August 12, 2009

Ethnic Eats: How Healthy Are They?

Remember how back in the nineties, the Center for Science in the Public Interest took on Chinese food? There were headlines in all the papers exposing the fact that the kind of Chinese food Americans were eating was shockingly high in calories and fat and sodium.

So did people get mad at the Chinese restaurants for not trying to make dishes healthier? Or, did they get mad at themselves for ordering the least healthy options? No, neither of those. As I recall, they mostly got mad at CSPI for reporting on the issue at all. CSPI was accused of being a nagging whiny cranky spoilsport for dissing stuff like egg rolls, fried rice and chow mein.

And I remember thinking at the time: duh! Stupid people, don't shoot the messenger! Did you really think the presence of a few chopped up vegetables in your deep fried carbs would magically transform the whole greasy mess into something healthy? But many people thought this was unfair, because clearly they were taking the high road by going to Chinese restaurants, and eating in close proximity to vegetables. So what if they weren't actually putting many in their mouths?

(And when CSPI revisited Chinese food a couple years ago, they found more healthy options. But still, there is a shocking amount of sodium, fat and calories in a lot of these dishes. Like, sometimes 2 days worth of sodium in a single dish. Also, you can end up eating 900 calories in something that sounds light, like an order of stir fried greens.)

Anyway, so here's my problem, and it's one I hope y'all can help me with. I love Chinese food, as well as Thai, Burmese, Vietnamese, Indian, Korean, Ethiopian, Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, Italian, Mexican... and all kinds of other foods from faraway places. (Though for some reason, not a big fan of Japanese. Sorry, sushi!)

And luckily, lots of these food contain very healthy ingredients. Like fresh exotic veggies and nuts and olive oil and healthy spices like curry and a variety of whole grains I don't usually get around to eating.

But... when I go out to eat, I have the same problem I do at most "American" restaurants: it's often hard to avoid a lot of ingredients I don't want to eat much of: like sodium and white rice and white flour, butter, cured and fatty meats, and many vegetable oils that may not contain transfats but are high in Omega 6's rather than Omega 3's.

(Huh? What's wrong with corn, sunflower, safflower, soy, and cottonseed oils? The tedious explanation is back here in this Omega 3 and Omega 6 post).

So I obviously have a few options here:

1. I can go to ethnic restaurants infrequently and order very carefully;

2. I can do takeout from these restaurants a little more often if I healthify the meals a bit when I get home; or,

3. I can cook more ethnic dishes from scratch so I can control the ingredients and make it as healthy as I want, and eat it every damn day if I feel like it!

So far, I've been doing mostly #2 (and I have some suggestions I can pass along on that). But I'm figuring if there's anyone can help me on #3, it would be clever Cranky Fitness readers.

Can you help a cooking-impaired Crab with some healthy international ideas?

First, a few tricks for healthifying Ethnic Take Out:

1. Swap out White for Brown: many Asian restaurants don't offer brown rice; many Mediterranean restaurants don't offer whole grain breads, wraps or pasta; many Indian Restaurants have the white Naan but not the whole grain Roti. If this is the case at your local joint, try to remember to stock your freezer with some whole wheat pita or already cooked and frozen nukable brown rice (Trader Joe's is a good source). Or, many grocery stores now have little plastic bowls of pre-cooked brown rice that sits in your cupboard. (It's not as good as the frozen kind or the real kind but it's easier to find).

2. Spare that Sauce! Often what's wonderful about Indian or Thai or whatever are the wonderful rich spicy curries and oils and gravies. However, these are often full of sodium, drawn butter, cheese, suspicious oils, lard, or who knows what. In my opinion, life's too short to skip these! But often restaurants send you home with far more sauce than you need to douse the other ingredients. So don't mindlessly pour it all on your plate; pick out extra vegetables and meat and use the sauce more sparingly. Then you can often make another meal the next day with the addition of more nuked chopped vegetables, some more brown rice or bread, and an easy protein source like frozen cooked shrimp or tofu or leftover chicken or chickpeas or whatever the heck you keep around.

3. Be a pain in the ass when ordering! (Always fun when the person taking your order is speaking English as a second language). Sometimes, especially if you're a regular, you can get them to go easy on oil, add more of your favorite veggies and go easier on the meat, replace butter with olive oil, etc. Dr. J has a helpful post on how to do this.

