There are a good many buzzwords in the daily tsunami of cable news, media posts and podcasts. Two that seem to always hit a nerve are refugee and immigration. Worldwide these souls in motion, be they refugee or immigrant, are portrayed in mostly unfavorable contexts. We have all seen the footage of men, women and children in dire conditions on leaky boats, in long queues at borders and in crowded camps. They are used as political tools by countries against one another and described as a virus that will surely cause the erosion of singular cultures.
Conversely, allowing access to all comers has been touted as a moral imperative for developed nations, society’s engine for cultural evolution and not least of all, the economic savior for the social contract of Western countries. Either way, it’s a conundrum that is not going away, and neither are the people who for one reason or another insist on trying to get here from there.
Manchester, our city, is growing in leaps and spurts and a walk down Elm Street, a visit to any number of the new ethnic markets (for which as a chef I am ecstatic) or Market Basket for that matter is all it takes to see that diversity is becoming established in the Queen City. I am sure there is tension – how can there not be? – but it seems that our city (Welcoming Manchester) and our neighborhoods are unassumingly making a statement. We have yet to witness and I fervently hope we never do, the vitriol and at times violence that cultural intermingling can cause.
A few weeks ago I was driving home from the gym and saw a family walking with their groceries along Pine Street in the colorful traditional clothing of a country I wish I could identify. The women were in beautiful flowing robes of red, orange and yellow with matching head scarves. The gentleman sporting white shirt-like jackets that came to their knees and loose pants. The children were all USA in Nikes, and Disney backpacks. It made me think back to my younger days in Queens, New York, identified by the census as the most diverse piece of geography in the USA. You all need to put in your bucket list a Saturday in New York riding the #7 train, lovingly labeled by locals as the “immigrant express” to Main Street Flushing. I assure you it will be a memorable day.
It also brought back to mind an experience that Claudia and I had at Republic. We were introduced by a local who was involved with the New Arrival Community to a young African woman who wanted to learn to bake. She was intelligent, outgoing and extremely attractive. When she walked through the dining room wearing a white apron over her colorful traditional costume there was silence as she passed. Come to find out that some customs travel with their communities, with one to our horror being arranged marriage. This young woman was to be married against her will in the “live free or die” state. Without going into detail, we were part of a clandestine scheme worthy of a noir film that included arranging for her to leave Republic via a back door to a waiting car and subsequently her moving in with an established family member in a different city. It left the two of us breathless.
As a grandchild of immigrants, I am aware of the hard decisions they had to make when deciding to leave behind one life for another. No one makes that call easily.
As a student of history, I am also aware that assimilation is not like baking a cake where different ingredients come together perfectly to create something new. Long-existing cultures resist any diminishment, economies cannot easily adjust their social systems to new traditions and increased population and politicians insist that borders are called that for a reason. These are realities, but the world is changing and change is being forced upon us.
The USA is built on change, security and inventiveness. It is also built on charity and inclusiveness. I would not be sitting here writing this if it were not the case.
Manchester’s approach may not be perfect but it may be a model. It is said that perfection should not be the enemy of the good and that thinking men and women will inevitably come to solutions. In this, I hope.
Take your pick of labels. This is a staple from Morocco to Israel, Palestine to Lebanon to Turkey then to Republic. Recipes from each region are almost identical except when you are talking to a cook from one of these countries who will tell you in no uncertain terms that their recipe is the original. But as Yogi Berra said, “It’s the same but different.”
- 1 pound ground lamb (RiversLea Farm in Epping)
- 3 dried apricots chopped
- 1/2 cup feta cheese diced into small squares
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano
- 1 shallot diced
- 1 red pepper diced
- 2 Tablespoons Harissa or pepper paste (now readily available)
- 1 teaspoon cumin seed
- 1 teaspoon coriander seed
- Kosher salt and a good amount of ground black pepper
- Oil for sauté
Preheat a dry pan and add the seeds. Toast until they begin to pop then remove and when cool. Chop or grind in a mortar and pestle. Wipe the pan and add 1 tablespoon of oil and sauté the shallot and pepper for three minutes. In a large bowl add the lamb and other ingredients. Mix gently, then let rest for 30 minutes while preheating your oven to 375.
To serve preheat an iron skillet or nonstick pan. Add 2 tablespoons of oil. Form 2-3 oz patties and sear one side for two minutes then flip and repeat. On a baking sheet place the patties in the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese melts. Served over Tzatziki with pita bread and green salad.
- 3 cups whole milk yogurt
- 1/2 cup diced cucumber
- 2-3 cloves of garlic smashed
- 1 tablespoon chopped dill
- 2 tablespoons good olive oil
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Mix all and serve