21 Recipes to Make You Feel Like You're on Vacation

21 Recipes (Including Cocktails!) to Make You Feel Like You're on Vacation

Get a taste of your favorite destinations, right from your home kitchen

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Remember when travel used to be a thing? As long as you could afford it, of course, you could go anywhere. My family’s travel has been limited to car trips in recent years, but no matter where we went it gave me a chance to discover new foods and sample new flavors. I always brought home a food souvenir. 

I miss those days, in the Before time. 

Since going into lockdown, I’ve been trying to relive some of my favorite trips by cooking place-inspired recipes. I’m lucky to have plenty of memories to work with: A college semester in London gave me a launching pad to eat my way through Europe. My first husband was Israeli, so of course I had to go there to meet his family. That trip let me experience hummus, falafel, and other Middle Eastern staples in their native setting. Before I met husband number two, I indulged in weekend trips with friends to sunny climes, enjoying tropical drinks and gorgeous fresh fish. And when I gave up corporate life for good without knowing what I’d do next, I spent five weeks in Australia, land of barramundi and Tim-Tams (more on these decadent chocolate cookies below). Like I said, I was very, very lucky. 

Cooking and eating iconic dishes from far-flung places makes me hopeful that someday soon I’ll have the chance to taste them where they belong. Pretty much anywhere I put on my bucket list, I can find a recipe to take me there. These are the places I’m fantasizing about, and the recipes that represent each. Some of these recipes are easy to make and some are more challenging, but I think immersiveness is part of the take-me-away aspect, don’t you? 

Arizona: Chicken Chimichangas 

I’ve been to Scottsdale on business trips, but that hardly counts. The Grand Canyon has been on my bucket list for years. At this point I’m kinda embarrassed that I haven’t made it there yet. When I finally do see it in person, I plan to eat chimichangas like there’s no tomorrow. This Arizona specialty is essentially a chicken burrito that gets pan-fried or baked until it’s irresistibly crispy.

Australia: Homemade Tim Tams 

The best thing about my trip to Australia was discovering these cookies. (That’s only a slight exaggeration.) You can find these in the U.S. these days, but I’m not exactly going out to look for them. In this recipe, a pair of crunchy chocolate cookies sandwiches thick, chocolatey filling, then the whole thing gets dunked in melted chocolate. That’s right. It’s chocolate sandwiching chocolate wrapped in chocolate. You’re welcome.  

Cuba: Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja 

I’ve never been to Cuba, but a writers’ organization I belong to was sponsoring a group excursion this year. I was sorely tempted before the Coronavirus hit. Ropa vieja is one of my favorite ways to cook beef — it gets stewed for hours along with bell peppers, spices, and tomato, until the meat can be shredded with a fork. The end result looks like rags, hence the name (ropa vieja means old clothes), but it tastes like heaven.

England: Scones with Clotted Cream and Jam 

Like I said, I spent part of my junior year in London. My mom is a huge Anglophile, so of course she flew over to visit. The highlight of the trip: Afternoon tea at Claridge’s. Of all the small sandwiches and tiny treats on display, my absolute favorite part was the simplest, a freshly-baked scone, split open and spread with thick cream and strawberry jam. 

France: Croissants 

I’ve been to Paris twice in my life, both times when money was tight. So my fondest food memories are of sitting at a sidewalk café, nursing my café au lait and croissant breakfast. Making them at home is a Project with a capital P, but holy cow is it ever worth it.

Hawaii: Strawberry-Mango Shave Ice

I don’t think it’s possible to eat this and not feel like you’re in Hawaii. And it’s so simple! You freeze sweetened water, stirring frequently to form ice crystals, then pour pureed strawberries and mango juice over each portion. Gorgeous, refreshing, and not super-indulgent.

India: Butter Chicken

Yummly Original

In a former life I worked at Deepak Chopra’s book publisher. When his daughter got married, it felt like half the company was invited to India for a days-long celebration. Alas, I was not among them, and I’ve wanted to go ever since. Cooking butter chicken, one of that country’s most popular dishes, gives me a hint of what I’m missing. It features chunks of chicken plus a creamy, spicy tomato sauce. Serve it with basmati rice to capture all that flavor. 