4. And don't order stupid things! Sometimes people take a perfectly sensible choice about cuisine "I feel like Chinese," or "Let's do Italian" and then use that as an excuse to eat junky stuff because it's "traditional." A fried doughball is a fried doughball, whether you get it from an Indian restaurant or a Chinese restaurant or Dunkin' Donuts. And even if the "Mediterranean diet" is generally good for you, fettucine alfredo is not a health food.

Okay, so that wasn't very many tips. Whatever. Perhaps you folks have some more good ones!

But What About Cooking Ethnic Food at Home?

Here's why I don't do it enough:

Most recipes you get from American sources, especially "light" cookbooks or cooking magazines, don't end up tasting all that much like real ethnic cuisine. (Premade sauces from the grocery store are even worse). But if you find a more authentic recipe, it often calls for tons of exotic oils and herbs and vinegars and spices that are either hard to find or really expensive. Plus there's usually something Evil in there that makes it taste good, and if you try to modify that too much it doesn't taste nearly as good as it does in a restaurant.

Do you guys have any good suggestions? I suspect there might be some good healthy international type recipes that require just a few non-standard ingredients, not 87.

Like Camevil's awesome lentil salad, which besides the basic ingredients required only the purchase of garam masala. And garam masala turns out to be a lovely spice that I wouldn't have known about otherwise! (The dish turned out to be quite tasty and I'd definitely make it again. And the second day I added some chopped nuts and dried fruit to it cause I'm weird that way, and it was really good that way too.)

So what sort of ethnic/international food do you guys eat? Do you go to restaurants, modify take out, or make it from scratch?


  1. Indian food is my favorite. Definitely fix it at home to design to your specifications, since most of the restaurant stuff is swimming in oil.

    I went "no grains" about half a year ago, and that includes naan, chapatis, and the ubiquitous piles of rice.

    Without the rice and flatbreads, it didn't even seem worthwhile to have Indian food anymore.

    Then I discovered that it's possible to make breads with coconut flour. I make a coconut flour pancake recipe that is a totally satisfactory substitute for flatbreads. They're on the dry side, which makes them perfect for soaking up the sauces.

    The curries themselves are easy to make healthy, since it's really all about the spices. Just use reasonable quantities of quality oils, and add the veggies and meats of your choice.

  2. I eat out at ethnic restaurants so infrequently that I don't worry about it much, if at all.

  3. I am no cook so sorry, can't offer up recipes. I am SIMPLE! :-)

    I rarely go out for ethnic food cause the hubby can't handle it AND I want to modify everything like you mentioned. The few times I go, I do order minimal oil & I look for the least "bad" sauce & ask for it on the side so I can portion control it myself.

    I prefer to make my own stir fry at home so I can control what I put in it. When it come to food, I am pretty simple.... I know BORING!

  4. I don't eat out all that often, so when I do, I tend to just go ahead and enjoy myself. But I do love Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian and Mexican and we often cook ethnic-inspired meals at home. Fortunately we both like to cook, so it works out for us.

    The down side to that is our kitchen cupboads tend to be stuffed full of spices and fish sauce and soy sauce and different types of cooking oils and curry pastes...We need a bigger kitchen. :)

  5. I find that, when I find a real ethnic cookbook, the traditional dishes of a culture are not the fat-laden, American-ized dreck we get in "ethnic" restaurants. Granted, I end up with a lot of spices and things like fermented black beans and dried tree fungus (don't knock 'em until you try 'em) in my cupboard, but it's also pretty fun to be able to whip up an authentic paella or stir-fry on the spot, because you have the ingredients laying around.

    So, yeah; I cook ethnic dishes at home.

  6. I rarely eat out in restaurants. We seldom eat "ethnic" food and I generally don't cook it at home. So I'm not much help.
    When we do go out for Chinese food (about the only 'ethnic' food the Rancher enjoys) I tend to throw caution to the wind and just enjoy it. I figure once every 6 months or so, it isn't going to hurt me.

  7. I HATE the Americanized versions of these foods! Grr.

    I try to scout out places that have healthier ethnic fare. Or else I choose items that are better (ie. no tempura in my sushi). It can be tricky.

  8. I cook at home most of the time and we eat a very healthy balanced diet - so when I decide to go out, whether it be ethnic or american, I don't feel pressured to be healthy. It's my indulgence. Plus I love crab rangoon way too much to not eat 1 or 5 of those when I get chinese.

