Celebrating black heritage cuisine that helps honor the past

Celebrating black heritage cuisine that helps honor the past

via @joeybear85, , and

Abel Uribe / Chicago Tribune; Lisa Schumacher / food styling (Abel Uribe / Chicago Tribune)

Heritage food speaks of place and time, of foods that connect us to our past, even as we cook and nurture our families our futures. “All across America, heritage food is experiencing a renaissance,” writes chef J.J. Johnson in his new cookbook with Alexander Smalls and Veronica Chambers, “Between Harlem and Heaven.”

“(Heritage food) brings together everything we’ve developed a passion for: sustainability, farm to table, eating local and thinking global. It’s the kind of food you once could expect to eat only in someone’s home.”

In 2018, our nation is still dealing with the pains of our racist past, but celebrating Black History Month enables us to address this heritage. By keeping a heartbeat on the past, “heritage cuisine” helps us nurse the hurts with genuineness and recognition.

Soul food, for example, is regularly romanticized in well known media as just friendly, down-to-earth fare charmingly cooked and plated by polished TV personalities. It is regularly separated from its dismal past, yet it’s the dark Southern experience on a plate.

Soul food’s heritage echoes of enslaved individuals working on plantations, left with only the scraps to plan for one’s family. It’s the yams and sweet potatoes that is a reminder of the food of West Africa. It’s the recipes for hearty greens and ham hocks that are passed down to generations, and binds one’s lineage to one’s ancestors’ food, to their culture.

The pie takes us back to the Great Migration in post-slavery America, when black people started moving North. Black people traveled by train or car and usually carried a shoe box filled food: fried chicken, biscuit and a slice of pie.

Cherishing Southern food and its history turns into a retribution with the previous, an approach to grasp what has happened and make it one’s own.

Take Edna Lewis, well known pioneer of Southern food. In “Edna Lewis: At the Table With an American Original,” a new collection of essays about Lewis’ influence on the country’s culinary history, cookbook author and writer Caroline Randall Williams explores how Lewis informed and shaped her own viewpoint of Southern food, particularly through Lewis’ cookbooks, including “The Gift of Southern Cooking,” co-written with Scott Peacock.


Braised oxtails

Prep: 35 minutes

Cook: 4 hours

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

From the new book “Between Harlem and Heaven” (Flatiron Books, $37.50) by J.J. Johnson. This recipe for braised oxtails can be used to make the tamarind-glazed oxtails below.

¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil

4 pounds oxtails, prepped from the butcher

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 cups red wine

1 quart veal or beef stock

3 cinnamon sticks

3 bay leaves

3 oranges, quartered

1 bunch thyme

1 bunch parsley

1 jalapeno, chopped, with seeds

1 Heat oven to 325 degrees. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the oxtails in a single layer and season with salt and pepper. Sear the meat until lightly browned on all sides, turning with long tongs, about 2 minutes per side. Remove pieces to a plate as they brown.

2 Deglaze the pot with the red wine, making sure to bring up the brown bits of fond from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Bring wine to a full boil, then lower the heat to medium and add in the veal stock, 3 cups of water, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, oranges, thyme, parsley and jalapeno. Season generously with pepper.

3 Cover and braise in the oven for 3 to 4 hours until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. Check periodically to make sure there’s a sufficient liquid level, and stir the braise to make sure the bottom doesn’t stick. Let the meat cool, and then remove it from the liquid and shred by hand. Strain the braising liquid, discarding solids in the strainer.


Tamarind-glazed oxtails

Prep: 35 minutes

Cook: 1 hour

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

This recipe makes more glaze than you will need for the oxtails. Save the leftovers to use with other braised, grilled or roasted meats. The author suggests serving the glazed oxtail over grits and topping it with coleslaw.

2 cups tamarind paste

4 cups ketchup

4 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon ground five spice

1 cup dark brown sugar

3 cups pulled meat from braised oxtail



1 Combine the tamarind, ketchup, mustard, vinegar, five spice and brown sugar in a 4 quart pot over medium heat; simmer the sauce for about 10 minutes, until the sauce thickens slightly. Strain through a fine strainer, and let cool.

