Strangers no More: Welcoming Refugees and Asylum Seekers
Biscuits and Gravy is the classic feel-good dish of the South. Fluffy, flaky biscuits are smothered with creamy sausage gravy, the color of the gravy might just depend on the cook, the state, or the syrupy superstitions of a well-used family cookbook. A good gravy is a practiced and intuitive alchemy of flour, milk, and fat. No recipes can replicate a granny's hands about their saintly sign language of biscuit making. But most of all Biscuits and Gravy is a dish to welcome strangers and banish hunger form empty bellies for hours to come. As I think lately about what it means to be a stranger and what it means to welcome strangers, I was inspired to re-imagine this hearty staple. The movement of thousands of people from their countries brings natural worries about infrastructure and space, it also brings the possibilities of new voice, new community, richer tables and deeper dialogues. These voices will change our lives, right down to dishes we eat. Food figures prominently in the history of our migrations, escapes, and re-locations. Whether it be the first foot forward to connecting and listening to strangers, the means to start a business in a new land, or the strange feeling of not knowing what is what in the marketplace, food has a way of telling us about ourselves and the ground we can call home. Even when we cannot at first share a language, we can share bread.
This country recently announced that it plans to welcome greater numbers of refugees from Syria and Iraq, in so doing it commits itself to discerning not only how to welcome them, but how to help them feel at home. We are not talking about short term guests but new neighbors. The first step to welcoming the stranger might be overcoming our own fears, and there seems to be a pig pile of fear going around in every country. What are we afraid of? Perhaps at the heart of the refugee “crisis”, is the pernicious and persistent fear in each and every one of us that there is not enough room, not enough resources to go around, not enough love to reach me. If people can lose their home in mere moments, what is to stop that happening to my family or town? Where can we all go? Where will we fit? Perhaps we are afraid that we will be contaminated by the violence that caused other people to have to flee their homes, afraid that misfortune will slip into our lives like a flu, and that our lives as they are (as we like them) will change. Fear has the power to silence our welcomes and starve our hospitality.
It's true, our lives will change. It's true, we can't guarantee that tomorrow will be like today. Hospitality asks us to confront the fears we have about our own security by welcoming the stranger into our lives, but is also helps us to do so by enlarging them past our own coffee table expectations. Hospitality takes courage, it sure does, but living into welcome might just make us free. It could be like an enormous, chaotic, delicious house party. You know the kind, big mess= big fun.There might be something more nourishing than security and surety to find. Despite the grim hypothesis of the newsreels there is enough room if we make it, together we have enough food, and no finite resource of love. I am not sure how to help all of the time, certainly not in the face of something so overwhelming, but I do know that I will have to put aside my fears and get big- big arms, big mind, big table, big life. When I was a stranger you let me cook in your kitchens and eat at your table, and it rocked.
Other people's stories are good brain and heart food. I found these two resources to help on the way to No More Strangers:
In this lovely article, Omid Safi reminds us that refugees are living, breathing people, who never stopped loving their homes. On their journey they continue to fall in love, feel loss, lose connections, and keep on hoping.
A nifty list of Affirmations for Faith Leaders: Welcoming the Stranger, from Lutheranworld.org
Now for a little Texas meets Middle East in a new version of Biscuits and Gravy where Sweet Potato Biscuits are paired with Lamb Kefta/kofta in a Tahini and Yogurt Sauce. The sweet potato in these biscuits makes for an amazingly moist crumb and texture. They are buttery and filling and balance out the sweetness of the meatballs perfectly. I roasted some eggplant, cauliflower, and whole shallots to serve alongside. Sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and toasted pine nuts, I think B&G just went international.
Sweet Potato Biscuits & "Gravy"
For the Biscuits: 2 cups all purpose flour 1 Tablespoon Brown Sugar 1 Tablespoon Baking Powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 stick, 1/2 cup butter unsalted and very cold 1 Tablespoon of Rosemary, finely chopped 1 cup of roasted sweet potato, mashed 3 Tablespoons of Milk
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. To make biscuits place flour, salt, baking powder, and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl and whisk. Cut in butter and with a pastry blender or your hands, process butter into flour mixture until the pieces are about pea-sized and well distributed. Add in sweet potato and rosemary and fold into dry mix. Add milk and bring the dough together. If it is a bit dry add some milk and if it seems a little wet, add a little more flour as your turn it out onto a cutting board or surface. Need together, folding over 3 or 4 times. After letting the dough rest for a few minutes, roll out to 1/4 inch thick and cut rounds with a biscuit cutter or glass. Place on a greased baking sheet, cozy right close to each other, so they rise up when baking and not out. Bake for 15-20 minutes until tops are golden brown. Try not to eat them all before the meatballs are done...but you gotta taste test of course!
Lamb Meatballs in Yogurt and Tahini Sauce
1 pound ground spring lamb 3 green onions, thinly sliced 2 clovers of garlic, minced 1/4 cup parsley, chopped 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon cumin 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander 1 Tablespoon Blackberry Jam, or other preserve of your choice (Orange Marmalade is yum!) 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled 5 dates, chopped 1 egg dash salt and pepper
1 cup greek yogurt 1/2-3/4 cup tahini 1/4 cup water salt and squeeze of lemon 1/2 cup pine nuts toasted 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1. Place the lamb in a mixing bowl and add spices, herbs, jam, dates, cheese and egg. Mix with a wooden spoon or your hands. Season with salt and pepper and mix again. In another bowl add tahini, yogurt, water, lemon and pinch of salt. Mix well. 2. Heat a large skillet or frying pan and coat with a thin layer of oil. When the pan is hot and oil heated, shape lamb mixture into longer, oval-like meatballs. Ideally they should all fit into one pan. When one side of the meatballs is browned, flip them. After both sides are brown and there is a good layer of fat and oil in the bottom of the pan, add tahini gravy and continue to simmer meatballs in the sauce for 15 minutes. If the sauce is to thick for your liking, you can thin it with a little more water or oil. The thicker the better for me! 3. Slice open a sweet potato biscuit and spoon a few meatballs and a serving of gravy overtop. Sprinkle with pine nuts, pomegranate, and leftover parsley. Enjoy with a new friends and stories unheard!
Hopes for safety, shelter, big hosts and warm tables