Category Archives: Food

You Know You’re Sicilian When…

I’ve seen a lot of these types of lists on the internet lately and haven’t been satisfied with any of them. So I decided to write my own. To be sure, though, I am not a usually fan of the internet listopia phenomenon currently sweeping every site imaginable. I just think it’s interesting that almost every ethnic, social, or cultural group deep down wants a list, that someone else has written, to legitimize their own belonging to that group. But we all have different experiences within each of these sociologically assigned groups, right? So why do we still look for a one-size-fits-all list to validate ourselves?

My mother’s family is all Sicilian and I have grown up in an environment that resembles many characteristics and attitudes of that culture. I tell people that I am ethnically half Sicilian and my nationality is American. I am extremely proud, while also acknowledging that every Italian-American family is different.

This is simply my recollection of what it means to be Sicilian or a true member of the Licata family…

  • You grow your own tomatoes and basil.
  • No one needs a recipe for meatballs and sauce.
  • Every family gathering consists of everyone talking over eachother.
  • You become keen to listening to multiple conversations at once.
  • Your grandmother trusts no one and tries to instill the same fear in you. She’s convinced everyone has secret motives.
  • Every holiday lasts all day and consists of eating and eating and eating.
  • Your grandmother knows every store owned by Italians within a 30 mile radius and you usually buy from them when you’re not cooking homemade, of course.
  • Your grandmother speaks Sicilian, not Italian.
  • As a consequence, your family members pronounce words like “rigotta” and “zazitsa” instead of “ricotta” and “salsiccia”.
  • You have handmade your own zazitsa with your Uncle Joe.
  • There are a lot of people named “Joe” in your family.
  • You have visited distant relatives still living in bel paese.
  • You commiserate with other Italians when Northerners bad mouth Southerners. Yes, Sicily is part of Italy. And no, we are not all mafiosi.
  • Every winter, you actually do roast chestnuts.
  • Pomegranates have been a staple in your family for generations and you get annoyed when some idiota assumes you’ve only started eating them because they are in fashion. No, I’m not a trendy hipster. I’m Sicilian.
  • Artichokes, artichokes, artichokes.
  • Family names include Dominic, Giuseppina, Giuseppe, Rosa Maria, Giovanna, etc.
  • You can still remember your great grandmother telling you what it was like to sail over to America. Two weeks without a shower. Yuck!
  • You talk with your hands. And you couldn’t stop even if you tried.
  • You always want to cook for people and you get offended if they don’t eat the whole pot.
  • You know how to play bocce ball.
  • Finally, and most importantly, the more people you meet, the more you realize your family has something special.

So here’s to every 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th generation immigrant who still celebrates their heritage with pride!

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Café

Found this cute little video in my Facebook feed today and had to share!

Enemas aside, I think this video is a great resource to pro-coffee drinkers fighting the naysayers. Of course I can function without it – I’ve done it many times before – but why would I want to? I can also function properly without leaving my house, but why would I want to live that?

Besides being addicted to Starbucks, one of my favorite things to do when exploring a new neighborhood, or a new city altogether, is to make a Coffee Bucket List. It’s not only a great way to see the nooks and crannies of any metropolis, but it also gives you a chance to taste the different varieties and methods of brewing and crafting this global beverage.

After seven years in Chicago, there’s still more than a handful of places I have yet to visit and more keep opening up! There’s always tomorrow, right?

What would you add to a Chicago Coffee Bucket List?

Piaju with raita

Cooking with a conscience…

Cookbook 2

Muhammad Yunus, if you’ve never heard of him, is the founder of microfinance. He pioneered the concept of microcredit and created a bank in his home country of Bangladesh that would lend small loans to impoverished clients, most of whom were women, without requiring collateral. This allowed these women, who wouldn’t otherwise get approved by any other lending institution, to start their own small businesses and thereby support their families with enterprises such as basket weaving, sewing, etc. This notion of social and economic development on a smaller, local level was a novel idea at the time and gave families an opportunity where they otherwise would have no other option than poverty. His creation, the Grameen Bank, was so innovative and successful, that he and the institution jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. I had the chance to see him speak in Chicago the following year and was nothing short of inspired.

Naturally, when I saw he had contributed a recipe for the Share cookbook, I had to try it! At the fair trade store I volunteer with, they were selling the cookbook as a specialty item and I quickly picked up a a copy. It is produced by the non-profit Women for Women International and 100% of the publisher proceeds go to the organization. They work specifically with women in countries where war and conflict have devastated local communities and give women the education and resources they need to succeed. The cookbook itself is filled with recipes from all around the world – Afghanistan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, the Congo, to name a few – and then a few from guest contributors like Paul McCartney and Ashley Judd. In short, these are dishes you cannot Google. I’d recommend it to anyone who loves to cook and is looking for some inspiration!

This particular recipe is a Bangladeshi dish accompanied by an Indian yogurt sauce.

*Recipe has been lightly adapted.

