Final: Sweden vs. Ukraine

Swedish food, and Scandinavian food in general, puts fish and potatoes ahead of just about everything else.  Ukrainian food is all about the root vegetables, with an ample dose of pork and beef for good measure.  Knowing what we know about each, which do we prefer?

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Ukrainian Cuisine — Borscht

Thanks to the twentieth century’s political upheaval of Eastern Europe, the rise of Communism and the Soviet influence, and the subsequent independence of the former Eastern Bloc nations, there has been a lot of mutual influence between Ukrainian, Russian, and Polish culture.  Ukraine’s most famous dish, the purple vitamin powerhouse borscht (recipe follows), a filling main course soup that gets its signature color from its main ingredient, beets, could be reasonably claimed by its neighbors, and in fact many nations in the region have their own versions.  The Ukrainians would tell you theirs is the best, and we are inclined to believe them.

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Swedish Cuisine — Jansson’s Frestelse: “Jansson’s Temptation”

What constitutes an irresistible temptation depends a lot on how a potentially tempted person was raised.  A person that grew up on an American diet would likely not be moved by Jansson’s frestelse (“Jansson’s temptation,” recipe follows), a Swedish specialty of potato sticks baked in anchovies, onions, and cream, but to a Swede the lure is innate.

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Final: Argentina vs. Canada

Argentine and Canadian lands span nearly from the North Pole to the South Pole, and as one might expect from regions so geographically separated, their food traditions differ considerably.  Since The World Cup of Food is about finding the best world cuisines and eliminating the rest, today we welcome one of these nations to the next round of our competition and part ways with the other.  Greece awaits our winner.

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Canadian Cuisine — Poutine: Fries With Gravy and Cheese Curds

Today’s Canadian table is what it is due to three main influences: French and British, whose empires colonized the country, and the First Nations, the Native American tribes that have inhabited Canadian lands for millennia.  Most Canadian meals would be recognizable in the United States, but our neighbors to the north have a few specialties of their own.  Montreal smoked meat is a pastrami-like deli meat that is salt-cured before being smoked, then sliced into sandwiches.  Maple syrup is a Canadian invention, developed by First Nations peoples of Canada’s Atlantic coastal region centuries ago.  If Canada has a national dish, though, it is poutine, a French-Canadian twist on French fries that tops the fried potatoes with gravy and cheese curds.

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Argentine Cuisine — Steak With Chimichurri

A visitor to Argentina’s food culture would likely leave with one impression above all others: these people eat a LOT of beef.  Argentina is the world’s highest beef-consuming nation per capita, with its residents devouring a mind-boggling 149 pounds of delicious steer meat per man, woman, and child per year.  Obviously a population does not hit a number like that eating the same preparation every day, and Argentinians enjoy beef in hamburgers, as empanada fillings, and as breaded, fried cutlets known locally as milanesas. By far the most popular way to eat beef in Argentina, though, is asado, grilled beef steaks or ribs, enjoyed almost always with the Argentine national condiment, chimichurri (recipe follows).

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Final: Afghanistan vs. Israel

For our most recent match on The World Cup of Food, pitting Afghan cuisine against Israeli, we tested the merits of each with a meatball soup.  Afghan mashawa is a stew of legumes and small beef or lamb meatballs spiced subtly with cinnamon.  Israeli gondi is a chicken soup with chicken and garbanzo bean flour dumplings, with a flavor a little like hummus.  We liked one soup more than the other and have chosen one cuisine to advance in our competition at the other’s expense.

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Israeli Cuisine — Gondi: Chicken and Garbanzo Bean Dumplings

Israeli cuisine is a combination of foods popular throughout the Middle East region, like falafel, ful medames, baklava, hummus, or baba ganouj, and of foods brought to Israel by Jewish populations from around the world as part of the Zionist movement, like kugel, gefilte fish, latkes, or gondi (recipe follows), a chicken soup with garbanzo bean and chicken meat dumplings brought to Israel originally by Persian Jews.

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Afghan Cuisine — Mashawa: Meatball and Bean Soup

When we were browsing around, trying to figure out what we would feature next now that Afghanistan has come around again on The World Cup of Food, a description for a recipe on the blog Afghan Culture Unveiled piqued our interest: “Afghan Chili.”  The dish was called mashawa (recipe follows), and further research revealed that it goes by a variety of descriptions, like “lentil soup,” “meatball soup,” or “spicy beans.”  Recipes we found in books and online showed a variety of methods and ingredients, and we were eager to produce our own.

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