Whenever opportunities arise to take part in community-based food efforts, we are usually on board one hundred percent. When we were informed that two of our recipes would be included in a new cookbook entitled America I AM Pass It Down Cookbook, we were excited. It was definitely a great honor. When we were asked to contribute an essay in regards to how we’ve taken foods from our respective pasts and created new versions that fit our tastes, we were ecstatic. It’s always interesting to talk about the evolution of food, especially as it relates to your personal experience. We definitely mention the fact that we have roots in various parts of the country, as well as interests in a variety of cuisines and ingredients. All of these things have influenced our cooking. Even though we remember and prepare cherished family recipes, we like to find ways to bring in our own flavors. And who knows. Maybe one day, we’ll have people in our own families who will revamp some of our favorite recipes. That’s the whole idea of passing it down. When old traditions become new traditions, you have created your own method of preserving history, if you will. That’s the beauty of food.
The America I AM Pass It Down Cookbook a compilation of recipes that exhibit African-American influences in food and how those influences have been spread down through the generations. Chef Jeff Henderson and Chef Ramin Ganeshram edited the publication and its multitude of deliciously enticing recipes–recipes that remind us of dishes our Grandmothers or Aunts would make for holidays, in addition to recipes we’ve never had before and can’t wait to make. If you are not familiar with Chef Jeff Henderson, maybe you’ll remember that he hosted “The Chef Jeff Project” on the Food Network. He was also chef de cuisine at Caesar’s Palace and executive chef at Cafe Bellagio. He has also written two books, Cooked and Chef Jeff Cooks. He has an amazing personal story of triumph that really exemplifies the fact that you are not only a summation of your past and that you never know where your life will end up. His has been an uphill trek of success, especially in the world of African-American chefs.
Not too long ago, we were invited to attend a taping of Chef Jeff’s segment on the “Tavis Smiley Show” at Los Angeles’ KCET studio. Unfortunately, Amir had to work, so I drove to East Hollywood to check out the segment. After just a few minutes of waiting in the green room, it was time to head into the studio and watch the segment. Both men made their way easily through the segment, speaking about the cookbook and its merits as a manual and resource for traditional and new recipes with African-American influence. It was inspiring to hear Chef Jeff’s story of a prisoner-turned-chef and cookbook author who actually just had the rights to his life story purchased by Will Smith. Yes, soon, Chef Jeff will see his story on the big screen under the hands of someone like Will Smith. If that is not surreal, what is? Listen to the full segment HERE for all the details!
We have two recipes in America I AM Pass It Down Cookbook. The first is our Honey Dijon Spiced Pecan Cole Slaw, which was whipped up for a dinner party along with buttermilk-soaked, panko crumb-crusted baked chicken. It was a hit that proved to be a nice twist on our usual family recipes that are heavy on mayonnaise. This one was light, crunchy, tangy and laced with a slight sweetness from candied pecans and cranberries. The second recipe was an old favorite–Cornbread Panzanella. Leftover cornbread transforms into croutons, then tossed with cool cucumbers and sweet cherry tomatoes followed by a maple balsamic. It was a great summer salad during a cookout held for friends. Lucky for us, we were able to share these recipes in the cookbook as well. When we received our book, we wanted to replicate a couple of recipes and continue the effort of passing down new ideas to new people. And so here we have sweet potato biscuits Amir made for a recent brunch and hearty red beans and rice cooked up on a chilly afternoon. We each tweaked both recipes just slightly, but that’s what we do. Amir added rosemary to the biscuits for an earthy aroma and taste, and I upped the amount of the green seasoning in the beans as the bright green flavor was too good to skimp on. Put more on top of the finished dish for even more zing. You of course are welcome to replicate or recreate as you choose. Add them to your repertoire and continue to pass down new traditions.
Dr. Carver’s Sweet Potato Biscuits – Approximately 1 dozen
2 cups flour, plus extra for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar (if desired)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cups milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup sweet potatoes, cooked, peeled and mashed
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Meanwhile, whisk dry ingredients, including rosemary, in a large mixing bowl and set aside. In a separate medium bowl, mix together butter, milk, eggs and mashed sweet potatoes until well combined.
2. Combine potato mixture with the flour mixture just until a thick dough forms. Be sure not to over mix.
3. On a liberally floured surface, roll out dough and cut into circles using a biscuit cutter or a 3″ wide drinking glass. Repeat process with the dough, carefully re-rolling out the leftover scraps if necessary. Place the circles of dough evenly onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet about 1 1/2″ apart. (If you prefer drop biscuits, use a spoon to plop large dollops of dough onto the parchment paper-lined baking sheet.) Bake 12-15 minutes, or until lightly browned on top.
Caribbean-Style Red Beans & Rice – Serves 2 to 4
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons green seasoning (recipe below)
1 small Scotch bonnet pepper, with one thin slit down the middle
2 bay leaves
1 pound dried kidney beans, soaked overnight
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1. Pour the oil into a deep pot over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion and cook until translucent, approximately 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 2-3 minutes to release the flavors.
2. Add the green seasoning, Scotch bonnet, bay leaf, beans and 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook uncovered on low for about 2 hours, adding more water 1/4 cup at a time if the beans begin to dry out.
3. Remove the pepper, then stir in the coconut milk, salt and pepper. Cook another 30 minutes or until done over low heat, then serve immediately with hot, white rice.
1 bunch parsley, destemmed
1 bunch chives
1 bunch scallions
1 bunch cilantro, leaves and stems
1 cup chopped celery
1 large shallot, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1. Put everything into a food processor. Pulse quickly to break up big pieces.
2. If necessary, drizzle in water 1 tablespoon at a time as you continue to pulse the food processor. The mixture should have a paste-like consistency; it should not be a liquid. Cover and refrigerate any leftovers.
Click HERE for printable recipes.