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Lao Our Cultures, Our Stories
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Take a look at these great recipes

by Jessica Giffen

When I was little, my grandmother would make these for parties only, and they were a bit smaller so that you could pop a whole one in your mouth in one bite. When I grew up and started living on my own, I realized I could make these any time, so I made them a little bigger and served them as a dinner entrée. My husband always insists on eating one more than everybody else, and now unfortunately my son does the same. This means we have to count the meatballs very carefully, and there are never any leftovers! Luckily, the recipe doubles very easily.

  • 1 lb ground beef (or a mix of beef and lamb)
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • 2 slices sourdough bread, made into breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried spearmint
  • ¼ teaspoon dried garlic or 2 minced cloves of garlic
  • ¼ cup or less of dry white wine (A splash! Don't use red wine.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • About ⅓ cup of white, all-purpose flour, in a small, separate bowl
  • Olive oil

  1. Except for the flour and olive oil, mix everything together well.
  2. Heat a large pan with a few tablespoons of olive oil to medium low. The low setting will make sure the meatballs finish cooking at about the same time.
  3. With your hands, take a ping pong sized blob of meat and roll it into a ball about 1.5 inches in diameter.
  4. Drop the meatball into the flour and roll it around so that it is coated evenly.
  5. Place the meatball in the pan, not in the center, but around the edge. Continue until the last meatballs are placed in the center of the pan. Turn the heat up slightly, so that you can hear the sizzling, but not so much that they will burn on the bottom.
  6. Flip them over with a fork when the tops have no pink in them, and are looking rather grey, and the bottoms look well done. If you are using a lean meat, you might need to add a little more oil to the pan after you flip them over. If some of the meatballs are a little bigger, you might need to tip them over and cook them on their sides as well.
  7. We usually eat these with cooked greens (like kale, collards, or chard), and rice pilaf or noodles with browned butter and mizithra (a hard, salty cheese made from sheep's or goat's milk). In Fresno, mizithra can be found at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and Papaya Fresh.

by Amy Richardson

My paternal grandmother came to the United States from Kidderminster, England at the age of 8. Kidderminster is in Worcestershire county so the dash of Lea & Perrins in the recipe would be authentic! Kidderminster was the carpet capital of England for a long time, and the Curtis family came over to work in the carpet industry in Pennsylvania. Harriet had a charming English accent all of her life. She married a man of German descent and I remember her stories about trying to make sauerkraut from scratch and it all exploding in the cellar. They lived back East, so a lot of the food they ate, and I grew up eating, was typical of the area. I still love Scrapple and liverwurst.

One dish Gram would make was a cheese ball for Thanksgiving and it was always a favorite and much anticipated part of the day. My father was in charge of a research farm here in the Valley and would bring home all kinds of fruit, vegetables and nuts for the family. He and Gram would sit at the dining room table and crack walnuts, some of which were used for the cheese ball. Gram had bad arthritis in her knees and couldn't stand up to do a lot of cooking so this was her way of contributing to the meal. Her cheese ball is easy and so much better than store bought!

Her directions:
Crumble 4 oz. of blue cheese, mix well with 4 oz of grated sharp cheddar cheese and 3 oz of Philadelphia cream cheese. Add 1 Tbsp of chopped fresh parsley, ½ teaspoon grated onion, dash of garlic salt, dash of Lea & Perrins. Shape into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap, chill overnight/until firm. Reshape ball and roll in chopped walnuts.

We like this with Triscuits, but use your favorite cracker, also good on celery sticks.

I usually make double, since you don't find the small (3 oz) packages of cream cheese any more.

Substitutions: I sometimes use chives for the grated onion and you can use garlic powder if you don't want to add salt. Also good with chopped pecans instead of, or with, the walnuts.

by Dalya Hussein

The Iraqi Kabab is one of the unique famous dishes that can be eaten for the three main meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner). Back in Iraq it is very easy to find this delicious dish everywhere in all the cities all over the country, and they all cook it exactly the same way, I still keep the smell of the Iraqi Kabab in my nose and I've never tasted anything similar to it maybe that what made me choose this dish.

I remember that when my mother was so busy that she could not cook for us she used to order kabab. At the same time, when she used to have a lot of relatives or friends invited to our place she would also cook kabab, so this dish is very common, easy and important at the same time. It is one of many things that could give you the sense of my country, Iraq.

  • 1 ½ lb. ground beef (or lamb) meat
  • ⅓ lb. lamb fat, chopped
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon sumac
  • ½ cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika

  • For the garnish
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • ½ teaspoon sumac
  1. Place the diced tomato and onion in the center of a large cheesecloth. Close the cheesecloth and squeeze very hard on the tomato and onion to extract the juice. Discard the juice.
  2. In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients as well as the squeezed tomato and onion.
  3. Let the mixture rest for 1 hour in the refrigerator, kneading it every 15 minutes.
  4. Take a piece of meat and squeeze firmly on a long, wide metal skewer and form a long kebab.
  5. Repeat the process until the meat is all used.
  6. Grill the skewers for about 3 to 4 minutes per side, preferably on a charcoal fire. It is important to turn the skewer regularly, otherwise the meat may come off the skewer.
  7. Sprinkle the skewers with 1 tablespoon chopped parsley and ½ teaspoon sumac and serve immediately with bell peppers and tomatoes, grilled on the same fire.

Easter has always been my favorite holiday. I love everything about it: dyeing dozens of hard-boiled eggs and putting up all the springtime decorations of rabbits and chicks, and even the idea of the world springing back to life after a cold and dormant winter. But the part of Easter I love the most is the food! These Easter cookies, koulourakia, are a family favorite, and I don't always wait until the right time of year to make them. They are kind of like the Greek version of biscotti, perfect for dipping into your morning coffee or afternoon tea, and they aren't so sweet that you feel guilty about eating more than a few of them.

