Portland resident Bill Dilios taught me how to make his favorite dish from Albania, kotopita. It's like chicken pot pie, but with filo crust and an epic story inside. It starts after World War II in a village called Politsani.
Last Thursday I was delighted to find gorgeous poblano peppers at Andrew’s Farm stand at the Yarmouth Farmers’ Market. Shining with earthly energy, they reminded me something that a Mexican chef once taught me: September through November is the best time of year to cook chiles en nogada. It’s a Mexican classic: deep fried poblano chili peppers stuffed with pork, thyme, apple, and plantains, and topped with walnut cream sauce, fresh parsley, and pomegranate.
A sculpture on display at Filament Gallery in Portland, Maine, memorialized one of Jamaica’s great cooks. Her likeness is carved out of wood, sanded and polished with butcher’s wax. Her lips are closed in an understated smile of sublime satisfaction, as if saying to her numerous children and grandchildren, Mmm. Look what you’ve become. One of those grandchildren is the sculptor, Alva Lowe.
The last time I attempted to make Polish dumplings was a disaster. I was at our family’s Christmas Eve party. Thirty people were dipping pretzels into honey mustard, shrimp into cocktail sauce, and getting drinks from the bar. My mom was running the kitchen. The white fish was in baking dishes ready to be put in the oven. The ends of the beans were picked; the sauerkraut was bubbling.
Growing up in Argentina, Valy Steverlynck came from a family of not-so-great cooks. “At dinner,” she explains, “the meal would be set up with an announcement that the named family member actually produced something that was edible.” Aunt Nina was the exception. She was the only one who could really cook. Once, when Valy [pronounced like “volley”] was seven or eight years old, she smelled heaven coming from the kitchen.
A cooking lesson with an immigrant is like love. It comes when I least expect it. This time I was getting my teeth cleaned. The accent I was listening to was my dental hygienist’s, Sanja Bukarac, her golden green eyes upside-down next to her face mask: “How about next Friday?” Turns out, she is not only the best dentil hygienist I’ve ever had – not a moment of discomfort – she also grew up in what used to be Yugoslavia (the part that is today Bosnia and Herzegovina) and would be happy to teach me how to make her favorite meal from her childhood: burek, a meat pie wrapped in phyllo dough.