As we roll into May, we approach the ever popular day to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, a day rich with tradition, people and of course, the food of the Mexican culture! With its deep earthiness and at the same time vibrant flavors, Mexican dishes can usually be found at the top of many people's list of favorite cuisines.
When planning a themed meal for Cinco de Mayo, many schools turn to tacos, taco salads, walking tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and enchiladas galore to fill the trays of our kiddos. The popularity of this international food got the food program staff at AEA Purchasing thinking about other international foods and how school staff could possibly incorporate them into their menus using items currently found on our market basket list, provided via our contract with Martin Bros.
There are certainly some very popular international food choices that all schools serve (Italian fare, for example) and some that only particular schools serve based on the ethnic makeup of their district. Below are some ways to incorporate even more international foods onto your trays. These ideas might seem unconventional for some of you, but for others, they just might be the change that is needed to spice up your menus and offer something completely different! If you do find interest in trying any of these ideas, please feel free to reach out to us and we can provide further assistance and a standardized recipe for the dish.
- Asian Noodle Bowls: Noodle bowls don't have to be difficult to prepare on a lunch line. They can be as simple as preparing a taco salad. Noodle bowls are typically done with Asian noodles, but there are no rules are saying you can't use spaghetti (MB#480780, MB#480442), fettuccini (MB#984298, MB#480640), or even narrow egg noodles (MB#480790) to serve as the base. Once the noodles are added to your bowl, pour on your hot flavored broth. Next, you will want to add a hot meat option, such as sliced grilled chicken (MB#975890) or even fajita strip chicken (MB#353100). Shredded pork (MB#910370) and shredded beef (MB#318930) would be great options as well. After the meat, vegetables will be the next layer of your bowl and are typically raw or blanched and cooled. Traditional veggies might include matchstick carrots (MB#360251), thinly sliced radishes (MB#361315), cilantro, shredded cabbage (MB#380260), slivered green onions (MB#361013), roasted corn kernels (MB#962388), or black beans (MB#600140). Sliced lemons (MB#376111) or limes as a garnish are a great addition to make all the flavors pop. Easy as that, right?
- Pad Thai: Pad Thai is a very popular and trendy dish that high schoolers might recognize. Pad Thai is a noodle dish that has a sweet, acidic, peanut-based sauce with various veggies and meats but can also be served with veggies on the side. For the noodles, try using cooked spaghetti or fettuccine noodles tossed in a sauce made of broth, peanut butter, and sugar plus a few other ingredients. Toss your pasta in the sauce and add additional items such as diced chicken (MB#952240), scrambled eggs (MB#975300), matchstick carrots, sliced bell peppers (MB#361251) or use a frozen veggie blend such as the fajita vegetable blend (MB#964090). Once you plate up this noodle dish, top it with fresh cilantro, slivered green onions, and a lime wedge and you will have a mock Pad Thai that will be talked about all over school!
- Korean Beef Street Tacos with Kimchi (spicy cabbage slaw) and Sriracha Mayo: A great spin on the traditional taco and a very trendy way to add a unique menu item. For the taco meat, use ground beef (beef crumbles work great) seasoned with soy sauce and sugar and a few other key ingredients. Traditional kimchi is fermented napa cabbage, but the flavors can be mimicked using shredded cabbage (MB#380268) marinated in a spicy Asian vinaigrette. You can make Sriracha mayo easily with just three ingredients -- mayo, Sriracha (MB#90592591), and limes. The tacos are assembled by taking two 6-inch tortillas (MB#948450, MB#951260) topped with beef mixture, kimchi, and drizzled with mayo. You can garnish with fresh cilantro and/or slivered green onions.
- Indian Curried Beef Stew, Garlic Naan, and Mango Chutney – There is nothing better than scooping up this spice-loaded meat and sauce combination with some yummy flatbread (Naan) and garnish with sweet and vinegary fruit (Chutney). You begin making your stew by cooking beef shreds (MB#318930), minced onions, prepared roasted beef gravy (MB#525150), and add to taste an Indian spice blend. Garlic Naan is made by toasting flatbread (MB#906630, MB#926250) covered with garlic butter. Mango chutney is made by cooking diced mangoes (MB#965510) with various spices and sugar until thickened. Serve the Garlic Naan and Mango Chutney on the side of the beef stew so the bread can be used to spoon up the wonderfully spiced meat sauce and top with a small amount of the sweet Chutney.
- Schnitzel -- Ok, last crazy idea for you all. We certainly have some great German heritage in Iowa and I was thinking why not serve some traditional German fare or have an Oktoberfest-themed menu (skip the adult beverages though). Schnitzel - a simple dish that can be mimicked using CN approved breaded meat options. Schnitzel is traditionally lightly breaded veal fried and served with mushroom gravy. You can accomplish this same dish using a breaded chicken (MB#978160, MB#979840), pork (MB#912008, MB#979800), or beef (MB#307320) patty. Serve it with plain gravy or add the mushrooms (MB#601370). You can make it a full German-themed meal by adding a dinner roll or micro-purchase some spaetzle (German dumplings #983770), plus a nice green leaf salad, German Potato Salad, fruit, and milk.
- German Potato Salad - most kitchens will have a staff member that claims to have the best German Potato Salad. A tangy, typically warm, bacon potato salad that is phenomenal served with Schnitzel. Take cooked diced potatoes (MB#601900, MB#960760), add cooked onions and bacon, and toss in the warm sugary vinaigrette. Super delicious.
These are just a few different international food ideas that can be mimicked in your school's lunch menu. Some of them are out there and it will take a brave soul or adventurous eaters to try them, but hopefully they at least sparked an idea of what could be possible in your individual program. If you ever want to talk out these ideas or get a standardized recipe, please feel free to contact the AEA Purchasing food program team. If you have a unique international dish that you already provide to your kids, we would love to hear about it.