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Ethnic at Your Casa

Recipes from Charlotte's most diverse denizens



You don't have to pull out your Visa and plunk down tip money the next time you crave the flavor of ethnic grub. Believe it or not, you can actually make the stuff in your own kitchen. To prove this point, Creative Loafing consulted some of Charlotte's most diverse denizens to find out how they make their favorite homemade ethnic dishes.

Teresa Hernandez's Red Mole Recipe

Theresa Hernandez opened Pure Vida Worldly Art ( on Central Avenue barely three years ago in hopes that Charlotteans would share in her passion for folk art from around the world, including art from her own native Mexico. She shares her quick-fire version of the classic Mexican dish, red mole. "In my family we serve the mole over chicken or cheese enchiladas. Because of the number of ingredients it can be time-consuming to make but once made, it can be frozen and used later. My mother gave me her recipe and I've changed it a little over time to make it faster to prepare and more healthful," Hernandez says. "What used to take me two hours to make now takes me about 45 minutes."


6 to 8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into smaller pieces

Olive oil

3 dried chiles de arbol

5 dried chiles pasilla

5 dried chiles anchos

10-12 saltine crackers

2 cinnamon sticks, shredded or cut into shards

3 tablespoons peanuts

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1⁄4 of a large yellow onion, diced

1 medium tomato, diced

3 garlic gloves, diced

1⁄2 jalapeno pepper, diced

3 to 4 teaspoons of allspice

1 tablespoon of raisins

2 triangles of Mexican Abuelita chocolate

1 teaspoon of salt

1 dash of ground black pepper

Cooking instructions:

Fill a stockpot 3⁄4 full of water. Add a teaspoon of salt. Put the chicken to boil. In small pan, add olive oil and sauté the diced onion, tomato, garlic and jalapeno pepper. Set aside. In a small pan, add olive oil and lightly toast the shredded cinnamon. Set aside. In a small pan, add olive oil and toast the crackers to a light golden brown. Set aside. In small pan, add olive oil and toast the peanuts and sesame seeds to a light golden brown. Set aside. Rinse all the chiles, taking the seeds out. In a saucepan, add olive oil and sauté the chiles just enough to soften them.

Once the chicken is cooked, leave about 1 cup (8 ounces) of broth and pour the rest into a blender. Blender should be about 60 percent filled with broth. Add all the items you sautéed and toasted (onion, tomato, garlic, jalapeno pepper, cinnamon, crackers, peanuts, sesame seeds, chiles de arbol, chiles pasilla, chiles anchos). Also add the allspice, raisins, and the chocolate. Liquefy until sauce is smooth and creamy. Pour sauce over chicken. Add a dash of pepper. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

Papa S. Ndiaye's Thiebou Dienn Sous Verre (Senegalese Rice and Fish Stew)

Since 1997, Papa S. Ndiaye has been doing interior design, weddings and event catering out of his African art shop House of Africa in Plaza Midwood. Originally from West Africa, Ndiaye grew up eating thiebou dienn sous verre, the national dish of Senegal, with his family. "It is my favorite dish because I was born and raised in Ndar North of Senegal where this famous recipe takes its roots," he says. "I remember my grandmother getting up early in the morning to go to the fish market to get live fish." (This version of the recipe is gleaned from The Africa Cookbook, Simon & Schuster.)


4 tablespoons of peanut oil

2 large onions, minced

3-inch piece of smoked fish (guedge or yete if possible)

1 6-ounce can of tomato paste

9 cups slightly salted cold water

1 bunch parsley, trimmed

2 large cloves of garlic

1 fresh bird chile

2 scallions

3 pounds sea bass tail, cleaned and cut into steaks 1 1/2 inches thick

1/2 pound calabaza, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice

1/2 pound sweet cassava, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice

5 small purple turnips, quartered

1 small green cabbage, cut into eighths

4 sweet potatoes, quartered

2 small eggplants cut into 1-inch slices

5 carrots, scraped and cut into chunks

12 small okra pods, washed and topped and tailed (any hard pods discarded)

1 habanero chile, pricked with a fork

2 pounds broken rice

Makes eight to 10 servings

Cooking instructions:

Heat the oil in a large stockpot and brown the onion. Add the smoked fish, the tomato paste and 1/4 cup of the salted water. While the onion mixture is browning, prepare the stuffing for the sea bass steaks by placing the parsley, garlic, chile and scallions in a food processor and pulsing until they form a thick paste. When the paste is ready, score the sea bass steaks and poke the stuffing into the slits.

