The power of food to connect us

Cooking Ecuadorian food with Leonor

I’ve taken a couple of online cooking classes since the COVID-19 lockdown started, making ravioli with zucchini and garlic sauce and tiramisu with Cinzia and Lebanese mezza with Tania. I’ve also led an online cooking lesson of my own making lentil and mushroom cannelloni with a couple of friends and regularly cook via Zoom with my grandson Rex. Last week we made soft choc chip cookies and shared them with a long distance cup of tea!

I’ve always believed in the power of food to connect us and that’s just as true now that we can’t travel as when we could, perhaps more so.

Today I took an online class with Leonor from Ecuador and was reminded yet again of the ways in which the experience of cooking, as well as sharing stories and, of course, eating, bring us together regardless of our countries, cultures and backgrounds. I’ve been meaning to book myself onto a Migrateful course for a long time and I’m so glad I did. Migrateful runs cookery classes led by refugees, asylum seekers and migrants struggling to integrate and access employment in the UK. The cookery classes provide ideal conditions not just for learning English and building confidence, but also for promoting contact and cultural exchange with the wider community. And of course they provide people like me with an opportunity to cook new dishes and learn about the ways in which the foods that are familiar to us all are cooked in other parts of the world.

Today I did exactly that, joining a dozen other people from the UK, US, France, Italy and Singapore to make a vegetarian tortilla (omelette) with vegetables and eggs and a shrimp ceviche, both flavoured with cumin and fresh coriander.

The use of these particular herbs and spices in Ecuadorian cuisine really surprised me but highlights once again how the foods we eat are intricately connected through centuries of migration with people moving to new and unfamiliar parts of the world and taking with them foodstuffs and ways of cooking that reflect their tastes and cooking preferences.

From spicy Latin dishes to savory Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, cumin knows no borders. There have even been books written about it. An ancient spice that was first made popular by the Greeks and Romans, cumin has long been tied to superstitions, utilized in home remedies and employed in religious and political ceremonies. And when people have travelled they have almost invariably taken cumin with them, including across the Spanish who crossed the Atlantic and settled in South America. By about 1600, cumin was being grown in what is now New Mexico and quickly became an integral part of the regional cuisine. Coriander has an equally fascinating history tied to trading routes that go back millennia.

So thanks to Leonor and Migrateful I now not only know how to cook delicious Ecuadorian food but I’ve learnt something about the ways in which food connects us that I didn’t know when I woke up this morning!

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