The United States is a nation of immigrants, and we share many different food traditions from many lands at this time of year. Staff writer Jeff Hudson invited several local friends and colleagues, whose family roots extend to diverse parts of the globe, to share a traditional recipe they associate with the winter season, or with Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s or other holidays.
Marina Valle’s parents came from Mexico to East Los Angeles. She now lives in East Davis with her husband Jesus — a professor at American River College — and their three young children. Valle shared this recipe for Turkey Tamales.
“The turkey tamales tradition began as a way to participate in the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States,” Valle said. “Both my parents were born and raised in Mexico (Dad from Durango, Mom from Oaxaca) … this tamale recipe is a fusion of northern Mexico (Durango) and American (turkey) ingredients.”
Turkey (8-12 pounds)
Chiles: A blend of California and Guajillo chile.
Masa: Use masa harina (flour), lard, warm water, salt. (One also can purchase the pre-made masa fresh from a tortilleria)
“I apologize for the lack of measurements for the ingredients,” Valle said. “My mom does a lot of ‘soul cooking’ — she tastes, adds and adjusts the recipe. To this day, it’s difficult getting a recipe from her via the phone because she tends to say things like “a little bit of salt but not too much.”
Putting it together:
Quarter and wash turkey. Boil with salt, peppercorns, cloves and bay leaves. After turkey is done, shred and de-bone the meat.
Chiles: Take some dried chile pods, a handful each of the Guajillo and California varieties. Cut off the ends where the stems are and remove the seeds. Soak in water, for an hour or over overnight, then put chiles in a blender with the same water, add a little salt or cumin, blend together, then put it in a different saucepan and heat it up. Next, add the meat. This becomes the filling for the tamales.
Corn husks: Clean and soak overnight in water (this is done to soften husks so they don’t rip when filled). Start the assembly line of people and ingredients and good times.
“Tamales are very labor-intensive, but well worth it,” Valle explained. “There is a belief in my family that if you start helping with the process you are not allowed to leave the kitchen until the tamales are done or else they will never cook thoroughly. We believed wholeheartedly in this tradition and we (all the women) were stuck in the kitchen for hours sharing stories, laughing and bonding.
“Unfortunately, I do not continue the tradition here with my kiddos, but I’m planning to start maybe next year. I’m hoping that by next year our young children Running Deer, Luna and Lucero will each be able to man a station. I can hope.”
Catriona McPherson — whose popular mystery novels featuring amateur sleuth Dandy Gilver are set in her native Scotland — came to this area a few years ago when her husband Neil McRoberts was hired as a plant pathology professor at UC Davis. She offered this traditional recipe from her homeland.
Scottish Shortbread for Hogmanay
Hogmanay is the Scottish celebration of New Year’s Eve. This recipe, according to McPherson, is “from the good old days when sugar and butter were a treat instead of a cheap, obesity-inducing problem!”
8 ounces (2 cups) all-purpose white flour
4 ounces (1 stick) salted butter — save the paper
4 ounces (3/4 cup) sugar
Putting it together:
Pre-heat the oven to 325 F. Beat the butter and sugar together in a china bowl with a wooden spoon, bleached with wear and notched at the neck by constant use. You could use a mixer, I suppose. When the mixture is pale and smooth, start beating in the flour, a heaped tablespoonful at a time.
Grease a large baking sheet with the butter paper. Roll out the dough to the size of a dinner plate, mark it into wedges — known as petticoat tails — with a knife, and prick it here and there with a fork to stop it puffing up. Fancy fork patterns are encouraged but not essential.
Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes or so until firm to the touch and just beginning to color. Allow to cool slightly on the sheet for 10 minutes, then lift off with a spatula and finishing cooling on a wire rack.
“This is served with whisky when the bells ring out and Auld Year’s Nicht becomes New Year’s Day,” McPherson explained. “It can also be nibbled slowly with a small and carefully sipped glass of sweet sherry the next morning if need be.”
Georgia McKenzie works behind the camera recording Davis school board meetings and other events for cable TV broadcast on Davis Media Access and online posting. McKenzie comes from a Jamaican background, and she shared this recipe for a food that reminds her of home.
“When it comes to the holidays,” she said, “there’s a lot of things I associate with Christmas, Thanksgiving and a general celebratory atmosphere: unnecessary house cleaning — no one is going to really check the lower level of the living room table; wood chips that smell like cinnamon — because nothing says holidays like the strongest aroma of cinnamon combined with red-dyed wood; and eating.
“There are many things to look forward to — curried goat, a turkey, a ham — but all those, barring the curried goat, are very much part of our American traditions. (They are) things that have grafted onto our ‘Jamerican’ culture in a near seemless meld,” McKenzie explained.
Jamaican Easter Bun Recipe
Adapted from Sam’s Caribbean, http://www.sams247.com/jamaican-recipes_jamaican-easter-bun-recipe.aspx
“Of our West Indian culture, (spice bun) is one thing I look forward to most. Sure, it’s primarily served during Easter, but in America, we often have it around for any big holiday. This, a big slice of sharp cheddar, a nice cup of ginger tea … a great end to the holiday feasting.”
1½ cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white flour
1½ cups brown sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup stout or beer, give or take. Note: “I find whole wheat flour is very absorbent and I need to add up to a ¼ cup more liquid. Plus, good stout is foamy, which is volumetrically confusing. I must also add, we converted from Catholic to Protestant, but we are always a stout household. I used about a cup and a quarter of good chocolate stout.”