Place the sea bass in the stockpot with the onion mixture, allow it to cook for 5 minutes, and add the remaining water. When the fish mixture comes to a boil, cover the pot, lower the heat, and add the vegetables in the order given, finishing off with the pricked habanero chile, which you will remove (and reserve) when the thiebou dienn is spicy enough for you. Cook for 20 minutes. Remove the sea bass steaks keeping them whole, and place them on a serving platter. Cover them with a bit of the cooking liquid, and keep them warm.

Continue cooking the thiebou dienn for an additional 15 minutes, then remove the vegetables and arrange them on a platter and keep them warm. Reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid to make the sauces. Return the remaining liquid to a boil, add the rice, cover, and cook for 20 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is done.

While the rice is cooking, pulverize the habanero chile that you have reserved and add it to 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid. Heat it, stirring occasionally, and place it in a sauceboat. Heat the remaining cup of reserved cooking liquid and place it in a separate sauceboat. This will give you a regular sauce and a fiery-hot one.

When ready to serve, mound the rice on one platter and the fish and vegetables on another. Alternatively, you can place the rice in a large basin or deep dish and arrange the vegetables and fish on top and eat Senegalese-style with your hands (right hand only, please!) or with a large spoon.

Lillian Aviles Fisichello's Picadillo (Puerto Rican Meat Sauce)

As one of six children in a Puerto Rican household, Lillian Aviles Fisichello (yes, she's the author's grandmother) watched her mother make her fair share of inexpensive but delicious meals. "There was always so many of us coming and going so my mother would make Picadillo all the time because she could make big portions for the family easily without spending too much," she says. "When I became a mother I made it for my family once a week. It has always been a family favorite."


Olive oil

Salt, pepper


1 green pepper

1 large onion

8 garlic cloves

1 small bunch of cilantro or culantro

8 ahi peppers

1 8-ounce can of tomato sauce

2 packets of goya sazon

1 lb chopped beef

1 jar of goya alcaparrado (mixture of olives, pimentos and capers)

Makes four to six servings

Cooking instructions:

Sautee chopped green pepper, onion, garlic, cilantro and ahi peppers in olive oil. Add one can tomato sauce and a can of water. Add the two packets of sazon followed by the goya alcaparrado, oregano, salt and pepper. Let simmer for 20 minutes then add chopped beef. Cook for hour and a half and serve over pasta or rice.

Sun Lee's Bulgogi

Sun Lee is only 23 years old, but having a working mom and two older brothers to feed forced her to learn her way around the kitchen early on. Thanksgiving dinner has been her responsibility since she was a teenager, and every year her table is decorated to the max with American and Korean food, including the popular dish bulgogi.

"It is a very simple traditional dish that only requires a little amount of effort," says Lee, "but it yields a wonderful and unforgettable taste that will have you craving for it over and over again."


1 lb. of thinly sliced beef

1/3 cup of soy sauce

1/4 cup of coke/sprite (You may leave this out if you prefer to have no juice.)

4 to 6 tablespoons of sugar (Sugar is to taste; can also be substituted with sugar substitute as needed.)

2 large cloves of garlic, minced

1 kiwi, crushed

3 tablespoons of sesame seed oil

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seed

Black pepper (to taste)

1 onion, Sliced (optional)

1 green onion, sliced (optional)

(Feel free to add other veggies while cooking.)

Cooking Instructions:

In bowl: Mix soy sauce, coke/sprite, sugar, minced garlic, crushed kiwi, and black pepper. (Mix until the sugar has dissolved.) *You may add more or less soy sauce and sugar to your preference. Place meat into sauce mixture and mix with hands. After meat and mixture are incorporated add Sesame Seed Oil and mix again. Let sit for at least 2 hours (usually over night), then cook over hot flame in skillet. While cooking you may add sliced onions for flavor. After 3-5 mins of cooking, plate meat and sprinkle Sesame seed over top for garnish. (You may also use sliced green onions for garnish as well.) Serve with/over rice.

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