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Dumplings with Your Neighbor

Susan Prepares Garlic Eggplant
Susan Prepares Garlic Eggplant
This blog was written by TFP Community Programs Associate Allison Daminger about the first installment in our "Cooking with Your Neighbor" workshop series this winter.

 

A small group huddles around a pot of boiling water in The Food Project's kitchen in Dorchester. "How will we know they're done?" asks one woman. The answer comes from across the room, where Shuyun (Susan) Zheng is busy slicing a head of Napa cabbage: "They're done when they float!" she calls.

The pot-watchers' eagerness to do things correctly is understandable; they, along with twenty other neighbors and community members, have spent the past three hours mincing, chopping, rolling, and mixing their way through an introduction to Chinese cuisine, and it's almost time to eat the fruits of their labor. In addition to the dumplings boiling on the stove before them, class participants are looking forward to garlic eggplant, stir-fried tofu and tatsoi, and a Chinese cold dish composed of cabbage, carrots, apples, and kelp.

The afternoon's culinary activities mark the start of The Food Project's "Grow Well, Eat Well, Be Well" program, a series of gardening and cooking workshops to be held throughout the winter and spring of 2013. Each cooking class spotlights a talented home cook in the Dudley neighborhood and offers participants a chance to try their hand at an unfamiliar cuisine. Susan, today's guest chef, is a gardener (look for her tomatoes at next year's farmers market!) and nutrition consultant in addition to a cook, and participants are grateful for the chance to learn from her expertise. "I really enjoyed Susan's enthusiasm and knowledge and appreciated her patience," one woman remarks after the class wraps up; another names her willingness to answer participants' questions as an important feature of the afternoon.

Susan is not the only teacher present, however. As the afternoon progresses, class participants - largely strangers to one another before today - begin swapping cooking tips and recipe ideas; everyone seems to benefit from her classmates' descriptions of previous kitchen triumphs and mistakes. Conversation momentarily subsides when the food is ready, however, as everyone focuses their attention on the dishes they've helped to prepare. The garlic eggplant is a surprise favorite: "It's so simple!" one woman marvels, "I'm going to go home and make it tomorrow." The dumplings, too, get rave reviews: "So much better than the kind you get at a Chinese restaurant!" remarks a satisfied participant. The others nod in agreement. Armed with leftovers and recipe sheets, they head out into the snow prepared to impress their friends and families with a fresher, healthier version of take-out favorites.

 

What participants are saying about the class:

"I really enjoyed Susan's enthusiasm and knowledge and appreciated her patience. I liked learning cooking tips from other participants and working together to prepare the delicious food."

"The food was easy to make and delicious, and I gained appreciation for the instructor's cultural background. It was a free and very fun activity for my husband and me. I would do it again and recommend it to friends."

"I had great conversation with the other folks [at the workshop]. The instructor was very willing to answer questions. Everyone was able to participate in both the preparation and cleanup. The atmosphere was inviting and comfortable."

 

For more information about the "Grow Well, Eat Well, Be Well" workshops, download a flier or contact Community Outreach and Education Manager Kathleen Banfield at buildagarden@thefoodproject.org.

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