Kwanzaa Culinarians

Recipes and Food Stories from the African Diaspora

Sweet Potato, Caramelized Shallots, Smoked Mozzarella Pizza with Wilted Arugula


It was the Senegambians who were brought in to grow cotton, tobacco, rice and other grains and corn. They were also expert fishermen, blacksmiths, woodworkers and hunters. Having a legendary reputation for cooking, it was Senegambian women who were often picked to be the Big House cooks. The legacy of these women was not only the foods that came down to us, but their almost religious commitment to manners and proper behavior. The word “nyam,” meaning, “to eat,” was passed down through them to Gullah, Jamaican Patois and even American English. Nyam was the root of the word, “yam,” and the word “yummy!” In that spirit, … celebrate the cultural and culinary achievements of our Senegambian ancestors!

By Michael W. Twitty of, a culinary historian, living history interpreter and food writer from the Washington D.C. area. Read his contributing story, Kwanzaa: Using Food and Heritage to Make Meaning, on Kwanzaa Culinarians. 
Sweet Potato, Caramelized Shallots, Smoked Mozzarella Pizza with Wilted Arugula
Sweet Potato, Caramelized Shallots, Smoked Mozzarella Pizza with Wilted Arugula
Recipe originally appears on

Olive oil; as needed
1/2-cup minced fresh rosemary
1 recipe for pizza dough (recipe found here)* or store-brought wheat
1/2 lb. sweet potatoes; peeled and thinly sliced (if available, use a mandolin)
3 shallots; thinly sliced
1 tbsp. sherry
10 oz. smoked mozzarella; thinly sliced
1/4 lb. fresh baby arugula
Sea salt and fresh black pepper; as needed

1. If using homemade pizza dough, follow the directions here and read the note below for adding wheat flour and rosemary.
2. Lightly blanch sweet potatoes in boiling water for three minutes. Drain sweet potato slices in a colander and rinse under cold water. Place aside.
3. Preheat oven to its highest temperature.
4. Over medium-low heat, warm about 1 to 2 tbsp. of olive oil in a skillet. Once hot, add shallots, 1/4-cup fresh rosemary, sherry, salt, and black pepper. Stir frequently for about 10 minutes or until shallots are a golden caramelize brown. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
5. On a baking sheet greased with olive oil, shape dough into a rustic circle or rectangle within the boundaries of the baking sheet. If dough is initially resistant, let it rest for a few minutes and continue shaping the dough.
6. Lightly drizzle olive oil over the dough. Layer sweet potato slices over the dough within one-inch away from the edge. Lightly sprinkle with sea salt, fresh black pepper and little fresh rosemary.
7. Place smoked mozzarella over the sweet potatoes. Sprinkle caramelized shallots on top of the mozzarella. Sprinkle with sea salt, fresh black pepper and a little more rosemary. Lightly drizzle with olive oil.
8. Place baking sheet in the oven. Bake pizza for 12 to 15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
9. Remove from the oven and immediately top with fresh arugula. Sprinkle more sea salt, black pepper and fresh rosemary.
10. Serve slices warm and enjoy.

*Note: In the original pizza dough recipe, use 2 cups of unbleached white flour and 1-cup whole-wheat flour instead of 3-cups of white flour. In addition, add 2 tbsp. minced fresh rosemary with the spices in step 1.

About Sanura of

In 2009, Sanura Weathers started a sweet, savory, buttery, green and healthy food blog at As a Food Writer and Graphic Designer, Sanura creates a visually appetizing food blog redefining comfort and traditional recipes with a healthy twist. Sanura also edits and curates writers for

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Learn more about Kwanzaa

The word "Kwanzaa" comes from the phrase, "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first-fruits." Kwanzaa's extra "a" evolved as a result of a particular history of the Organization Us. It was clone as an expression of African values in order to inspire the creativity of our children. In the early days of Us, there were seven children who each wanted to represent a letter of Kwanzaa. Since kwanza (first) has only six letters, we added an extra "a" to make it seven, thus creating "Kwanzaa." To learn more about Kwanzaa, visit the Official Kwanzaa Website.

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