WALNUT GROVE - Sharing a good meal is the kind of experience that reaches across cultures. And sometimes, preparing a meal is a chance to share knowledge, too.
That message came across loud and clear as a group of Walnut Grove women tried to make their first batch of sesame seed balls during a community class late last week. The sesame balls, made with glutinous rice flour, sugar and sesame seeds, are a sweet made by many Hmong families, said Kalia Lor, one of the class' teachers.
Unfortunately, the students had a tough time making neat balls with the rice flour dough.
Kathy Filter, Rennae Krentz, and Kalia Lor work to shape balls of dough for a recipe during a Hmong cultural cooking class offered in Walnut Grove late last week.
"Mine are sticking to my hands. What did I do?" said Walnut Grove resident Pam Baumann.
"Your hands have to be really dry," Lor said.
Once the balls were coated in sesame seeds, Lor put several into a wok at once to deep-fry. "You have to keep moving it around and pressing it on the side," she said, working with a pair of tongs. The combination of pressure and the hot oil make the balls puff up.
Baumann and Lor were part of a small Hmong cultural cooking class offered through Walnut Grove's community services. Kalia Lor and Kathy Filter, both Walnut Grove residents, said they worked together to organize the class.
"Kalia is a great cook," Filter said, and Lor's expertise in making dishes like lo mein and the sesame balls kept things moving in the former home economics kitchen at Walnut Grove Elementary. The cooking class was a way to learn a little bit about Hmong culture and share some recipes, Filter said.
Lor said the recipes the class was making were ones she makes more for special occasions, "like for a party."
"What do you eat every day?" Filter asked.
"Rice, and meat, and vegetables," usually cooked together, Lor said. She said she cooks for her family, and often uses home-grown ingredients.
The women paid extra attention to the brands of sauces, including soy and hoisin sauce, Lor was using for the lo mein.
"I like the sauces," Baumann said, but it wasn't always easy to get the flavor right when she tried it herself.
Filter said sharing cross-cultural recipes wasn't a completely new idea in Walnut Grove.
"The ladies here have tried doing it both ways," she said. Filter said she has helped teach baking and some western-style cooking for classes of Hmong women learning English. "And we try to learn their dishes, too."
The women attending the class said they were introduced to different kinds of Asian cooking partly through the Hmong community in Walnut Grove. There's plenty of good food served during local Hmong New Year and cultural celebrations, and Asian foods and cooking ingredients can be found at the Hmong grocery store in town, they said.
"It was something I always wanted to make at home," Pam Baumann said of the lo mein recipes.
Looking at different Hmong foods,Walnut Grove resident Rennae Krentz said, "I would always think, this sounds so hard." Besides being a cultural experience, the class was an opportunity to build some skills.
"Now I'm like, 'I can do this!'" she said.