Simple, tasty recipes for a nomad
October 23, 2013 7:04 AM   Subscribe

For the next 8 months I'll be moving cities every 4 days or so and I'm doing a lot of couchsurfing. I like to prepare a meal for my hosts as a thank you and I'd like some suggestions for meal ideas. I can't travel with a fully stocked pantry, so meals that have few ingredients (preferably things readily available in South America, Europe, and Asia) are important. Advise me, culinary geniuses of mefi!

A few more details and considerations -

Recipes that require specialized equipment (even something like a blender is not going to be available in every place I stay) are out. Usually, I can count on having an oven, burners, pots and pans, and knives and such. I'd also not like to be wasteful. I'm happy spending $20 on some nice fish or whatever (an ingredient that will be used up in the meal) but I don't want to spend $20 on oils or spices that I'll only use a little of then have to toss once I pack up and leave. I'm a former vegetarian and still bit of a newbie to cooking meat, so if you have meat recipes, careful explanations would be appreciated, but really, it would probably be best if I just stick to vegetarian meals.

An example of a meal that I've been cooking a lot in South America is pasta with a tomato sauce, sometimes some sausage, plus roasted veggies on the side. However, I'm a little sick of it, so any suggestions or creative ideas would be much appreciated!


(on preview I saw this very similar question where a lot of people just responded by saying, don't cook, bring wine instead, etc. I'm just looking for recipe or meal ideas here, not reasons why I shouldn't cook.)
posted by horizons to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
You can't go wrong with a pasta sauce you're really good at.

Alfredo (butter + Parmesan gooped up with the starchy pasta water)
Carbonara (bacon + egg yolk)
Bolognese (ground meat and aromatic veggies braised in milk, then tomatoes added)
Marinara (sauteed veggies)

are all *dead* *simple* and taste great.

And it's fun getting good at a few of them.
posted by colin_l at 7:19 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here is a yummy, impressive linguine and clam dish.
posted by shothotbot at 7:20 AM on October 23, 2013

How about lentil tacos?

The only spice you need is taco seasoning - and you can usually buy the single use packages at grocery stores. I usually serve this in a bowl over crushed tortilla chips, with chopped onions and cilantro on top. They're quick, easy and delish!
posted by jacindahb at 7:30 AM on October 23, 2013

Brown butter sauce...adding whatever fresh herbs are available and a squeeze of lemon. Great on veggies, pasta, or fish. Simple and oh, oh so good.
posted by hannahelastic at 7:33 AM on October 23, 2013

How about quiche? If you can't find premade crusts, you can just make it crustless. Chop up a bunch of veggies that you like, season and sautee. Then put them in a baking dish and add eggs and cheese...or peppers, or whatever.
posted by jacindahb at 7:36 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe this question that I asked earlier this year would be helpful, too? (I was living abroad, travelling, and pseudo-vegetarian)
posted by Paper rabies at 7:37 AM on October 23, 2013

I think fish, rice and veggies are a wonderful supper. Super easy to make and you can add things based upon your locale.

I like firm, mild fish. Grouper or snapper. A quick marinade in lime juice never hurt anyone. Salt and pepper are nice, or soy sauce, ginger and garlic, whatever things are on hand. Sautee in whatever oil is around (sesame, olive, canola).

I like my rice with butter and salt in it. But it's also good made with coconut milk or broth.

A tossed salad with vinegarette is good, and crusty bread. Or sauteeed spinach or broccoli.

You get the idea. Where you are dictates what you serve, but the basics are all there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:37 AM on October 23, 2013

Don't count on having an oven! In many parts of Asia and especially in cities they are hard to come by because they are big and not part of the local cooking tradition. Even in Europe where it is part of the typical cuisine preparation, ovens are too large for many of our little apartments. (I used to live in Japan and currently live in Paris, have traveled extensively by CS in both continents).

That said, my favorites for this situation are
- sloppy jo
- corn bread
- clam chowder
- fried apples with cinnamon and sugar, ice cream vanilla on the side
- with a good bariety of ingredients, the salad with greens fruit cheese nuts and meat. pick your own. not common elsewhere but huge in the us.
posted by whatzit at 8:02 AM on October 23, 2013

If you DO have an oven, a lemon roast chicken is dead easy and a big hit.

Take a chicken, pour the juice of 3 lemons over it. Season with seasoning salt, or salt, any herbs and garlic inside the cavity. Surround it with chunks of potatoes, also seasoned with salt.

Roast on about 425-450 F, for 45-60 min.

Let chicken rest for a few minutes, carve, and toss with roasting juices and/or more fresh lemon juice. Eat and drool.
posted by tatiana131 at 9:24 AM on October 23, 2013

Hash browns and eggs! Bring shredder (just in case). Shred potatoes. Squeeze out excess potato water. Put too much oil in pan. Heat. Add potato. Wait longer than you think you ought. Flip. The top should be golden-brown. Stir fry onions and garlic to add to both the hash browns and eggs. Add veggies if you please.

