Celebration of cuisines

Tasty dishes add spice to America's melting pot

July 03, 2002|By Lucie L. Snodgrass | Lucie L. Snodgrass,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Like millions of her fellow Americans, Rosy Lawrence is planning a cookout for the Fourth of July. As she has for the past 29 years, the soft-spoken Edgewood resident will join a group of close friends and family to relax, celebrate America's independence and eat good food. It's part of how she expresses her patriotism for her country.

"We do practically the same menu as everyone else," the diminutive, dark-haired woman says cheerfully. "Macaroni and potato salads, and watermelon and barbecued chicken."

"But," adds Lawrence, who was born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, "I do use my own native spices for the marinade. And we play Indian music."

What could be more fitting?

Independence Day is not just a celebration of America's freedom from England's control, but of the many political, religious and cultural ingredients that make up our national melting pot. Adding spice to that melting pot is food from many different countries.

"We have so many types of food in America," says Brian Na, a 23-year-old Korean-American student at Drexel University in Philadelphia. "Chinese, French, Italian and many others. Food is an integral part of America. It goes beyond just eating. It lets others know where we come from and what we experience every day. And it encourages us to respect who we all are."

Na and his parents, natives of Seoul who own a dry-cleaning business in Bel Air, traditionally celebrate the Fourth of July by visiting friends and relatives in the D.C. area. And, as she always has, Na's mother, Young Hee Na, will fix her son's favorite dishes, including kimchi, a spicy cabbage dish, rice, vegetables and grilled beef ribs marinated in a tangy Asian pear and soy sauce.

"It's so delicious," raves the strapping young Na, the embodiment of the American college student in his athletic shoes and shorts. "I couldn't live without Korean food."

Certain foods have been a part of our collective palate for so long that it's easy to forget that it was homesick immigrants who introduced much of what we now consider "American food." Even staples of Fourth of July cookouts like hot dogs and sauerkraut, chips and salsa and potato salad and hamburgers all had their origins outside of this country. So it's not surprising that with new waves of immigrants reaching America's shores, our cuisine is becoming even more diverse.

Vijay Sharma, a native of the Punjab region of India, her three daughters and her husband, Desh, a Fallston physician, will celebrate July Fourth playing badminton, watching the local parade and attending a fireworks display. And they'll join friends and relatives for a meal that will feature, among other dishes, chicken curry, dal and Indian jai, or tea. Sharma's middle daughter, Nina, a vivacious 17-year-old, loves Independence Day. She sees it as a multicultural celebration of the differences that unite us, especially this year.

"It has a little more of an historic aspect," she says. "Everyone is more patriotic. At the same time, they don't forget their roots. My roots shine through who I am, ... and our Indian food is one piece of that."

The Sharmas frequently invite their American friends and neighbors into their home, relishing the opportunity to expose them to their native cuisine.

Neni Guanzon, a Filipino-American from Joppa, takes a similar approach, melding traditions as her family celebrates with a camping trip and cookout.

Guanzon's gathering includes non-Filipino-Americans: relatives with diverse ethnic backgrounds, who have married into the family, so the menu reflects a culinary balancing act.

"We have the crabs - we always have the crabs," she says when talking about her Fourth of July menu. "But then we have our own traditional foods, too, like pansit, a noodle dish, and pork ribs, made with my own marinade of vinegar, garlic and banana sauce."

So, whether it's the barbecue, the wok or just your imagination that you plan to fire up this Independence Day, why not explore someone else's culinary heritage when preparing your holiday meal? After all, it's the American thing to do.

Vijay Sharma's Chicken Curry

Serves 4

1 pound mixed chicken parts

salt to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 cup plain yogurt

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

2 cloves

2 pods cardamom

1/3 teaspoon coriander seeds

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 inch ginger root

4 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon garam masala (see note)

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

water, if needed

Remove fat from chicken. Salt and pepper the chicken. Sprinkle with chili powder. Using your hands, add yogurt and mix well until the chicken is covered liberally. Set aside for at least 1 hour or refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Heat oil in a heavy pan. When oil is hot, add mustard seeds, cloves, cardamom and coriander seeds. Saute for 30 seconds. Add onions and cook for 2 minutes. Turn heat to medium. Add ginger and garlic and saute for 4 to 6 minutes. Add garam masala and cumin powder.

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