By Kelsey Casselbury 2015-11-19 13:43:04
For most of us, contemplation of a tropical getaway involves the mouth-watering anticipation of sweet pineapple, juicy watermelon, creamy coconut and tart mango. Likely, you find yourself thinking of the tasty temptations—along with the sultry breezes and crystal waters—of island destinations in the Caribbean and the Pacific. Slow down, mon. If we’re going to talk facts (and we’re all about facts here at School Nutrition ), it’s not merely the TripAdvisor top 10 that constitute tropical locales. No, sir-ee, the actual geographic definition of tropical countries—which, for the record, are those located south of the Tropic of Cancer, north of the Tropic of Capricorn and straddling the Equator—encompasses a whopping 103 nations! That means a staggering number of disparate cuisines and signature dishes can be considered tropical—far more than we could cover in any one issue of the magazine. But there are threads of similarity woven throughout the culinary traditions of countries as different as Cameroon, Fiji and Panama. We’ll let those similarities be our guide as we take a tour of some of the hallmark dishes of the tropics. One note before we get onboard: The recipes featured in this month’s Food Focus are inspired by recipes from the tropical nations referenced in the article and have been modified to meet K-12 federal nutrition standards, as well as student taste preferences. Home Turf: North America Tropical regions on our own home continent number just one: southern Mexico. Although Florida and other southern states might feel tropical, particularly during the sweltering summers, these regions are actually in the subtropics. Looking past the continental plates, however, and considering the full United States, the nine islands of Hawaii are also located within the tropics. But enough geography. Let’s talk food! Hawaiian cuisine, as you might expect, is heavily influenced by the state’s location in the Pacific Ocean. Seafood is abundant, and you’ll find a lot of dishes reminiscent of Southeast Asian cuisine (which also happens to be a tropical region). For example, Poke (rhymes with “OK”) is a traditional Hawaiian dish made with raw ahi tuna and flavored with soy sauce, sesame oil and seaweed. Traditional Hawaiian cuisine also features a great deal of pork, from Lau-Lau (rhymes with cow-cow), which is made from pork shoulder wrapped inside the leaves of the taro plant and steamed, or Kalua Pig, the typical centerpiece of a traditional Hawaiian luau. Of course, you can’t talk about Hawaiian dishes without addressing the immense array of tropical fruits available throughout the state. It’s known, naturally, for its pineapple (although the fruit is actually native to Brazil), as well as mango, papaya, coconut and bananas. But there are many tropical fruits you might not have heard of, though (and likely can’t acquire to serve in schools, though they would meet the “grown in the United States” requirement!). These include the sweet fruit lychee, which is covered in soft hair-like spikes; an egg fruit, which has the texture of a hard-boiled egg yolk; and the cherimoya, an oddly shaped fruit that tastes like a blend of banana, strawberry and pear. Mexico’s vast “el norte” region (not tropical, for the record) focuses on ranch-grown food, such as beef and goat. In the tropical south, however, you’re much more likely to encounter dishes studded with chicken and pork, as well as Oaxaca cheese (considered a more flavorful mozzarella alternative), corn and black beans. Did you know there are seven (!) types of mole? The flavorful sauce is claimed to have originated in three different Mexican states. In the states of Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo (home to spring break-central Cancun), fruits such as plums, avocados and bitter oranges are featured in fresh salsa, and seafood is the main protein, including conch and shrimp. Of course, you can’t discuss Mexico cuisine, north or south, without mentioning tacos, a beloved and very common “street” food. Unlike in the United States, tacos aren’t typically the main dish in a meal, but rather eaten as a snack in the mid-morning or late