I write this article not as a chef, but as a teacher of Spanish to US high school students. “What does that have to do with cooking?” you ask.
I believe in hands-on, in-depth experiences for my students. Food is a terrific starting point of getting to know and love any culture, and I take cultural inquiry very seriously. What better way to entice my students to perfect their Spanish-language skills than to seduce them with the thought of: HISPANIC FOOD DAY. The theory was, they would discover various cuisines that are so delicious, they would be inspired to go to the places these foods hail from.
Right from the start I banned dishes that have burrowed so deeply into US culture that they should not be considered for HISPANIC FOOD DAY. Take tacos. Tacos are now an American institution. A typical American family views “Taco Night” just as my Yankee ancestors once had “Boston Baked Beans” every Saturday. My students protested when I banned taco from HISPANIC FOOD DAY.
“Now, you can dress a taco up, but can you take it to dinner?” Was my response to the various whiners and moaners who thought they would sail through HISPANIC FOOD DAY with nothing more than a “Pass the Old El Paso” ditty and a brightly colored cardboard box containing all the basic elements of the good old taco. I gave a quick poll on basic American taco accoutrements and the results came up as I expected: tomatoes, lettuce, and cheese. Salsa (from a jar) and sour cream were added if you were daring. Guacamole if you had “weird parents.” In my reverie I remembered days where sautéed mushrooms, scalding hot peppers, and home-made mango salsa graced the humble taco in my home. Since no one was going to go through the process of making real tortillas, real salsa, and using real spices for a real taco….we as Americans are too removed from the “real” taco.
Ok, so tacos were out. I addressed the “salsa in a jar” problem by asking my students if they knew the basic ingredients of a tomato salsa. “Ketchup” came one sad reply. I listed off the basics of my salsa recipe to groans of “Onions! Garlic! Yuck.” When I said the word “cilantro,” one girl asked me for the “English translation, please.” At least she was taking notes on my discourse (I do have them trained.)
When I mentioned rice and beans as being acceptable for the project, the majority of the class perked up. “No beans from a can,” I said darkly. “And no instant rice. We’re trying to cook here, not just boil water!” The next question was, ‘Where do we get beans, if not from a can?” I then banned anything from a can as a main dish, and nothing could come out of a cardboard box, if all it required was a little water to revive it. This had to be real cooking of real food.
Lastly, I dictated that the students would have to bring me a copy of the recipe they were going to use. They even had to tell me what country it came from. As a faithful reader of Aunt Clara’s Kitchen, I gave the web address. (Maybe Aunt Clara was wondering why there were 27 hits from Virginia last spring.) The icing on the cake was when I mailed a grading sheet home to parents. They were to rate their children on such things as “following directions” and “cleaning up.” Several parents asked me if I would assign the project on a weekly basis!
HISPANIC FOOD DAY turned out to be an incredible success. Hurrah for food not coming out of can and learning a little bit about foods not found on flashing neon signs.
Amity is a teacher from Maine. She has been visiting the Dominican Republic for decades, and loves Dominican food.
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 cup of diced tomatoes
- 1 bell pepper, cut into small cubes
- 1 large onion, cut into small cubes
- 12 eggs
- 1 teaspoon of salt, or to taste
- Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add tomato, bell pepper, onion and cook and stir until the vegetables are cooked through.
- Add the eggs, stir until the eggs set.
- Season with salt to taste.
- Serve with toasts or mangú