Artful Recipes for Feeding the Mind, Body and Spirit

// to survive a very cold and dark winter // by Otto Rummukainen in You Stir the Pot. Via Instagram

By its definition, a recipe embodies key elements of various educational and learning theories and methods. Often on paper, but sometimes through oral tradition, a recipe is a set of instructions for recreating culinary dishes. Recipes are a great resource for interdisciplinary teaching and learning because they involve a confluence of subject matter and an understanding of various relationships working in tandem.

In an English Language Arts curriculum, recipes teach reading comprehension and active listening. Reading carefully and remembering what you have read is essential if you intend to faithfully recreate a recipe. Some recipes are not written down, but rather communicated through word of mouth. Accurately translating oral recipes requires astute and attentive verbal and listening skills. Additionally, recipes follow a similar format to how writers organize their thoughts before embarking on a draft and final piece of literature. Recipes contain an outline (the list of ingredients) and a structure that includes an introduction, body paragraph and conclusion. Being able to write a recipe that people can use involves employing clear and concise language and proper syntax. Having students read a recipe and then cook a meal together and also write their own recipes for others to follow is a fun experiential learning activity.

From a mathematical and scientific standpoint, recipes teach numerical values and equations, such as ratios and measuring fractions. They also are a good way to experience tangible examples of spatial awareness (i.e. volume and mass). Cooking and baking involve a series of chemical reactions. Ingredients used in the kitchen and science laboratory go through similar processes such as mixing, blending, heating and cooling/freezing. Boiling water, adding salt or making an emulsion are all examples of chemical reactions. Following culinary recipes to supplement chemistry lessons is an example of embodied learning that often makes a long lasting impression on students, because it is often something they can enjoy and share with others.

Through the lens of social studies and history curriculum, recipes can be studied to explore cultural traditions and actions such as regional customs, immigration and diasporic identities. Recipes are a great way to evoke personal and collective memories regarding certain foods related to heritage and also how history has informed the way we cook and eat. Food has both empowering and complicated connections to national identity and global history. Exploring recipes and their roots can be a unique way of introducing and delving into very heavy topics like chattel slavery (ex. how enslaved Black chefs shaped several United States cuisines) and colonialism/imperialism (i.e. how in several Pacific nations, SPAM has become a symbol that both evokes American imperialism and expressions of cultural liberation).

Art education also utilizes recipes throughout the curriculum. Mixing paint, color theory, preparing and arranging collage materials and working with clay all involve following either specific recipes, or interpreting a series of instructions to transform materials (aka ingredients) into a work of art. The element of interpretation is where recipes can become an art form in their own regard. Artists have incorporated the idea of recipes as conceptual instructions, which are followed or interpreted by viewers. In this sense, the artist is a facilitator, and their artwork is actually more of an idea and/or experience rather than a physical object. Fluxus artists called these recipes “event scores.” These scores refer to written notations, prompts or instructions conceived by the artist, which could subsequently be followed by any participant.

Alison Knowles’ Proposition (Make a Salad) is an example of an artist following a recipe for artistic purposes. Starting in 1962, Knowles started making large bowls of salad in a performative fashion and served the salad to whomever attended the performance. Knowles’ salad recipe turns the quotidian act of preparing a salad into a multisensory experience. Curator Danielle Johnson explains: “Knowles encourages listeners to attune their senses to the sonic qualities of an ordinary activity that many have experienced but may not have paid careful attention to: making a salad. The work revels in the crunch of chopping lettuces, the thwack of a knife slicing through carrots, and the sloshing of mixing a dressing.”

In a post titled “Food for Thought” I wrote about several artists that have used both the production of food, as well as sharing meals to communicate aesthetic, social, cultural and historical insights. I have always enjoyed cooking and exploring various recipes from both my grandmothers because it gives me a sense of familial and ethnic identity. I was delighted when I was asked to contribute a recipe to a project called You Stir the Pot: Recipes for Change because it prompted me to think about how these passed down traditions could be re-interpreted to express a message of social and environmental transformation. You Stir the Pot is an ongoing anthology of artist contributed culinary recipes that incorporate recipes for inspiring socially engaged actions. The recipes run the gamut from straightforward lists to conceptual meditations on the preparation, consumption and legacy of food.

I thought about a recipe that had ongoing relevance in my life, and how it could be presented in a manner that could have meaning for others with different experiences and traditions. I also wanted to make that recipe a bit more environmentally conscious. I chose a potato latke recipe because making latkes is a way of spiritually communicating with my grandmothers who are no longer with us in this physical realm. To me, this dish is a meaningful way of expressing my Jewishness and honoring the strong women in my life who were instrumental in my becoming an artist and someone who is kept awake at night thinking about other people. I titled my recipe “Latkes for Liberation.”