evening. There’s no signature main ingredient in a taco; in the south, you’re likely to find pork, seafood or chicken tacos. Caribbean Cool Beyond Hawaii and its pineapples, the Caribbean region is the next-likely contender for being home to the most “typical” tropical ingredients and dishes. While each island in the Caribbean will have its own specificities when it comes to culinary traditions, there are plenty of commonalities. Overall, Caribbean cuisine is actually a fusion of ingredients and dishes from many other localities, including Africa, East India and Europe, brought by explorers to the region. Over time, some unique local flavors have emerged. Across the islands, you’ll find dishes containing rice, plantains, cilantro, coconut, chickpeas and sweet potatoes, as well as Caribbean Green Seasoning. This marinade imparts what we’ve come to define as a “characteristically Caribbean flavor” on meat, fish or vegetarian dishes. It can be purchased commercially or made by blending or processing a variety of green herbs—such as basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary or cilantro—with garlic, onions, green onions, Scotch Bonnet peppers and olive oil. “Jerk” cooking also has made inroads into our cultural cuisine consciousness. Native to Jamaica, it involves dry-rubbing or wet-marinating meats with a particular seasoning blend known for being spicy. Given that the Caribbean islands are surrounded by the sea, it’s no surprise that seafood plays a prominent protein role. Staples include conch, Caribbean spiny lobster (much different than our Maine crustaceans) and grouper or bonefish. In Jamaica, well-known dishes include Jerk chicken and Ackee and Saltfish, a combination of salt cod, boiled ackee fruit, Scotch Bonnet peppers, tomatoes and spices. Leafy greens-based Callaloo is served all across the region, but it differs depending on the country. In Trinidad and Tobago, for example, callaloo calls for the inclusion of taro leaves, but in Jamaica, it uses amaranth leaves. Callaloo might be made with coconut milk or pumpkin, okra or chili peppers. Just like the United States, where clam chowder might mean one thing in New York and another in Boston, regional differences apply to identically named and similar dishes in the Caribbean. As for fruit in the Caribbean islands, you’ll often come across plantains (similar to but starchier than a banana), guavas and papayas. Cuba, because of its Spanish and African influences, varies a bit from other Caribbean cultures, though its staple dish Rice and Beans certainly can be found on other islands. You’ve surely heard of the Cuban sandwich, which originated from the cigar workers traveling between Cuba and Florida who needed lunch. It consists of buttered Cuban bread, sliced roast pork, Serrano ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles and yellow mustard. Another variation is known as a Medianoche sandwich, but it does not contain ham and the bread is replaced by an egg loaf. Curry Some Favor It may be a cliché to associate Indian food with curry—but clichés have rational roots. There are plenty of tropical cuisines that use a form of curry, including dishes from the Caribbean and from areas in Southeast Asia (such as Thai green curry). But it’s most commonly associated with the world’s seventh-largest country. Still, when it comes to the southern part of India—the part that falls within the boundaries of the tropics—Indian cuisine is so much more than dishes flavored with curry. In fact, Indian food is known for the incorporation of different spices, including garam masala, a powdered blend that might include cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. In general, southern Indian cuisine prominently features rice, as well as lentils, chilies, coconuts and native fruits and vegetables such as tamarind (which gives dishes from this region a characteristically sour flavor), plantains, garlic and ginger. The primary gastronomic difference among Indian’s southern states is the spiciness level, with the cuisines of Andhra reigning as the hottest, with its use of chili powder and tamarind. A significant number of south Indian dishes are vegetarian, such as dosa (a