Looking at the state of the world at large, it can be difficult to see a reflection of the upcoming holiday sentiment: “Peace on earth — goodwill towards mankind.” In its place, we find conflict, hostility, divisiveness, political mistrust, crime, greed, and pending financial collapse.
Daily news headlines dampen the message of the Yuletide. Thankfully there are, and always have been, organizations and individuals that are focused on peace-making and global welfare. They demonstrate that we as a world community can live together in harmony.
Food has often been a starting point for community building as well as peace-making. Many decades ago, in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the “Public Law 480”, which was expanded and renamed under President Kennedy as “Food for Peace.” In 1961, Kennedy redefined the program and set the tone for food as peace-keeping by saying, “Food is strength, and food is peace, and food is freedom, and food is a helping to people around the world whose goodwill and friendship we want.”Food is one of the critical factors, along with water and shelter, for our survival. Yet, it nurtures us in ways beyond the physical. It is also a central part of human relationships and cultures. The holiday season is well-marked with food as the centerpiece of our festivities, celebrations, and gatherings. This year, choose foods that nourish inside and out.
Nutrition is powerful. In keeping with the theme of food as a reality and metaphor for our survival, a remarkable organization, Chefs for Peace, is showing us once again the power of food as an effective agent for social and political change. A Jerusalem based multi-cultural group of chefs use food and cooking to demonstrate that living together peacefully is possible for all, no matter what faith or culture one comes from. The group includes Arabs, Jews, Christians, and Muslims all working together to prepare meals for celebrations, galas, and culinary competitions. They share their love of food and nourishing others to transcend any differences between them and have created a respectful and trusting partnership within this visionary group.
Chefs for Peace began in Jerusalem in 2001, by its founder Kevork Alemaian and a group of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian chefs. It is a non-profit organization “committed to exploring cultural identity, diversity and coexistence through food…[that] understands food — its preparation, sharing, and enjoyment — as a powerful means of creating a bond with others and revealing that which is valued by all three faiths: food, family and friends… peace happens every day, in the kitchen and around the table!” The members believe that rather than leaving it to politicians to enact change and bring about peace, it will take “real people living and working together to create peace.” I think this motto reflects the values of many of us in the health advocacy program.
Their unique cuisine reflects their belief in the value of blending various cultures and that sharing a simple meal is an act of peace and community. While the notion of “breaking bread” or sharing the nourishment of food as peacemaking is not a new one, the Chefs for Peace actively demonstrate how peace and goodwill-making, through shared nourishment, is a welcome and refreshing example of how this basic human need can heal and unite.
As the holiday season comes upon us, it is good to reflect upon our family and community celebrations that can serve to nourish and foster goodwill for all. In this spirit, here is the Chefs for Peace recipe for Fresh Figs Stuffed with Mushrooms and Pecans — something healthy and new to serve up for the holidays. Figs are filled with essential A and B vitamins in addition to calcium, potassium, and a generous amount of fiber. Furthermore, this recipe celebrates various cultural appetites with its unique combination of seasonings.
- 1 teaspoon butter
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/3 cup minced onion
- 1/3 cup minced cremini mushrooms
- 1/3 cup minced toasted pecans
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, divided
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
- Pinch of cloves
- 1/4 cup tamarind paste
- 1 cup of water
- 2 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar, or to taste
- 3 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
- 12-14 fresh figs
1. In a medium sauté pan, heat butter and olive oil. Add onion and mushrooms and sauté until golden and tender, about 10 minutes. Add pecans and half of the cardamom, allspice, and cinnamon. Add a pinch of cloves, plus salt to taste. Stir well, cooking until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
2. Add remaining cardamom, allspice, and cinnamon to the pan (without cleaning it), plus tamarind paste, water, and sugar. Blend well with a whisk, and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and continue cooking, stirring often, until sauce becomes smooth and velvety about 5 minutes. Whisk in mascarpone cheese until smooth and sauce is heated through. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and more sweeteners, if desired.
3. Slice top 1/2 inch of figs almost all the way through, but still attached. Use a 1/4-teaspoon measuring spoon to dig out fig flesh; put in a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of fig flesh to the mushroom mixture and mix well. Stuff figs with the mixture, overfilling slightly. Place stuffed figs in a pan with the sauce, spooning sauce over them. Bring to a gentle boil; then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes.
PER SERVING (1): 103 cal, 38% fat cal, 5g fat (2g mono, 1g poly, 1g sat), 5mg chol, 1g protein, 16g carb, 3g fiber, 8mg sodium