Preserve, protect and dig in

(Tony Fitts)

Hail to the chow: Celebrate Barack Obama's inauguration with soul food, Hawaiian, Indonesian, Kenyan - so many ways to eat like a multiculti president.

Posted: January 15, 2009

So, you want to celebrate the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, but you're having the fete in the Philadelphia region instead of trying to jam yourself into the Washington crowds.

"We can't go to the inaugural ball," said Wynnewood resident JoAnn Erfer. "We're going to have our own."

The late House Speaker Tip O'Neill famously said, "All politics is local." When it comes to Obama, who will be sworn in Tuesday, make that "All parties are local."

And why not? Obama's multicultural heritage is the foodstuff of a great menu. Food, after all, reflects culture and kin, triumph and loss.

So make a pot of chili, one of Obama's favorite dishes. Serve soul food to hail the first African American president. Tilt toward Africa by cooking Kenyan to honor the birthplace of Obama's father. (See accompanying recipes.)

Hawaii, where the president-elect was born; Indonesia, where he lived for a while; and Kansas, where his mother was born, also are part of the stew that has helped nourish his appeal.

Erfer, who will have a party at Sola restaurant in Bryn Mawr, said the menu would be more Kansas than Kenya, an eclectic American lineup showcasing veal, striped bass and duck (an appropriate verb, as well, for Washington politics).

The Global Dish is a Philadelphia catering firm owned by Mitch and Jennifer Prensky, who also own Supper restaurant at 926 South St. The Global Dish is catering an inauguration soiree on Tuesday, Prensky said, that he described as "full-on red, white and blue Americana," with mini corn dogs, oyster po'boys, crab cakes, meat loaf, and macaroni and cheese.

Christine Martey-Ochola is a West Caln Township resident, an assistant professor at Villanova University, and president of the USA-Kenya Chamber of Commerce.

She said the greater Philadelphia region's Kenyan community, numbering in the thousands, is extremely proud of Obama's ascension.

Most of the Kenyans she knows are going to parties in Washington sponsored by Kenya's embassy and private groups such as the chamber.

But Kenyan dishes are easy to prepare at home, she said.

"One thing about Kenyans," she said, "they are very huge on grilled meat like goat meat or lamb."

Any grilled meat can be topped with kachumbari, a Kenyan salsa of onion, tomato, cilantro, lemon juice, salt and hot sauce.

Sukuma wiki - made with kale, tomatoes, onion, vegetable oil and peanut butter - is a popular dish at Kenyan celebrations, Martey-Ochola said.

If a spicy Kenyan dish doesn't make your heart pump, you may want to try Hawaiian chicken long rice, which is said to promote "longevity in people's lives," said Roy Yamaguchi, founder of Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine, whose restaurants include one in Philadelphia. Chicken long rice is basically chicken stewed with noodles, ginger, soy sauce, mushrooms, garlic, onions and pepper.

Roy's isn't having an inauguration party, Yamaguchi said over the phone from Hawaii, even though the president-elect has dined at the Chicago restaurant. Still, Yamaguchi has ideas.

"Something I would make in his honor, I'd do a braised pork shank with a luau leaf stew," known as laulau, he said. A luau leaf is another name for a taro leaf, which is a popular Hawaiian cooking ingredient.

For dessert, he would serve coconut milk mousse.

Or, you can mix cuisines.

"We're going to be incorporating soul food along with Hawaiian fusion," said KeVen Parker, owner of Ms. Tootsie's Soul Food Cafe and Ms. Tootsie's Restaurant Bar Lounge at 13th and South.

The Restaurant Bar Lounge will have a happy hour and soul-food buffet on inauguration day from 4 to 11 p.m.

The buffet will feature the signature fried chicken recipe of Parker's mother, Joyce, also known as Ms. Tootsie, and exotic original dishes including the soul roll, a twist on an egg roll whose filling is collard greens, yams, and grilled chicken breast or sauteed shrimp.

No one might better know how to cook for a multicultural feast than Alex Hing, a sous chef at the Millennium U.N. Plaza Hotel in Manhattan at United Nations Plaza. He was in Philadelphia last year to work in the Obama campaign out of Chinatown.

