There’s vegan soul food we pretend taste good. Then, there’s vegan soul food that actually does taste good, because it’s cooked with soul…from the earth… from the heart. That’s Bryant Terry vegan soul food philosophy. In his ten years of being a food activist, he’s written a few books: Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen written with Anna Lappé, Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine, contributed to A Taste of Life: 1,000 Vegetarian Recipes from Around the World and more. He’s essential to the movement of returning soul food back to its healthy roots. His cooking lessons started in his grandparents’ garden in Memphis, Tennessee. Today he is a fellow of the Food and Society Policy Fellows Program, a national project of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. His latest book, The Inspired Vegan, publishes January 2012. It’s a cookbook marking his ten years of inspiring people to return to their soulful roots and cook from their heart as well.
Pre-order the The Inspired Vegan on Amazon to learn what influences Terry’s creativity in the kitchen and learn more exciting cooking techniques and recipes. Also, follow him on Facebook/TheInspiredVegan, Twitter @BryantTerry and visit his website at Bryant-Terry.com. Meanwhile, read below to learn how Kwanzaa influences Terry’s food activism and learn how to win an autograph copy of his upcoming new book, The Inspired Vegan.
“When you’re in charge of your own food, you’re empowered” – Bryant Terry, The Truth About Soul Food, Oprah.com
Do you celebrate Kwanzaa with your family? If so, what are your plans this year?
I started celebrating Kwanzaa in college, and I continued to do so a few years after graduating. But I have not celebrated the holiday in recent years. Last week, in preparation for a talk celebrating Kwanzaa at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, I did a lot of research on the holiday, so it was a daily topic in our home (I encourage readers to watch the documentary film The Black Candle by MK Asante). My wife and I decided to make it a family tradition starting this December, since we have a newborn daughter.
Under the Kwanzaa principle, Kujichagulia, you have shared your passion and knowledge about food with low-income communities, particularly of color. Reflecting on your work, what is your proudest moment of achievement?
So often, people imagine vegetarianism and veganism as “white” diets. In the spirit of Kujichagulia, I hope that my body of work moves people of African descent to reclaim the pre-colonial, pre-industrial plant-based origins of many of our diets. That being said, for the first year of Vegan Soul Kitchen’s publication, I would get over a dozen messages every week from folks who identified as Black stating that they are not vegetarians or vegans, and they thoroughly enjoyed the recipes in the book. Those messages made me feel more proud of that book-project than anything else.
“…most people are so disconnected from having pleasurable experiences with wholesome, fresh food, I see empowering them to cook at home and share meals with family and friends as a revolutionary first step towards food justice….”
As a cookbook author, you’re one of the pioneers bring Soul Food back to its original healthy roots. What is a continued challenge about the misconception of Soul Food being unhealthy?
One of the biggest challenges of my work is helping African-Americans recognize the diversity and complexity of our cultural cuisine. When most people talk about “Soul Food” they are referring to the comfort foods of the cuisine—the foods that my family ate on holidays and celebrations. Don’t get me wrong, while comfort foods like fried chicken, red velvet cake, and macaroni and cheese tend to hog all the attention in the popular imagination, I certainly don’t think we should discard or ignore the fatty-sugary foods of African American cuisine. I like to indulge every once in a while just as much as the next person. I simply want to challenge people to move beyond obvious ingredients and dishes and discover the hidden narrative of African American cooking. I want us all to learn more about the diverse ingredients, regional variations, and modern interpretations. Recognize its complexity.
What is the basic philosophy/message behind your upcoming book, The Inspired Vegan?
Because most people are so disconnected from having pleasurable experiences with wholesome, fresh food, I see empowering them to cook at home and share meals with family and friends as a revolutionary first step towards food justice. We can talk about local, seasonal, and sustainable for days, but if people don’t feel connected to this type of food why would they fight for it? In my mind, building community around the table and strengthening the food justice movement must go hand in hand. When you consider that educating, strategizing, and organizing for many social movements throughout the 20th century happened in people’s homes, it seems appropriate that the food revolution will find its spark in home kitchens.
Can you share a recipe from The Inspired Vegan that is reflective of Kujichagulia (or Kwanzaa)?
Molasses, Miso and Maple-Candied Yams recipe from the “Detroit Harvest” menu in The Inspired Vegan.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Soundtrack: “Revolution” by Nina Simone from Protest Anthology
Book: Conversations in Maine: Exploring our Nation’s Future by James Boggs and Grace Lee Bogs
Candied Sweet Potatoes is a popular side dish often served on holidays in the South. This everyday version makes use of two staples of Japanese cooking—tamari (wheat-free soy sauce) and Miso (fermented soy bean paste)—to give this recipe an Asian twist. Sesame oil seals the deal. One might imagine the taste of these strong ingredients overpowering the combination of cinnamon, sugar, molasses, and maple. But the complex, multi-layered flavors coexist harmoniously and yield a perfect balance of sweet and savory. The sweet potatoes are roasted first to caramelize their exterior and bring out their inherent earthy sweetness. Next the liquid is used to baste the sweet potatoes for over half an hour to ensure that they are moist. Result: Slammin’.
2-1/2 pounds sweet potatoes or garnet yams, peeled and cut into 1/2–inch rounds
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon tamari
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 heaping tablespoon white or yellow miso
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
6 tablespoons filtered water
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
2. In a large bowl, toss the yams with 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil.
3. Spread the sweet potatoes on a parchment-lined or well-greased baking sheet in a single layer and roast for 50 minutes, turning over with a fork after 25 minutes.
4. Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven and reduce the heat to 375°F.
5. Place the cinnamon stick at the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish, and add the sweet potatoes in layers. Set aside.
6. In a medium bowl, whisk together the, molasses, tamari, maple syrup, miso, orange juice, lemon juice, lemon zest, water, and the remaining tablespoon of sesame oil. Pour over the sweet potatoes.
7. Bake uncovered, for 30 minutes, thoroughly basting the sweet potatoes every 10 minutes.
CONTEST: Which Kwanzaa Principle Inspires You to Eat Healthy?
Leave a comment below with a personal story about a Kwanzaa principle that inspires you to eat healthy. One random winner selected by Bryant Terry wins an autograph copy of his upcoming new book, The Inspired Vegan, published in January 2012. Contest starts Tues., Dec. 6, 2011 and ends Wed., Dec. 21 at 11 p.m./EST. Winner announced on Tues., Dec. 27th. Contest open to residents of the continental United States, excluding Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. foreign territories. No additional purchase or shipping expenses are necessary. Prize cannot be exchanged. Must provide an email used only to notify the winner and for shipping information.