Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 25, 2013

Caterer draws on roots — her own and others' — to create meals

BY CYMBRE FOSTER Special to the Record-Eagle
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — When chef Kristin Karam was a child, she helped her grandmother pick the array of vegetables that grew in the garden of her suburban Detroit home.

Karam then watched in awe as her grandmother transformed the bounty into a family feast every Sunday.

Those Sunday dinners inspired Karam and paved the way for what she does today: celebrate diversity with food and fresh ethnic cuisine as the owner of K2 Edibles based in Traverse City.

“I was really inspired by my grandmother, who lived behind the city airport yet had this beautiful rooftop garden where she grew things like mint, tomatoes, peppers and squash,” said Karam, who is Lebanese. “The food part of my culture made a huge impact on me.”

Her grandmother would spend the day cooking. When she was unable to continue the tradition, Karam’s mom and aunt took over.

“There was this entertainment with food,” she said.

Since then, Karam has tried to focus on her clients' traditions when planning a menu.

“It makes for great parties and starts a lot of conversations,” she said. “I always try to bring something from the past into today.”

Karam typically includes at least one traditional dish and it always winds up being a talking point, she said.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s Polish, German or Italian," she said. "I love including something that has meaning to them or their mom or aunt."

Karam recalled a wedding that she catered for an organic farmer with Indian roots. The woman also wanted to use the food she grew.

“So she brought me potatoes, garlic, ginger and herbs and I made samosas, and a couple of curries,” she said. “The feel of that wedding was so fun because she brought a part of her to it with her heritage and the food."

Karam not only caters large events, but often cooks for private homes, stocks refrigerators on a regular basis and teaches cooking classes.

“I even plan a menu for an over-the-road truck driver who delivers cars all over the country. He has a microwave and refrigerator in his semi and I prepare fresh and healthy options for his weekly jaunts,” said Karam.

The busy chef can be also found selling her traditional Lebanese tabbouleh and hummus at the indoor farmers market in The Mercato at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons in Traverse City on Saturdays.

She uses her grandmother’s recipe for the Middle Eastern salad traditionally made with bulgur, mint, parsley and tomatoes, and painstakingly removes every stem from the parsley before chopping it.

“To this day I pick it head by head like my grandmother did,” said Karam. “I’ve got it in my head that I can’t have a stem or it will ruin the whole batch.”

Karam also prepares dinner for Left Foot Charley Winery at The Commons every Thursday from 5-7 p.m. She takes diners around the world with weekly offerings like chicken pad Thai, Lebanese night with kibbeh and roasted root mash, and Mexican night with pulled chicken tacos, Mexican slaw and roasted pepper salsa. She always includes a vegetarian option as well.

While reservations aren’t required, the meals are limited and she often sells out. Cost for the single dish ethnic menu is $15, which includes a glass of wine or cider.

"We usually plan about a month ahead, but love to take requests from our guests that join us,” said Karam.

To make a reservation at Left Foot Charley or find out what’s on the menu each week, call 935-0500.

Lubia (Green Bean Stew)

1 T. butter

1 large sweet onion, sliced

4 T. tomato paste

6 fresh garden tomatoes, diced

1/2 lb. green beans

Fresh rosemary

Salt and pepper

Saute onion in butter until caramelized. Add tomato paste and coat all onions (add a bit of water if too thick). Let simmer for about 2 minutes. Add diced tomatoes and green beans, fold into one another and add rosemary and salt and pepper to taste. Excellent with a root vegetable mash.

Roasted Beets with Peaches, Goat Cheese and Fresh Mint Vinaigrette

2 lbs. assorted local beets (can be baby beets, too!)

6 local peaches

1 small local red onion, chopped fine

1/2 c. goat cheese, crumbled

4 T. fresh local mint (usually about a "bunch," leaves only)

3 T. local honey

1 T. toasted coriander seeds, crushed

1 T. Brownwood Farms Creme Mustard

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

Wrap whole beets in Aluminum foil and bake in oven at 400° for 60-90 minutes, until fork tender. In the meantime, cut peaches into slices, crumble the goat cheese and set in a bowl to the side. Cut the red onion into very small slivers, you may use as much or as little of this onion as you desire. The key is to slice it finely. Add to bowl.

Toss local mint, crushed coriander, local honey, mustard and a pinch of salt and pepper into a blender or food processor. Start the processor and add the lemon juice while processing. Karam does not use any olive oil; usually the juice of the lemon and the pulsation of the processor make a great emulsion, she said, so no oil is needed.

Unwrap beets and let cool. Remove the skin by rubbing with a paper towel. They should easily come clean. Slice beets into medium cubes and add to the rest of the ingredients set aside in the bowl. Add mint dressing and toss all ingredients gently together. Serves 4 to 6.