Go Global: Cooking with International Ingredients

Updated:Feb 2,2015

global cuisineAs you get more comfortable in the kitchen, it’s fun to perk up your meals with ingredients from other cultures. Here are some common foods, cooking tips and heart-healthy dishes from around the globe to get you started.


  • Foods: Corn, tomatoes, low-sodium beans, chili peppers, avocados, chili powder, whole wheat tortillas or corn tortillas (choose tortillas with the lowest amount of sodium and saturated fat and made without hydrogenated oils).
  • Tips: Mexican cooking often calls for a mortar (bowl) and pestle (small heavy club). This tool is used to grind ingredients like dried corn to make tortillas or spices for a mole, a type of sauce that can have more than 20 ingredients! 
Here’s an avocado salsa recipe that’s traditionally made in a mortar and pestle but a large bowl and fork will work just as well.

Salsa Guacamole
2 avocados, chopped
½ cup fresh salsa
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
  1. Put all ingredients in a large bowl and mash with a fork until creamy.
  2. Serve as a veggie dip or use as a spread on a corn tortilla (choose tortillas with the lowest amount of sodium and saturated fat and made without hydrogenated oils) paired no added salt beans and low-fat, low-sodium cheese for a tasty burrito.


  • Foods: Basil, tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, whole wheat pastas, low-fat, low sodium cheese, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, fresh or low sodium anchovies, fennel, beans, cornmeal
  • Tips: Italian cooking is all about simple ingredients with fresh flavors. One common trick is to save use pasta water to make a sauce.
Here’s how:

Tomato & Chickpeas Spaghetti
1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 (28 ounce) can no-salt diced tomatoes (or 3 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped)
1 (15 ounce) can no salt added chickpeas or garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
Dash of pepper
Pasta water
  1. Cook spaghetti according to the package 1 minute less than suggested cooking time.
  2. While pasta cooks, heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute, stirring frequently to avoid browning.
  3. Add tomatoes, beans and pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes (until spaghetti is ready).
  4. Drain spaghetti (saving the pasta water) and add spaghetti to skillet. Pour ¼ cup of pasta water into skillet. Toss together.
  5. Cook a few more minutes, adding another tablespoon or two of pasta water if desired, to thin out sauce.
  6. Serve with fresh basil and grated fat-free or low-fat, low-sodium cheese.


  • Foods: Olive oil, oregano, mint, lamb, low-fat, no added sugar yogurt, low-fat feta cheese, lemons
  • Tips: Like Italian cuisine, Greek dishes feature fresh foods that are in season and full of flavor. Here’s a recipe for a popular Greek yogurt and cucumber sauce:

Tzatziki (Cucumber Yogurt) Sauce
2 cups plain nonfat Greek yogurt
1 large cucumber, seeded, peeled and grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, dill or parsley
  1. Mix all ingredients together and chill in refrigerator until ready to eat.
  2. Use as a dip for veggies, pita bread or whole wheat crackers (choose crackers with the lowest amount of sodium and saturated fat and made without hydrogenated oils). Serve over grilled meats and fish.


  • Foods: Brown rice, no added salt tofu, mushrooms, snow peas, cabbage, peppercorns, low sodium soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, star anise
  • Tips: There are hundreds of Chinese cooking styles but the most familiar is stir-fry. Ingredients are cooked in a wok over high heat; meats and vegetables are stirred fast and continuously until everything has cooked.

Stir-Fry Tips:
  1. If you don’t have a wok, use a large skillet or large pot.
  2. Cut all ingredients into equal sized pieces so they cook evenly.
  3. Cook ingredients that take the longest to cook, first (like chicken or beef.)

Article copyright © 2015 American Heart Association. This recipe is brought to you by the American Heart Association's Simple Cooking with Heart © Program. For more articles and simple, quick and affordable recipes, visit heart.org/simplecooking.

Last reviewed 1/2015