7 sunshine-inspired recipe ideas

Spring has almost sprung, and the prospect of travel is – hopefully – only a few months away. But, many of us are desperate to inject a dose of sunshine into our lives right now… and what better way to do that than through food?

Food can be incredibly evocative, and tucking into a dish that makes you think of a warm and exotic country is always a pleasure. So whether you’re looking to remind yourself of delicious dishes you ate during sun-soaked holidays, or just want to try an exotic cuisine you’re not too familiar with, here are seven sunshine-inspired meals to enjoy.

1. Rendang curry

Compared to Indian and Thai food, Indonesian cuisine is less well-known – but if you’ve been to Indonesia before, you’ll know it’s just as delicious. One of the country’s most famous dishes is the rendang curry, which is a slow-cooked curry with incredibly deep and complex flavours. Unlike most curries, rendang curries are dry, and as it slowly cooks, the aromatic flavours of coconut, lemongrass, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger infuse.

Though it takes a little while to cook (usually a couple of hours, if you want the flavours to permeate fully) it’s pretty straightforward to make. Unless you regularly make Asian food, you might need to pop to the shops to pick up a few specialist ingredients like kaffir lime leaves, but all items on your shopping list should be available from larger supermarkets. Or, if you like, you can always skip most of the preparation and buy a jar of ready-made rendang curry paste!

Rendang curry is traditionally made with beef, as this benefits most from the slow-cooking process – but you can use any type of meat you like. If you don’t eat meat, you can just as easily swap it for seitan, tofu, quorn, jackfruit, or any other mock-meat substitute – or simply add extra veggies. To make a traditional beef rendang curry, try this recipe from Kitchen Sanctuary – and to make a plant-based alternative, this recipe by Lins Food looks great. Have a watch of the video below for more detailed instruction.

2. Stuffed mediterannean vegetables

Many of us might be aware of the benefits of ‘eating the rainbow’. Eating plenty of bright coloured fruit and veg like tomatoes, peppers and aubergines means you’ll be ensuring your body is getting a good variety of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that will benefit your health – and few meals evoke the idea of eating the rainbow more than stuffed Mediterranean vegetables.

If you’ve been to Greece, you may well have eaten roasted and stuffed tomatoes and peppers – though stuffed vegetables are a popular dish throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. The great thing about stuffed vegetables is how versatile they are: you can stuff large tomatoes, bell peppers, courgettes, aubergine, jalapenos and squash, and you can fill your veg with rice, quinoa, beans, mince or veggie mince, or even extra veg to make sure you’re getting your five-a-day: just check out these 26 ideas for stuffed vegetables by Cooking Light.

To make stuffed peppers with beef and cheese, check out this recipe by Delish – or, to keep it lighter, why not skip the meat and make these veggie stuffed peppers by Cookie + Kate? Alternatively, mix things up and make this Mexican-inspired stuffed peppers and avocado dish by Minimalist Baker, which is healthy, delicious and entirely plant-based.

3. Pasta primavera

Pasta is one of the most popular comfort foods, and though dishes like lasagna and bolognese are perfect for the winter months, they don’t especially evoke sunshine or sultry mediterannean holidays – and for many of us, it’s still a bit chilly for pasta salad. So why not try pasta primavera – which translates as “spring pasta” – a light and delicious pasta dish that’s packed with plenty of spring (or summer) veg?

Pasta primavera is actually an American dish, but thanks to the flavours of olive oil, garlic and lemon, you might find that tucking into a bowl conjures up images of sunlit Tuscan fields, or bright Sicillean beaches. The great thing about pasta primavera is that while it traditionally uses spring greens like asparagus, broad peas, peas and courgette, you can add any vegetables you have on hand: broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, leeks and carrots make great additions.

Whichever vegetables you use, the trick is to cook them very lightly, so they retain their bite and add to the overall fresh feel of the dish. This pasta primavera recipe by BBC Good Food adds creme fraiche for a richer twist, and plenty of fresh herbs like mint, parsley and chives; alternatively, try this lighter recipe by Cooking Classy, or this plant-based alternative from My Darling Vegan. The combination of pasta, fresh vegetables, olive oil and lemon is a quick and easy way to inject some sunshine into your day – even if it’s grey and dreary outside.

4. Burrito bowl

Packed with fresh tomatoes, coriander, lime and avocado, Mexican food is a great way to bring a dose of the exotic to your kitchen table. Burritos have become an enormously popular dish in the UK, but due to how much carbs, red meat, cheese and cream they often contain, they’re not always the healthiest meals – no matter how delicious they may be! So why not invoke the colours and flavours of Mexico, but keep things a little lighter and healthier, and make yourself a burrito bowl instead?

Because they omit the tortillas, burrito bowls are usually much lower calorie than traditional burritos, and they also tend to be very well-balanced – containing plenty of protein, carbs and healthy fats. If you like, you can even swap the rice for cauliflower rice and ensure your burrito bowl is even lower in calories and carbs. Burrito bowls are incredibly versatile, so whether you’re an omnivore, a veggie or a vegan, there are dozens of delicious recipe ideas out there.