Piaju

  • ¾ cup dried red lentils
  • Fresh ginger (2in fresh or 2tbsp powder)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 2-3 green chilies, finely chopped
  • 2 cups of oil

Instructions

  1. Wash the lentils and place in a bowl. Cover with hot water and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Drain and place in a food processor or blender with the ginger. Blend to form a thick paste and pour into a mixing bowl. *I used a coffee grinder and hand mashing technique.
  2. Stir in onion, cilantro, salt, turmeric and chiles. Mix thoroughly. Shape spoonfuls of the mixture into balls. Should make 18-22. *I let my “globs” sit in the freezer for 15 minutes before frying to help them keep their shape – perfect time to make the sauce, too.
  3. Heat oil in a deep fryer or saucepan to about 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Fry the piaju in batches for about 1 minute each or until golden brown. Remove from oil and place on paper towel to absorb excess oil.

Raita

  • ½ cucumber
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 10 fresh mint leaves, shredded
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard them. Finely chop or grate the flesh and pat dry with paper towels. Put the yogurt in a bowl and stir in the garlic and shredded mint. *I used Greek yogurt.
  2. Season to taste, then spoon into smaller dish to serve.

And, voilà! I’m usually not the best at deep frying but these have to be the best yet!

Food

 

Thai Black Rice Pudding

I like to play a game with myself every time I go grocery shopping. I pick an item I’ve never cooked with before – sometimes one that I’ve never even heard of – and try it. I research it online, look up recipes, cooking techniques, etc and usually end up with a new favorite food.

This time I bought black rice. A friend of mine recommended it for sushi and I had never heard of it before and decided to give it a try. Interestingly, black rice, also known as “purple rice” or “forbidden rice”, has more health benefits than white or brown rice and is glutinous. “Compared to white, brown and red rices, black rice has the highest amount of protein and double the fiber of brown rice.” It is also rich in iron and contains the pigment, anthocyanin, an anti-oxidant, also found in blueberries, blackberries, and other dark fruits.

Black rice is common in a lot of Asian countries and is usually more expensive than white or brown varieties. A Chinese legend says that black rice got its name because it was so nutritionally beneficial that only the emperors were allowed to eat it, hence the name “forbidden rice”. In its appearance when cooked, it looks more of a dark purple (due to the anthocyanin) than black, thus the name “purple rice”. It is much more moist and sticky than white or brown rice, making it a good option for sushi, pudding and soup.

I am a firm believer that the best way to really engage with a culture is through its cuisine and I love cooking. After my research, I chose a rice pudding recipe, common in southeast Asia. I scoured Pinterest and Google and found numerous recipes with proportions of coconut milk and water varying, some with eggs, some with vanilla, etc. In the end, I adapted a recipe from this food blogger. It was simple, easy and did not have too many ingredients!

What I used:

  • ¾ cup uncooked, black rice
  • 1½ cups water
  • 3 cups vanilla flavored coconut milk
  • ⅓ cup white sugar
  1. Combine the rice and water in a deep saucepan. Let cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes or until water is completely absorbed.
  2. Stir in the coconut milk and sugar, and lower the heat. Stir regularly for about 50 minutes or until mixture has started to thicken and rice is cooked through. The coconut milk should be almost absorbed, not too soupy (unless you want it that way, of course). Depending on how low of a heat you’re using, it may take a little longer.
  3. Remove from heat and let cool. To serve, top with fresh fruit and a sprinkle of shredded coconut. I also let it sit overnight and it only got better!

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Dinner with Gionni

“You must first find someone to eat with, rather than something to eat.”

One of the pluses of working in a multicultural office is making friends from around the globe. I am lucky enough to work with and be able to befriend people from more than fifteen different countries. One of my newest colleagues-turned-confidantes is an Italian named Gionni. He’s twenty-nine and has a trinacria tattooed on his right arm. One of the things I love about him is that he cooks. And he loves to cook for other people.

With our shared love of the kitchen, we decided to have dinner nights where we cook for one another and try out new recipes. Last night was one such evening…mozzarella and balsamic vinegar, penne with chicken, Nero d’Avola wine…

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It was all around a wonderful evening and got me thinking…why don’t Americans share their dinner table more often?

I know this is common for date night among couples and people in the same generation as my parents, but why not the young, single, able-bodied twenty and thirty somethings? Why do we not invite our friends over and cook for them? Good cooking can be laborious but worthwhile. And the act of creating something for someone else is rewarding in itself. Why not make a meal as a sign of platonic love? Is it our generation’s lack of interest in the culinary arts or the idea of entertaining someone without the guarantee that the gesture will be reciprocated? Or is it more simply, that some of us still cannot afford enough food for a small group of weekly diners?

I don’t know, but if it were possible, this is something I would change. Much like the American personal space bubble, we have retreated to a society that dines alone far too often. We have designated the activity of home cooking strictly for families and romantic occasions. But why?

Dining is an experience. It’s social. It’s an essential part of your day in the limited quantity you have left. Food is to be appreciated as are people.

Why not enjoy them together?