International Meals – Iceland

Not only is Iceland a place we’ve been, Iceland is even a place we’ve documented on this very blog! It’s true. You can read about our misadventures across the island starting with this post.  We saw lots of geology, ate lots of food, and failed to correctly pronounce a LOT of words.

While we were in Iceland we did NOT try their perhaps best known delicacy: hákarl, or fermented shark.  So after a bit of discussion (spoiler: this is not true), we decided that it was essential that we ALSO not try it for this meal.  Why break a streak?

Instead, it seems the most quintessential Icelandic dishes we WERE willing to have a run at all involved either fish or lamb.  And after discovering a delightfully tounge-in-cheek recipe site called “The Icelandic Food Centre” (actual motto: “Please read them, we beg of you.”) we decided that their recipe for Plokkfiskur would be just the thing. Accompanied by Rúgbrauð, of course.

First, a quick trip to the grocery store for some ingredients.  We were going to need several different types of dairy, some spice cookies, and something called golden syrup, which apparently sometimes comes in a can with a dead lion on it.

In the immortal words of the folks at the Icelandic Food Centre – “What the hell, Lyle?”

Amazingly, our local grocer had both Kefir and Skyr, neither of which we had ever purchased before, but there they were.  In researching spice biscuits, I also learned that “Biscoff” is actually short for “Coffee Biscuit.”  Who knew?

So let’s start with Rúgbrauð.  What’s Rúgbrauð? It’s a very dense, sweet, dark rye bread.  In Iceland it would traditionally be cooked in a geothermal hot spring.  If you don’t have one of those in your basement, (we don’t, I checked) then there’s two ways to make this bread – you can either steam it for a long time, or bake it for a VERY long time.  Since the latter method had less room for the undesirable failure mode of cooking off all the water and then setting off the fire alarm, we went with that one.

The recipe is simplicity itself – mix a LOT of rye flour with a little wheat flour, add in some baking soda and kefir for leavening, and golden syrup for flavor and color. Done. When we purchased this bread in Iceland, we were warned not too eat TOO much of it at one time, due the QUITE high fiber content.  With a 2:1 rye to wheat ratio, I can see why.

You bake it in a Dutch oven for 400 degrees F for half an hour, and then lower the heat to 200 degrees for the rest of the day.  It turns a lovely color by the time you pull it out.

Bread accomplished, let’s make our Plokkfiskur! Plokkfiskur, it turns out, is a traditional cod and potato stew, seasoned with just white pepper and salt. However, according to the nice folks at the Icelandic Food Centre: “Feel free to do whatever you want. Like putting Szechuan peppers in, using cream or grilling a T-bone steak instead.”

We appreciate the freedom, but we decided to stick with the traditional approach.  So we started by boiling some potatoes and (in a separate pot) cod fillets.

Not the most colorful of ingredients, but let’s see what else we’ve got. Hmm… butter, onions, flour, salt, and white pepper.  Quite the monochromatic dish.  Once the cod and potatoes are ready, you make a quick béchamel with onions, butter, and flour.

As soon as the onions are translucent, you pour in some milk, and then add your cod and potatoes.  Everything gets mushed up together.

Finally, you season with white pepper, which we should really get a GRINDER for one of these days, since we use it so much.

And that’s the meal! Fish stew and rye bread, with a nice Icelandic stout (Alcohol content: rather a lot) on the side.

Simple food, but SO good!  Fresh cod and pepper make the stew really pop, and the bread was sweet and chewy, and perfect covered in butter. This would be a good weeknight meal, and a less good meal heated up in the office microwave the next day.  But it turns out it’s delicious cold, too, so I was able to spare my coworkers that experience.

“But wait,” those of you keeping score at home may be asking, “What were the skyr and the biscuits for?” I’m glad you asked me that, fictitious narrative device person!

Actually, not all that glad, since although we made a cheesecake, it could have turned out better.  To make the crust, we ground up a whole bunch of spice biscuits with butter.  So far, so good.