If you want to include meat in your burrito bowl, why not try this fajita chicken burrito bowl by Cafe Delight? Alternatively, this black bean burrito bowl by BBC Good Food is full of veggies and protein, and is ideal for a filling yet healthy lunch. Or why not watch the video below and have a go at making this delicious and colourful burrito bowl by Fab Lunch?

5. Paella

Spain is the most popular holiday destination for people in the UK, and no dish is as synonymous with Spanish culture and cuisine as paella. Plus, if you’re looking for a sunshine-inspired meal, then paella – with its bright yellow, saffron-infused rice – is an ideal candidate. Thought to have originated in Valencia, on Spain’s eastern coastline, paella is traditionally cooked on an open fire – but you can make a great version of it on the hob at home.

Traditional paella uses fresh fish, shrimp, squid, mussels and clams, but according to the Spanish, the real star of the show is the rice, which is plumped up with fragrant broth and flavoured with saffron, garlic and paprika. The mark of a good paella is the socarrat, which is the crispy bottom layer of rice that forms as the stock evaporates, and gives paella its distinctive texture and rich, caramelised taste.

To make a traditional paella, why not try making this recipe by Epicurious, which uses squid, mussels and shrimp? Alternatively, you might want to try Jamie Oliver’s seafood paella, which has the extra addition of monkfish and clams. If you don’t eat seafood, there’s no need to miss out on a dish that looks (and tastes) this uplifting and sunny. It might not be authentic but there are dozens of excellent veggie paella recipes, like this one by Dishing Out The Health. Or, check out the video below, where chef Gaz Oakley uses meaty oyster mushrooms to create an exotic and delicious plant-based paella!

6. West African peanut stew

For such a huge, diverse continent with so many different cuisines, African food still isn’t as well known as it should be – but once you try making this delicious West African peanut stew, you may well discover a new favourite cuisine. Variants of peanut stew are eaten all over West Africa, from Ghana to Gambia, but it’s almost always cooked with sweet potato, onions, tomatoes, green veg like cabbage or collard greens, and of course, plenty of peanuts.

Thanks to the aromatic flavours of ginger, garlic, coriander, and a hefty dose of chilli, West African peanut stew tastes beautifully exotic – and its glorious orange colour can brighten up even the dullest of evenings. In some countries, chicken is added to the stew, while in others, black beans are added in, or extra root veg. Served with rice and topped with fresh coriander, lemon and chilli, this is a comforting dish that’s just as healthy as it is warming.

To keep your West African peanut stew veggie, you might want to try this popular recipe by chef Rachel Ama, or this slightly simpler one by Making Thyme For Health. If you’d like to make a version with chicken, why not try this recipe by Tesco? Alternatively, you might want to watch the video below to get more detailed instructions for how to make this tasty meal.

7. Laksa noodle soup 

Another dish that looks just as sunny as it tastes is laksa, a Malaysian noodle soup. Laksa broth is a bright orange colour and packed with flavour: the addition of chilli, garlic, ginger and lemongrass gives it a lovely aromantic kick, and the creamy coconut milk balances it out. It’s warm, nourishing and healthy, and each mouthful has the power to transport you to the exotic shores of Southeast Asia.

Traditionally, laksa is a seafood dish that uses prawn stock, and according to Malaysian chefs, the only essential ingredients apart from the noodles, broth and spice paste are prawns, which are “important for flavouring the broth”, and tofu, “to suck it up”. Generally though, fresh vegetables are added at the end, and this is another reason why laksa is so delicious; each bite contains an array of textures – chewy rice noodles, crunchy veg like sugar snap peas and succulent tofu and shrimp.

Laksa itself is quick to make, but making the spice paste from scratch can be quite time consuming – though of course, you can always buy some laksa spice paste online, or from your local supermarket, if you’d like to cut down on cooking time. To make a traditional prawn laksa, you might want to read How to cook the perfect laksa by The Guardian – or, if you’d like to add chicken to your laksa, why not try Jamie Oliver’s recipe? If you’d like to skip the meat and prawns and make a veggie version, try this recipe by Lazy Cat Kitchen.

Final thoughts…

We might not be able to head out on exotic holidays just yet, but there’s no reason we can’t enjoy the vivid colours and flavours of foreign cuisine from home. The great thing about the dishes featured here is that, apart from being delicious, they’re all colourful, invigorating, and generally packed with health-boosting herbs, spices and veggies. Plus, all these recipes are easily adaptable, so you can tweak flavours to your taste preferences, and add or omit ingredients according to your dietary requirements.

For more ideas of exotic food, you might want to read our article, 8 recipe ideas from around the world. Alternatively, head over to the food and drink section of our site.

Have you tried any exotic new dishes recently? We’d love to hear about your foodie adventures! Join the conversation on the community forum, or leave us a comment below.

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