A while ago I was a dietitian (and a foodie) moving from Argentina to the U.S., experiencing how it is to adjust to new food ingredients and another recipe system.
In Latin America, as in many other parts of the world, we use the metric system to measure ingredients. I was used to grams and milliliters, not to cups and spoons. I didn’t know what one stick of butter was! Plus, in my country, butter is sold only salted and we don’t have buttermilk or maple syrup … to name a few ingredients.
I became familiar with recipe making after watching lots of cooking shows and spending lots of time in the supermarket. A few years later, I came back to my home country enriched and developing recipes for a global audience. Now I cook all the time with recipes from other countries, mainly the U.S. and Italy.
In the November/December 2014 of Food and Nutrition, the article “Lost in Translation” gives awesome tips on how to prepare recipes from different countries, like using measuring cups and scales that include the metric system. Measuring well is key, but also choosing the right ingredient and cooking methods. When using foreign cookbooks we should be aware that some ingredients and procedures may be called something different even in countries of the same language. For example, in Latin America, beans can be called frijol, frejol, habichuela, poroto, alubia, judia, vainicas, ejote, guandu and caraota … depending on the country. With today’s online tools it’s much easier to find a translation. Just Google ingredients or use online language dictionaries. Culinary dictionaries and glossaries are also easy to find online or as mobile apps. Some of the free apps I find useful are The Food Dictionary, Kitchen Dictionary and Culinary Cooking Essentials.
Here are three suggestions that’ll save you time and frustration when cooking with recipes from abroad:
- Know the recipe’s ingredients. Make sure that you clearly understand what ingredients you need and their availability in your area. If they’re not on hand, you may find appropriate substitutions. For example, I use dulce de leche (milk caramel, typical in Argentina) in almost all my dessert recipes, but I know this ingredient isn’t available worldwide, so sweetened condensed milk can be used as a substitute in many recipes.
- Make your measurements. See the Food and Nutrition article referenced above to find suggested online tools and apps that convert the customary U.S. system (cups, tablespoons, etc.) into metric system or vice versa.
- Take notes. Jot down all translations, measuring conversions and your own comments to avoid errors, and to make it easier the next time you make the recipe.
If you are going to spend some time abroad, don’t miss the opportunity to check out local cookbooks and cooking shows. Whether you are a recipe developer or a home cook, you can always jazz up your meals by making authentic recipes from other countries. Happy cooking!