Ethnic cuisine is so exotic and intriguing with all the different spices and flavors. It may seem intimidating to think you could ever make authentic ethnic dishes at home. I used to think that way but then I learned that it’s really easy to make delicious ethnic dishes in my own kitchen. Each cuisine has a set of ingredients, herbs, and spices that are combined to create a unique flavor profile. Once you learn the flavor profiles for each cuisine, you’re well on your way to making your own international dishes at home. Here is a quick guide to the spices and flavor profiles of 12 popular ethnic cuisines.
Cajun and Creole cuisine are filled with bold flavors. You’ll often see recipes call for a Cajun spice blend. You can buy it or make your own. Get my recipe here. Aromatics usually involve a mirepoix, the holy trinity of Cajun cuisine – onions, celery, and bell peppers. Scallions and lemon are also commonly used. Interestingly, Creole cuisine uses tomatoes while authentic Cajun dishes do not. Andouille sausage is a common ingredient. For vegan versions, try these Spicy Andouille Sausages and these Homemade Andouille Sausages. Use Cajun spices and flavors any time you want to add a kick to your meal. Spice up some rice or burgers. I even like ribbing a Cajun spice blend on tempeh and tofu for something a little different. Adjust the spice to the heat level you like best.
Recipes that will take you straight to Louisiana include this Easy Cajun Jambalaya, Cajun Tofu with Dirty Quinoa, Vegan “Chicken” and “Sausage” Gumbo, Creole Okra Corn Soup, Cauliflower Etouffée With Andouille, and Creole-Style Eggplant and Tofu Étouffée.
If you order take-out Chinese food and wish you could make it yourself at home, it’s really easy. Whether you want Cantonese, Mandarin or Szechuan food, the basic ingredients are pretty much the same. Stock up on low-sodium soy sauce or tamari (or coconut aminos if you are avoiding soy), rice vinegar, mirin or sweet rice wine, Hoisin sauce, toasted sesame oil, miso, agave nectar or sweetener of your choice, and Sriracha hot sauce. These are the ingredients needed to make most Chinese sauces. You should also have arrowroot powder or cornstarch to thicken sauces and make crispy tofu or seitan. For aromatics, keep plenty of fresh ginger, garlic, scallions, and chiles on hand. Spices and herbs you need include red chili flakes, 5-spice powder, and cilantro. You will also need peanuts, cashews, and sesame seeds. For more detailed information, see How to Make Your Own Chinese Food at Home. My best tip with Chinese flavors is to not limit them to traditional Chinese dishes. You can add these flavors to other dishes. For example, I make a pesto sauce with Asian flavors – sesame oil, peanuts, lime juice – instead of the usual Italian ones for a change that’s unique and delicious.
Check out Don’t Order Takeout! Make These 20 Vegan Chinese Dishes Instead! You’ll also want to try this Szechuan Hot and Sour Soup, Kung Pao “Chicken,” Vegan Sesame Tofu, and General Tso’s Tofu. Learn how to make your own veggie dumplings, spring rolls, and even Egg-Free Fortune Cookies.
Classic French dishes usually have herbs such as basil, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and sage or you can buy a bottle of herbs de Provence which is a combination of these and also has lavender. Tarragon is also a popular herb in French cooking and you can use it anywhere you ordinarily use oregano. Aromatics include garlic, shallots, capers and Dijon mustard. French cooking uses a lot of wine and lots of butter, so it’s a good thing there are great vegan wines and recipes for vegan butter available to us. French flavors work everywhere; after all, French cuisine is the classic. Any time you want to add bright flavors to a dish, try using the herbs found in French cooking. You’ll be pleasantly surprised what a big difference they can make to a dish.
Take a look at these Classic French Foods You Never Thought Could Be Veganized … But Can! Then be sure to try this French Onion Soup with Cheese Toasts, Vegan Mushroom Bourguignon, and Vegan Crème Brulée.
Greek food is some of the healthiest and most flavorful food on the planet. Garlic, oregano, olive oil, and tomatoes are commonly used in dishes. Greek cuisine is known for its use of rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, and red onions. Nothing says Greek food more than the fresh citrus flavors of lemon and the tangy, salty yumminess of vegan feta cheese. Try this Tofu Feta Cheese and this 5-Ingredient Almond Feta. Try using Greek flavors in your pasta dishes – lemon, oregano and garlic are perfect flavors for any pasta dish. Add citrus and fresh herbs to your salads for bright and fresh flavors.