Next, we whipped sugar, and double cream.  And here’s where we went wrong.  I’m always afraid I will overwhip cream, but in this case it was absolutely essential to go full glossy stiff peaks.  Unlike a traditional cheesecake with cream cheese, which is solid at room temperature, the ONLY structure in this cake comes from the whipped cream.  Once the cream is beaten, you fold in the skyr, and spread that over the crust.

And that’s it – you chill the cake for a few hours or overnight, release the spring form, and then like an idiot, attempt to remove a slice of what turns out to be a runny sweet cheese blob BEFORE you snap a picture.

It still tasted great, but trust me – if you make this one, don’t underwhip.

Iceland, your food was great in person, and it was great at home.  Who needs trees, amirite?

Next up, a tiny, tiny country, with a basically monolithic food culture.  Shouldn’t be any problem at all, really.


Plokkfiskur – Cod and Potato Stew
Rúgbrauð – Icelandic Rye Bread
Skyrterta – Skyr Cake

International Meals – Hungary

As the world slowly returns to – well, not normal exactly, but at least begins providing us with more options for things to do OTHER than cooking, these meals are probably going to slow down to something closer to their pre-pandemic pace.  We’ll see.  With Guyana still on hold for the time being, next up was Hungary, which meant it was time to return to my friend Walt, our expert on all things eastern European.

Because this is so tightly in his wheelhouse, there weren’t actual recipes, per se.  Rather there was a long phone conversation where Walt described his process for making these dishes, and I tried to take careful notes.  Then there was some more back-and-forth via Facebook.  And maybe a panicked phone call or two.   Maybe.

At any rate, we started the day with some baking.  I found a recipe online for a Hungarian country loaf.  Fairly simple – yeast, flour, water, salt.  But it turned out to be a monster of a product:

Hungarian bread

I don’t know what caused that line around the bottom, other than possibly steam from the shortening we greased the pan with.

Baking takes a while – by the time this loaf was done, it was already early afternoon, and we had another baked good to produce.  Our Hungarian dessert was a roll similar to the one we made for Croatia, but with a poppyseed, rather than walnut, filling.  Which segues nicely into our trip to the deli.

Walt was very adamant that high-quality paprika was critical for our main dish, so we found an incredibly long and narrow European deli that had paprika that met with his approval.  While we were there, we picked up a can of poppyseed filling.  Also pictured, lard.

Those of you who know your flags may have twigged that this poppyseed filling is actually Polish.  I’m sure it’s fine.

The dough process was the same as the Croatian one – a very slow addition of flour to the fat and liquid that took half an hour to eventually come together.  Since we ended up with more dough than filling, we made two small rolls that were DEFINITELY not authentic – one with butter, sugar, and cardamom, and one with cloudberry jam.  (Thanks, IKEA!)  Authentic or not, they were tasty.

For some reason, the rolls puffed up a LOT more than the Croatian ones did:

With our baked goods out of the way, it was time to finally start in on our main dishes -chicken paprikash, dumplings, and a cucumber salad.

The last was quite simple.  Slice a cucumber paper thin, then combine with an onion, vinegar, and a little paprika.

Sliced cucumber
But that one onion was just a tease.

Walt’s recipe for paprikash involves… rather a lot of onions.

To start, you brown bone-in, skin-on chicken in lard or smoked bacon fat.

Browning chicken

Then, you combine the chicken with an equal weight of onions. We had about 3 lbs of chicken, so here’s what an equal weight of onions looks like.  Rice cooker for scale.

I was NOT a happy camper after chopping up that many onions, but we got it done.

The really amazing thing about this recipe is that there is no other liquid OTHER than what sweats out of the onions and the chicken.  Most paprikash recipes you find online call for stock, tomatoes, or other additional liquid.  Not this one!

Onions, chicken, a single bell pepper, and seal the pot.  Fortunately, we had a Dutch oven with a nice heavy lid to hold everything in.  Halfway through cooking,, it was time to dump in a whole bunch of paprika.

By this point, there was plenty of liquid in the pot, but the eventual goal was to have the onions completely dissolve.  After an hour, they kinda hadn’t, so I called Walt.  He gave me two suggestions.

1. Pull the chicken out so it doesn’t overcook.
2. Use an immersion blender to cheat.

So that’s what we did.  Chicken to one side, we went in with the immersion blender to deal with the remaining solid pieces of onion.  To finish the sauce, we tempered some sour cream, by mixing in some of the hot onion liquid, then poured that back into the pot.

