Cook Your Way Out Of Isolation

by Sharon Maeda

Here’s a chance to turn really sour lemons into lemonade. Given social distancing and home isolation, here’s a great way to have fun with time at home, eat well, and support the community.

Last year, the Refugee Women’s Alliance, ReWA, released a beautiful multi-cultural cook book: Recipes for Refuge: Culinary Journeys to America. From Malaysia to Afghanistan, from Burma to Somalia and around the world, these recipes come with the stories of survival and empowerment of the ReWA staff and supporters who are sharing their cuisine.

Recipes for Refuge recipephoto pages
From Recipes for Refuge. (Photo: Sharon Maeda)

The book was supposed to be a birthday gift, but I found myself taking a peak that turned into reading it cover to cover. The individual stories bring life to each and every recipe. Hodan was a child when her family fled the Somali Civil War; she wishes she could have gone to school, but now she attends ReWA’s ESL program. Yennhi fled from Vietnam to Malaysia where she spent years in a refugee camp and was helped by a UN refugee resettlement program. She’s now ReWA’s Naturalization Case Manager and Domestic Violence Survivor’s Advocate. Local rapper, Blue Scholar hip-hop artist and co-owner of Hood Famous Bakeshop and Café, George “Geo” Quibuyen also contributed his recipe for sinigang, Filipino soup. And, the ReWA refugee stories are a testament to their resiliency and love of their native food.

I also read every recipe, going back and forth into the kitchen to check which ingredients I have on hand. I was surprised at how many different cuisines use many of the same spices. With one quick trip to Uwajimaya in the Chinatown International District (CID), I can get everything I don’t have: mostly fresh herbs like lemon grass and sauces like sambal oelek (chili paste). Most recipes are gluten and dairy free and look like proteins such as tofu or legumes can substitute for meat, fish or fowl. Today, Malaysian curry puffs, tomorrow Somali spiced chicken.

The book was produced by ReWA staff and supporters and a team of professional design and production volunteers. All proceeds go to support ReWA’s programs ranging from housing and homeless prevention to licensed behavioral health and early learning. You can mail order the book from Third Place Books Seward Park and never have to leave home.

Sharon Maeda is the Emerald’s interim managing editor. For decades she has had a fantasy of being a food critic and loves to cook and eat ethnic foods from around the world.

Photo courtesy of Refugee Women’s Alliance