lentil and rice crepe) or saaru/rasam (tomato, tamarind and lentil soup), but residents of the coastal state of Kerala often partake in seafood curries. Asian Flair Some cuisines are deceptively simple, focusing on quality fresh ingredients or flavorful cooking techniques. Southeast Asian cuisine, generally speaking, is not that type of cuisine. Take, for example, Thai food, which is known for its complex flavors that contain three to five taste senses in each dish: sour, sweet, salty, bitter and spicy. It relies upon fresh herbs and spices, such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, chilies, cilantro and galangal, as well as such less-easily-found ingredients as shrimp paste, palm sugar and tamarind. That said, a lover of Thai food might say this complexity (and the exotic ingredients) results in a flavor that makes the effort well worth the while. In fact, in 2011, a reader’s survey from CNNGo listed Phat Thai (more frequently spelled in this country as Pad Thai ) No. 5 on the world’s most-delicious dishes. It’s a dish consisting of rice noodles pan fried with fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, peanuts and egg. Thailand is also known for its green curries, made with coconut milk, as well as som tam, which is a green papaya salad. The tropics of Southeast Asia also include Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t draw special attention to Vietnamese food—especially Banh Mi and Pho, two classic meals that have become fairly mainstream in America. The first, a sandwich made with a split baguette, is filled with pickled carrots and daikon radishes, lettuce, cilantro, chili sauce and either sliced pork, pate or Vietnamese cold cuts. Pho, the ideal meal for a chilly winter day, features an aromatic broth poured over rice noodles and a type of meat, thin slices of beef or chicken. It’s topped with bean sprouts, lime, sliced onions and other condiments of one’s choice. A Tropical Tease The cuisines referenced here are just a meager sampling of the enticing options that could be classified as “tropical.” You can learn more about some of the traditional cuisines found in tropical areas of South and Central America, as well as West, East and Central Africa, in this month’s online extras found at www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonuscontent. We close with a final, but very important, observation from our exhaustive research: It turns out that cocoa only grows within a specific distance of the Equator. The main producers of cocoa are located in the tropics of South and Central America, as well as West Africa and Asia—which makes chocolate the quintessential tropical food! Mango, pineapple and coconut are familiar staples of many tropical cuisines. But don’t be surprised to find curry, sweet potatoes and Pad Thai on your equatorial excursions, too! CHILAQUILES YIELD: 36 servings PER SERVING: 303 cal., 14 g fat, 437 mg sod., 25 g carb., 4 g fiber, 16 g pro. MEAL PATTERN: 2-oz. meat/meat alternate, ¾ -oz. whole grains, ¼ cup vegetables INGREDIENTS Corn tortillas, 6-in.—40 Olive oil—8 Tbsps. Onions, raw, diced—1 1/3 cups Green bell peppers, diced—2 cups Garlic powder—½ tsp. Onion powder—1 tsp. Ground cumin—½tsp. Chili powder—2 tsps. Tomatoes, canned, diced—2 cups Salsa—6 cups Water—2 cups Black beans, canned, drained—2 cups Corn, whole-kernel, canned, drained—3 cups Eggs, large—24 Cheddar cheese, grated—1 lb. Greek yogurt, 2%*—1 qt. Avocadoes—2 Lime juice—1 ½ Tbsps. Salt—1 tsp. Black pepper—½ tsp. Scallions, chopped—¾ cup DIRECTIONS 1) Cut the tortillas in 3x1-in. strips. Place in a mixing bowl and drizzle with 4 Tbsps. of olive oil. Toss well to coat tortilla strips evenly. Divide the tortilla strips between two large sheet trays and spread them evenly into single layers. 2) Place the trays in a 400°F oven and toast until the strips are light golden brown in color, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. 3) In a large pot over medium heat, add the remaining 4 Tbsps. of olive oil, diced onions and diced green peppers. Add the garlic powder, onion powder, ground cumin and chili powder. Heat through to bloom the flavors of the dried spices. Cook until the onions are tender and translucent. 