Home Cooking: Preparing an all-American meal

I recently read an article that suggested our American food traditions are akin to a playlist or a mixtape. The analogy is far more satisfying than the traditional comparison to a melting pot or even a salad. In a playlist, each song by a different artist works together to tell a larger story. Such is the case with how we eat. Meals that feature Middle Eastern flavors one night and Asian American another all feel comfortingly familiar.

(written for the Los Altos Town Crier)

When I was a high schooler, I was fortunate enough to take a study abroad trip to Sendai, Japan. Each visiting student was tasked with creating an American meal for their host family. I can recall discussing what I’d cook with my mom. Our list of options started out straightforward enough with burgers and hot dogs. It quickly expanded into a truly varied selection that we defined as “American food.”

In the end, I made my Irish-American grandmother’s spaghetti recipe – a dish she learned from her Italian-American neighbors in San Francisco’s Mission District. Prepared with ingredients purchased in Japan, it was a meal that allowed me to truly share my America with my cherished host family.

What felt like a difficult choice as a teenager has become the hallmark of my own home cooking. I define American food with cooking techniques and ingredients from every corner of the world. Which makes the relentless question “What’s for dinner?” far more exciting to answer.

At-home aloha

Summer is a super time to embrace all the flavors of our country. Great grilling traditions take advantage of flavors that are both exotic and totally familiar to our palates. I love a Hawaiian-inspired dinner that celebrates the bounty of the Bay Area.

The ideal wines to serve alongside dishes that celebrate Pacific Islander and Southeast Asian seasoning are Gewurztraminers and Rieslings. In particular, I recommend The Hobo Wine Co.’s 2019 Banyan Monterey County Gewurztraminer ($14, hobowines.com).

Produced by Banyan Wines of Santa Rosa, the wine is intended to be enjoyed with the complex flavors of Asian and Pacific Islander cuisines. The team behind the wine is a father-and-son duo, Somchai and Kenny Likitprakong. The men bring their love of wine and their Thai heritage together in their appellation-specific California wines.

“Our Gewurztraminer has beautiful lychee aroma, which is a classic characteristic of the varietal. Our 2019 has enticing tea leaves, stone fruit, pineapple and herbal aromas as well,” said Kenny Likitprakong, offering tasting notes.

Hawaiian Teriyaki Chicken Skewers

Whenever I want to serve something even the pickiest of kids will eat, these skewers are a hit.

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • Red, yellow, green baby bell peppers
  • 1 red onion, chopped into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 cups fresh pineapple, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Sesame seeds, garnish
  • Sliced green onions, garnish

In small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 1/4 cup water; set aside.

In small saucepan over medium heat, add soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, garlic powder, honey and 1 cup water; bring to simmer. Stir in cornstarch mixture until thickened enough to coat back of spoon, about 2 minutes; cool to room temperature.

In gallon-size Ziploc bag or large bowl, combine teriyaki marinade and chicken; marinate for at least 30 minutes to overnight, turning bag occasionally.

Preheat grill to medium high heat.

Thread chicken, bell peppers, onion and pineapple onto skewers. Add skewers to grill and cook until golden brown and cooked through, about 3-4 minutes per side.

Serve immediately, garnished, optionally, with sesame seeds and green onion.

Ramen Noodle Tropical Coleslaw

This is my best attempt at re-creating a recipe my mom would make, especially for parties.

  • 16-ounce bag coleslaw mix
  • 1/4 cup black sesame seeds (can also use 1/2 cup sunflower seeds)
  • 1 cup sliced almonds (can also use 1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts)
  • 2 3-ounce bags ramen (any flavor; you won’t be using the seasoning packets, so it doesn’t matter)
  • 5 stalks scallions, sliced
  • 1/2 cup canned mandarin oranges, juice reserved
  • 1/2 cup canned pineapple chunks, juice reserved (can also use mango)
  • 1 cup frozen edamame, thawed
  • 3/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

In large bowl, place coleslaw mix, sesame seeds, sliced almonds, crushed ramen (see note below), oranges, pineapple and scallions.

In large measuring cup, whisk together vinegar, olive oil, soy sauce, honey, ginger, garlic, 2 tablespoons pineapple juice and 2 tablespoons mandarin orange juice until well combined.

Pour dressing over coleslaw mix and toss everything together with large spatula until everything is coated well.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours. It can be made overnight, but noodles will absorb a lot of dressing and lose their crunch.

Serve cold or at room temperature.


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