  9. Two things:
    1st - the advantage of living in the sticks...there aren't many good ethnic restaurants. So I can skip them.

    2nd - it sucks living in the sticks and not having access to great ethnic restaurants. How I miss Greek Town in Chicago!

    I agree with the few who've commented above me that traditional ethnic recipes are typically nothing like what you get at standard "ethnic" restaurants. There are a few exceptions of course.

    We cook quite a bit of Mexican at home and have the advantage of immigrant neighbors who love to share. I make quite a bit of Greek at home because it's one of my favorites (tzatziki and tabbouleh are two of my specialties). Italian dishes I learned from my relatives who came over from the homeland. None of these dishes taste like the same option in most restaurants. Of course that makes it easier to avoid the eating out curse.

    Asian cuisine is probably the only exception. Besides pot stickers, I'd way rather eat out than make it at home. But there's only one decent Chinese restaurant here and it's 40 minutes away. So it's a treat, not a staple.

    And I'm with Crabby, sushi does nothing for me. And living in South Dakota? That's probably a good thing.

  10. I mix up my own garam masala most of the time as I can play with the portions that way.
    I like to play with spices and sort out how to make things which results in quasi-authentic ethnic-like dishes.
    Substitutions are made freely around here. When at a restaurant, though, I have whatever and plain don't think about it. I am out, after all.

  11. We eat out something like three or four times a year. Not a week... not a month... a YEAR. When we do go out, I look at the same things I look at whenever I'm eating: is there color on my plate? If everything is white, I'm doing it WRONG.

    I find it rather interesting that you mention "ethnic" foods as the evil here. Aren't all foods "ethnic" in some manner? Isn't what we'd call "American" food much worse than a stirfry? I mean pizza, hot dogs, macaroni and cheese? Stirfries use less oil than your Friday fish fries!

    The problem with a lot of the foods we eat is that we really don't know what's in them, and we have this terrible need as dieters to think that we're getting NO oil, NO salt, NO grains. Obviously, that's not totally healthy either.

    All things in moderation.

    I have to agree with naomi, it's all about the spices. A lot of dishes I make at home in a modified way. Oh, I'll make General Tso's chicken, but I don't fry the chicken before tossing it in the sauce, I broil it, and I also toss in broccoli. And I don't use just any sauce, I use sauces with less ingredients and additives.

    What makes me laugh is that people talk about Chinese food and MSG/Sodium. Yet if you look in their pantries it's loaded with cans of soup (because they figure soup is low calorie) Some of the soup may be labeled "Low Sodium"... but that's only low sodium relative their regular soups. Take a look at the amount of sodium in the canned and frozen "healthy" foods you eat every day. It's safer to eat Chinese.

  12. Oh shoot, I see I totally didn't make myself clear, Fab Kate!

    I actually think many of these cuisines are far healthier than "American" offerings, but I still face the same dilemma when I go to a restaurant and can't control what goes in them. At home, I have an easier time making "American" food because the ingredients are all easier to find. The problem is not that ethic foods are evil, but that Restaurant food is evil.

    I just seem to have fewer make-at-home options when it comes to foreign cuisines.

  13. We eat out every Friday night. And when I choose, it's always an Asian ethnic restaurant. I find these fit my particular dietary requirements (no cow's milk, no wheat) much easier than other cuisines. But I check the menu and make wise decisions.

    Many restaurants (except Japanese) are preparing brown rice -especially on the weekends- so that helps.

    As for cooking at home? I do stir fries and curries - and have a couple cook books I rely on. (I'll have to send you the names later. There is a dead rat in my kitchen's stove vent and I'm avoiding the kitchen until Young Man appears to remove said beast).

  14. I also tend not to like the Americanized versions of ethnic foods either. I'd much rather go to Chinatown and get the real stuff than get super-fried egg rolls and dark brown fried rice. Not that Chinatown food doesn't also have high calories, but at least what I get isn't as fried.

    Check out some of the recipes I posted on my blog. I tend to gravitate towards ethnic foods, so earlier this year I did an ethnic food experiment, with each month getting particular region of food (Europe, Middle East, Asia, etc). I often ran into foods that I wasn't familiar with or were really expensive. If there were a lot of them in the recipe, I wouldn't make the recipe. But if there were just a couple and I couldn't get them easily, I'd just substitute with something I thought would be similar (using lime juice instead of lime leaves, for instance). It's not as good as a restaurant, but it's still a great healthy option.