4) In the same pot, add the tomatoes, salsa, water, black beans and corn. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside. 5) Crack the eggs into a large bowl. Add 1 cup of the Greek yogurt and whisk well until the ingredients are thoroughly combined. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat and add the egg mixture. Use a rubber spatula to stir. Cook to a soft scrambled egg consistency. Remove from heat and reserve. 6) In a food processer, combine the remaining 3 cups of Greek yogurt with the avocados, lime juice, kosher salt and ground black pepper. Process until smooth. Reserve in the refrigerator until ready to use. 7) In a full-size, 2-in.-deep steamtable pan, place the baked tortilla strips and spread evenly. Ladle the tomato-beans-corn sauce evenly over the strips. Spread the eggs in an even layer on top of the sauce. Sprinkle the grated cheddar cheese evenly on top of the eggs and cover tightly. 8) Bake the recipe at 350°F for 15 minutes or until the internal temperature of the eggs reaches 160 degrees. Remove from the oven and top the dish with scallions. Serve immediately or hold above 140°F. Cut the pan 6x6 to make 36 servings. 9) To serve, plate 1 serving of chilaquiles and top with 0.75-oz. of the Greek yogurt-avocado sauce. *Note: Chobani Greek yogurt can be used for this recipe. Recipe: Chobani Foodservice, www.chobanifoodservice.com Photo: John Barkley, The Culinary Institute of America Meal Pattern Analysis: Chef Sharon Schaefer, SNS, www.facebook.com/evolutionofthelunchlady, @chefsharonsns KITCHEN WISDOM SAYS . . . • For quicker preparation, instead of toasting the tortillas, you can use 1¾ pounds of corn chips. • Rather than blending fresh avocados, there is an avocado pulp you can buy that would save a little time. Lime and cilantro added to Greek yogurt is really yummy, too. • [This is great] for menuing a qualifying grain dessert, since the ¾ -oz. recipe needs at least another ¼ oz. to meet the minimum. Maybe a cinnamon cookie or whole-grain churros would be popular. • USDA Foods salsa doesn’t have a lot of flavor, so I doubled the spices. • This is very labor-intensive for kitchens not doing significant scratch cooking. • Consider using prepared corn chips and increase the amount to gain one full grain serving. • Use liquid eggs instead of fresh, and substitute prepared salsa for the homemade tomato sauce to cut down on prep. CARNITAS PORK STREET TACOS YIELD: 20 (2 ozs. pork, ¼ oz. cheese, 2 tortillas, two limes and 1 oz. pico de gallo) PER SERVING: 147 cal., 2.3 g fat, 156 mg sod., 26 g carb., 4 g protein MEAL PATTERN: 2.25-oz. meat/meat alternate and 1.5-oz. grain INGREDIENTS Corn tortillas, 6-in.—40 Pork carnitas, cooked, ready to eat—2.5 lbs. Cheddar cheese, shredded—5 ozs. Pico de gallo—1 lb., 4 ozs. Key limes—4 DIRECTIONS 1) Place the pre-cooked pork carnitas in 4-in. deep steamtable pans and heat in a steamer until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 165°F for 15 seconds. 2) Place the tortillas in a warmer one hour prior to service. 3) Portion ¼-oz. cheese in small paper cups. Fill a pan with the cheese portion cups to use for quick assembly of the recipe at service time. Portion the pico de gallo into 1-oz. cups for later service. 4) Wash the limes. Using a cutting glove and proper tool, cut the limes into six equal portions. Place the limes in a large bowl or a half-sized 4-in. steamtable pan. 5) To assemble, place two tortillas on a tray. Top each tortilla with pork carnitas meat, using a 1-oz. scoop. Garnish with ¼ oz. cheese. Portion two limes and 1 oz. pico de gallo into cups to serve alongside tacos. Recipe and Photo: Grapevine-Colleyville (Texas) Independent School District, www.gcisd-k12.org Meal Pattern Analysis: Chef Sharon Schaefer, SNS, www.facebook.com/evolutionofthelunchlady, @chefsharonsns KITCHEN WISDOM SAYS . . . • Note that thinner, lighter corn tortillas are meant for frying into chips. Choose the thicker, fluffier version, so they fold and bend without breaking. • Pork is probably the hardest thing to get kids to eat in a taco. All the same deliciousness would be very well received as a burrito. Maybe offer chicken as an