Bonus: people love ketchup with this. You can make it yourself on the cheap. One small can of tomato paste, some vinegar, some sugar. To taste.

These ingredients are usually cheap, widely available, and hash browns are a fantastic breakfast food that is, in my experience, uncommon in home cooking.
posted by aniola at 10:22 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also the thing about an inexpensive dish like the one I described is that you will either be staying with people who would happily contribute some sugar, oil, and vinegar to the cause of a delicious breakfast they didn't have to make, or you'll be staying with people who would happily accept your leftover oil, sugar, and vinegar. Me, I would be just dandy in either situation.
posted by aniola at 12:10 PM on October 23, 2013

If the local markets have jars of sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, this and angel hair pasta serves as the great basis for a meal. You could sauté an onion with the jar contents, perhaps toss in broccoli or chopped spinach. Add fish or chicken on top or to the side. Sprinkle Parmesan. Any variation is tasty. And goes great with red wine.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 2:14 AM on October 24, 2013

A curry/tagine/stew that you like to eat a lot. You can make the basic spice mix and bring that around with you because you'd be using it regularly it would be lightweight and not bulky (like a masala, you can make the spice mix once, then carry it around in a single container). Then throw in whatever local ingredients (vegis, meat if that's your thing) are available.
posted by eviemath at 4:31 AM on October 24, 2013

Seconding not to count on having an oven in Europe. It's pretty hit or miss. Not just based on the size of the house or apartment, based on the age of the house or apartment, too.

If you do have an oven, an easy "company meal" that I make is roast chicken, rice and salad. Aside from the obvious chicken, rice, and salad greens/veggies, the ingredients are: paprika, dried thyme, salt, pepper, half a stick of butter, maybe some onion, 1-2 garlic cloves, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. The equipment is: a roasting pan and rack, baster, tinfoil, pot for the rice, salad bowl. Garlic masher if you can, but you can also just cut up the garlic really small.

Make sure the chicken doesn't have any organs in it (in the US they're usually in little bags stuffed inside the cavity -- you just pull them out). Rub the chicken inside and out with paprika, dried thyme, salt, and pepper (err on the side of too much). Dot the inside and out of the chicken with pieces of butter -- get some under the skin, too (and also err on the side of too much). My dad puts half an onion into the cavity to make the chicken juicier, but that also keeps the skin from getting crispy, so I don't do that. I roast the chicken in a roasting pan with a rack at 375, my dad roasts it at 425 -- but the temperatures and times will be different depending on the country, so I guess you'll have to google that? Baste when you feel like it, maybe four times or five times. After the chicken is done, let it rest on its serving plate with tinfoil over top of it.

Put the roasting pan (without the rack) on the stovetop and light up the burner(s) under it. (If there's too much grease in the roasting pan to start with, like if it's more than just a little puddle on the bottom of the pan, clean out an old can and pour the excess grease into the can. Put the can in the fridge until the grease solidifies, and then you can throw it out or use it like normal cooking grease later). If you have some extra onion, put a few slices of (new, clean) onion in the roasting pan and fry them until they're clear. Put the (cooked) rice in the roasting pan and fry the rice in the chicken schmaltz -- make sure to use your spatula to scrape up all the little chicken bits from the bottom of the roasting pan as you turn the rice over, that's the best bit.

The salad I toss in a vinaigrette of olive oil, red wine vinegar, one or two mashed garlic cloves, salt and pepper. Basically anything you want to put in it is fine -- lettuce, tomatoes, whatever you want. For the vinaigrette, the olive oil should cover the bottom of the salad bowl, and then put enough vinegar in it so the proportions are like a cracked egg (with the vinegar as the yolk). Plop in the mashed garlic. The salt and pepper are just to taste, but err on the side of too much because nobody ever seems to add any at the table. Make sure to stir it pretty well before adding the greens -- I beat it with a fork like I'm beating an egg. You'll probably need to toss the salad for a couple minutes before it's properly mixed up with the dressing.

I also usually saute the liver to have as an appetizer (just put it in a pan with a little wine, stock, thyme, salt and pepper), but if that seems like a pain don't worry about it.

Other dishes that nobody ever complains about but which might be tougher to find ingredients for depending on where you are -- chili with corn bread and salad, spaghetti bolognese with salad, chicken soup. Also, if you don't have an oven or don't feel like taking the time to roast something, I second fish with rice and salad.
posted by rue72 at 6:36 AM on October 24, 2013

Gooey brownies and/or pancakes with chocolate chips or fruit baked in. These are pretty distinctively American and based on my experience stand a great chance of being a hit. Variations in local flour will make it an interesting adventure for you too.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:44 AM on October 25, 2013

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