Pretty, innit?

For our side dish, we made nokedli – simple egg and flour dumplings.  After you mix up a batch of batter and let it rest for a bit, you donk it a half tablespoon at a time into boiling water to get irregular little chewy tasty bits.  It’s a similar technique to spaetzle, but a bit more irregular.  Then again, our spaetzle were pretty dang irregular too.

And with the dumplings done, we had our meal – paprikash, nokedli, cucumber salad, bread, and a nice Hungarian wine we found at our neighborhood liquor store.

This was REALLY tasty.  Allowing the sauce to come entirely from the onions gave it a much richer flavor than it would have had if we’d tried to hurry things up with stock.  The dumplings were great at soaking up the sauce, and the cucumber salad was a lovely contrast.  Overall, a delightful meal.

For dessert, the poppyseed roll, which also turned out delicious.

We’re so grateful to Walt for sharing his expertise.  Our next trip to the area is for Kosovo, so that’s not for a little while.  But it’s always great to be eating family recipes from a friend!

Next up, either Guyana or Iceland!

Since the recipes were basically notes I typed up from a phone conversation, I’ll just include them here rather than linking. The bread we made was this one.

Chicken Paprikash

* 1.5 kg or so whole chicken legs or thighs (with skin & bone)
* ~2 tbs Smoked bacon fat, chicken fat, or lard (sufficient for browning)
* 1.5 kg or so of yellow or Spanish onions (same weight as chicken)
* 1 clove garlic, mashed
* 1 red bell pepper or long sweet red pepper, thinly sliced
* 3 heaping tbs Hungarian sweet paprika
* 1 cup sour cream
* Salt to taste

* Season chicken with salt (not black pepper)
* Brown chicken in fat. (Skin side down ~6 minutes, skin side up ~3 minutes)
* While browning, thinly slice onions pole to pole.
* Add onions and chicken to pot. Cover tightly, cook on low.
* Halfway through (about 25 minutes), add garlic and red pepper.
* Remove from heat, add paprika
* Return to heat on low
* Cook until chicken is done. (45 minutes or so)
* Remove chicken from bowl and cover to keep warm
* Add 1 cup sour cream to some of the liquid to temper it, then pour back in.
* Simmer on low heat until onions are completely dissolved, or use an immersion blender to hurry things up.
* Return chicken to pot, taste and adjust salt

Nokadly dumplings

* 2 eggs
* pinch salt
* water
* All purpose flour

* Beat eggs with a pinch of salt, using a fork.
* Add a little water, then flour by the tablespoon to make a soft dough – closer to bread dough than pancake batter.
* Cover and let sit for a while.
* When chicken is ready, boil salted water.
* Using a wet teaspoon, dip 1/2 tsp of dough into water.
* Cook for a few minutes until done.

Uborka Salata

* 1 cucumber, sliced very thin
* 1 yellow or Spanish onion, sliced paper thin across equator
* salt
* paprika
* Dressing:
* White vinegar
* Water
* pinch of sugar
* small amount of sour cream (optional)

* Peel and very thinly slice cucumber
* Sprinkle with salt and allow to sit for about half an hour to draw out water
* Drain, and mix with onion
* Dress and top with paprika



International Meals – Honduras

“Did we… did we just make tacos?”

A recurring theme of this project is trying to figure out what makes a country’s cuisine unique.  What can we make that is uniquely Albanian, rather than Macedonian?  What separates Eritrean food from Ethiopian?  Where can we get the right kind of caterpillars for Burkina Faso?

Wait, no – ignore that last one.  We didn’t make caterpillars for Burkina Faso, and we’re not making fermented shark in two meals from now.  We’re adventurous, but there are definitely limits.

So for Honduras, we instituted our usual stringent research program of making half-assed internet searches. And in this case, we found recipes that claimed to absolutely be Honduran.  Some were even from an official government tourism website.

But… they didn’t seem to be dramatically different from the food of other central American countries.  Costa Rica has Salsa Lizano.  El Salvador has pupusas.  Honduras has… refried beans?  Well, OK – we LIKE refried beans, let’s see how this goes.