Ready to try making your own? Read Go Greek With Our Favorite Greek Recipes, Veganized! Then make this Moussaka with Cashew Cream, Greek Stuffed Tomatoes, Greek Peas, and Baklava for Beginners.
Indian food is warm with bold flavors and fragrant spices. To make your own Indian food, you will want to fill your spice cabinet with some or all of the wonderful, warm spices. Many Indian dishes begin by toasting the seeds of spices such as cumin, mustard, and coriander though you can also use the dried versions if that’s what you have. Other common spices are cardamom, fenugreek, fennel, turmeric, and a variety of curry pastes and powders. Garam masala is a combination of spices and everyone makes their own a different way but it usually has cumin, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, and cardamom. Try this Ayurvedic Garam Masala and this Punjabi Garam Masala or make your own spice blend. You will also want to have ginger, garlic, cilantro, non-dairy yogurt, and coconut milk on hand. For more detailed information, see How to Make Your Own Indian Food at Home. Try these Indian flavors in unusual places like pizza or tacos. The warm, fragrant flavors of Indian cuisine add depth to any dish. Oh, and use them in baking as well.
Take a look at these 15 Traditional Indian Foods Made Vegan and then try this Indian Style Quinoa and Peas, Cauliflower Chickpea Cashew Curry, Begoon Pora- Bengali Burnt Eggplant, and Besan Barfi (Date and Chickpea Fudge).
Authentic Italian food differs significantly from that available in the United States. It may surprise people to learn that authentic Italian food is not all about garlic and cheese and most of the recipes have no more than six or seven ingredients. The most commonly used herbs are parsley, rosemary, sage, and basil. While most people think of oregano as crucial to Italian dishes, it is actually used mainly in Southern Italy in its dried form. Aromatics used include garlic, onions, olives, and capers as well as soffrito which is onion, carrot and celery sauteed in olive oil. For more details and recipes, see How to Make Your Own Italian Food at Home. I may be biased but I think everything tastes better with an Italian twist. Try adding Italian flavors to your mac and cheese (it’s pasta, right?) or to a salad. Garlic works everywhere!
Try these 15 Vegan Versions of Your Favorite Italian Dishes and don’t miss out on this Creamy White Pasta with Crispy Coconut Bacon, Carciofi alla Romana (Roman-Style Artichokes), and Spinach and Mushroom Alfredo Lasagna.
Of all cuisines, Jamaican food is my favorite, especially Ital food. Jamaican food is rich in flavor with aromatics, herbs and spices such as cayenne, paprika, garlic, thyme, onion, scallions, black pepper, oregano, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. Jerk seasoning is a common spice blend that tastes amazing on tofu, seitan or veggies – and scotch bonnet peppers are essential to Jamaican cooking. For more advice and recipes, see How to Make Your Own Jamaican (Ital) Food at Home. Jamaican flavors are bold and can add personality to any dish. Try adding them to your next soup or stew. Use a Jamaican spice rub on tofu or cauliflower. Ooh, now I’m craving Jerk cauliflower.
The flavors of Japanese food are light and delicate. Umami adds flavor and depth. Common ingredients in Japanese cooking include miso, sake, soy sauce, rice vinegar, mirin, sweet rice wine, ginger, garlic, sesame seed oil, sesame seeds, and wasabi. Japanese flavors are light so they can be incorporated anywhere. Add a bit of miso to tofu or noodles, put a few drops of sesame oil on veggies or add it to a salad dressing. Just a little adds a lot of flavor.
Try making these Japanese Pan Noodles with Healthier Teriyaki Sauce, Yaki Onigiri with Sweet Potato and Avocado Filling, Sesame Miso-Spinach Salad and Vegetable Sushi, and this Miso Ramen Bowl with Tellicherry Black Pepper Tofu.
