CT invited folks to "taste the neighborhood" by dipping bread in "flavor bases" that typified the foodways of various cultures that have historically co-existed in the Lower East Side. We had a delicious slow-cooked oniony "schmaltz," albeit a vegetarian version, to represent Eastern European Jews, a spicy Chinese chili oil, and a pan-latino Sofrito. (As a side note- there was great debate all day with Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Spaniards, etc. as to whom originated this flavorful combo of sweet peppers, onions and herbs.) We asked tasters to "listen" as the flavors in their mouth told their brain a story about history and culture, and to be aware how each taste told a different story. Then we invited guests to tell their story by writing a recipe (or simply food notes) that typified their own cultural "flavor," even if that flavor was hybridized or adopted or only imagined. We collected wonderful recipes and stories. My favorite was from a young girl who explained her mother is Korean and he father Norwegian- and so her diet is forever split between rice and potatoes. What a delicious way to grow up understanding difference.
I was proud to be complimented on the Sofrito as it is not fundamental to my heritage- though I've eaten my share as a lover of comidas Criollas (in fact both my sons first taste of solid food was mashed yellow rice with black bean gravy from the Dominican place I got my morning coffee from.) To find a sofrito recipe I flit about on-line and leafed through cookbooks before making a hybrid version that included tomato (not traditional for Puerto Ricans but common in the D.R.) pimento stuffed manzanilla olives, capers, green, red and jalepeno peppers, garlic, cilantro, parsley, dried oregano, salt and pepper. I blended these to a smoothish puree, then sauteed the mix in annatto oil (veg. oil colored orange by warming it with achiote/annatto seeds.) Other times I've made sofrito I jarred the puree raw and kept it in the fridge for a week or two- adding a spoonful to start a batch of rice, or beans, or a chicken, but for the Festival of Ideas I cooked the sofrito because it was being tasted as a dip for bread rather than as a seasoning. It's hard give accurate proportions- for the street fair I made a gallon of the stuff in several batches- each one slightly different. Per batch I used a large spanish onion- (approx. 1 1/2 c. minced) 2 or 3 large green peppers, 1 or 2 small red peppers (all the peppers seeded!) 2-3 plum tomatoes, 4-5-6+ cloves of garlic, 2 seeded jalepeno peppers and approx. 1/2 c. olives and a T. of capers. Also a big big handful of cilantro and a couple of sprigs of parsley (stems and all) and salt and pepper. All this mixed in the Cuisinart.
The Chinese-style oil is a combo of peanut and toasted sesame oils and red pepper flakes.
Deena's delicious vegetarian onion "schmaltz" was made coarsely chopping onions and slow roasting them covered in oil until the onions begin to brown. This takes several hours, resulting in a perfumed house and the schmaltz makes a perfect base for sautéing vegetables or flavoring potatoes, etc. Brings to mind a wonderful old Yiddish tale...
A young woman just learning to cook asks her Bubba, "what shall I make for breakfast?" and the Bubba answers "Shana'la, fry an onion in some schmaltz then scramble in an egg."
"And Bubba, for lunch?"
"Madela, men nempt a tsibaleh (take an onion), then brown a chicken liver, a little salt, some pepper, a crust of bread."
"Fry the onion, then the chicken. Some pickles on the side."
"And Bubba, dessert?"
"Oy mamala, fry the onion..."
"Bubba! An onion for dessert?"
"Of course, always the onion so your house should smell good, then maybe a bissel of cake."