  15. I'm going to have to agree with the other posters in that "ethnic" cuisine found in American restaurants is rarely authentic. How do I know? I'm Chinese myself and my mom made tons of realy chinese food. :)

    When I was younger I really didn't understand why all my classmates would rave about chinese food. I thought it was pretty gross myself. (boiled chicken feet...stir fried intestine...stewed pig's ear...bleaurgh.) It wasn't until I was an adult in college that I actually went to an American "Chinese" restaurant and realized that they weren't really talking about Chinese food!

    That said, if you want to eat healthy and ethnic, you might want to hunt down the REAL ethnic restaurants. But then they probably won't taste like the fabulous American version you love. It's probably the same issue you face with every other food you crave but know is unhealthy...sigh.

  16. I just don't eat out nearly as often as I used to, pre-healthy-living and I miss Mexican food!!! But I don't want the misery of being at a restaurant and NOT eating the chips and if we do go (once every 3 - 4 months now), I eat what I want in reasonable portions - healthy choices be damned!

    I know this is no help to you - sorry!

  17. See, I actually find the recipes I make at home to be more authentic than restaurant recipes, even without all the fancy ingredients. So many ethnic restaurants have been so Americanized to fit popular tastes...

    If you want a healthy Japanese cooking book, I really like "Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat." Hokey title, I know, but I like the recipes a lot, and it didn't take too many ethnic ingredients for me to get going. Plus, the author's writing style is excellent, interesting, and not preachy.

  18. For Syrian/Lebanese cuisine, find yourself a used copy of "The Art of Syrian Cookery" by Helen Corey, or barring that, her subsequent book "Helen Corey's Foods from Biblical Lands: A Culinary Trip to the Land of Bible History," which contains the entire "Art of ..." cookbook plus a whole lot more.

    I treasure my copy, which was my mom's, and it's the first place I turn when I want to make authentic Syrian/Lebanese food like I remember eating growing up.

    For the novice, many of the recipes might seem a bit time consuming, and depending where you live, some of the ingredients might be a little hard to find. But if you live in an area where there are lots of specialty Syrian/Greek/Italian grocers, it won't be a problem. I do see more and more mainstream grocers carrying items like bulk bulghur wheat for tabouli salad, or jars of grape leaves for grape leaf rolls.

    There are only a couple of Syrian/Lebanese restaurants here in greater Pittsburgh, PA, but the one that I have visited on occasion seems to be not only very authentic, but takes care not to overload their foods with a lot of unnecessary junk. A real treat is to get to go to the annual food fests that a couple Syrian churches hold. Every time I've gone, I feel like I'm back home eating in my mom's (and aunts') kitchen.

    Hmmm ... now I'm getting really hungry!

  19. I just fix it at home. I have gotten really sick so often when eating at Chinese restaurants (in my area) that I'm afraid to go anymore!

    So, I make it at home. My ingredients, my seasonings, my health!

  20. You tried the Mujadarrah! Yay! And the additions sound divine. Glad you enjoyed it! Now that you have garam masala, you can make channa masala, aloo matar (peas & the dreaded potatoes...or substitute saag cheese instead)...omg, I'm so hungry.

    Thankfully, a local thai restaurant offers the brown rice option. Frankly, I love the taste and texture much better over plain white.

    When all else fails, I just eat 1/3 to 1/2 of what's on my plate, save that for lunch the next day, and hope for the best.

  21. Laura, I remember that book. More of a memoir than a cookbook, but that was useful: it showed how the author's mother used to fix up something tasty and healthy from whatever was at hand.

    Some of the Chinese restaurants in Chinatown in SF offered authentic Chinese food, but the manner in which the food was offered was different. You didn't get a whole plateful of whatever, you were able to pick and choose from the food on the table. It's harder to estimate how much would be 1/3 of your usual. I suppose people can get used to eyeballing whole platters and figuring portions out.

  22. It's a shame you don't like sushi cause it's one of the more healthy options. For recipes, this is all I got. I make a healthy version of picadillo and rice. It's a cuban dish that I healthy up. Super easy.

