October 16 is World Food Day, giving us a great reason to celebrate culinary diversity and try some new (to us) recipes! Our own Geo Esber, Product Designer, is originally from Venezuela and has lived in four countries since. Now based in our San Francisco office, Geo shared her vast and varied food experiences with us, and even gave us some of her favorite recipes to give you a little extra inspiration in the kitchen this weekend!
On different food cultures around the world
From Venezuela to America to Colombia, Australia, Japan and America again, Geo immersed herself in the food culture of each: learning the customs, the ingredients, and the traditions of the places she’s lived. In South American locales, it’s all about serving satisfying and filling ingredients like rice, beans and dishes made with dough (like arepas and empanadas). In Japan, so much emphasis is placed on food presentation that portions often take a backseat to concentration on flavors and textures. In Australia, the summer barbecue rules – along with Vegemite, a staple for all.
Geo learned to cook by watching family members and especially remembers spending time with her grandmother in the kitchen. Answering questions while letting Geo taste along the way, her grandmother helped encourage her to cook by taste and feeling – adding more seasoning where needed and trusting your instincts. To get kitchen inspiration of her own, she asks friends what they cook at home, reads food magazines and tries to push herself to try new cooking techniques and recipes… even turning new recipes into fun challenges!
On what the food cultures of the world have in common
Food is more than food. It’s a sensory experience that ties you to the memory of a certain person, place, or time. And eating is often the best way to learn someone else’s culture or perspective. Some of Geo’s favorite food experiences while living abroad involved eating in the homes of others. “When you’re spending time cooking and eating with others who you want to nourish and make happy, you do it out of love,” she says. Treating mealtime like a bonding experience beyond the act of preparing and serving food is what makes it cross cultural and language boundaries: meals are something we all have in common, and they’re always better if they’re shared with people you love.
Growing up in Venezuela, Geo fondly remembers arepas as a classic dish served around the clock. Easy to make, arepas were often her breakfast as a child, and she used to watch her mom put them together before sitting down and eating together as a family. Morning, day or even late-night, arepas are a staple in the Venezuelan food culture, and are extremely easy to adapt based on your personal taste!
2 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 ½ cups Harina P.A.N. (pre-cooked white maize meal)
1 tsp corn oil
Wash your hands. In a medium bowl add water and salt. Mix until the salt is dissolved.
Slowly add the harina P.A.N. Mix with your hands, making circular movements and breaking with your finger the lumps that may form. Let rest 5 minutes to thicken.
Preheat a nonstick 11-inch square griddle over medium heat. If you don’t have a griddle you can use a skillet instead. After 5 minutes add the oil to the dough and work it in with your hands for 2 minutes. The dough should be firm enough holds its shape without cracking when molded. If it is too soft add a little more of harina P.A.N; if too hard add a little more water.
Form balls and flatten them gently until they’re about 1/2-inch thick discs.
Place the discs over the preheat griddle and cook the arepas for 5-7 minutes on each side or until lightly golden brown.
Split each arepa in half and fill them with whatever you like: cheese, ham, egg, beans, chicken, beef, tuna… your creativity is the limit! Serve hot. Here are three house favorite to get you started. (Recipe source)
Egg & Queso
For this simple and breakfast-themed variation, sauté chopped onion and tomato with salt until softened, then add whisked eggs to the skillet.
Scramble vegetables together with the eggs until cooked, then fill arepas with egg mixture.
Top with sliced queso fresco and serve with sliced avocado.
Avocado Salsa Arepa-mite!
Add an Australian twist to your arepas by spreading Vegemite on both sides before adding this bright and colorful filling.
Chop tomatoes, avocado, cilantro and queso fresco to create the salsa, then season with a squeeze of lime and salt.
Top the filling with shredded cheddar cheese before serving!
To prepare the meat, Geo boiled skirt steak in salted hot water for an hour until tender and shreddable with a fork. Her tip: Don’t throw out the broth that the meat creates! You can add a cup or so to the skillet as you put together the filling.
Sauté chopped garlic, onion, tomatoes, red and yellow pepper, and leek in a skillet until soft, then add the shredded meat along with some tomato paste and a can of diced tomatoes.
Geo adds a dash of soy sauce and some Adobo seasoning here too!
Let it all simmer together, then serve topped with shredded cheddar cheese.
So go ahead, get inspired this World Food Day (10/16) and try a recipe that’s out of your comfort zone! Try your hand at one of Geo’s above or find your own inspiration – and don’t forget share your successful dishes (or epic fails – we’re all friends here) with us on social media using #ShiptLife. Bon appetit!