Making these when I was very little, at my grandmother's side, is one of my earliest cooking memories. She did not bake very many sweets, but these koulourakia were one of the big exceptions, because they were for Easter. They have aniseed in them, and I remember us every year trying to get the right amount of aniseed flavor into the dough, trying to guess how much the flavor would bloom after the cookies had aged a day or two. Too much aniseed, and it was a licorice cookie that nobody wanted to eat. Too little, and it didn't have the right subtle flavor. I struggle with that balance even today! But I don't mind the struggle, because it takes me back to those happy days with her by my side.

The shapes are also important. The dough is rather stiff, and you roll it into ropes and shape the ropes into snakes or circles. The twisted snakes are my favorite shape, but I usually include a few ourobouros (snakes that are circles). This is the most time-consuming part of making koulourakia, but it's also the most fun, because this is when you get to chat. My grandmother and I would have so much fun chatting, gossiping, and telling stories while we rolled the dough out, shaped it, and pinched off little bits to eat! When all the dough was shaped, we would then brush the tops with beaten egg, and she would let me sprinkle the sesame seeds before we popped them into the oven to bake. As a kid, I loved scattering the sesame seeds on top of the egg wash, racing against time so the wash would still be sticky enough to hold onto them. As an adult, I still race against time, and again, I don't mind the struggle because it reminds me of my grandmother and our time together in the kitchen.

Here is the recipe! I tinker with it all the time, because I think Greeks are incapable of actually following a recipe to a T. In fact, if you change the recipe a little bit, it would be a very authentically Greek thing to do!

  • 1 stick softened butter
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 large eggs, plus another to use for the egg wash
  • 2 ½ teaspoons vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon anise extract or slightly crushed aniseed (you can add more after tasting the dough, if needed)
  • 3 cups white flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon water (or more, if the dough is dry)
  • Sesame seeds to sprinkle on top

Cream the butter, then add the sugar and mix well.

Beat in the eggs, then add the vanilla extract. Also add the aniseed extract or aniseed. Or both!

Add the first cup of flour, along with the baking powder. Mix well, then work in the rest of the flour. If the dough is too dry, add a bit of water, but the dough should be stiff and workable, like clay.

Shape into snakes or circles, as shown in the pictures on the previous page.

Beat an egg, and brush it onto a few cookies at a time. A pastry brush works the best, but in a pinch, you can use a paper towel or a bit of crumpled up plastic wrap. Sprinkle the sesame seeds liberally onto the cookies before the egg wash dries. Continue until the tray is done. This recipe will make several trays, and about 3 dozen cookies, depending on how large you make them. I make them about as long as the palm of my hand.

Bake at 350 degrees, for about 20 minutes. Because all ovens are a little different, keep an eye on the first batch to see how long they really take. They should get slightly golden. They taste even better the second or third day!

by Nida Van Camp

Eating My Empire, Flavorful Dish
I would like to share this dish because it is easy to prepare and make. It is also well known not just in my country, Thailand, but also all over the world.

It is important to me because it has all kinds of flavors. Most importantly, it makes me feel like I am home.
Papaya Salad (Som Tum) is a light, fresh colorful salad that embodies the flavors of Northeastern Thailand. All of the ingredients are pounded together in a wooden mortar and pestle which helps to develop the sour, savory and spicy flavors. Once you taste this flavorful dish, it is easy to see why it is so well loved! I make it as an everyday dish and of course we can't miss having it at every party or special events as well.

How is Papaya Salad related to me?
First of all, I am a Thai girl who has lived back and forth between the US and Thailand since 2005 and I did not have any family here but me. Now I have a family of my own, however they are all American and none of them can cook my food. As Som Tum is my most favorite, I was dying to eat it everyday. But could I make Som Tum? I did not know how to make it. I had been struggling, not knowing how to make Som Tum, and spent a lot of money buying Som Tum from restaurants. I did this until I was pregnant with my first born, when my strong craving of Som Tum was torturing me! That was the turning point, when I learned how to make Som Tum on my own. I Googled recipes and mixed many recipes together until I found the taste I love. I have stuck to this recipe, and it has become my signature Som Tum. The secret is that I always add shrimp paste when others might not. I think it tastes better with shrimp paste and we use it a lot in many dishes, including Som Tum. The taste of Som Tum I have made is similar to the Som Tum taste that I loved eating with my family back in Thailand.

  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 7 dried Thai chili peppers
  • 1 tbsp crumbled palm sugar
  • 1 cup of long beans (chopped about 5 cm. long)
  • 5 cherry tomatoes (cut half)
  • 4 cups of shredded green papaya
  • 2 tbsp lime juice (about 1 lime)
  • 1 tbsp of fermented fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp of fish sauce
  • 1 tsp of shrimp paste
  1. Combine garlic and dried Thai chili peppers in a wooden mortar and pestle. Pound until chili peppers are broken apart and garlic is finely ground.
  2. Add palm sugar and shrimp paste. Pound until sugar starts to dissolve.
  3. Add long beans, tomatoes and shredded green papaya. Use a spoon to mix them together.
  4. Add fish sauce, fermented fish sauce and lime juice. Gently pound them all together with the pestle so that everything gets mixed together.
  5. Serve immediately!

(You can adjust the amount of chili peppers, all fish sauces and lime juice to your taste. Be cautious with the amount of the dried Thai chili peppers suggested in the recipe because it is extremely hot. You can reduce or leave them out completely if you prefer.)

Each contributor to the "Our Cultures, Our Stories" project has granted permission for Fresno County Public Library to share their submitted stories and recipes with the public. Contributors reserve all rights to these submissions.