    1. 1 lb ground turkey, 1 small can tomato paste, olives, capers, salt/pepper, garlic salt. (brown turkey add the rest and let simmer, can add water if needed - kind of like sloppy joe consistancy)

    2. for the rice part (this sounds weird but it's tasty) chop up some cauliflower in a food processor until it's a small as rice. put in covered dish and microwave for 6 minutes. fluff.

    3. serve meat mix over cauliflower rice and enjoy.

  23. I eat what they have. Which may contribute to the extra poundage! I don't order them often, but do love chinese and Japanese (habatchi grill & sashimi...yummy!).
    I'm just graeful that you gave those tips :) I may try modifying the next time I get take out. thanks!

  24. Thai food is easy and excellent, especially if you're willing to deal with some strange ingredients like fish sauce. Many of the chili pastes have soybean oil, but it's not a lot of it, and you can always make your own if you are that hardcore about it. When I eat at restaurants, and they don't have brown rice, I just order noodles-no healthier, but I like them more. And deep fried is not healthy, whether it's fried or veggies. Another healthy favorite of mine is fresh shrimp or tofu salad rolls, usually made with mint, rice noodles, carrots, no fried. The peanut or tamarind sauce often has sugar, but I like sugar, and rarely eat anything as sweet as dessert or soda, so I am fine with that.

  25. I've given up on Chinese restaurant food period. I just feel lousy after eating it.

    Love sushi though.

  26. Am not a fan of sushi. Hate seaweed.
    Love Indian. Make all my own butter chicken using LARD instead of real butter.
    Like Chinese but is it really Chinese? I know they pregrease everything and most Chinese chefs want us dead. Do you blame them?

    (is this considered a negative comment?)

  27. Chinese is my favorite food RIGHT behind Italian. I've noticed that when I eat certain things like sesame chicken or general tso's too much, I tend to get headeaches from all of the sodium (and possibly MSG depending on where I'm eating). Chicken and vegetables sit in my stomach much better and I can cook that on my own and maybe I'll have the guts one day to try some sesame chicken from scratch. All this talking about chinese, now I know what I'm gonna have for dinner.

  28. Eating out is usually a problem for me. I don't like not knowing what I'm really eating... We don't eat out very often, and when we do we choose the restaurant carefully.

    We also get takeout from a few ethnic restaurants and grocery stores with quality, prepared foods. I like getting a few dishes and adding my own whole grains and grilled vegetables. This works well, as hubby gets his "food fix" and I feel a bit better about what we are eating...

    My own cooking has many ethnic influences, so our food is usually somewhat "ethnic."

  29. I moved a couple of years ago from Buffalo, NY, which has some excellent Indian, Middle Eastern, and Thai restaurants, to a more southern city that... well... doesn't. :-) So I've been learning to cook my own, mostly from recipes online. Fortunately, we do have Whole Foods here, and they have all the ingredients I've needed.

    I found a great recipe for stuffed grape leaves on a Greek cooking site. I've also made several of the recipes at, and they've all been incredible. Their falafel recipe is the best I've ever had. Ever. Anywhere. And no, they aren't paying me to say that, although I did recently win their book in a drawing. :-) So far, both the recipes I've made from it (Fragrant Chicken Curry and raita) have been very tasty. My husband liked the curry as much as one he used to get at the lunch buffet at our favorite Indian restaurant, and even with whole-fat coconut milk I'm sure it's lower in fat and calories than a restaurant's version.

    And now I'm off to add the books Laura and Liz recommended to my wish list. :-)

  30. I rarely eat out to ethnic restaurants that often that I don't really worry about it too much.

  31. Some are good, some not so good. Knowing the difference is wisdom


  32. I'm with the "go occasionally and eat what I want" crowd.

    I do like to put half (or more) aside before starting, as the humongous portion sizes are at least as much of a pitfall as the too-much-salt-n-fat in my mind.

  33. I'm totally guilty of eating the junky stuff. I don't eat out very often, but when I do, I tend to splurge on the 'bad' stuff. I definitely need to work on this. Your tips will certainly help.

  34. I'm getting some great ideas here! Who knew, for example, that cauliflower could mimic rice?

    And hearing about all this food is making me very, very hungry!

    My "problem" is that I really like Asian, Indian, Italian and Greek/Mediterranean and could eat them pretty much every day. The Italian I have home versions of, but the others I need to get better at 'cause I can't afford (money or healthwise) to eat out several times a week.

    But if I only went out a few times a year, I'd definitely be in the "all bets are off" camp!

