Contributor Anthony Beal, is a fiction author turned food writer/blogger, and the creator of Flavorful World food and drink blog.
If French cooking’s “mother sauces” and the “three sisters” of Native American cuisine are any indication, it’s common for reflections on food and cooking to call familial relationships to our hearts and minds. The first fruits harvest celebration called Kwanzaa places significant focus on respect for food and family, as well as other principles aimed at unifying and elevating the African/African-American community. This is one reason of many that I’m proud to number among the many talented contributors to the efforts of the Kwanzaa Culinarians.
As happens across many cultures during this season, our thoughts turn to manners of observance, and to the traditions that characterize those celebrations. The tradition of sharing a home-cooked meal with family and friends is perhaps the most universal and enjoyable of these. My earliest memory of my publicly-expressed interest in cooking reaches back to my being six years old and in the first grade. One day toward year’s end, my teacher presented my class with a confidence-building exercise. Calling on us individually, she challenged each child to complete the sentence, “I know I’m alive because I can…” When my answer was given, my classmates all laughed at what I said. My honest response, perhaps influenced by my anticipation of good eating since the holiday season was upon us at the time, was “I know I’m alive because I can cook.”
I wasn’t lying. My happiest childhood memories are of being a toddler with kind parents, both of whom cooked as much for personal pleasure as for sustenance, and were always willing to let me aid their efforts by adding spices, mixing ingredients, and tasting each creation’s progress as we worked. Food and its enjoyment honor the principle of Umoja (Unity) through their power to bring people to the table, in both the physical and metaphorical sense, to partake in communal appreciation of life’s blessings and artistry. Food and its preparation embody the principle of Kuumba (Creativity) as each generation contributes new recipes toward defining and shaping its cultural identity. It’s a personal fascination of which I’ve written before, and each day to which I’m blessed to awaken further cements the following opinions I first offered up in an article introducing myself and my rationale to the world of food blogging:
…food is capable of feeding far more than a rumbling stomach. Food is life; our well-being demands it. Food is art and magic; it evokes emotion and colors memory, and in skilled hands, meals become greater than the sum of their ingredients. Food is self-evident; plucked right from the ground or vine or sea, its power to delight is immediate. Food is discovery; finding an untried spice or cuisine is for me like uncovering a new element. Food is evolution; how we interpret it remains ever fluid. Food is humanitarian: sharing it bridges cultures, making friends of strangers pleasantly surprised to learn how much common ground they ultimately share.
So it’s with an eye toward Umoja, Kuumba, and Kujichagulia (the principle of Self-Determination to define oneself, to create for oneself) that I’m honored to share the following recipes created to honor Kwanzaa and all that it embodies. Happy Kwanzaa to all.
Kale with Red Pepper and Bacon
4 ounces (8 tablespoons) butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
7 ounces bacon, diced
1 small white onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 cup water
16 ounces fresh kale
In Dutch oven or high-rimmed pot with lid, cook bacon over medium-high heat until brown. Remove bacon from pot and set aside. Pour away grease and discard.
In same pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour, salt, garlic powder, and black pepper. Stir until butter and flour form a roux. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until roux darkens to the color of caramel.
Stir in bacon, onion, and red pepper, and cook for 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Add water and stir. Add kale to pot and cover with lid. Let cook for 6-8 minutes.
Remove lid and fold together pot contents with a spoon until all ingredients are thoroughly blended. Cook uncovered for another 6-8 minutes, or until most of liquid is absorbed.
Savory Couscous with Asparagus
2 cups chicken stock
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon Madras curry
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) butter
1 cup chopped asparagus
10 ounces couscous
Combine chicken stock, garlic, onion, garam masala, Madras curry, and butter in saucepan with tight-fitting lid. Place on stove over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
Add asparagus and continue boiling for 3 minutes.
Stir in couscous. Cover saucepan with lid and remove from heat. Let stand 6-7 minutes. Fluff with fork and serve.