03385_000_009A “Cultural Cook-off” in Los Angeles nourishes Saints physically and spiritually
Streamers of crimson, pink, and yellow crepe paper seemed to glow in the California sun. Orange and yellow balloons clung to the peaks of arched Spanish doorways, with strands of multicolored paper serpentines trailing in the breeze. At a dozen booths arranged in a rectangle around the church courtyard, white banners, lettered in black, proclaimed the names of countries from all over the globe.
At one of the booths Svetlana Rudovsky, 17, a descendant of Russian, Italian, and Spanish ancestors, cut and served a tray of apricot pastry typical of her father’s home region in the Soviet Union. She wore a traditional costume with scarlet satin sleeves, a patterned green front, and yellow and black trim. It was bright, but not as bright as her smile.
At another corner of the courtyard, Tina Ksajikian, 13, opened a piece of pita bread and ladled tahini (yogurt) sauce onto a garbanzo bean patty called felafel. She topped the Arabian sandwich with shredded lettuce and handed it to an elderly woman eagerly waiting to try a new kind of food. Felafel is an Arabian dish, but Tina’s booth also offered a sampling of Armenian cuisine. Two large stainless steel bowls to her right contained egg-shaped balls of kufta—a blend of pine nuts, cracked wheat, and lamb.
Next to the bowls of kufta Tina had arranged a small display of Armenian books, most notably a Book of Mormon. “I can read parts of it,” she said. She attends an Armenian school and is learning the language as part of her classwork.
Both Tina and Svetlana are members of the Los Angeles California Stake, and both were serving food at a festival organized and run by the stake’s Young Women. As at almost any Los Angeles stake activity, there were young Latter-day Saints present representing a multitude of backgrounds and nationalities. So many different cultures were represented, in fact, that the festival seemed like a feast for all the world.
Central and South Americans comprise the largest portion of the stake’s young Latter-day Saints who were born outside of the U.S. In fact, there are two Spanish-speaking wards in the stake. “One of the most difficult things for us,” said Bertha Garcia, Young Women president of the Third Ward, “was to decide which countries we could represent at the festival. We finally decided on Guatemala, because that’s my native land. But we also did El Salvador and Mexico.”
Each country’s booth featured young ladies wearing native costumes and serving traditional national dishes. Cultural displays including posters, postcards, books, souvenirs, crafts, and artwork were also scattered around the covered lanai adjacent to the meetinghouse.
Louise W. La Count, stake Young Women president, said that the “Cultural Cook-off” was organized to encourage the Los Angeles Stake youth to appreciate each other’s background. “The stake is composed of a real potpourri of nationalities,” she explained. “A lot of the elderly people meet in the Wilshire Ward, and there are also the Korean and Chinese branches there. There are the Spanish-speaking wards, and the Hollywood Ward includes a lot of Armenian and Arabic members. The Westwood First and Second wards seem to have a high number of Americans with Scandinavian ancestors, so they chose to represent both America and Scandinavia.”
And, of course, everyone in the stake was invited to come taste treats and learn about other lands. By about 2:00 on a Saturday afternoon, members, families, missionaries, and investigators were wandering through a courtyard filled with foreign fragrances, new customs, and friendly, knowledgeable young women. Youngsters slurped up genuine Italian spaghetti, fathers tried to open wide enough to bite an all-American hot dog, and two college coeds from the UCLA Ward exulted over the delicious plátanos con crema (bananas with cream) offered to them by El Salvadorians.
Dressed in an elegant red and black Chinese gown, 15-year-old Mimi Chu of the Wilshire Ward described the mixture of cabbage, carrots, bamboo shoots, celery, water chestnuts, and mushrooms used as a stuffing in egg rolls. Mimi is the only member of the Church in her immediate family, but she said that family love is strong in her home, and “it’s not that hard.” “Support from friends and other members of the Church helps a lot,” she said. “My family runs a restaurant, and a lot of the members come there to eat.”
At a booth surrounded by shrubbery and bamboo, Kim Phuong Ho, 12, of the Westwood Second Ward, offered fried rice to onlookers and also talked about Vietnam, the country her family fled during time of war. “We came over when I was in second grade,” she said. “Since then, most of my friends have been American.”
Cotton puffs and red and blue ribbons outlined the wooden counter where Julianna Rees, 14, of the Westwood Second Ward, delivered crusty, powdered sugar-coated Scandinavian dessert rosettes to her customers. She explained how the cookies are made by dipping an iron into batter, then into hot oil. “I got the recipe from my grandmother,” she said.
Her friend Margaret Stohl, 13, from the Westwood First Ward, grinned and said, “I learned how to make them from my grandmother, too. Scandinavian grandmothers and cookies—they go together. When I was making my cookies, I was talking to my grandmother and she said she got her cookie iron for Christmas when she was seven years old. That was neat for me because I just got my cookie iron for Christmas, too.”
It seemed only natural for the chefs to swap recipes and for descendents to share stories of the influence, past and present, of their heritage. Svetlana told how her mother’s friends from the Greek Orthodox Church had volunteered to help cook food for the Mormons. Tina discussed her struggles to maintain an LDS identity at her Armenian school. In between serving slices of leche flan, a rich custard topped with burnt-sugar caramel, Maryjoy Morato, 17, of the Wilshire Ward, told how missionaries in the Philippines contacted her family and shared with them the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“They just knocked on the door one day,” she said. “But they were always welcome in our home because they would talk about good things.” Exposed to the light of the restored gospel, the entire family eventually joined the Church. Maryjoy’s father died, her mother remarried, and the family moved to America. “Members here are the same as in the Philippines,” she said. “There’s no change. They’re all nice.”