For our main dish, we’ll be making carneada, which is grilled flank steak marinated in bitter orange juice.  For our last country, Haiti, we managed to snag the last of the season’s fresh bitter oranges from Granville market.  This week, I realized we needn’t have gone to QUITE so much effort:

Bitter orange juice

Turns out you can just BUY the stuff in a bottle.  Still, I’m sure fresh juice didn’t hurt, and the Haitian meal was delicious.  Let’s see how flank steak soaked in the stuff turns out. The marinade also contains garlic, olive oil, cumin, and Worcestershire sauce.  Not having any of that last, we just pulled out the aforementioned Salsa Lizano.

Marinating meat

Next up, beans.  First, the all-important sofrito.  This one is bell peppers, garlic, and onion.


Next, after blending up cooked kidney beans in a blender, they get dumped into the pot and, well, re-fried.

Refried beans

It was at about this point that we realized I had cut the meat into pieces too small to grill. “Cubed steak” means something different than “steak cut into cubes”, as it turns out.  Fortunately, there’s a device invented for the express purpose of cooking small pieces of meat on a grill.

Steak on skewers.

This is pre-grilling – that color is entirely from the marinade.

Just two more things to make – tortillas and chimol, which seems to be another word for salsa.  Tortillas are in principle simple – masa flour, water, and a little salt.  Roll out, and dry fry.  We got about six done before we set off the smoke alarm, so that was about it for that.  Living in a high-rise as we do now, the last thing we wanted to do was trigger an evacuation of the whole building.

The chimol was onion, pepper, tomato, cilantro, lime juice, and salt.  So yeah – salsa.  But, you know, we like salsa.

And here’s the final meal:

Honduran meal

Beans, meat, salsa, tortillas.  What’s not to like?  The meat, in particular, was extremely flavorful.  I do wish that I had realized that “cubed” means “hit repeatedly with a spiked mallet,” because a) that sounds AWESOME, and b) the meat was still a bit chewy. The combination was, however, delicious.

And yet…

It still bothered me that we had basically grilled steak, and made salsa and refried beans.  Wasn’t there something more… Honduran we could do?

After some more reading, I discovered that one more dish that is strongly associated with Honduras is baleadas. The urban legend is that this dish is named for the corner where a street food vendor was shot. “Adonde la baleada” means “where the shots were fired,” so “baleadas” is basically “bullets.”

And what is this dramatically named dish?

Refried beans.  In a tortilla.

Well, we still like refried beans, so let’s give it a shot.  The version we’re trying this time is from the blog of a Honduran immigrant to the US, and starts by charring the daylights out of some onion:

That’s blended with the beans and some cumin and refried, and that’s it.  The other two mandatory toppings are cotija style cheese and Honduran crema, which we made by mixing sour cream with heavy cream and salt. They are served on the fluffiest available flour tortilla, as distinct from the corn tortillas from the first dish.


So – beans, cheese, crema, hot sauce.  Again, what’s not to like?  This dish actually DID seem a bit more unique, if for no other reason than you really could taste the charred onions, and the salty crema was a bit different.

And to be 100% clear – the fact that these dishes don’t seem super unique is down to OUR shoddy research.  I’m sure there are more distinctive elements of Honduran food culture that we just didn’t find.  Also – this stuff is DELICIOUS, so who cares if it’s not caterpillars and shark?

Honduras, you make tasty food, and don’t let anyone tell you different.

Next up, either Hungary or Guyana, depending on stuff.


International Meals – Haiti

It’s ironic – in 2020 and 2021, we started making a lot MORE international meals because the pandemic meant we has lots of free time on our hands.  But we’ve been on pause for a bit BECAUSE of the pandemic.  Or maybe that’s not ironic – that may only apply to black flies on your wedding day or something.

Next up was supposed to be Guyana, and we were looking forward to sharing the meal with one of my coworkers from that country.  However, Omicron came along and shut everything back down again.  At which point we just threw up our hands and took a break.

But we’re back now. We’ve stuck a pin in Guyana for the time being, and we’ll come back to it when we are able to get together with my friend, but for today, let’s talk about Haiti!

