Last spring, Patricia Heaton visited and helped cook for South Sudanese refugees as they arrived on their long journey from war-torn South Sudan into Northern Uganda. Inspired by her trip and providing that first warm meal to welcome the newcomers, Patricia guest blogs about a recipe for winter corn chowder.
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When was the last time you cooked for a group? Maybe you hosted a dinner party with eight or 10 close friends. Maybe it was a bigger celebration — like Christmas with family or a graduation. Or maybe even a baby shower or a wedding reception.
How many people have you cooked for all at once?
The most people I have ever helped cook for was this past April when I traveled with World Vision to visit the refugee settlements in Uganda.
When new refugees cross the border from South Sudan into northern Uganda, they are first taken by bus to the reception center at Imvepi settlement, where they are registered as refugees and given what for many is the first hot meal they’ve had in a long time. World Vision is leading this food provision for more than 1 million refugees, both distributing monthly food items to the people living there and providing this first meal upon arrival, all in partnership with the United Nation’s World Food Program.
This first hot meal is a massive undertaking! The team there prepares food for hundreds — some days, thousands — of refugees. On the day I visited, there were about 600 people coming through, getting registered, and being served a meal.
And so my friend and co-star, Jen Ray, and I helped cook for 600 people. People who for the first time had just become refugees, many traveling for days on foot, and arrived with next to nothing at a place they would call home for who knew how long.
It was not easy.
The meal itself was simple and designed to provide an energy boost to tired refugees who have not had a proper meal in days. Before we got there, I had expected to find a recipe focused on nutrition. South Sudan and the East Africa region around the country have been experiencing a hunger crisis for the past year and a half, driven by drought and the conflict these refugees are fleeing. I had thought this first meal would address possible malnutrition right away, but I learned there would be time for that. For now, this meal packed a carb and protein boost to replenish the energy the new refugees had expended on their grueling journey walking a long distance to cross the border. They were exhausted.
The recipe we cooked had simply two ingredients: maize flour and a kind of bean. The maize was basically cornmeal, and the beans looked like kidney or pinto beans. We prepared this meal in an outdoor kitchen under an awning, cooking these two ingredients with water heated in a massive pot. And as everything heated, it thickened. Jen and I helped to stir the mixture as it thickened and thickened and became very sticky and heavy!
When it was ready, we also helped serve the line of refugees as they came through, filling up plates and bowls with big, heavy scoops for each person or family.
It was like no cooking I’ve ever done before. But all cooking, all hosting, and all hospitality have certain things in common. Food brings us together, and a meal shared — whether out of celebration or necessity — is always a beautiful occasion. Cooking for and serving a meal to new refugees may not have been a celebration the way you would expect from a holiday with family, but there was a different kind of feeling there — one of hope. After a long, difficult journey into another country, these refugees had survived and could breathe a sigh of relief because they were now safe. And we were there to welcome them and comfort them with a warm meal.
This wonderful experience makes me think of a favorite warming recipe from my new cookbook, Patricia Heaton’s Food for Family and Friends. Winter corn chowder is made with corn, like the maize porridge we cooked for the refugees (though not nearly as thick), and it is a wonderful warm recipe for bringing people together.
Here’s the recipe for winter corn chowder from my book:
Winter corn chowder
Makes four to six servings
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1 russet potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped fine
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1 (16-ounce) bag frozen corn
- Heavy cream, to serve
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Line a dish with paper towels. Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until crispy. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to the paper towel-lined dish.
- Add the onion to the saucepan and sauté until fragrant and softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the corn, season with salt and pepper, and sauté 2 minutes, until softened.
- Add the potato and broth. Increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the potato is tender when pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes.
- Spoon half of the soup into a blender and pulse until smooth. Stir the puree back into the saucepan with the remaining soup. Ladle the soup into bowls and swirl a bit of cream on top of each. Sprinkle the parsley and reserved bacon over the soup.
I highly recommend this chowder when hosting friends or just with your family on a cold winter evening.
I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to provide a little hospitality to people becoming refugees for the first time. To give them energy and sustenance after their long journey and a warm welcome to a place they will call home for who knows how long.
Refugees from South Sudan like the ones I met, and millions more all around the world, flee the places they’ve called home and bring almost nothing with them. Every little bit we can provide means so much to them.
World Vision is working to provide refugees with food as well as access to healthcare, shelter, clean water, protection, and more. Donate today to World Vision’s refugee children’s crisis fund and bring hope to refugee children.
Check out the recipes that these food bloggers have crafted, inspired by World Vision!
Lindsay Cotter, of Cotter Crunch: “Almond flour loaf cake”
Taylor Kiser, of Food Faith Fitness: “Goat cheese cheesecake with honey cinnamon apples”
Chef Billy Parisi: “Huevos rancheros”
Laura Sandford, of Joy Food Sunshine: “Carrot zucchini muffins”