Laura Sanchez and Claudia Sosa, both 12, are members of the Los Angeles Third Ward. Both arrived in the U.S. just months ago, Laura from El Salvador and Claudia from Mexico. They would agree with Maryjoy that fellowship among the Saints is universal. “One of the reasons I know this is the true Church is because I always feel the same spirit,” Laura said. Their friend Maria de los Angeles Valenzuela, 17, from the same ward, expressed the same idea. Asked through an interpreter if there is a friendliness among Church members no matter what language they speak, she enthusiastically responded, “¡Sí, sí, sí!”
Many of the young women who participated in the festival spent hours with their mothers, relatives, and friends learning recipes, preparing food, sharing stories about “the old country,” and telling each other about parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and traditions. They shared their spirit of love and appreciation for who they are and where they came from with each other, and later with those who came to take part in their celebration. They rejoiced together in the fellowship of the gospel, and in that small way, perhaps, invited everyone everywhere to join in another sort of banquet—the spiritual feast of the gospel, a feast to which the door is always open.
Add a little international flair to your next menu! These recipes are some of those actually used at the Los Angeles “Cultural Cook-off.”
Kufta (Wheat-and-Lamb Balls) (Armenia)
1 lb. ground meat (preferably lamb)
2 finely chopped onions
1 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbsp. shelled pine nut meats, chopped
Brown first 3 ingredients; then add pine nuts. As stuffing cooks, mash it with a fork until all large pieces are broken. Drain, set aside to cool, and start preparing kufta shell.
3 cups cracked wheat or instant whole wheat cereal
1 small onion, finely minced
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1 lb. uncooked lean ground meat (preferably lamb)
Stir together cracked wheat, onion, pepper, and salt, then add 1/2 cup water. Knead mixture until it all sticks together. Add meat and 1/4 cup more water and knead. Add another 1/4 cup water and knead again. Take a half-handful of this mixture and form it into a cup shape with your hands. Put stuffing in the cup and then close it (it will be in the shape of an egg). Continue until both kufta shell mixture and stuffing are all gone. Heat shallow layer of oil in a pan. Cook egg-shaped kufta balls in oil, on medium heat, turning until entire surface browns to a deep brown (about 10–12 minutes). Serve while still warm.
Apple Pie (U.S.A.)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup cold water
Mix flour, salt, and shortening until crumbly. Add cold water and mix thoroughly. Dough will be a little sticky. Take 2/3 of the dough and roll out on floured pastry cloth. Use only enough flour on the cloth to make the dough easy to handle. Roll out as thin as it will go without tearing. Place in 9-inch pie pan and trim. The remainder of the dough can be used for the top crust.
5–7 tart apples, peeled and cored
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
Slice apples in thin pieces. Mix sugar, flour, salt, spices, and add to apples. Fill 9-inch pastry-lined pan. Dot with butter. Adjust top crust and seal edges. Bake at 400° F. for 50 minutes.
Fried Rice (Vietnam)
3 cups of rice cooked in 4 cups of water
5 eggs, beaten with a little water added
4 slices ham, diced
2 large pre-cooked sausages, sliced
1 cup bean sprouts
Bring rice and water to a boil. Cover tightly and turn off heat. Let steam for 20 minutes. In a frying pan with a small amount of vegetable oil, add rice, egg mixture, ham, sausages, and sprouts. Fry together until eggs are done and mixture is thoroughly heated. Add salt and soy sauce to taste.
Pollo en Jocom (Chicken in Tomato Sauce) (Guatemala)
1 chicken (2 lbs.) cooked and diced
1 tortilla (either flour or corn)
1/2 white or yellow onion
6 green onions
1 clove garlic
Cooked white rice
Cover chicken with water and boil until done. Soak tortilla in the chicken broth. (After soaking, save broth for another recipe.) Cut up 1 tomato and 1/2 onion, set aside with chicken. Cut up 6 tomatoes, 6 green onions, 1 garlic clove, and tortilla. Blend thoroughly in a blender. Put this sauce in a frying pan with a little oil. Add chicken, tomato, and onion. Cook over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes. Serve over white rice. Makes 4–6 servings.
Dessert Rosettes (Scandinavia)
2 tsp. sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup milk
1 cup flour (sifted)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. lemon extract
You will need a special rosette iron to make this recipe. In a deep kettle heat fat until it is hot enough to brown a piece of bread while counting to 60. Combine sugar, eggs, and milk. Combine sifted flour and salt. Stir into first mixture and beat until smooth (about the consistency of heavy cream). Add flavoring. To heat the rosette iron, dip it in hot fat in the deep kettle; then drain excess fat on brown paper. Dip heated iron in batter to not more than 3/4 its height. If only a thin layer of batter adheres to the iron, dip it again until a smooth layer forms. Batter will be partly cooked from the heat of the iron. Plunge batter-coated iron quickly into hot fat and cook from 2 to 3 minutes until active bubbling ceases. Remove iron from fat. Remove rosette from iron and drain on brown paper. If your rosettes are not crisp, the batter is too thick and should be diluted with milk. While they are still warm, dip rosettes in powdered sugar and serve.