Cookbook editor Leyla Moushabeck challenges the readers of The Immigrant Cookbook to “imagine an America without pizza or pad Thai, humus or hot dogs, sushi or strudel.” Not an easy task. Nor do I even want to imagine that because it sounds pretty tragic.
In this book, featuring over fifty recipes from renowned chefs from Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe, Moushabeck includes hand-picked recipes that are “not only a celebration of diverse culinary traditions” but “also capture the spirit of what makes America great.” Published in late 2017 as a response to the hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric under the current administration, the book is a powerful and tasty tribute to the many immigrants who have contributed to American cuisine and culture. An added bonus: sales of the book help raise funds for the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, which uses litigation, advocacy, and public outreach to defend the individual liberties of immigrants.
On my first day as a summer intern here at DLG, I was tasked with the responsibility of reviewing this cookbook. I immediately knew I wanted to cook something for my uncle’s family, who let me stay with them in Manhattan for the summer. I know that across many cultures how special and important it is to share a meal together, and wanted to bring that experience to my family, who I don’t get to see as often as I’d like to while at college.
So I explored the cookbook with an open mind. The recipes in the cookbook draw inspiration from all over the world, from Lebanon to Thailand to Austria, and cover everything from appetizers to soups to desserts, all presented alongside beautiful photographs of the dishes. Many prominent chefs and restaurateurs, including Joanne Chang, Daniel Boulud, and José Andrés, contributed. And many of these contributing chefs, themselves immigrants or children of immigrants, have made a name for themselves in the American restaurant industry by bringing in flavors from abroad.
Since my cooking abilities don’t reach far beyond fried eggs, I was especially thankful that the recipes vary in difficulty along with types of cuisines. After pouring over the many recipes, I chose to make fattoush, a Lebanese peasant salad, from chef and food writer Barbara Abdeni Massaad, as well as a Colombian-styled arroz con pollo from chef Ingrid Hoffmann.
Although the fattoush was pretty straightforward to assemble (thankfully), it was still complex in flavor with its addition of mint and parsley, along with lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetables. Though I omitted the fried pita chips as garnish for the gluten-intolerant family members, I thought the flavors worked really well together.
I was more nervous about the arroz con pollo, which involved cooking and shredding chicken, boiling rice, spicing it just right, and folding it all together—none of which I’ve ever done alone before. I cooked the rice, green beans, carrots, and peas in a pot and stirred in the shredded chicken, along with olives and even more vegetables. Luckily, I avoided any huge disasters. No pots boiling over with water, and no burnt rice at the bottom of the pot. I garnished the dish with cilantro and served it with the salad. It made for a nice Sunday evening spent with my family, and the dinner definitely felt more special than a typical restaurant meal.
Trying out new restaurants of different cuisines is great, but it was a wholly different experience to touch the spices I had never used before and to think about how these recipes came to be, and how individuals from different countries have helped define the US. The Immigrant Cookbook’s recipes demonstrate that America’s diverse food scene has only been possible through the rich diversity of our immigrants.
With the anti-immigrant rhetoric that characterizes political debate right now, Moushabeck’s book rises above words, turning towards the universal appeal of delicious food instead to makes its point. Thank you to Leyla Moushabeck and the contributing chefs from all over the world for sharing recipes that celebrate a diverse America.
Audrey Kim was a 2019 summer intern at the firm. She is a third-year student at Brown University.