alternate protein to increase participation. • The recipe is simple and easy to prepare. Take the time to make a fresh pico de gallo and make sure you place a wedge of fresh lime on the students’ tray to squeeze on top. • Using lime juice may be more economical than fresh key limes. JERK CHICKEN YIELD: 240 2-oz. servings PER SERVING: 100 cal., 3 g fat, 16 g pro., 320 mg sod. MEAL PATTERN: 2-oz. meat/meal Alternate INGREDIENTS Scallions, chopped—1 cup Garlic, chopped—1 cup Onion, chopped—2 cups Jalapeños, stemmed and seeded—10 Lime juice—1 ½ cups Soy sauce—¾ cup Olive oil—1 cup Salt—⅛ cup Brown sugar—⅓ cup Thyme, dried—2 Tbsps. Ground allspice—¼ cup Black pepper—⅛ cup Nutmeg—1 ½ Tbsps. Cinnamon*—1 Tbsp. Chicken breasts or tenders, skinless, boneless—40 lbs. DIRECTIONS 1) Create a marinade by combining all of the ingredients, except the chicken, in a high-powered blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Note: This can be done up to two days before service and held in the refrigerator. 2) Divide the chicken and marinade in sealable plastic bags. Seal the bags, pressing out the extra air and then turn the bags over to distribute the marinade. Place the bags in a shallow pan and chill overnight or for at least 4 hours. 3) Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line 10 sheet pans with parchment paper. Remove the chicken from the marinade bags and lay the pieces in a single layer on the pans. Cook until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. 4) Cut the chicken into thin slices. Serve in 2-oz. portions over pineapple brown rice or on flatbread with pineapple salsa.* *Notes: Use a jerk spice mix in lieu of individual spices for a faster option. Pineapple brown rice, flatbread and salsa are not included in the nutrient analysis or meal pattern calculation. Recipe: Chef Sharon Schaefer, SNS, www.facebook.com/evolutionofthelunchlady, @chefsharonsns KITCHEN WISDOM SAYS . . . • This recipe has such a great taste! Love the fressness of the ingredients, and it has such a nice Jamaican theme. • The students that helped me test this recipe loved it, and I think the full school will, too. • I personally prefer the taste and look of bone-in chicken for jerk, but I know that boneless offers more variety in how it can be used. This could be easily turned into a sandwich, pizza or taco. • We actually made this twice—once with the chicken and the second time with our commodity pork roast. We all like the pork roast better. We made the sauce according to the recipe, marinated it overnight and then put it in the oven on a low temperature and braised it for six to seven hours at 275°F. Then we shredded it up and served it over brown rice. We took the time to serve it with a fresh Pico de Gallo bar—we made three pico de gallo recipes: watermelon, pineapple and black bean. We also named it “Jamaican-Me-Hungry.” PEANUT NOODLE BOWL WITH FRESH VEGETABLES YIELD: 50 servings (1 cup noodles, 1 cup vegetables) PER SERVING: 476 cal., 11 g fat, 391 mg sod., 82 g carb., 20 g pro. MEAL PATTERN: ½ oz.-eq. meat/meat alternate, 2-oz.-eq. grains, ½ cup red/ orange vegetable, ½ cup other vegetable INGREDIENTS Spaghetti, whole grain-rich—10 lbs. Ponzu citrus sauce*—2 ¼ cups Peanut butter, creamy—1 lb., 12 ozs. or 3 cups, 2 Tbsps. Water—2 cups Vegetable oil—¼ cup Ginger, fresh, chopped—2 Tbsps. Cilantro, chopped—1 cup Cucumber, peeled, thinly sliced—4 lbs., 13 ozs. Red bell pepper, julienned—5 lbs., 3 ½ ozs. Snow peas, sliced—4 lbs., 6 ½ ozs. Carrots, shredded—2 lbs., 9 ozs. DIRECTIONS 1) Cook the spaghetti in boiling water until its texture is al dente. Drain immediately and cool with cold water. Transfer the spaghetti to a large container and hold chilled. 2) Combine the ponzu citrus sauce, peanut butter, water, vegetable oil and ginger in a blender. Blend on high until mixture is smooth and the ginger is fully incorporated. 3) Add the green onions and cilantro to the chilled spaghetti. Mix thoroughly. Pour the ponzu-peanut dressing over the spaghetti and toss gently to distribute the dressing evenly throughout the pasta. 