League of Kitchens is a phenomenal program that unites adventurous eaters who are passionate about cooking with immigrant women who share and teach their native cuisine. As a participant of this class, you visit the teacher’s home and learn about her culture as you and five other students cook through the instructor’s chosen menu.
I recently took an immersive workshop on Uzbek cuisine with a lovely woman named Damira. Damira and her family are from Samarkand, Uzbekistan, where she worked as a doctor until her mandatory retirement at age 55. She then moved to the United States to be closer to her children, and has lived in Brooklyn for four years. Her apartment in Borough Park was warm and welcoming, and her family drifted in and out of the rooms, peeking in at our progress and listening to their mother regale us with stories of Uzbekistan as she instructed us on chopping vegetables and layering ingredients properly for each dish.
Many stories of Uzbek folklore, superstitions and beliefs were woven into the five plus hours I spent with Damira, each one more interesting than the last. Our meal, once prepared, was served as we watched a video on Uzbekistan. It was clearly very important to Damira and her family that we grasp the entirety of the Uzbek culture, and how food plays a role in the way Uzbeks live and maintain relationships in America. Food brings people together.
Present day Uzbekistan is located on the original Silk Road, and the trade that swept through allowed Uzbeks exposure to many different cuisines. Like other nations in Central Asia, influences from Mongolia, Turkey, and Iran are prevalent, and 150 years of Russian and Soviet rule inform its culture and cuisine. While many people may not know what Uzbek cuisine is, its geographic location increased exposure to different nations, languages, religions, and cuisines, making Uzbek food familiar no matter where you’re from.
I learned that cumin and dill are two of the most important ingredients to Uzbek cooking. Often, dill, cumin, salt and pepper were the only spices used in these dishes. Pickling and preserving are also a big part of Uzbek culture and cuisine, and we got to sample some of Damira’s pickled cucumbers and cabbage.
On this particular day, we got to prepare, cook and eat the below recipes:
Dimlama (Beef and Vegetable Stew)
A light, flavorful stew cooked with carrots, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, bell peppers, cabbage, turnips, and seasoned with cumin, bay leaves, and fresh cilantro and dill.
Delicate handmade dumplings (made from dough rolled by hand!) and filled with a mixture of ground beef and onion, served with sour cream.
Boemjon Salat (Eggplant Salad)
A sweet and tangy cooked salad made with eggplant, onion, carrots, grated tomato (which was such an interesting way to cook and eat tomato!!), with fresh dill and cilantro.
Bodiring Salat (Cucumber and potato salad)
A bright salad of diced cucumber and diced boiled potato mixed with garlic and dill. I will definitely be making this at home, it was super easy to make and a great side dish to add to any dinner.
Kompote (Fruit compote)
Seasonal fruit (we used quince) simmered with sugar and saffron This was absolutely delicious, took very little effort, and is an excellent option for dinner party dessert.
Overall, League of Kitchens is an incredible program that entices those who have a hunger for learning, a passion for cooking, and generally seek to improve cultural awareness.
Twisted Talk: Have you heard of League of Kitchens before? What kind of cuisine would you like to learn how to make? Discuss below!