Pasta may make us think of Italian food, but it is actually a food eaten all over the world. The origin of pasta is debatable; its invention has been credited to the early Greeks, Romans, and Chinese. There is no debate, however, about the fact that pasta is a versatile food that is loved in every continent. So many of the dishes we eat today are due to the influence of various ethnic cuisines. Pasta has a rich history and continues to make new history every day. Today we can buy dried and fresh pasta as well as gluten-free pasta. It comes in many shapes and sizes and can be made entirely with flour or mixed with vegetables for healthier and more colorful dishes. More and more people are choosing to make their own pasta from scratch. Let’s celebrate pasta by taking a trip around the globe and see some of the ways pasta and noodles are loved around the world.
You may not think of Mexican food, pasta is probably not the first dish that comes to mind but maybe it should be. Sopa seca is a Mexican dish that literally means “dry soup” but it is not a soup at all. You cook the pasta right in the broth and tomatoes and the liquids get absorbed into a saucy dish. There are many versions of sopa seca and of course, mine is vegan and gluten-free. I use brown rice noodles and dark kidney beans. You can make this as spicy as you like. To make Sopa Seca with Beans: Heat 1 Tbs. oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add one halved and thinly sliced onion and two thinly sliced poblano peppers and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. ground cumin and ½ tsp. kosher salt and cook another 2 minutes. Break 8 oz. dry spaghetti into thirds and add them to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is slightly toasted, about 5 minutes.
Add 2 cups diced tomatoes and simmer about 2 minutes. Add 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth or water and increase the heat to high. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan and simmer until the spaghetti is almost completely cooked, about 6-8 minutes depending on the type of pasta you are using. Uncover and stir in 2 cups cooked red kidney beans and ½ cup fresh chopped cilantro or parsley. Continue simmering until the spaghetti is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 4 minutes. You want the dish to be saucy but not wet. Serve in bowls and garnish with more cilantro or parsley.
We can’t talk about pasta and not visit Italy. Pasta can be made fresh (pasta fresca) or bought dried (pasta secca). Pasta comes in many shapes and sizes. The type of sauce should determine which shape pasta to use. For tips on how to cook pasta, read “Pasta: How to Avoid 8 Common Cooking Mistakes” and then make this Rigatoni with Creamy Cauliflower Sauce, Lemon Butter Fettuccine with Parsley and Pine Nuts, Ooey-Gooey Baked Ziti, Wild Garlic Gnocchi in Almond Cream Sauce, and Turnip Ravioli. You can even learn to Make Your Own Bean Pasta.
Noodles are an essential part of Chinese cuisine. In Chinese, mein refers to noodles made from wheat while fun refers to noodles made from other starches such as rice flour or mung bean starch. My favorite Chinese noodle dish is lo mein. Whenever I make lo mein at home, I use different combinations of vegetables, usually whatever I have in the fridge. Once you know the method of making lo mein, the combinations are endless. To make my Vegetable Lo Mein: cook 1-lb. of rice noodles or spaghetti in a big pot of salted boiling water. Cook until the noodles are shy of al dente and drain. In a measuring cup or bowl, combine ¼ cup tamari, ¼ cup hoisin sauce, 3 Tbs. agave nectar, 3 Tbs. brown rice vinegar, 2 tsp. Sriracha hot sauce, 1 tsp. toasted sesame oil, 1 tsp. fresh grated ginger, two cloves minced garlic, and ½ tsp. five spice powder. In another mug, combine ½ cup cold water and 2 Tbs. arrowroot powder. Stir and set aside.
In a deep skillet or wok, heat 2 Tbs. peanut oil until it shimmers. Add 2 minced garlic cloves and 1-inch fresh grated ginger. Add 3 sliced scallions and cook for a minute. Add 2 carrots cut into matchsticks and cook for 2 minutes. Add one large head of broccoli cut into florets and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add 1 sliced bell pepper and 8 oz. sliced mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. Mix in the prepared sauce and then add the arrowroot mixture. The sauce will thicken. Add the noodles to the saucepan and toss to coat them all with sauce. Garnish with sesame seeds or toasted peanuts. Other Chinese noodle dishes include Peanut Butter Spicy Noodles and Dim Sum Soy Sauce Chow Mein Noodles.
The first Thai dish I ever had that made me love Thai food was a green curry vegetable dish. I worked hard to recreate that dish at home in an easy and quick way. To make my Rice Noodles with Vegetables in Green Curry Coconut Sauce: In a bowl, combine one can coconut milk, 3-4 Tbs. green curry paste, ½ cup vegetable broth, 3 Tbs. tamari, the zest and juice of one lime, 1 ½ Tbs. brown sugar and 1 Tbs. arrowroot powder. Whisk until everything is well-combined. Taste for seasoning adjustments. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Remove it from the heat and add 14 Thai rice noodles. Stir and let cook for 8-10 minutes until al dente. Drain and set aside. Heat 1 Tbs. oil in a deep skillet and saute 1 lb. broccoli florets, 1 julienned bell pepper and 2 julienned carrots over high heat for 5-6 minutes. Add the sauce to the skillet and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for a few minutes until the sauce thickens. Divide the rice noodles into serving bowls. Ladle sauce and veggies over the noodles. Garnish with chopped roasted peanuts. Other Thai noodle dishes include Street Pad Thai, Crispy Tofu over Thai Peanut Udon Noodles and Cold Rice Noodles in Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce.
Noodles are a staple of Japanese cuisine and there are many varieties such as ramen, shirataki, soba and udon. Savor all the different types of noodles by making Miso Roasted Pumpkin and Grilled Tofu over Udon Noodles, Soba Noodle Salad with Avocado and Mango, Green Tea Soba Noodles with Roasted Vegetables and Herbs, Rich Vegan Soba Soup and Udon Noodle Soup.
