Once a year, Massachusetts Maritime Academy cadets and staff from around the world cook the foods they grew up with for the school's annual "Share Your Culture Potluck." On May 7 the Fantail Lounge, overlooking Cape Cod Canal, was filled with wonderful aromas of cuisine from India, China, Germany, Puerto Rico, Portugal and more. The scent of fragrant spices wafted on the air as if one were strolling through Disney's EPCOT Center on a breezy day.
Organizer Mirey Medina, the academy's assistant director for multicultural and international affairs, said 12 countries were represented with 22 dishes.
"I don't want any leftovers," she told the 50 or so cadets and a dozen family members gathered for the meal. After everyone had filled their plates at the buffet, she told students, "Text your friends and tell them to come and eat. We don't want to have to pack it up."
Foil pans full of food covered three tables, but by dinner's end, most were scraped clean.
Sophomore Karina Pena-Seda of Boston said "I was the first generation born here. So when I was growing up, I went to Puerto Rico a lot with my grandmother and I just ate what everybody ate."
Pena-Seda and her mother, Ada Seda-Pena, made pastelitos (savory turnovers stuffed with spiced beef), arroz con gandules (rice and beans), temblique (coconut pudding) and flan for the potluck. It's a menu that cadet friends request, Pena-Seda said, when they visit her at home for the weekend.
Interestingly, the Scottish Forfar bridies made by Pam Lopez, administrative secretary in the academy's human resources office, shared some qualities with the pastelitos.
"You have to make steam holes (in the pastry). The ones with one hole have just meat; the ones with two have onions," Lopez said.
Lopez grew up with — and still enjoys — a mixing bowl of cuisines from around the world.
"My mom is Scottish and Irish. My dad is Polynesian, Portuguese and Native American. I like everything," she said. "When she was old enough to write, I had my daughter, Kealoha — she goes by Kea — start writing down recipes in a special book."
But, at the potluck, there were few written recipes. Many dishes, like Kristie Venuto's kale soup, had been handed down and made so often that it existed in her mind, not in any cookbook.
"I can tell you, but there are no measurements," Venuto said, as she and her daughter, sophomore Nicole Venuto, dined together. Kristie Venuto grew up in Taunton in a house that was back-to-back with her grandparents' house. Her grandmother, Ruth Amaral, passed away a decade ago but she passed on much of her cooking knowledge to Kristie.
"I make the soup with beer and wine," she said. "And we don't put in any beans because my grandfather didn't like them."
Nicole said her favorite item on the buffet, besides mom's soup, of course, was the hot and spicy salad made by students in the Chinese exchange program. Program coordinator Laura Zhao said it was a recipe she created for the potluck, with steamed cabbage, broccoli, celery, green beans and mushroom slices mixed with tofu and rice noodles stir-fried in sesame oil. A dash of Szechuan-style hot sauce increased the heat.
She and her team also made dumplings, stuffing squares of dough (like those used for ravioli) with Napa cabbage, scallions, pork, ginger, soy sauce, salt and Chinese five-spice seasoning.
Bani Ghosh, department chairman of the academy's International Maritime Business program, brought the chicken curry she grew up eating in her native Calcutta. Unlike Thai curries which come in different colors and spice levels, she said, Indian curry is a dish flavored with ginger, coriander, red chili, mace, cloves and cinnamon.
One cadet's grandmother, Peggy Ganshaw, dropped off a German feast of sauerbraten (marinated pot roast), sauerbraten gravy and braised red cabbage, along with handwritten recipes we are sharing here.
Several cooks provided recipes, either written or spoken, so you can make a multicultural feast for your next party or designate one family dinner a week as a time to try something new. Happy travels.
Article by Cape Cod Times/ Gwenn Friss
May 14, 2014