North Dakota State University -- NDSU Agriculture Communication
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo ND, 58105-5655, Tel: 701-231-7881, Fax: 701-231-7044

January 3, 2002

Prairie Fare: An Adventure for the Tastebuds

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist
NDSU Extension Service


I grew up in a small Midwestern town with a fairly standard diet for the times. Dinner was generally meat, potatoes and vegetables. It was wholesome, hearty fare that tasted good. We tried a few ethnic convenience foods, like canned chow mein and boxed pizza mixes, from time to time. I didnít quite understand the appeal of pizza, probably because we only used the package of Parmesan cheese that accompanied the mix. Iíd say the box was about as tasty as pizza without mozzarella cheese.

In graduate school, my tastebuds went on an adventure. The students were from six different continents, and we had frequent potluck meals. I canít say I liked everything I tried, but some of the dishes (and spices) grew on me over time.

Americansí growing taste for ethnic foods is one of the major trends in the food industry. According to a National Restaurant Association survey, about three-fourths of Americans have tried a variety of Asian foods, including Mandarin, Hunan and Szechuan foods in addition to traditional Cantonese. Greek, Cajun and Japanese foods have been sampled by half of the survey participants, and one-fourth had tried Thai, Vietnamese or Mediterranean foods.

Are there any health advantages to eating more exotic cuisine? Increasing the variety in our diet is always a good idea because it increases our chances of getting all the nutrients needed by the body. If your meals are becoming a little routine, set a goal to buy a new grocery item every week or two. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Try some different grains. Grains are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates that provide energy, vitamins and minerals. Sample some bulgur, a steam-cooked and dried grain used in Middle Eastern dishes like pilaf and tabbouleh. Pick up a package of couscous, a granular product made from durum wheat, and serve it in place of rice.

For a Midwestern regional treat, try wild rice as a side dish. Wild rice is the seed of grass originally harvested by Native Americans. If you usually buy long-grain rice, try short-grain rice, which is stickier. It has a higher starch content and is easier to manipulate with chopsticks.

From the high protein food group, use a variety of beans and nuts in your main dishes. Make hummus, a Middle Eastern dip, from chickpeas, lemon juice, olive oil and sesame seed paste and serve with pita bread. Add some peanuts to your main dish. Peanuts are used as a vegetable in Asian, Indian and South American cooking and often appear with fish, meat and poultry. Prepare a spicy Indian dish, called dal with lentils, tomatoes and onions.

In the dairy group, sample some different types of cheese, which are good calcium sources. Edam and smoked Gouda are Dutch cheeses that are fairly mild. If youíre really daring, try some pungent Limburger cheese, a favorite of my Norwegian relatives, which requires being sealed in a jar in the refrigerator.

Explore the produce aisle in a large supermarket. Sweet and hot peppers add flavor, South American flair and lots of vitamin C to your diet. For a tropical treat, try mangoes and papayas. Pick up some bok choy, a type of cabbage, and a daikon, an Asian radish, to keep your familyís tastebuds guessing.

Try some unusual ingredients and visit this searchable Web site with more than 70,000 recipes: 

Hereís a tasty Asian main dish with easily accessible ingredients. You can substitute other vegetables such as whole pea pods or bok choy for the vegetables.

Stir-fry Beef with Vegetables

3/4 pound beef round steak, boneless
4 teaspoons oil
1/3 cup carrots, sliced diagonally
1/3 cup onion, sliced
1/3 cup celery, sliced diagonally
2 cups fresh mung bean spouts
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup beef broth (canned or made from granules)

Trim fat from steak. Slice steak across the grain into thin strips, about 1/8 inch wide and 3 inches long. (Itís easier to slice thinly when partially frozen.) Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in frying pan or wok. Add beef and stir-fry over moderately high heat, turning pieces constantly, until beef is cooked thoroughly, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove beef from pan. Heat remaining 2 teaspoons of oil in pan. Add carrots; stir-fry 1 minute. Add onion, celery and sprouts; continue to stir-fry until vegetables are tender crisp, about 3 to 4 minutes. Mix cornstarch, ginger and garlic powder with soy sauce until smooth. Add slowly to vegetables, stirring constantly. Continue cooking until bubbly. Stir in beef. Reduce heat and cook, covered, 1 minute. Serve over rice. Makes 4 servings. Each serving contains about 200 calories and 8.5 grams of fat.


Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor: Tom Jirik, (701) 231-9629,