Latkes are intrinsic to Hanukkah, which is a holiday all about resisting oppression and collaborating with others in our communities for the purpose of physical, mental, and spiritual liberation. In today’s society there’s been an alarming and steady rise in antisemitism, racism, chauvinism and transphobia. Ironically, while I am writing a post about recipes, I must admit that I never actually write down my recipes. I approach cooking through an experiential process. I also rarely take notes, whether things work well or are a complete disaster. That said, my latkes are some of the most consistent things I make. The foundation for my latkes begin from what I think I remember to be my grandmothers’ processes. This speaks to the tradition of oral recipes and observational and experiential learning from what I remembered while inside my grandmothers’ kitchens. Of course, each grandmother’s latkes were largely different. One would have large chunks of potato and a course-texture, the other a more smooth and flat patty-like consistency. I try to achieve a middle ground.

Oil is the traditional catalyst and crux of latkes and the symbolic Hanukkah message of perseverance in the face of adversity.  In the story of Hanukkah, the Holy Temple was destroyed and left for ruin. The Jewish community figured that they had only enough oil to light their Synagogue’s lamp for one night at most. Instead, it lasted eight days. A miracle. Today, we are faced with a major environmental crisis and oil production and pollution is a major factor in the devastation of our natural world. It is important to be conscious about what oil we are consuming and cooking with. Some oils are environmentally worse than others, while some oils are socially and culturally detrimental. I wanted to try and honor tradition, while thinking about a progressive future by circumventing the use of oil. This concept is in the spirit of our ancestors who got a lot, while conserving what little resources they had left. Our depleted natural resources need our attention and preservation efforts now more than ever. This recipe includes both nourishing and performative prompts to help us transform our daily rituals in ways that are more environmentally sustainable and socially conscious.

Liberation Latkes Recipe:

Adam Zucker, Latke Golem, 2022.
A rendering of the Prague golem from photographs of potato latkes. The word on its head is the Hebrew word for empowerment.

  • 2 large Russet Potato, peeled and cut into 1/4 pieces
  • 1 medium onion peeled and cut into 1/4 pieces
  • 3-4 scallions sliced
  • 1 teaspoon of minced thyme
  • 1/4 cup chickpea flour (for other gluten-free alternatives you can substitute in a nut flour such as hazelnut or almond meal). I like using for sourcing these ingredients
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 425° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Put potato, onion, scallion and thyme in a food processor with a coarse grater and shred. Alternatively, you could shred the potatoes manually using a box grater (if you choose this route, skip the part where you cut them into pieces) and finely dice the other ingredients. Transfer shredded ingredients to a paper towel over a colander and drain as much water as possible from the mixture. Pour mixture into a mixing bowl, add chickpea flour (or alternative nut flour), garlic powder, baking powder and salt. Mix well. Take spoon fulls or 1/4 cup sized portions of the batter and pour onto the parchment paper lined baking sheet. Flatten the dollops of batter with the spoon. Put latkes in the oven and bake until golden brown (approx. 30 minutes). Be sure to flip the latkes after about 20 minutes. They are done when they appear golden brown.

Make this recipe for as many as eight nights. Each night, take a photograph of the process (whether it is mixing, baking or eating) and perform a mitzvah by sharing informational content regarding environmental and social justice with your network and community at large. This could include:

1. A land acknowledgement with information on how to support Indigenous culinary organizations.

2. A post (social media, blog, media article etc.) notifying others about a specific skill or resource you have and are able to offer at no cost or as a barter (i.e. seed or plant sharing, cooking lessons, leftover or surplus ingredients). 

3. Post/share a recipe that is meaningful to you and explain its meaning.

4. Volunteer at a food bank or donate whatever you can afford (whether it is materials, money or in-kind services).

5. Offer to cook a meal and/or deliver food to a person who is in need.

6. Volunteer at a community garden.

7. Start a compost pile.

8. Plant something that can be a sustainable source of food for your household (it would be great if it can be shared with your neighbors too).

If you would like to contribute your own recipe to You Stir the Pot, fill out the submission form here.

References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

Deetz Fanto, Kelley. “How Enslaved Chefs Helped Shape American Cuisine,” Smithsonian Magazine, 20 July 2018.

Johnson, Danielle. “Artist Instructions,” MoMA Magazine, 25 August 2020.

Makalintal, Bettina. “Spam Is ‘Trendy’ Now Thanks to Decades of American Imperialism,” Vice, 25 February 2019.

Mishan, Ligaya. “These Artists Are Creating Work That’s About, and Made From, Food,” New York Times Magazine, 29 November 2018.


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