Friday, November 09, 2007

Staten Island Advance: Celebrate Diversity Article

Wagner foodies explore the borough

Searching for ethnic fare, students seek out restaurants and home cooks for samples
Wednesday, October 31, 2007

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Wagner College students recently undertook a spelunking expedition of sorts throughout Staten Island, sampling ethnic foods from around the borough.

Part of the homework over the semester, of course, meant examining (and thoroughly enjoying) homemade and restaurant-prepared meals in Irish, Ghanaian, Liberian, Filipino, Egyptian and Mexican traditions. The study will culminate this Sunday at the 2007 Celebrate Diversity project on the school's Grymes Hill campus. Here senior history students will introduce their own Web sites replete with recipes and photos of their experiences.


Tastings at Port Richmond taquerias led to a history lesson that touched on tensions between Spanish conquerors and the indigenous Americans: The Spanish preferred wheat, while the indigenous peoples made corn the mainstay of their diet.

Treks to Canlon's restaurant in Oakwood yielded a discovery of Shepherd's Pie -- a dish of ground meat traditionally made with lamb or mutton, baked with vegetables like peas and carrots and then topped with mashed potatoes. Canlon's also provided grounds for a chat with Chef/owner Edward Canlon and a look at Irish soda bread followed by a visit to the McAndrews home in Annadale.

"The (Irish soda bread) recipe and ingredients were pretty simple," said Kelley Dembek, a Wagner senior and delighted new fan of soda bread.

"The most exotic requiring a tablespoon of caraway seeds and 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk -- It tasted like a sweet rye bread," Ms. Dembek added. She hails from an Irish background, but until now was acquainted only with her mother's recipe for corned beef, an Irish-American specialty. The McAndrews supplied her with their own family formula.


Liberian focused foodies visited Korto's Place in Stapleton, the borough's only public restaurant at the moment serving African food. (It is located at 69 Prospect St., and is opened sporadically in the evening.) Dr. Lori Weintrob, the history professor in charge of the food project, reports that the foo-foo at Korto's is the best on the Island. Foo-foo is a starchy paste made from vegetables like African yams, plantains, taro or cassava. It is a West African dish that is produced from intense pounding with a mortar and pestle. Foo-foo pairs well with stews, or can be formed into small balls and eaten in one gulp without chewing.

Scrutiny of Ghanaian culture led to the kitchen of Josephine Appiah in Sunnyside. And Rich Davis, another Wagner student, was enthusiastic about the Egyptian and Middle Eastern edibles crafted by Susan Mirhom's in Eltingville. Davis was impressed by her cheese-stuffed phyllo dough.

"As delicious as it was filling, the entree was able to feed close to 10 people with plenty left over," Davis said, explaining that by "combining phyllo dough, cottage cheese, cream cheese and various household spices, a layered lasagna-type pastry was born."


Students Mike Hess and Joe Eurell delighted in Filipino fare at Evie Mejia's house in Dongan Hills. Ms. Mejia is president of the Staten Island Filipino Association. She taught the pair how to craft food with meats, seafood and traditional Filipino spices.

"When we arrived, Mrs. Evrie had appetizers already prepared to get us in the Filipino cooking mood," Hess noted.

Classmate Joe Eurell elaborated on "the amazing egg rolls and plantains wrapped in tortilla and deep fried." Ms. Mejia clarified some matters on those "egg rolls." These are lumpia, a traditional Filipino snack prepared with a thin, flour wrapper.

Ms. Mejia stuffed the lumpia with plantain and jackfruit, a pineapple-like fruit that has a super-sweet flavor. She fried the lumpia in vegetable oil. Ms. Mejia also whipped up Chicken Adobo, a dish that might be considered the national meal of the Phillipines, and pansit (otherwise known as noodles) with chicken and vegetables.


While admission is free, food at the Celebrate Diversity event will be offered from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. for a nominal fee. It is best to arrive early at the Wagner College Spiro Sports Center for the best selection of ethnic menus which will be served buffet-style. For more information, contact Mike Baver at 718-947-4121.


4) 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 medium-size chicken, deboned and cut into 2-inch chunks 4 small bay leaves Salt and black pepper, to taste 4 cloves garlic, mashed 1 medium-size onion, diced cup soy sauce 3 tablespoons ketchup cup vinegar

Heat oil over medium heat in a casserole-type pot. Add chicken, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Heat until chicken is browned on both sides, about 10 minutes on each side.

Add garlic and onion. Sauté until fragrant and mix together with chicken. Add soy sauce, ketchup and vinegar, but do not mix. Bring to a boil, then stir. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed. Serve with white rice.

AWE restaurant critic Pamela Silvestri writes the Traditions column for Wednesday's FOOD section. Contact her at

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