Ethnic festivals bring Baltimore foods of peoples far and near

June 08, 1994|By Karen Harrop | Karen Harrop,Special to The Sun

June is here and in Baltimore that means the feast is about to begin. The summer-long parade of ethnic festivals is getting under way.

From now through September, Baltimore will celebrate its rich mix of ethnic heritages with festivals that include traditional dress, cultural activities and food. Lots of food -- a lot of it carefully prepared much the way it was in the old country.

The Showcase of Nations -- 12 ethnic festivals coordinated by the city -- kicks off this weekend with the Lithuanian festival, although there have been and will be other events organized individually in and around the city.

The Lithuanian community was among the first to participate when the festivals began 22 years ago. From their homeland on the Baltic Sea to the festival at Hopkins Plaza, Baltimore Lithuanians will offer potato desros, sausages made of grated potatoes and bacon; krustai, a fried pastry; and naliesninkai, a crepe filled with meat and spices.

"We wouldn't think of having a wedding, funeral or family gathering without these traditional foods," says Aldona S. Vanderlain, publicity coordinator for the Lithuanian festival committee.

One change you'll find at some of the festivals this year is increased consideration for those watching their waistlines. The Lithuanian Athletic Club, for example, is offering a light lunch of borscht, a beet soup, cold fruit soup and cottage-cheese crepes.

The Greek festival, starts Friday, too, and runs through Sunday at St. Nicholas Church. Here you'll find pastitsio, layers of macaroni with ground meat and cream sauce topped with grated cheese; moussaka, layers of eggplant, meat and white sauce topped with grated cheese; gyros, sandwiches made of lamb and/or beef in pita bread; spanakopita, spinach pie; and dolmas, tender grape leaves filled with meat and rice.

And don't forget the Greek desserts -- sweet confections often made with light phyllo dough and topped with honey syrup. If you're counting calories, your best bet at the festival may be the Greek salad. Members of the Baltimore Greek community are working to transform some of the other traditional recipes into lighter, more healthful foods.

This month also brings the Polish festival, to be held in Patterson Park. Among the foods will be pierogies, dumplings filled with cheese, potatoes and cabbage; golabki, which is beef and rice rolled in cabbage leaves and topped with a red sauce; spicy Polish sausage; and chrusciki, or Polish bow ties, a pastry topped with powdered sugar.

July brings the Ukrainian and Italian festivals. The Ukraine festival will offer holubtsi, or meat-stuffed cabbage; narenyki, dumplings stuffed with sauerkraut, potatoes or cheese; and honey-based liqueurs made with citrus. The Italian event will include a wide array of traditional pasta dishes.

Other festivals this summer include the Hispanic, India and Native American events, where the food, according to their organizers, tends to be traditionally low in fat and calories because of its reliance on grains and vegetables with little emphasis on meat and oils.

The Hispanic festival will include dishes from Puerto Rico and a number of countries such as Argentina and Spain, so the options will be many, including tamales; choriban, a bread grilled with salsa; ceviche, a raw fish dish with lemons, onions and spices; and chiles rellenos, green peppers stuffed with pork or beef and vegetables in a wine and caper sauce.

Buffalo burgers, buffalo stew, corn soup and Native American tacos, made with beef or buffalo chili in fried bread, are on the menu for the Native American festival in August. At the India festival you should be able to sample curried chicken or lamb, meat and vegetable kabobs, and meat and rice dishes.

One vegetable dish, often considered a snack food, is bhel pouri -- grains mixed with rice, vegetables, potatoes and onions and covered with sauce. Another is samosa, a triangular pastry stuffed with potatoes, peas and other vegetables.

Festivals late this summer include the Afram festival, which will feature everything from pizza to Caribbean cuisine to Cajun and traditional African foods; the German festival, which will offer sour beef and potato dumplings, schnitzel, sausages, potato pancakes, and the fruit strudels; and the Korean festival, which will provide squid, seafood stew, or bukoki kalbie, prime rib in a garlic soy sauce.

For dates, times and places of these ethnic festivals, call (410) 837-4636 or (800) 282-6632. Some festivals' times may change, and some require admission fees.

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