  35. We go out to eat pretty rarely (to any restaurants). If it's a chain, I can usually look up nutritional data ahead of time online and am able to guesstimate. However, with the smaller restaurants, it's kind of hard to do. My main concern is watching my carb servings, so I use the "plate method" - half (or more) of my plate should be non-starchy veggies, one quarter can be a carb serving, and one quarter can be a protein item. Sort of tricky to do, though, with foods like Thai and Indian, but not so bad when it's buffet-style. With Mexican food, we usually get taqueria take-out, and I weigh my portion and put the rest away for later, then add veggies or salad on the side. (Or, if at a restaurant, I go with the fajitas and share with my kids.)

  36. I've become quite adept at a good Pad Thai, and believe me, fish sauce sounds weird, but is reasonably priced and worth it. Tonight, my sauce was made from fish sauce, rice vinegar, teriyaki sauce, local honey and sriracha hot sauce (another worthy investment if you like spicy and Asian), mixed until it tasted right. My pad Thai is full of veggies and chicken and only has some rice noodles and a couple of peanuts, but makes my husband happy enough to request it often.

    I make lots of stir fry dishes, I cook most of the veggies in water or broth in my wok, saves many calories.

  37. We cook it at home. That's pretty much what we eat. Once you have the spices you can mostly make your own with piles of veggies. Except Chinese never tastes the same. So when I go out, I don't worry about it.

  38. Melissa, that sounds great! I love the flavor of pad thai, but at a restaurant it's almost all rice noodles and hardly any veggies.

    I tried a pre-made grocery store pad thai sauce once which sucked, but that sounds like a great list of ingredients. I've been meaning to buy some fish sauce anyway since it's in so many thai things.

  39. Cashew chicken and smoked chilis! Sigh. Except nobody but my husband and me will eat it, so we don't get it that often.

    Wegman's posts the calorie count on their chinese dishes and it's not too bad-- about 250 a cup for a lot of stuff.

  40. I grew up eating white rice and I never even knew about brown rice until recently. I love it in a chicken teriyaki bowl (from Whole Foods, lol)

    Being Filipino I ate all types of Filipino food and my absolute favorites include veggies and meat. I guess a way to make dishes healthier is to use leaner meat and remove fat.

    I love Mexican and Cuban food and it's really difficult to avoid the white rice, since it doesn't taste the I don't eat it often. I noticed how much rice is used in Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Indian and Filipino food so I always try to eat less rice and more of the dish itself. :)

  41. I'd say alot of ethnic options are highly caloric. I think people think that they are eating more natural foods and that it may equal healthier, but that's not always the case.

  42. Ethnic food, especially chinese is my all time weakness! I usually eat until I can't feel my legs, which is very bad hahaha. Just wanted to say thank you for posting this, it's really helpful for someone like me who's searching for alternative ways to order healthy. I also want to share something quick. It's called Chef's Diet. Ever wonder if you could be eating healthier but don't have time to shop for and prepare healthy meals? Chefs Diet is giving away a free month of nutritionally balanced meals whose ingredients are at the peak of freshness, plus a consultation with the premier doctor of nutrition at Chefs Diet. Check it out at,

  43. I would say ask the people working there what they would order.

    I've personally noticed that non-chain ethnic restaurants, especially Chinese resturants, usually have people of that ethnicity working there. A couple of the Chinese places I've been to had a table set aside for the people who worked there would eat. It never looked like what I was eating, being I'm a sucker for things like pot stickers and pan fried chicken in garlic sauce (...and now I'm hungry). Anyway, see what they would eat, as it's most likely traditional as well as a lot healthier.

    As for a recipe, one of my favorite meals when I was teaching in Korea was kind of like a variation of shabu shabu. There were these grill pans that would drain the fat off as it cooked, but you could use a griddle since it's got a drain too, or just a frying pan and deal with the grease. Anyway, take some shabu shabu meat (really thinly sliced small pieces of beef), grill it until it's done along with some onions and garlic to your liking. (Koreans eat the garlic and onions raw and would shake their heads at the foreigners, but hey, that's what happens when you let us grill it ourselves in the middle of the table.) When it's good, take a hand-sized lettuce leaf, fill with some rice, meat, onions, garlic, kimchi (if you like it...I gave up after five varieties), roll it up like a little burrito, and enjoy. You're supposed to eat it in one bite, which was kind of interesting to see 70 pound Korean women shove these things in their mouth in one bite when I couldn't.