In Greek, pasta is called zymarika and the most famous Greek pasta dish is called pastitsio which is a Greek version of lasagna. Basically, it’s pasta tossed in a meaty sauce that gets covered in Béchamel sauce and baked in the oven. It’s easily made vegan with lentils or meat replacement crumbles and a vegan Béchamel sauce. Try this amazing Vegan Pastitsio. Another well-known Greek pasta is orzo. It may look like a grain but it’s really pasta. A delicious dish is my Orzo Pilaf with Chickpeas. To make it, start by heating 1 Tbs. olive oil in a pan and saute 1 diced onion until softened. Add 2 minced garlic cloves and saute 1 minute until fragrant. Add 1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas, 1 tsp. dried oregano, ½ tsp. ground cinnamon and ¼ tsp. ground cardamom. Stir to coat the chickpeas with the spices. Add in 3 cups vegetable broth and 1 fresh bay leaf. Bring the liquid to a boil and add 1 cup of orzo and 1 tsp. kosher salt. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes until the orzo is tender. Stir in 3 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley and remove the bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper to taste and squeeze some fresh lemon juice on top, if desired.
Jerk seasoning is significantly spicy and serving jerk tofu over pasta in a creamy sauce is a delicious way to cool things down. To make my Jerk Tofu with Creamy Pasta, prepare the marinade by combining ¼ cup tamari, ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, 2 Tbs. vegan Worcestershire sauce, ¼ cup fresh lime juice, 2 tsp. hot sauce, 1 seeded and minced chile pepper, 1-inch fresh grated ginger, 2 minced garlic cloves, 3 Tbs. brown sugar, 2 tsp. ground allspice, 2 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. onion powder, 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, ½ tsp. ground nutmeg, ½ tsp. cayenne pepper and ¼ tsp. ground cloves. Mix well. Place one block of pressed and drained tofu that has been cut into cubes in with the marinade. Toss to coat the tofu and let marinate at least 30 minutes. Heat 2 Tbs. coconut oil in a large skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove the tofu from the marinade and pat dry. Add the tofu to the skillet and toss to coat in the oil. Let cook for 4-5 minutes until browned on one side. Flip and continue to cook on each side until the tofu is crisp and browned. Set aside.
Cook 1 lb. pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until just shy of al dente. Drain the pasta and reserve 1 cup of the starchy cooking liquid. Heat 1 Tbs. coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and saute two minced garlic cloves and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Add 2 cups canned coconut milk and loosen it up with the reserved liquid, adding ¼ cup at a time until the sauce is thick but easy to pour. Add in ¼ cup vegan grated Parmesan or nutritional yeast, a pinch of ground nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Lower the heat to medium and let the sauce cook for 2 minutes. When the sauce is to your desired consistency, add in the pasta and toss to coat in the sauce. Add the zest and juice of 1 lime and return the jerk tofu to the pan. Add 2 Tbs. chopped cilantro and toss everything together. Cook long enough for everything to get reheated and serve hot.
Pasta dishes are popular in Hungarian cuisine. A popular Hungarian dish is chicken paprikash. I make a vegan version of this dish using eggplant. To make my Eggplant Paprikash: heat 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil in a large Dutch oven or large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add one large chopped onion and cook for 5-7 minutes or until softened and slightly browned. Add two sliced bell peppers, one seeded and minced chile pepper, one sliced carrot and four cloves minced garlic. Mix and cook for 10 minutes until the carrot softens. Add in two large eggplants that have been cubed. Season with 2 Tbs. smoked sweet paprika and kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Cook for another 10 minutes, allowing the eggplant to soften. Mix in ¼ cup tomato paste and let cook for a minute. Add 2-3 cups vegetable broth and 1 Tbs. vegan Worcestershire sauce. Mix well and cover the pan. Simmer for 10 more minutes. Add 1/3 cup vegan sour cream and mix it into the eggplant. Serve the eggplant over pasta and garnish with fresh chopped parsley.
Ptitim, or Israeli couscous, is considered the pasta of Israel. They are small grains that cook quickly. You can use Israeli couscous to make this Curried Couscous and Vegetable Salad, Crunchy Couscous Tacos With a Sweet n’ Spicy Jalapeno Dressing, and Grilled Tofu and Squash with Easy Chimichurri Sauce and Couscous.
In the northeast region of Spain, there is a traditional dish called fideua which is a type of paella made with pasta instead of rice. The lore around the dish states that it was created when a cook making paella ran out of rice and substituted pasta. Any paella recipe, such as this Artichoke Paella, can be made into a fideua by making the same substitution.
Another Spanish pasta dish is my Spicy Chorizo Pasta: heat 1 Tbs. olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook one link of vegan Spanish chorizo sausage in the pan until browned on all sides. Remove from the pan and slice into coins. Saute one chopped onion, one sliced red bell pepper and two minced garlic cloves until the veggies are softened and the onions are translucent. Add 28 oz. crushed tomatoes and season with 1 tsp. smoked paprika, 1 tsp. ground cumin, and kosher salt to taste. Return the chorizo to the post, stir and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cook 1-lb. pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water and cook until just shy of al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Mix well and continue cooking for a few minutes so the sauce and pasta get well-incorporated. Garnish with 3 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley.
These are just a few examples of the ways pasta is enjoyed throughout the world. There are many more dishes including Russian pierog, Eastern European noodle Kugel, Indonesian rice noodles and Indian kheer. What is your favorite way to enjoy pasta? Let us know in the comments.
Image Source: Peanut Butter Spicy Noodles