Israel: Roasted Eggplant Sabich Sandwiches

This popular street-food sandwich sounds like it can’t possibly work, but oh my, it does: slices of eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, hummus, fresh vegetables, herbs, and multiple condiments, all stuffed inside a pita. In Israel the eggplant is fried, but I really like this roasted version.

Italy: Pesto Pasta with Potatoes and Green Beans

I haven’t been to Italy in more than 20 years, but I still think about the perfect bowl of pasta in a creamy-without-cream pesto sauce, studded with perfectly cooked chunks of potato and tender green beans, which I ate three nights in a row in a Florence trattoria. This recipe has let me relive those meals again and again. 

Japan: Shoyu Ramen 

There’s nothing like a steaming hot bowl of noodles in an umami-packed, soy-scented broth to transport a person. I love the versatility of this recipe — you can make it vegetarian or vegan by using kelp dashi instead of bonito, and the toppings can be almost anything you like. At my local ramen restaurant, they use whatever vegetables are in season, like kabocha squash in winter or zucchini in summer. You can do the same.

Maine: Traditional Maine Lobster Roll 

Outside of my home state of New York, Maine is the place I’ve been most often, always to the same area: the St. George peninsula, not far from Rockland in the mid-coast region. The light, the pace, the air, the food — it’s my happy place. This lobster roll recipe takes me right to the docks, where we’d sit and eat seafood fresh off the boat. Cold, cooked lobster gets tossed with a bit of mayo, some lemon juice, and little else, then served in buttered and toasted split-top buns.

Morocco: Chicken Tagine with Apricots, Figs, and Olives 

Morocco has been on my list for decades, since I read Paul Bowle’s The Sheltering Sky in high school. I’ve cooked many a tagine in my day — the word refers to the traditional clay cooking vessel, but my trusty Dutch oven has worked just fine. This version plays different flavors against each other in the most beautiful way: sweet dried fruit, salty-sour preserved lemon, briny olives, and warm spices.

New Orleans: Beignets

When I was 23, a friend from work moved back home to New Orleans, so naturally I went to visit. She laughed at me for wanting to fight the crowds and get beignets at Café du Monde, but I still remember those powdered sugar-coated puffs of sweet fried dough. 

Peru: Lomo Saltado 

Macchu Pichu has fascinated me for years. I’ll get there one day, but in the meanwhile I’m going to eat this perfect meal as often as possible. Lomo Saltado is considered one of Peru’s national dishes, and it shows the influence of 19th century Chinese immigrants. Strips of steak are stir-fried along with onion and tomato, then served atop white rice and French fries. 

Spain: Tapas Platter 

I love the Spanish tradition of eating an assortment of delicious nibbles in the early evening, to boost you until dinner (they tend to eat much later than we do). But it never occurred to me to make tapas at home until recently. This recipe presents the concept more than anything, and tosses in a how-to for Spanish Garlic Shrimp. 

Drink your way around the world

Some nights we may not have it in us to cook a fantasy vacation, but we can always sip our way there.  

Go to Bermuda with a Rum Swizzle. It’s simply rum, juices, grenadine, and bitters. A Piña Colada takes you south from there to Puerto Rico, for the perfect combination of coconut, pineapple, and rum. Feeling more South American? Hop down to Brazil via a Caipirinha. This one requires cachaça, a Brazilian liquor made from fermented sugarcane juice, so it definitely feels like a vacation. Zoom north to Mexico with a classic Margarita, made with tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice. And finally, cross the Pacific to Hawaii for the Mai Tai and to Singapore for their most famous cocktail, the Singapore Sling. The Mai Tai may have originated with Trader Vic’s in California but today a sip can't help but conjure The Aloha State. The Singapore Sling punch is made with some ingredients you might not have on hand, but if you can get them, you’re going to be so happy: gin, cherry brandy, Benedictine, triple sec, bitters, and fruit juices.

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