Fried Teriyaki Glazed Tofu & Rice.
Desserts – When it comes to sweet endings, these delectable options will complement any international entrée or side dish:
- Chocolate-Dipped Matcha Bites
- No-Bake Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecakes
- Gluten-Free Gingerbread Bundt Cake with Maple-Orange Glaze
- No-Bake Vegan Snowball Cookies
- Creamy Coconut-Filled Baked Pears
- Cashew “Cheesecake” with Hazelnut-Date Crust
- Thanksgiving Dessert Balls
After some experimentation, you may want to continue exploring flavors from around the world and finding ways to incorporate them into both your daily menus and holiday feasts. What a delicious way to celebrate the diversity of cultures with whom we share this beautiful planet. À votre santé, kanpai, salud, prost, saúde, gesondheid, skål, geonbae and cheers!
Need more inspiration? Download Together at the Holiday Table — a FREE e-Book with 30+ recipes for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other festive favorites from around the globe.