After Obama won, Hing helped throw a party for the Philly Chinatown volunteers and created a dish he calls Eggplant Obama. His creation uses Japanese eggplant and bread crumbs, Chinese mushrooms, and Korean kimchi, which replaces the tomato sauce in eggplant parmesan.

There are simpler ties to Obama if you have to work on Tuesday and don't have much time to cook. Just remember that before moving to Washington, the Obamas lived in Chicago.

Pick up the phone and order a deep-dish pizza to honor the new prez.

Obama Family Chili Recipe

Makes 4 servings

1 large onion, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

Several garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound ground beef or turkey

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground oregano

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon ground basil

1 tablespoon chili powder

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Several tomatoes, depending on size, chopped

1 can red kidney beans

1. Saute the onion, green pepper and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add ground meat and brown.

2. Combine spices into a mixture, then add to the ground meat.

3. Add red wine vinegar. Add tomatoes and simmer until tomatoes cook down.

4. Add kidney beans and cook for a few more minutes.

5. Serve over white or brown rice. Garnish with grated cheddar cheese, onions and sour cream.

Per serving (using beef): 421 calories, 29 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams sugar, 21 grams fat, 77 milligrams cholesterol, 466 milligrams sodium, 10 grams dietary fiber.


Makes 10 servings

2 pounds chuck beef

2 pounds pork, preferably with a little fat

1 pound fresh or salted salmon (see note)

1 pound fresh or frozen spinach


20 ti leaves (at least 15 inches long) or aluminum foil

1. Cut the beef, pork and salmon into 10 cubes.

2. Remove the center rib of the ti leaves and wash. Lay pairs of ti leaves in an X shape.

3. Place a liberal amount of spinach in the center of each pair. Place the pork, beef and salmon on the spinach. Season with salt to taste. Place a few more spinach leaves on top and wrap tightly. Tie with strong string.

4. Steam 3-4 hours. Remove string before serving. Serve steaming hot.

Note: If you are unable to get salted salmon, fresh salmon steaks, soaked in a liberal amount of salt overnight, will do just as well. Rinse excess salt off before using. Do not use smoked salt salmon.

Per serving: 458 calories, 45 grams protein, trace carbohydrates, no sugar, 30 grams fat, 137 milligrams cholesterol, 327 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.

Eggplant Obama

Makes 8 servings

4 Japanese eggplants

4 ounces fresh Chinese mushrooms

4 ounces cabbage kimchi

2 ounces slivered bamboo shoots

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/4 cup honey panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

1. Slice each eggplant in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and inner flesh leaving 1/4-inch rim (discard seeds or save for another purpose).

2. Take stems off the mushrooms and thinly slice the caps (discard stems or save for another purpose).

3. Drain and process kimchi until finely chopped. Set aside.

4. Drain and rinse bamboo shoots. Saute mushrooms and bamboo shoots in 2 tablespoons olive oil; add soy sauce. Set aside to cool.

5. Saute eggplant flesh side down in plenty of olive oil in a very hot pan until brown along the edges. Then, saute skin side for a couple of minutes. Put in sheet pan and allow to cool.

6. To assemble, layer a teaspoon or so of kimchi into eggplant. Put mushrooms and bamboo shoots on top of kimchi (about a tablespoon, or to cover the eggplant). Sprinkle panko on top of mushrooms to cover. Drizzle olive oil over panko.

7. Place in hot oven (425) until panko is golden brown. Carefully remove the eggplant with a spatula (it will be soft) and place on a serving dish. If you wish, garnish with sliced scallions for color.

Per serving: 363 calories, 6 grams protein, 26 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams sugar, 29 grams fat, no cholesterol, 205 milligrams sodium, 11 grams dietary fiber.

Kachumbari (Kenyan Salsa)

Makes 4 servings

1 very finely chopped small red onion

2 very finely chopped tomatoes

1 bunch of finely chopped fresh cilantro

4 fingers of hot pepper (optional)

1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1. Mix all the ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.

Per serving: 27 calories, 1 gram protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, trace fat, no cholesterol, 154 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.

Contact staff writer Carolyn Davis at 215-854-4214 or

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