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Lauren Monaco Makes a Culinary Splash with Peranakan, Italian American and Jewish Fusion Recipes

Lauren Monaco Grossman’s home is “a place where multiple cultures coexist,” she explains. Our new recipe contributor—a graphic designer, illustrator and ice cream expert—explores her multiethnic heritage through her, and hopefully your, taste buds. She comes from a Singaporean and Italian American family, and converted to Judaism. I recently had the chance to learn all about Lauren, her fictitious family restaurant “Minty’s” and why she loves concocting new ice cream flavors.

It seems like you’ve been wanting to share your recipes with the world for a while—well, specifically since you were 4 years old. Can you share the story of Minty’s with our readers?

A recent birthday celebration at Minty’s Table.

Minty’s is a fictitious restaurant that my dad and I started when I was around 4 years old. Our first dinner service was the evening my mother came home from the hospital after my sister was born; we made an angel hair pasta dish. When my sister was old enough, she became the maitre’d and server while I would cook and draw up menus with markers.

When we have a special family occasion, we still go to Minty’s! I started an illustrated food blog with the same name, with a collection of recipes and accompanying illustrations.

We’re so excited to welcome you as a new contributor at 18Doors. How does our mission of supporting interfaith couples and families resonate with you?

Lauren making dumplings
Lauren making Nyonya Zhang (glutinous rice dumplings).

I think it’s wonderful that 18Doors is building a community where complex identities are welcomed and embraced. Often, people with multiple religious backgrounds or ethnicities feel “othered,” even by their own communities. It’s important to cultivate a way of thinking where we can all learn from each other’s religious identities with curiosity and open-mindedness.

Belonging to a blend of cultures has really spurred us as a family to make our table a welcoming place, forming new traditions together and building community, rather than expecting it to be handed to us.

Can you share a bit of background about yourself and how it has influenced the multicultural recipes you create today?

My mother is Peranakan Chinese from Singapore, my father is Italian American and my husband is Ashkenazi Jewish (I also converted to Judaism). The Peranakan community itself is the result of a blending of cultures. Peranakan cuisine is colorful and intricate, integrating Chinese, Malay, Indonesian and at times Western colonial influences.

Food can be a wonderful way to express a blend of identities through culinary traditions. I wish I could have learned to cook with my grandmother, but I am now learning in her memory. My favorite cooking moments happen when I’m at home, and all of a sudden familiar scents in the air take me back to the elaborate meals I’ve had at my grandparents’ lazy Susan in Singapore.

Often, food we assume to be from one place is actually the result of different cultures influencing each other. When my husband and I host Passover seders, we like to have a couple versions of charoset on the table (we were inspired by Joan Nathan). These ingredients tell the story of the varied lands our ancestors called home—like apples and cinnamon in Eastern Europe, dates and raisins in Egypt, pine nuts in Italy and date balls from Morocco.

Halvah ice cream
Lauren’s Illustration for her own Halvah Ice Cream

Let’s talk about your love of ice cream. Can you take us through a couple recipes you recently made?

Ice cream is one of those things that just makes me happy—always. I love the process of distilling down my favorite desserts, drinks and flavors.

My sister and I made a Teh Tarik ice cream based on the pulled teas in Singapore. We steeped cream with loose tea and added condensed milk to the ice cream base. I like to infuse the custard with actual ingredients instead of extracts whenever possible.

Last year, my husband brought home a big box of paw paws, a custardy fruit that’s native to the US, but because of their short shelf life, you can really only find them at farmers markets. They work well with creamy textures, so I made a batch of “Paw Paw Ice Cream” to preserve them.

What are five of your favorite ice cream flavors you’ve created or tried?

strawberry miso ice cream
Lauren’s illustration of Strawberry Miso Ice Cream

One of my favorite recipes is David Lebovitz’s Roasted “Strawberry Miso Ice Cream.” I also love his “Mint Chip Ice Cream,” because he infuses the milk with actual mint leaves so it has a more earthy, herbal taste. I recently madeButterscotch Sea Salt Cookie Dough Ice Cream,” which was a nice combination of sweet and salty. Another one of my favorites is “Matcha Ice Cream” and I’ve also enjoyed making “Milo Ice Cream,” which is based on the Australian malted chocolate drink. 

You’re clearly an artist in multiple ways; how do you think art and food are connected? What is different about seeing a recipe card with an illustration compared to a photo?

With both art and cooking, you’re really perfecting something until it’s right where you want it to be, which can feel like forever.

Photography and illustration have different strengths. With food illustration, you can break down a complicated process to visually represent individual steps, like these challah braiding diagrams  or this diagram of matzah crunch. But, sometimes a photo is the best way to show a final product, or to highlight a specific texture or consistency.

You’ve got a couple of extra hours on Shabbat to whip up a tasty snack. What do you make yourself for a weekend nosh?

pineapple tart rugelach
Lauren’s illustration from her “Pineapple Tart Rugelach.”

I’d probably make a big batch of popiah filling and invite my family and friends to hang out and assemble the rolls together. They’re similar to spring rolls, except eaten fresh, not fried.

You start   by spreading a sweet sauce and a chili sauce on a paper-like pancake, then add a large lettuce leaf  to help keep everything together. The main filling is made from thinly sliced root vegetables.

You can add different garnishes, like bean sprouts, cucumbers, shredded omelet, cilantro, fried shallots and chopped peanuts. Then you fold it into a roll and enjoy!

Sophie Mortman

Sophie Mortman is the Content Manager and SEO Writer at 18Doors. When she’s not busy reading or writing, she enjoys listening to music, watching movies, spending time outdoors and petting every dog she sees.