The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

March 9, 2009

Sermersheims enjoy Panamanian dishes

DANVILLE — Even when it’s a cold winter’s day in Danville, there’s a sense of the warm tropics at the home of Paul and Maria Sermersheim.

Around 5 p.m. each day, Maria is often preparing one of her family’s favorite Panamanian dishes, featuring a variety of mildly flavored fruits, vegetables and herbs.

The aromas of onion, garlic, cilantro and other spices are a tempting invitation to stay for dinner. And Maria always is willing to share her tasty meals with guests — even the unexpected ones.

“I learned to cook my country’s traditional food from my mother at age 9, while growing up in Panama,” Maria said. “I have nine siblings, so we all learned to cook in large quantities for the whole family.”

Panama is a small, narrow country located between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the southernmost nation in Central America.

The Sermersheims’ two daughters, Gloria, 10, and Suzet, 6, are eager helpers in the kitchen. They like to smash the garlic and plantains (green bananas) with a rock to help make the fried plantains, and they stretch out the pliable dough for the empanadas (meat and vegetable pies fried in canola oil).

Paul mostly enjoys test-tasting in the kitchen, but admits that he also likes to cook.

“My mother, Carol Sermersheim, has catered for more than 20 years, and she owned a restaurant before that,” he said. “You can say that my three brothers and I grew up with cooking all around us.”

The family often prepares their meals over the open flame of a wood fire in their back yard. “That’s the way they cook in Panama, and we love our food prepared this way,” Maria said.

The family has dedicated a section of their living room for displaying Panamanian memorabilia, including artwork made by a Kuna tribe, hand-sewn garments, a ceramic rice platter, and big-brimmed hats that are woven from palm leaves.

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