The Importance of Cooking Cultural Dishes for Your Children

After a long day’s work, though, is there anything more satisfying than enjoying a warm, home-cooked meal with your family? A home-cooked meal offers a familiarity of smells, textures, and tastes that can take you back to simpler times of being a kid when your mom was doing all the things moms do – working, cooking, cleaning, folding, and staying afloat of it all. A time when smartphones weren’t interrupting us and things slowed down a bit in the early evenings to cook, eat, and share.

Growing up in a traditional Hispanic household, dinner time in my house was family time – period. We were not asked if we “wanted to join” the grown-up table, we were expected to. We set the table, ate whatever meal was prepared for us, and talked about our days – the good, the bad and the ugly. No subjects were off limits, and most evenings were simple and routinely perfect.

 

Make Cooking a Priority

Today, trying to gracefully juggle life, work, and family, I think back and wonder, “how did my mom do it all?” I’ve always thought of her as a superhero of sorts, the kind that manages to be everything to everyone and still look perfectly polished. She did it all. And, she did it all without the aid of technology, apps or meal prep services. She grocery shopped with screaming kids in the cart, sautéed vegetables with those same kids latched to her ankles, and nourished her family with meals prepared from recipes passed down from her mother, and her mother before her.  

As a modern-day mom – with more technology, apps, and meal prep subscriptions than I care to admit – my days look nothing like my childhood. But, my evenings look just the same.

 

It’s About The Process, Not the End Result

Regardless of the day, I genuinely look forward to meal prepping and sharing with my husband and toddler. Cooking provides the opportunity to slow down just a little bit. To explore a new recipe, experiment with new ingredients, be messy and creative, and have a little fun. Minus the cleaning-up part (which is never fun) the experience lays the groundwork for an evening well fed and well spent.

Virginia Wolff was onto something when she said, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” And, dining well can be easy. It’s not about spending hours sifting through Ina Garten recipes and chopping produce for ungodly amounts of time (although, who doesn’t want to be Queen Ina?!). It’s about making– and enjoying – food with intent. It’s about the rawness of the experience from prep to plate, from sharing recipes from generations past and putting your own spin on old dishes to make them anew.

 

It’s Important to Celebrate Your Minority

The importance of cooking cultural dishes for your children is two-fold: it provides you an opportunity to teach your children how to cook and keeps your heritage alive through what you cook. Food is more than food; it’s a reason to gather, to celebrate and to share – good times and bad. For my son and future children, I want the same – to feed them well and fill them with pride of their culture.

In my family, culture was embedded in our cuisine. From simple, one-pot wonder dishes to more tedious, assembly-line style buffets, our family’s rich heritage always found its way onto our dinner plates.

In grade school, when I made honor roll, I could expect a warm plate of arroz con pollo – a Spanish rice and tomato based dish (recipe below) – as a celebration dinner at home that evening. When my brother was accepted into the University of Texas, my grandmother boiled, peeled, prepped, and chopped green chilés all morning to prepare dozens of gooey, delicious chilés rellenos to express her great pride. On the evening I shared news of my first pregnancy, a luscious paella dish was swooped across my family’s kitchen table to share in a celebration of family members gone too soon (who loved that dish!) and would have loved the news of my growing family even more.

In a world where being different, or a minority, is not always celebrated, cooking from culturally-rich recipes encourages conversations about heritage and tradition in a safe place – your kitchen. A place where conversations and ideas can be exchanged, questioned and defended among people you can confide in – your family.

Talking to our children about culture may not always be enough to instill a sense of pride. Enter cooking. Cooking provides a tangible result – delicious, culturally-rich dishes – that gives kids a way to touch, smell, and feel a culture that makes them who they are and can influence who they will one day become.

It seems I struggle to find time to cook every. single. day. But, the time I spend revisiting old recipes in my mom’s mostly-illegible cursive, experimenting with new ones, and making messes across my kitchen countertops with my toddler make the final product something to be proud of that day. A home-cooked meal, or sometimes a take-home meal, brings my family to the dinner table to share our days – good ones and bad ones – and that makes the dirty dishes (and dirty bibs and dirty highchairs and dirty babies) worth the struggle.

 

And here’s my grandmother’s arroz con pollo recipe. It’s a family tradition that I hope you try!

 

Ingredients 

  • 2 ½ to 3 lbs. of chicken (6 to 8 pieces on the bone, skin on) – a mix of dark and white meat
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups water
  • Sea salt
  • Onion salt
  • Ground pepper
  • ½  chopped white onion
  • 1 clove of fresh garlic
  • 2 whole serrano peppers
  • 1 cup of short grain white rice
  • 1 can of diced tomato
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato bouillon (Knorr brand, if available)

 

Directions

  1. Turn the stove to medium or medium-high heat.
  2. Season the chicken with a dash of salt, onion salt, and ground pepper.
  3. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a deep sauté pan once heated.
  4. Brown each piece of chicken for three to four minutes on each side, then remove from the pan and set aside.
  5. Add chopped onion and garlic to the sauté pan and cook until both are tender (about five minutes).
  6. Add white rice and sauté with onion and garlic for three to four minutes.
  7. Add the diced tomato and stir all together.
  8. Put the chicken back in the pan. Add the water and tomato bouillon. Stir.
  9. Lastly, add the whole serrano peppers.
  10. Let the water come to a boil, then lower the heat to low or simmer.
  11. Cover the pan and simmer for 40 to 45 minutes.
  12. After 45 minutes, remove the lid, serve warm and enjoy.

What dishes celebrate your cultural heritage?

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