A DIY Banquet of Global Proportions, $1 at a Time


I had to go back a second time to get the spelling from the lady handing out servings of her dish. She was standing at the Middle East table, sponsored by the Islamic Society of Joplin, part of the World Cuisine and Music Festival at Missouri Southern State University.

The music included an African marimba band, a mariachi band, a Chinese ensemble, and a Caribbean steel drum group.

And the food . . . well here are the five  $1 dishes that I chose for my meal:

Iraqi Beryani

2448042544_34a53a326a_qFirst there was the Iraqi Beryani. There are many versions of beryani (also spelled biryani), depending on the area of the world, but the cook wanted to make sure I knew the one she was serving was the Iraqi variety. It had long-grain rice, chicken, peas, potatoes, and—a surprise to me—almonds and raisins. All the spices and flavors worked so well together that I came home and Googled how to make it on (that’s why I had to double-check the spelling).

I found several recipes, but the one that seems closest to the dish I sampled is from “Chef Zina,” highlighted on the website of CWS. Another recipe option is at the Nestlé Middle East site. More from Nestlé later.

Tea Eggs

8493882246_3ddc931fcb_qAt the Chinese table, I spotted some tea eggs (also called five-spice eggs). They’re not exactly a delicacy, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to have one. It had been a few years since I’d picked up my last one from the brown-stained rice cooker sitting on the counter of a 7-Eleven in Taipei. For those who aren’t familiar with tea eggs, they’re hard-boiled eggs soaked in tea seasoned with soy sauce and a mixture of spices. The shells are cracked, letting the tea soak into the eggs, flavoring them and giving them a marbled brown color. If you’d like to make your own, I found a fairly simple recipe at Kirbie’s Cravings. (It calls for Chinese five spice, which my wife says is easy to find.)

A Couple Dishes from the Pros

Along with the MSSU faculty, staff, and students who provided dishes for the festival were local restaurants. From M & M Bistro I got a snack-sized version of their “Mediterranean Platter.” Go to their page for photos from the event.

And from Flavors International Cuisine, specializing in Indian-Pakistani dishes, I got chicken curry and rice. (I see on their site that they also serve biryani at their restaurant. Need to give that a try.)

No recipes here, just recommendations for two good places to eat.

Chocolate Mousse 4248844482_20e315935d_q
Finally, my five-course meal was complete with a cup of chocolate mousse from the Belgian table. It was served in a small, clear plastic cup. I’m pretty sure that if I had been in a fancy restaurant, and the same dessert had been in a champagne flute, topped with whipped cream and a sprig of mint, it could have sold for 5 times as much as the $1 price tag.

So how can I make my own mousse to impress my friends and neighbors? The answer, it seems, is easier than I would have thought. NPR reported last month that the secret to authentic “rich, creamy, dark, dreamy, delicious chocolate mousse,” as Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table, describes it, is not a secret at all. Greenspan, who has lived part time in Paris for 16 years, says that it took nearly all of one of those years to get a good friend to reveal her recipe. But finally she handed it over, literally. Her friend gave her a Nestlé chocolate bar, and on the back of the wrapper was “the recipe for the mousse every savvy French cook makes.” The ingredients are simple: bittersweet chocolate, eggs, salt, and sugar. That’s it.

Now that I have the recipes, I’m motivated to do some cooking, or at least see if I can beg my wife into doing it for me. It remains to be seen if I’ll actually get it done. I’m already looking forward to next years festival.

(“Paris Confidential: The Mystery Mousse behind the Chocolate Bar,” All Things Considered, NPR, February 13, 2014)

[photos: “Biryani Rice,” by Maria, used under a Creative Commons license; “Chinese Marbled Tea Egg,” by Kattebelletje, used under a Creative Commons license;  “Chocolate Mousse.” by Ulrika, used under a Creative Commons license]