An international Independence Day

The little boat at anchor in black water sat murmuring to the tall black sky.

A white sky bomb fizzed on a black line.

A rocket hissed its red signature into the west.

Now a shower of Chinese fire alphabets,

A cry of flower pots broken in flames,

A long curve to a purple spray, three violet balloons —

Drips of seaweed tangled in gold, shimmering symbols of mixed numbers,

Tremulous arrangements of cream gold folds of a bride’s wedding gown —

A few sky bombs spoke their pieces, then velvet dark.

The little boat at anchor in black water sat murmuring to the tall black sky.

Carl Sandburg

On July 2, 1776, when the Continental Congress passed the Declaration of Independence, delegate John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail: “I am apt to believe that this day will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival … It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward for evermore.”

Much has happened since that day in 1776 in the United States, but we have indeed celebrated the Fourth of July in a way that would make John Adams proud. It’s a holiday that usually features backyard barbecues, picnics and always casual food. Our country has been a huge melting pot of people from all over the world since those early days, and the foods we eat on every occasion reflect that fact. Here are some recipes that might have been called exotic when I was young but are now in the mainstream thanks to the many immigrant families who celebrate the Fourth of July as Americans.

From Italy:


(Cold Eggplant Appetizer)

Peel and cut 1 eggplant into half-inch cubes. Place them in a colander and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon coarse salt. Put a plate on top and let drain for 30 minutes. Dice 1 green pepper, 1 red pepper, 1 onion and 1 cup celery. Sautà until soft in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Remove vegetables and add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the hot pan. Add the diced eggplant and cook until golden. Return the pepper mixture along with 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 drained can of diced tomatoes, 1 diced zucchini, 2 tablespoons capers and 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts. Cook briefly, uncovered, and add 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, 6 sliced green olives and 2 tablespoons tomato paste. Heat to boiling, remove and refrigerate 2 hours or more.

Serve cold or at room temperature. Serves 4-6.

From Greece:

Arni Souvlaki (Lamb Kebabs)

Trim the fat and gristle from a boneless leg of lamb and cut into 2-inch cubes. Prepare a marinade by combining 1/4 cup red wine, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/2 cup minced onion and 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Season with 1 teaspoon each of coarse salt, oregano and thyme. Toss lamb in marinade and refrigerate 2 hours.

Prepare the kebab ingredients by cutting 1 green pepper and 1 red pepper into 1 1/2-inch squares. Cut one medium-sized onion into wedges and trim the stems off of 12 mushroom caps. Thread the meat, peppers, onion and mushroom onto metal skewers, leaving a little space between ingredients. At service time, brush the kebabs with marinade and grill over high heat until medium rare, about 8-10 minutes.

Serves 4-6.

From Poland:

Paprikas Csirke (Chicken Paprika)

Cut 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts into 2-inch pieces. Toss them in a bowl with 1/2 cup of seasoned flour. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large sautà pan. Sautà the chicken pieces at high heat to a golden brown color. Remove chicken, lower heat and add 1 cup chopped onion and 1 tablespoon minced garlic to the pan. Sprinkle in 1 tablespoon of the seasoned flour and stir. Add 2 tablespoons tomato paste and 2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika. Sautà briefly and add 1 cup chicken broth. Bring the sauce to a boil and add back the chicken pieces. Simmer for 10 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, sautà 2 cups sliced mushrooms in 2 tablespoons butter in a separate pan. Add the mushrooms to the chicken along with 1 cup sour cream. Check for seasoning and serve over wide, whole-grain noodles.

Serves 4-6.

From Germany:

Warmer Kartoffelsalat Mit Speck

(Potato Salad with Bacon)

Rinse 2 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes and place in 2 quarts of boiling water. Simmer, in their skins, until tender — about 30 minutes. Remove potatoes and let cool.

Sautà 6 strips of bacon until brown and remove to a paper towel-lined plate. Add 1 1/2 cups chopped onion to the bacon pan and cook until soft. Stir in 1/4 cup cider vinegar, 1/4 cup beef broth, 1 teaspoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon each of coarse salt and pepper.

Peel the potatoes and cut into slices. Dice the bacon and add it to the potatoes in a bowl. Pour the onion mixture over the potatoes and check for seasoning. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve warm.

Serves 4-6.

From Mexico:

Guacamole and Tomato Salsa

Guacamole:Cut 2 ripe avocados in half, remove the pit and scoop out the flesh. Chop coarsely and place in a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice and toss. Add 1/2 cup minced onion, 1 teaspoon minced garlic and 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced. Fold in 1/4 cup chopped cilantro and season with 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt.

Tomato Salsa: Cut the cores out of 1 pound of vine-ripened tomatoes and dice with a sharp knife. Place in a bowl and add 1/2 cup chopped onion, 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced, 1 tablespoon lime juice and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro. Season with 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt.

(Tomato salsa and guacamole must be done with fresh, ripe ingredients at the last minute. They make excellent accompaniments for grilled poultry, meat and fish.)

From the Midwest:

Homemade Lemonade

Purchase 8 lemons and squeeze to make about 1 3/4 cups lemon juice. In a saucepan, combine 2 cups sugar and 1 cup water. Cook and stir until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice along with 4 cups cold water. Refrigerate until chilled. Serve over ice and garnish with lemon wedge and fresh mint.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: [email protected].