It's that time of the year where America reflects on black history. Topics will include the challenges and struggles of the civil rights movement. But, on the upside, there will also be positive insights on our contributions made in the arts, including cultural and political achievements.
As a black woman who loves her heritage and and the food that reflects its history, I wanted to share with you my thoughts specifically to black cuisine.
Some of you may think of black cuisine, especially in America, that it is all about fried chicken, potato salad, barbecue ribs, grits, macaroni and cheese, etc. Although these traditional foods are delicious on special occasions, it hardly represents the depth of what our cuisine offers.
One thing to remember when it comes to black cuisine and with black people we are a "gumbo" of cultures. Basically it means, we have lots of diversity when it comes to food. Our dishes can include various ingredients and flavors of Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and other countries of the world.
One other thing I want to clarify is black cuisine can be healthy and not what is typically depicted in mainstream media. When you get down to some of the basics of our cuisine it has lots of good traits for a healthy diet, such as sweet potatoes, greens (collards, turnip, mustard, kale) black eyed peas, lima beans, red beans, okra and plantains. I can go on and on, but you get the picture.
Some of my favorites dishes and you may enjoy also are seafood gumbo. It is something my parents would make regularly in my upbringing although now I create it with various ingredients to make it my own. It is basically a highly seasoned thick soup with a tomato base, with the addition of okra to thicken.
Other favorites include blackened Cajun fish, red beans and rice, braised collard greens in aromatics such as garlic, and onion with chicken stock, roasted sweet potatoes finished with a simple light topping of whipped butter and salmon patties made with Old Bay seasoning.
One cookbook to open your eyes to the diversity of black cuisine, that I highly recommend is by Chef, Marcus Samuelsson called "The Rise." It showcases a variety of recipes from chefs, writers and activists. You can see his discussion of this book here.
"The Rise" Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food
If you want to experiment with some of my recipes try my Oven Baked Okra and Succotash. Both are healthy, packed with flavor and is delicious!
As I close out this post, I thought it would be an honor to mention notable blacks in food history. Here are 16 Black food innovators, who you may not know of. They include chefs of our past in addition to cookbook authors and inventors.
16 Black Food Innovators
I hope this post gave you some insight on the vibrancy of black cuisine and I encourage you to experiment with trying something new. I think you will love it!
Eat Good! Look Good! Feel Good!
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Vanessa LaBranche/Chef Instructor-Culinary Educator