Christmas inevitably steals the spotlight at this time of year, while other winter celebrations—such as Hanukkah, the winter solstice, and Kwanzaa—are often treated like cultural afterthoughts. Kwanzaa, however, is hardly an afterthought. With more than 10 million Americans expected to celebrate the holiday this year, Hungry Beast asked Eric V. Copage, a Kwanzaa expert, to talk a little about Kwanzaa’s culinary traditions. A reporter at The New York Times and former editor of The New York Times Magazine, Eric is the author of Fruits of the Harvest: Recipes to Celebrate Kwanzaa and Other Holidays; Soul Food: Inspirational Stories for African Americans; and Kwanzaa: An African-American Celebration of Culture and Cooking.
Here are Eric’s top five recipes for Kwanzaa this year:
Many people, especially those with Southern roots, remember a childhood in which cornbread was a frequent companion to dinners, and often lunches, and sometimes even breakfasts. One of my favorite versions was spiked with jalapeño peppers. I like this recipe because it’s like having a savory dessert along with dinner. And who doesn’t like that?!
This recipe is easy, healthy, and delicious. It reminds me of an incident that happened when I was 6 or 7 years old: My grandmother had given me the job of washing the collard greens she was about to cook. I decided I’d be clever and use a labor-saving device—our washing machine. Not a good idea, although I did have the good sense not to use soap! Today I use a colander, like everybody else, or occasionally buy pre-washed collard greens.
Ginger is one of my favorite foods. Thank goodness it also has many health benefits. Since this recipe was first published, I’ve cut back somewhat on the honey. My advice now on its quantity is “to taste.” This recipe also makes an excellent hot “tea.” Just warm up all the water and omit the ice cubes.
For me, chicken and groundnut stew is the quintessential African dish, not based on ethnographic surveys, but because it was my first home-cooked meal when I landed in Accra, Ghana, for a three-month stay to study Ewe music there. The dish has had a special place in my heart—and on my taste buds—ever since.
To me, Hispanics of African descent are often “The Invisible Hombres,” since in American culture there is so little recognition of their existence. But if you visit just about any Caribbean, or South, or Central American Latin nation, you will see a significant part of the population whose ancestors clearly came from Africa. When I am invited to potlucks, I will often bring this dish, a subtle reminder of the richness of African-derived people and culture. And oh, yes! This dish is also a subtle kaleidoscope of wonderful flavors. At the end of the potluck, the container I’d brought this rice and bean dish in is practically licked clean!
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