Authentic Mexican food is filled with fresh vegetables, fruits, protein, and spices and is healthy and well-balanced. Mexico uses aromatics such as onions and garlic and favors spices such as annatto, cumin, Mexican oregano, cilantro, bay, cinnamon, cloves, anise, and epazote. Cocoa is used in savory dishes such as mole sauce as well as in desserts. Many types of chiles are used in Mexican cuisine such as jalapeno, ancho, chipotle, and serrano. They can be used fresh, whole, dried or powdered. In fact, chiles, rather than tomatoes, are the main ingredient in Mexican sauces such as my Ancho Chile Sauce (Enchilada Sauce). For more detailed information and lots of recipes, see How to Cook Veggies Mexican-Style. Mexican flavors work in just about any dish. Try making Mexican flavored pizza with a bit of kick from the spices. Add a little cocoa to your chili or tomato sauce to give it depth. Spice up dessert with a touch of cayenne or chile powder.
You’ll definitely want to make these Mexican-Style Pickled Vegetables, Slow Cooker Mexican Tacos with Salsa and Guacamole, Hot and Spicy Mexican Street Corn, Cheesy Chilaquiles, Portobello Tostadas with Chipotle Cream, and these Chiles Rellenos.
Moroccan cuisine is just as exotic as it sounds but don’t worry, it is really easy to make yourself. The flavors of North African cuisine are ginger, sweet paprika, hot paprika, cumin, cinnamon, saffron, turmeric, cayenne, mint, and harissa. Ras El Hanout is a mixture of ground spices including cardamom, nutmeg, anise, mace, cinnamon, ginger, peppers, and turmeric. Moroccan dishes often include olives, raisins, dates, almonds, sesame seeds, and lemon. My two favorite places to use Moroccan flavors, even if I’m not making a Moroccan dish, is with tofu and pasta. The combination of lemon and olives is amazing!
You’ll feel like you’ve been transported to Casablanca when you try this Traditional Moroccan Eggplant Salad, Moroccan Miso, Lentil and Pumpkin Soup, Seitan Tagine with Apricots and Dates, Moroccan Chili, and Delicious Casbah Tofu with Yellow Rice.
While the term “Spanish food” gets used as a blanket statement, Spanish cuisine differs greatly from the others that get included under that blanket. For instance, even foods that share the same name, such as tortillas, are vastly different in Spain than in other countries. Common flavors used in Spain are rosemary, thyme, and oregano. Spanish paprika, saffron, and parsley (not cilantro) are integral to Spanish cuisine. Spain also uses cayenne pepper, garlic (lots of garlic), onions, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, mint, parsley, sage, bay leaf, basil, and vanilla. Sofrito is a basic tomato sauce that has onions, garlic, green peppers, and olive oil and is the start of many Spanish recipes. For more detailed information and recipes, see How to Make Your Own Spanish Food at Home. Whenever I ask my husband to choose an ethnic cuisine for dinner, he picks Spanish and one of his favorite dishes is when i make pasta with a Spanish twist. Just adding paprika, cumin and cilantro can turn an Italian dish into a Spanish one.
Go to Spain with these Patatas Not-So-Bravas, Beer and Chocolate Chili With Smoky Sofrito Sauce, Spanish Chorizo with Chickpeas, Jackfruit Ropa Vieja, Artichoke Paella, and Chile Rubbed Tofu with Onions over Spanish Rice.
When I want to prepare a Thai feast, I make sure to have lots of garlic, ginger, shallots, scallions, lemongrass, cilantro, and Thai basil for my herbs and aromatics. Curry paste comes in red, yellow, and green – each has its own taste and level of heat. You can buy curry paste or make your own. See How to Make Your Own Spice Blends and Curry Pastes. Thai recipes usually use low-sodium tamari, rice or sweet wine vinegar, hot chili peppers, and coconut milk. One of the most distinctive flavors in Thai food usually comes from fish sauce, oyster sauce, or shrimp paste. Luckily, it’s easy to learn How to Make Vegan Fish Sauce. My best Thai tip: use these flavors where you wouldn’t expect it. Everyone has had Thai noodles and stews. I like to make a Thai Caesar salad by swapping the lemon in the dressing with lime and adding chopped peanuts to the salad.
Check out these 10 Thai Recipes and then try this Shirataki Pad Thai, Red Thai Curry Soup with Carrots and Sweet Potato, Chili Lime Thai Noodle Bowl, Raw Pad Thai Bowl with Tofu, and Rich and Spicy Curry Laksa That Will Rock Your World.
Once you learn the basics of flavor profiles, you can travel the world without ever leaving your kitchen. Get ready to impress everyone with your international culinary talents!
Lead image source: Rich and Spicy Curry Laksa That Will Rock Your World