1 egg (beaten)
2 tablespoons olive or peanut oil; alternatively use unsalted, melted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup cherries
1 cup raisins, mixed peel, cherries* (totaling 1 cup of fruit)
½ teaspoon ground allspice
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon nutmeg — I used fresh grated
½ tablespoon cinnamon
½ tablespoon anise extract (I did not use this, not a big fan)
½ tablespoon spoon rose water (I doubled this to 1 tablespoon to make up for not using anise)
Putting it together:
In a large mixing bowl, mix together flour, salt, baking powder, spices and sugar. Mix thoroughly and add fruit. Make a well in the center of mixture and add oil or melted butter, and beaten egg. Mix again until like coarse bread crumbs. Make another well in center of mixture and add beer or stout. Mix thoroughly and turn onto well-greased baking pans.
Bake for 75 minutes at 300 degrees F. Makes two loaf pans. If desired, press a few whole cherries into the top of each bun.
“OK, if you’re like me and cannot find your bread pans, this makes 16 to 18 good-sized muffins,” McKenzie said. “Line your tins with muffin liners, top with slivers of butter and bake at 300 degrees for about 45 minutes. These are quite sweet and addictive; when you serve it, do it Jamaican style (by adding) a slice of very, very sharp cheddar to cut the sweet finish.
“Alternatively, use salted butter and reduce the sugar by about a ¼ to ½ cup.”
Eileen Jaffe grew up in Sacramento, and she fell in love with Rob Jaffe, who came to this area from New York to work in the field of arts management. Rob had grown up in New York and came from a Jewish family.
After they married, Rob introduced Eileen to the traditional Jaffe family recipe for chicken soup, which Rob had learned from his grandmother. Eileen continues to prepare this recipe for family gatherings and other special occasions.
Chicken Soup a la Jaffe
(also known as “Omi Rosi’s Penicillin”)
1 chicken (4-5 pounds)
4 stalks of celery, with leaves, chopped
1 large onion, diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
3-4 parsnips, peeled and diced
1 celery root, rough exterior cut off, and diced
1 handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1 handful of fresh dill, chopped
5 quarts chicken broth (canned)
Kosher salt and pepper
(You also will need 1 box of matzo meal, plus oil and eggs if you want matzo balls in the soup)
Putting it together:
Put all ingredients (except the matzo ball ingredients) in a pot and cover. If you have some broth left over, that’s OK. You can add it to the soup later. Bring the pot to a boil; let simmer for two hours until everything is tender and soft. (While the soup is boiling, make the matzo balls according to the recipe on the box, with the eggs and oil, and refrigerate.) As the soup simmers, skim off the bubbly foam from time to time.
After two hours, fish out the chicken with a slotted spoon, remove all the bones and skin and cut into small pieces. Take out between third-thirds and all of the vegetables, depending on your taste, and puree them in the blender. Add the pureed vegetables and chicken back into the soup, with a little more broth if you think it’s needed, and add kosher salt and pepper to taste.
Return to a boil, and add the matzo balls to the soup, one at a time. When the matzo balls are done, the soup is ready.
Ruth Uy Asmundson came to Davis in 1972 as an exchange student from the Philippines, studying at UC Davis. She fell in love with Vigfus Asmundson, who was mayor of Davis at the time, and they married. She subsequently served on the Davis school board and the Davis City Council, including a term as mayor.
Her passions include traditional Filipino cooking, and when she was invited to contribute a family recipe for this article, she generously responded with four full menus for multicourse Christmas season meals — enough recipes to fill a small cookbook.
“In the Philippines, we love to have fiestas, and Christmas is the longest,” Asmundson said. “It starts on Dec. 16, and we have early Mass at 4 a.m. Everybody goes to church and then we have breakfast. There is also Noche Buena, a midnight Mass, followed by a big feast.”
For the purposes of this article, we have space only for a single recipe out of the dozens that Asmundson kindly volunteered. “I was making bistek — which is a Filipino recipe for steak — when you called,” she said. And since we didn’t already have a beef recipe in the article, we picked that one.
“Bistek Tagalog is the Filipino version of the beef steak,” Asmundson explained. “It is composed of thinly sliced beef cooked in soy sauce and lemon juice and garnished with caramelized onion rings. This simple yet great-tasting recipe does not require much ingredients and the procedure is not complicated at all. Just have all the ingredients present, add a little love to it and voilà! You have your deliciously cooked Bistek.”
1 pound beef sirloin, thinly sliced
¼ cup soy sauce
1 piece lemon or 3 pieces calamansi (a citrus fruit somewhere between a lime and a lemon)
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large onion, sliced into rings
3 tablespoons cooking oil
salt to taste
Putting it together:
Marinade beef in soy sauce, lemon (or calamansi), and ground black pepper for at least 1 hour.
Heat the cooking oil in a pan, then stir-fry the onion rings until soft. Set aside. In the same pan where the onions were fried, fry the marinated beef (without the marinade) until color turns brown. Set aside.
Add garlic; sauté for a few minutes. Pour the marinade and bring to a boil. Add the fried beef and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until meat is tender. Add water as needed. Add the stir-fried onions and some salt to taste. Serve hot. Share and enjoy! Makes four servings.