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When I feel my heart about to break, whether from something intensely personal or sometimes just from reading the news, I often head for the kitchen. Focusing on small acts of slicing, and dicing, and chopping, and stirring, and tasting, and seasoning, and tasting again can make the rest of the world fade away as I anticipate with love sharing my creation.
I’m guessing that might also be the case with Fatema, Ghadeer, and Afeefa, three women from Syria who shared their recipes, cooking techniques, and stories during a cooking class recently in New Haven offered through Sanctuary Kitchen, a program developed earlier this year by CitySeed in partnership with a network of community volunteers. The goal of Sanctuary Kitchen is to “promote and celebrate the culinary traditions, cultures, and stories of refugees resettled in Connecticut, while providing them with economically viable culinary opportunities that have personal income potential.” Events include cooking classes, demonstrations, and supper clubs. Catering can be arranged. Sanctuary Kitchen is also starting up a kitchen-to-farmers’ market incubator this year to further support refugee food entrepreneurs.
During my first class, featuring a delicious and generous Syrian meal, we were encouraged to avoid overtly political discussions in favor of talking about our families, the food, and our communities. The big discussions about what to do to change our world for the better are essential, but this was not the day for it. My daughter and I returned for a second class, this one called “Make Ma’amoul (Not War),” where we made cookies with Syrian and Iraqi mothers, some of them with their daughters, on Mother’s Day. Afterward we chatted—sometimes with the help of a translator and sometimes just giggling through our occasional verbal confusion—while sipping strong Lebanese coffee, and showing off photos of husbands, daughters, sons, grandbabies, uncles, and aunts, those both near and far, on our phones.
Upcoming classes and demonstrations will feature talented, friendly refugee chefs from Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Colombia, Cuba, Iran, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, people who were once strangers and are now our neighbors. For more information visit www.sanctuarykitchen.org.
From Sanctuary Kitchen, New Haven
1 yellow onion
1 cup red lentils
1-2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
1 tsp cumin (optional)
4 ounces ground meat (optional)
6 cups broth, or 1-2 bouillon cubes and 6 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon wedges for serving
Finely chop onion. Heat 1-2 teaspoons of oil in pan, add onions, and cook until soft and golden. Add the ground meat (if using) and stir. Cook ’til browned. Add the lentils, cumin, and garlic (if using) and stir. Cover for 5 minutes on low heat. Add broth or bouillon/water combo. Add salt and pepper, then increase the heat to bring to boil for 5 minutes. Stir well, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until desired consistency. Serve with juice from lemon wedges.
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