2 Preheat the broiler to medium. Place the braised oxtail on a foil-lined baking sheet, and coat with some of the tamarind glaze. Broil for 5 to 10 minutes, until the glaze is slightly caramelized. Place the oxtail over grits and top with slaw.




Jalapeno hush puppies

Prep: 35 minutes

Cook: 5 minutes per batch

Makes: 25 pieces

From “Sweet Potato Soul” (Harmony, $19.99) by Jenne Claiborne.

1 cup plain unsweetened soy milk or other nondairy milk at room temperature

1 teaspoon white vinegar

2 tablespoons ground flaxseed meal

1 cup cornmeal

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons grapeseed, canola or safflower oil, plus 1 quart for frying

4 green onions, minced

1 jalapeno, seeded and minced

1 In a small bowl, stir together the soy milk and vinegar to make a vegan buttermilk. Set it aside to thicken and curdle for 5 minutes.

2 In another small bowl, stir together the flaxseed meal and ¼ cup water. Set it aside to thicken for at least 3 minutes.

3 In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking soda and salt.

4 Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flaxseed meal mixture. Add the 2 tablespoons oil and whisk to combine. Pour the wet mixture into the dry cornmeal mixture and stir well. Fold in the green onions and jalapeno.

5 In a large dutch oven, heat the quart of oil to 350 degrees. Double-line a large plate with paper towels, and keep nearby.

6 Use a cookie scooper to scoop balls of batter — each one should be about 2 tablespoons worth — directly into the hot oil. Add as many scoops as you can fit in at a time without overcrowding. Gently stir them with a wooden spoon. Once they float to the surface and turn a golden color, they are done. Use a slotted spoon and transfer them to the prepared plate. Season with salt to taste. Repeat with the remaining batter.

7 Serve with sweetened butter or as they are.


Vegan ‘honee’ butter

Prep: 5 minutes

Makes: 1 cup

¾ cup vegan butter at room temperature

2 tablespoons Bee Free Honee or other vegan liquid sweetener, like maple syrup or sorghum

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

In a medium bowl, beat the vegan butter with a hand mixer on medium speed (or standing mixer). While beating, pour in the sweetener and salt. Continue to beat until the ingredients have combined and the vegan butter is light and airy, about 2 minutes. Taste and add more sweetener if desired. Serve at room temperature. Store in an airtight container in the fridge; it can keep for 7 days.


Sweet potato pie


Sweet potato pie

Prep: 40 minutes

Chill: 2 hours

Cook: 2 hours

Makes: One 9-inch pie, 8 servings

Recipe from Maya-Camille Broussard, of Justice of the Pies; she sells her wares at Daley Plaza Farmers Markets, Build Coffee and several Whole Foods locations. For buying information, go to www.justiceofthepies.com/find-us.

1 pie crust for a 9-inch pie

2 large sweet potatoes (to make about 12 ounces of cooked sweet potato)

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 ½ cups light brown sugar

2 large eggs

½ cup evaporated milk

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon table salt

1 Roll out one disk of chilled, all-butter crust on a lightly floured surface, and use the dough to line a 9-inch pie pan.

2 Place 2 large sweet potatoes on a baking rack lined with foil. Roast at 400 degrees, 1 hour or until tender. Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven. Reduce the oven to 345 degrees.

3 Peel the sweet potatoes and place in a medium mixing bowl. Blend the sweet potatoes using an electric mixer. Place the bowl in the freezer, 20 minutes.

4 Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, cream butter and light brown sugar until smooth. Add eggs and mix. Add evaporated milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and salt; beat to combine. Remove the sweet potatoes from the freezer, and add 2 cups of sweet potatoes to the mixture. Blend until well incorporated.

5 Pour the filling in the pie crust. Bake on the one-third bottom rack of the oven until the center of the pie is firm, 1 hour.

6 Chill the pie in the refrigerator for 2 hours before serving.

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