4) Portion 1 cup of the dressed, chilled noodles into a square bowl or other salad serving container. Place ¼cup of the sliced cucumber in one corner of the container. Place ¼ cup each of the red bell peppers, snow peas and carrots into the remaining corners. 5) Cover each salad and hold at or below 40°F until service. *Note: Kikkoman Ponzu Citrus Seasoned Dressing & Sauce can be used for this recipe Recipe and Photo: Kikkoman, www.kikkomanusa.com Meal Pattern Analysis: Chef Sharon Schaefer, SNS, www.facebook.com/evolutionofthelunchlady, @chefsharonsns KITCHEN WISDOM SAYS . . . • If you don’t have the ponzu, using a great-tasting teriyaki sauce would be good, too. • Cut string beans can be substituted for the snow peas, if the peas are not available or too expensive. • We made this with Sunbutter, as our district has chosen to serve no peanut butter. • The taste was really good, although we added more ginger and some garlic, as well. AFRICAN GUMBO YIELD: 60 ¾ cup servings PER SERVING: 357 cal., 7.6 g fat, 5.3 g pro., 289 mg sod. MEAL PATTERN: 2-oz. meat/meat alternate, ½ cup vegetable INGREDIENTS Vegetable oil—¼ cup Yellow onion, diced—1 ½ cups Paprika—1 tsp. Cinnamon—1 tsp. Ginger powder—1 tsp. Cumin—1 tsp. Thyme—1 tsp. Black pepper—1 tsp. Garbanzo beans, drained—3 #10 cans Collard greens, frozen, thawed, drained, chopped—6 lbs. Sweet potatoes, peeled, diced*—2 lbs. Salsa—½ #10 can Water—2 qts. DIRECTIONS 1) Heat an empty 20-qt. stock pot over low heat, then add the oil. Once the oil is heated, add the onions and sauté until pieces are limp but not brown. 2) Add the dried spices to the onions and continue to heat through to let their flavors bloom. 3) Add the garbanzo beans, thawed collard greens, sweet potatoes, salsa, dried spices and water to the stockpot. Combine well. If the stew is too thick, add 1 additional cup of water. 4) Cover the pot and simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes or until the mixture has thickened and the sweet potatoes are tender. Stir occasionally to make sure the stew is not sticking to the bottom. 5) Portion using two 3-oz. spoodles. 6) Consider an optional garnish of scallions, tomato and/or cilantro. 7) Consider serving with ½ cup brown rice, which would credit as 1-oz. whole grain. *Note: In lieu of fresh sweet potatoes, 1 #10 can of sweet potatoes, drained, can be used. Recipe: Chefs Angel Ramos, Jorge Pineda and Joy Pierson of Candle Cafe for the Cool School Food Program of the Coalition for Healthy School Food in New York City, www.healthyschoolfood.org Photo: Lou Manna, www.loumanna.com Meal Pattern Analysis: Chef Sharon Schaefer, SNS, www.facebook.com/evolutionofthelunchlady, @chefsharonsns MANGO SALSA YIELD: 24 6-Tbsp. servings PER SERVING: 35 cal., 0 g fat, 9 g carb., 1 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 0 g pro. MEAL PATTERN: ¼ cup fruit INGREDIENTS Mango chunks, frozen, partially thawed—6 cups Red bell pepper, finely chopped—1 ½ cups Green bell pepper, finely chopped—¾ cup Green onions, chopped*—3 Tbsps. Cilantro, chopped—2 Tbsps. Jalapeno chiles, chopped—2 Tbsps. Lime juice—1 Tbsp. DIRECTIONS 1) Create the salsa by combining the mango chunks, chopped bell peppers, onions, cilantro, jalapenos and the lime juice in a small bowl. Hold in the refrigerator until ready to serve. 2) Portion the salsa using a #10 disher (3/8 cup) and serve over chicken breasts or fish fillets, or use as a dip or topping for quesadillas or tacos.* *Notes: DOLE. Frozen Mango Chunks and DOLE. Green Onions can be used in this recipe. As written, the recipe only contributes ¼ cup fruit to the meal pattern; however, by increasing the green bell pepper to 1 ½ cups, the recipe will also contribute ⅛ cup vegetables. Meal pattern analysis is for the salsa only. Recipe and Photo: Dole Packaged Foods, LLC, www.dolefoodservice.com Meal Pattern Analysis: Chef Sharon Schaefer, SNS, www.facebook.com/evolutionofthelunchlady, @chefsharonsns Kelsey Casselbury is the managing editor of School Nutrition. BONUS WEB CONTENT Extend your tropical travels to explore the piquant foods of cuisines found throughout South America, Central America and West, East and Central Africa. An overview is available at www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonuscontent.
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