Haiti is a country which featured the first successful slave revolt in world history, and has then been systematically screwed over by the world community, the natural environment, and in some cases, its own leaders ever since.  The “No Reservations” episode on Haiti is particularly gut-wrenching.

On the other hand, the MEAL we made from Haiti was anything but. To start, we had to plan a week or so ahead and make pikliz.  Pikliz are apparently THE absolutely ubiquitous condiment on Haiti. They’re very simple – shred some veg, pack in vinegar and wait.

Oh – and make sure to include a truly dangerous quantity of Scotch bonnet  peppers.

Pikliz in process

These are going to be a recurring theme, contained as they were in literally every dish on the table.

A week later, we were ready to.. well, start marinating things for the following day.  The two leading contenders when you search for “Haiti national dish” are Pork Griot and a version of rice and beans called Diri Kole. Marinating for the latter just involved putting beans in a bowl of water overnight.  (not pictured)  Not having any small red kidney beans on hand, we used Adzuki beans.  I’m sure it was fine.

Next up, the pork!  Pork Griot is a recipe that involves marinating pork in citrus and spices, then boiling it to cook the pork, and finally either deep frying (traditional) or baking (for those who hate deep frying) the chunks to crisp them up.

So lets start with the marinade, at which point we immediately have to back up a step and make green sauce.  Haitian green sauce, or Epis, is similar to the green sauce we bought for Grenada, but substantially spicier.  What with the Scotch bonnet peppers and all.

Green sauce ingredients

And here’s the green sauce ingredients – scallions, thyme, olive oil, parsley, shallots, celery, red pepper, and don’t think we don’t see you hiding there, hot pepper.  We see you.  This just goes in a blender.

Next up, the actual marinade, which includes a bit of the green sauce along with all this stuff:

Pork marinade ingredients

So here we have oranges, limes, parsley, thyme, and scallions. But we need to talk about those oranges.  Those are Seville, or bitter oranges, used primarily for making marmalade, and only available fresh a small part of the year.  We were lucky enough to catch the very tail end of the season and raid the last of the stock at Granville Island. Juice, chop, stir, soak.  Here’s a picture of the marinated pork chunks ready for boiling the next day.

Marinated pork chunks

The recipe doesn’t call for any additional liquid.  I was certain we’d have to add more to keep it from drying out, but nope – with the lid on, more than enough liquid sweated out to keep everything nice and hydrated.

While the pork was boiling, we made rice and beans.  First, the beans get a nice long boil with a little garlic.

Boiling beans

Next, and this is definitely a first for me, you SAUTEE the cooked beans in oil.

Sauteeing beans

Once that’s been going for a bit, you go in with onion, garlic, and some seasoning, including a very healthy dollop of green sauce.

Seasoning the beans

The final mixture, once cooked a bit, smells amazing.  The next step, according to the recipe, is to mix this with rice and cooking liquid (reserved bean water), and then very carefully cook just until all the water is absorbed.

Pfft.  Who needs careful?  We have a device that has literally no other purpose than to shut off when all the water is absorbed.

Rice cooker

I will never apologize for using this thing.

At this point, the pork was nice and tender, so it was time for deep frying!

No, just kidding. To hell with deep frying. Time for baking!
Baked pork chunks
Just LOOKING at this picture is making me hungry again. The smell was amazing.  By now, the rice, which was JUST BARELY contained by the cooker, was also done.

Cooked Hatian rice and beans

Yes, that’s another whole Scotch bonnet.  Did we forget to mention that? Anyway, here’s the final plate:

Hatian meal

Rice and beans, pork, and a big pile of pikliz.  How was it?

It was unreal.  As long as you could handle the heat, this was a stunning meal.  The pork was crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and had just the right amount of fat to be delicious without being too greasy. The beans and rice were extremely flavorful, and the pikliz were amazing.  But, and I can’t stress this enough, this is one of those plates where you really want to get a little of everything in each bite.  At that point, the spicy / sour / salty / meaty combination just blows the doors off.

Haiti, you been done dirty your whole life, but you still have some amazing food.

Next up, Honduras!