    Pretty easy and not a lot of ingredients. You make it in the middle of the table and they sold portable burners like you might take car camping in stores, and you cook a bit at a time and eat it as soon as it gets done.

    Oh, how I miss you Woomaru and your delicious $5 meals...

  44. I think we're often exposed to the richest fare of a particular country, and not the stuff that real people eat. For instance, the rural Chinese eat a very healthy diet.

    I'm also a fan of Indian food and have learned to make a mean Korma with brown basmati.

    One of my favorite treats (and it's a rare treat, which is exactly why it's such a treat) is greek food. We usually share a meze platter for appetizers and each have a calamari salad (with rosemary skewered cherry tomatoes - yum!) entree. It's filling, flavorful and delicious. Yes, they use a lot of oil, but I know they use a good quality oil, and as I said, it's a rare treat.

  45. Crabby -- this was an *awesome* post and on a topic I had been considering delving into myself (must be that we share the cranky gene ;)! I think your tricks are all great. I have a few alternatives to my fave ethnic cuisines. Trader Joe's sells so many amazing options for whatever cuisine you're craving. They have *amazing* frozen dumplings (in veg, chicken, pork & shrimp) that taste great and aren't bad for you (esp. if you don't cook them in oil, which I don't). They also sell egg rolls that (both meat and veg) that I think are a nice alternative. They sell pre-packed Indian dishes in the rice section where you simply heat up the contents and enjoy! They are all vegetarian and very healthy. When I want to go out to eat for a flavor outside the norm, I hit up a local Lebanese restaurant that specifically cooks their foods in healthy oils and without added fats. When I'm craving some of my mom's Costa Rican cooking, I make her dishes with brown rice instead of white. In case you'd ever like to try the National dish of Costa Rica, gallo pinto, I made a lightened up version of it here:
    Have a wonderful day!!!

  46. For Chinese food, I mix the brown rice with an equal or greater amount of finely chopped cauliflower. It only takes a few minutes in the microwave to cook the cauliflower into rice-like texture. One order of ma po tofu will stretch over 6-8 meals if I'm using it as a flavoring for a dish that is mostly rice and cauliflower. Steam some bok choy at home (also in the microwave) and then you have a dish that's more like an actual Chinese meal made at home, which is naturally healthy because the cuisine is designed to stretch flavorful, high fat ingredients as widely as possible, to feed many on little resources.

  47. I'm in a little bit of both columns. huh.

    I live in Toronto, and we have TONS of great restaurants. tons.

    When I go after "ethnic" foods, I tend to go after Thai food. Yummmmm yum. The problem with Thai is all the wonderful things that, if you're not eating carbs, you can't have! Cheese dumplings, steamed pork buns, general Tao Chicken, PAD THAI!!!...I love them all. So, unless I'm having a "cheat" date, I try to avoid these types of restaurants. I don't really like fish, so the safest thing on the menu is Chicken with broccoli. Which gets boring. Fast.

    There are some great recipes out there for many foods from indian to chinese to thai. But like you, I find the list of required ingredients daunting. One meal should not require a $30 spice purchase, unless it's for an anniversary or birthday! (and even'd be nice to go out!)

    So my thought is....have in moderation and don't worry too much.

    Someone made a great comment about soups being high in sodium! This is SO TRUE! They are not very good for you at all...;(

  48. obviously, i cook a lot of ethnic, mostly indian/middle eastern. Tandoori chicken is really easy, and still tastes the same even if you leave out the annato(red coloring)
    3 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast
    1 tspn of chilli powder(kashmiri red is best)
    1 tblspn of lemon juice
    Salt to taste

    For Marination
    200 gms of yogurt
    1 tspn of chilli powder(kashmiri red is best, but any works)
    Salt to taste
    2 tblspns of ginger
    2 tblspns of garlic
    2 tblspns of lemon juice
    ½ tspn of garam masala powder
    1/2 tsp annato

    on a plate, score chickenbreasts, and sprinkle with chili powder and salt, pour lemon juice over top, and let sit for 20 minutes.

    make marinade in a bowl. add everything from the plate. marinate at least 6 hours, one to 2 days is best.

    cook on grill or in broiler.

  49. Mmm, tandori chicken! Thanks for the recipe, sekhmetsat, I have to try this!


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