The Seattle Center program — and a new book celebrating its 20th anniversary — showcases cultures and cuisines from around the world.
AS A TEENAGER new to Seattle, Kristi Brown learned fast that “there was always something going on” at Seattle Center.
Festivals galore at the Center celebrate ethnic cultures from within the region and around the globe. For 20 years, they’ve been organized as a program called Festál, created “to help people understand the diversity of the city,” as Steve Sneed, who oversees the program, once said. There are 24 festivals this year, all free, up from 11 when Festál began.
Now a grown-up chef, Brown, a Kansas City, Mo., native and owner of That Brown Girl Cooks!, is involved from the other side. This year, she was recipe curator and test chef for “Gathering Around the Table: A Festál Cookbook,” a 20th anniversary book that includes text by Mayumi Tsutakawa and photographs by Saddleburn Media and Zorn B. Taylor.
Upcoming Festál events
The variety of foods presented by Festál groups is a celebration in itself, from Tibetan momos to Filipino pinakbet to Polish pickle soup. While some recipes are simple, others could be a serious learning experience, whether reserving 12 hours for banh chung, the sticky rice cakes made for the Tết Festival: Vietnamese Lunar New Year, or finding the salal berries to prepare with pan-roasted elk that were showcased at the Spirit of Indigenous People festival.
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Brown found elk roast with no problem at Bob’s Quality Meats in Columbia City, but even she acknowledges it would be easiest to sample Lamb on a Spit (required elements: 100 pounds of charcoal, a whole lamb and a large electric spit rotisserie) by visiting CroatiaFest, where it is regularly served.
Food is a window into different cultures, and the festivals and recipes are ways to appreciate those cultures in a respectful way, with information that’s freely given.
People generally want you to look inside their world. But, Brown says, “It’s about understanding a little about it before you do that, honoring its history and … giving credit where credit is due.”
That’s especially important, she says, at a time when Seattle is growing fast, and many newcomers don’t realize its depth and breadth.
“If you haven’t gone south of Jackson, you haven’t been to Seattle yet,” she says.
And, though Brown had been a presenter at Festival Sundiata, a Festál event celebrating African and African-American culture, exploring the extent of the yearlong program was an education for her, too.
“It’s so beautiful when you get to peer into each and every festival and see how much heart and drive” go into them, she says.
“It’s amazing, and I love Seattle so much more for that.”
Mole Verde Sauce (use with meat, fish or vegetables)
Brown says the hardest part about this recipe from the Mexican Dia de Muertos celebration is “finding parking at Pike Place Market so that you can go into El Mercado Latino and find all the ingredients.” She suggests roasting the tomatillos over an open flame or under the broiler; the poblano can be roasted the same way.
Makes 1 quart
1 quart chicken stock
¼ pound green onion
¼ bunch curly parsley
1½ sprigs epazote
1 roasted poblano pepper
¼ pound baby spinach
1¼ avocado leaves
1 pound roasted tomatillo
1 jalapeño pepper
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
¼ tablespoon cumin, ground
1 tablespoon salt
½ ounce olive oil
½ cup white sesame seeds, toasted
1 pound pumpkin seeds, toasted
1. Add all the vegetables and spices in a food processor or blender, one by one, then add the seeds, which will thicken the sauce.
From “Gathering Around The Table: A Festál Cookbook”