The University of Iowa

Cooking Recipes

We have already stressed that observing what people cook and eat in your host country, and talking to locals, is the best way to determine what to make while you are abroad. That said, there are lots of other ways to find recipes. Here are just a few.

  • Ask Mom. In fact, ask Mom to teach you how to cook a few of your favorite dishes BEFORE you leave. That way, you’ll be able to create some “comfort food” when you first get to your destination. And sharing your “American food” with local students overseas can be a great way to break the ice and make new friends. Take along some of your favorite recipes, especially those with not too many exotic ingredients. That way you can probably find the ingredients you need when you get to your new home.
  • Ask friends and other U.S. students who cook to suggest their favorite recipes. You can do this before you go, and also after you have arrived at your destination.
  • Ask students in your host country what they like to cook. These recipes will probably have the advantage of being quick, easy, and inexpensive to make.
  • Skim through one or two US cookbooks before you go abroad and copy a few recipes that look appealing to you. Some standards include “The Joy of Cooking,” and “Mark Bittman Cooks Everything.” (See our Resources & Recipes page for more cookbook suggestions.) Again, it’s not a bad idea to practice making the recipe once or twice before you go abroad.
  • Make use of online resources. Check out our Resources & Recipes page for good links.
  • How about creating a new Facebook group, “Cooking Abroad?” (We’ve checked, and there are one or two such pages, but they tend to be in Chinese.)

And now, just to get you started, here are two basic recipes that will help you save money and stay healthy. People all over the world cook these items. Find out how they are cooked in your host country!

Basic white rice (jasmine, basmati, etc.)

1 cup rice
1.75 cups water or broth (or enough water to cover the rice by about one inch)
Put rice and water into medium-sized pot. Bring the mixture to a boil. Once it’s boiling, reduce the heat to low and cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid. Cook undisturbed for 25 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the pot to sit there with the lid on for another 10 minutes. Then remove the lid from the pot, and fluff the rice with a fork (gently lift the rice away from the sides of the pot to make the rice grains separate from each other). Serve. Especially good with beans (see below)!


If you are cooking basmati rice, you can add flavor by putting a tablespoon or so of cooking oil in the pot, heating the oil over medium heat, adding the rice and stirring it gently for a minute, and THEN adding the liquid to the pot and raising the temperature until it boils. Add more flavor by substituting vegetable or chicken broth for the water. Follow the rest of the directions above.

If you want to cook brown rice, add more liquid (2 cups per 1 cup of rice) and more cooking time (45 minutes instead of 25 minutes). Again, you can add flavor by briefly heating the rice in oil and using broth instead of water. Follow the rest of the directions above.

You can store cooled, leftover rice in a tight container in the refrigerator for several days. Reheat on low heat on the stove, adding a little bit of liquid to prevent the leftover rice from burning.

Here are some links with more details and variation:

Basic beans

(Black beans, navy beans, garbanzo beans, Great Northerns, red beans, etc. Lentils are a type of bean that takes less time – see web links below for more information.)

Put the dried, uncooked beans in a large pot and cover the beans with at least 2 inches of water. Soak the beans overnight this way.

Before cooking the beans, drain and rinse them, discarding any broken beans or other items that might have come in with them from the field when they were harvested, such as stalks or small pebbles. Then add more fresh water to the pot, covering the beans by at least an inch. Put the pot on the stove and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and place a lid on the pot, tilted so that it doesn’t fit too tightly (there should be room for some steam to escape). Simmer (gently boil) the beans for 30 minutes to three hours, depending on the variety of bean and how long they soaked in water before you cook them. Be sure that too much liquid doesn’t boil off to expose the beans to the air – they won’t cook properly that way – so you may have to add some liquid as you cook the beans. Taste a bean from time-to-time to find out if it’s tender. If they are still tough, keep cooking them. You can add salt to the pot when the beans are close to being done in order to add flavor. When they’re done, drain the liquid from the pot and eat! (Especially good with rice -- see above.)

You can store cooled, leftover beans in a tight container in the refrigerator for several days. You can also freeze them. Reheat on low heat on the stove, adding a little bit of liquid to prevent the leftovers from scorching.


Cook the beans in unsalted broth to add flavor. If you want, you can add a piece of meat to the cooking water, which will infuse the beans with the meat’s flavor.

Or you can always add stuff to your cooked beans to make a fancier meal, like chicken or another veggie.

Here are a couple of links for more information and some tasty ways of cooking beans: