Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
By Veronika Ederer
Special to the Daily Record
During the last years, I mainly worked in schools and kindergartens where I taught world culture classes that included stories, pictures, objects and — food. As you all surely know, learning doesn’t stop when you finish school or college. So, of course, I thought about educating adults as well — most of them never had the chance to learn something about world cultures during their youth. I am still convinced that there is no better way to learn than tasting regional specialties.
Since I am no chef, I can’t cook for a public audience professionally. Sometimes I brought items to taste for the teachers I taught, but I often felt hesitant to do so since there could be allergies, vegetarians — think of bison recipes I mentioned in past columns — and vegans.
Most of the time, I surprised my guests at home with special buffets that included food from different countries. I always lived in apartments that were too small for a big dinner table, so I put salad bowls, bread and pots on every possible space in my kitchen or living room, and everybody had to help himself. As you might know from previous articles about my Native American cookbook, I like to cook Native American dishes that include bison, wild rice and corn, but I also have some experience in cooking dishes from other cultures, for example Greece, Morocco, and in the past few years, Japan.
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During my last school years in Munich I had a very charismatic teacher who organized school trips to Greece to study antic culture and history. We traveled mostly during spring break by bus, some 30 students and about 15 adults, staying in small hotels with restaurants. I loved the fresh Greek salads, dips, Halloumi cheese (Halloumi is a cheese traditionally made on the Greek island of Cyprus out of goat’s and sheep’s milk), wheat bread, grilled lamb with herbs for Easter and the fabulous Greek yogurt with walnuts or pistachios and Greek honey. The original Greek kitchen is a very simple kitchen due to the arid landscape, and recipes include herbs and olives, dairy products and, of course, what the ocean offered.
My parents had never visited Greece and didn’t share my interest, especially when it comes to seafood, and since I lived at home, I had to wait to move out until I could cook Greek food. Many years later, I traveled again to Greece with a very good friend who is as adventurous as I am in trying new food. Of course, we tried most of the things we already knew, but also new dishes such as Shrimp Saganaki, shrimps baked with tomatoes, basil and feta cheese as well as feta cheese wrapped and baked in puff pastry. The best dish we tried was called Kleftiko, a dish invented during the wars for independence in Greece in the early 19th century. The rebels in the fight for freedom against Ottoman rule were called Kleften and hid up in the mountains. They stole sheep and goats from the Turkish oppressors and cooked their meat in underground ovens so they wouldn’t get discovered because of the fire. Imagine lamb meat, feta cheese, fresh tomatoes and herbs wrapped in aluminum foil and baked in an oven — it is incredible! In the past years, I made this kind of dish for many guests, and while eating, I would tell stories about the culture and the land.
Let’s change the continent. When I started studying cultural anthropology, I took part in several classes taught by a very charismatic young lecturer whose field was the Orient, mainly Morocco, and it was his enthusiasm that influenced me to learn more about this country, besides Native American studies. At a cultural fair in Munich, Germany, where I lived and studied, I bought a Moroccan pot made of clay called tagine; delicious dishes with meat, vegetables and spices are slowly cooked in this pot. I bought some cookbooks on how to prepare Moroccan food, and on rare occasions, I could even convince my parents to eat a Moroccan dinner I’d prepare.
I flew to Morocco many years later to see the country and sample some food there, and of course, I bought different spices to bring home. One of my favorite recipes is a dish with beef, dates, honey, cinnamon and sesame, extremely good with freshly prepared couscous. When I moved into my first apartment in Frankfurt along the river Main where I started my dissertation, I invited my friends over for a housewarming — or rather apartment-warming — and served them Moroccan food I’d cooked. Two friends arrived kind of late and almost got nothing of the food because everything was already eaten, it was so good. This was also a way to “teach with food,” since they learned that you better never come late to my dinners or you’ll end up with no food by the time you arrive.
Off to the next country — for six years I’ve been training in aikido, a Japanese martial art, in Switzerland. I have trained in other martial arts going on 32 years. However, I never was able to travel to countries like Korea or Japan. Two years ago, my aikido teacher opened a new school, and I moved from my club to his school. The reason was that I wanted to support his venture in every possible way. I offered Japanese lunch buffets for his aikido weekend seminars, so I started doing research on Japanese food and tried to find recipes I could cook and people in Switzerland would like to eat. Of course, some ingredients I would neither buy nor cook, such as “uni” (sea urchin) or whale. It was no problem to get sushi rice, wasabi, wakame (seaweed) and soy sauce. Because I didn’t have a professional kitchen or professional tools, I mainly chose soups, salads and breads for the buffets. A few recipes advanced to favorites among my friends, like meron-pan, a sweet bread made with two different doughs and melon juice, as well as a spicy noodle soup called orochon. I visited different Japanese stores and was overwhelmed by the variety of rice, vegetables, seasoning and sauces — most of the labels I wasn’t able to read since they were in Japanese, so I bought what looked interesting. Some friends asked me for recipes and where to get ingredients, and this was my way to “teach with food,” and at the same time, share my knowledge.
One last story: Four years ago, I applied for a job as a teacher for gifted children in a primary school in a small village. I don’t have a certificate for being a teacher, I only have many years of experience in teaching, so I was unsure if I would get the job. But I decided to present myself as a cultural anthropologist and show a different way of education. For my job interview, I prepared an Inuit game made from caribou antler and some roasted blue corn — next to giving them my credentials. During my talk, I showed my objects and offered blue corn to taste. I could see the director of the school was very surprised because clearly no teacher has ever brought food to a job interview. Maybe it was my unorthodox way that convinced her — despite her colleague who did not want me in this position — to hire me. I worked there for three great years.
Today, I would like to share my favorite Greek recipe with you:
1 pound lamb meat
4 cherry tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
4 bay leaves
8 oz feta cheese
Oregano, thyme to taste
Salt & pepper to taste
Juice of 1 lime
Preheat the oven to 395 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut four squares of aluminum foil, about 12 x 12 inches. Cut the lamb meat in cubes and divide in four portions. If you don’t like lamb, you can use chicken or lean pork. Season with salt, pepper, lime juice, oregano and thyme.
Cut the tomatoes into quarters and cut the feta cheese in cubes; chop the garlic.
Put 1/4 of the meat, tomato, garlic, feta and one bay leaf on each aluminum square, fold it to a bundle so that no juice can escape and put in a baking dish.
Bake it in the oven about one hour, unwrap and serve right away.
Serving suggestion: Add flatbread, tzatziki sauce (the greek cucumber yogurt sauce) and a tossed salad of your choice.
Veronika Ederer received her PhD from the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in cultural anthropology. Originally from Germany, she has worked several years in Switzerland in museums such as the North American Native Museum in Zürich and with the gifted program “Universikum” in Zürich. She has visited New Mexico and Roswell for her research and is looking forward to return as soon as the pandemic is over.