Kwanzaa was established in 1966 as an alternative to Christmas, Hanukkah and other winter holidays of the season. The festival was founded on seven principles designed to strengthen the African-American community and is celebrated from December 26 to January 1, with the Karamu feast on New Year's Eve.
The extent of my knowledge of Kwanzaa is limited to what I've read on Kwanzaa.com. As for New Year's Eve, my many year's experience has led to the conclusion that it is the most overrated holiday on the list of holidays. Only the day off from work keeps it on the "Holidays I Like List."
This year I'm choosing to eschew a typical New Year's Eve routine and instead cook up a storm for Karamu.
You can find many different interpretations of what "Kwanzaa food" is depending on what search terms you use on the Google. Characteristics that appear frequently are: "harvest," "African," "spicy" and "soul food." Here are five can't-miss dishes that collectively cover those bases.
Cheese Grits This cheesy, creamy deliciousness is a crowd pleaser and easy to throw together. Cook your grits as usual and doctor it up as necessary. We recommend a full log of Kraft Garlic Cheese, a cup of whole milk and half a stick of butter. Salt and pepper to taste.
Black Eyed Peas Get a jump on the traditional New Year's Day meal with this soul food staple. Make sure you add a good-sized piece of salt pork to the pot before your simmer.
Apple, Marshmallow and Yams Hopefully you didn't get yammed to death at Thanksgiving. I hate fruit, particularly cooked fruit, but this is one of my favorite recipes from Maw-Maw's crusty notebook of recipes. (Recipe to follow.)
Fish Patties Cooks add fillers to limited supplies of proteins and make patties or balls. (We used to mix powdered milk with skim milk when I was a kid. Same; same.) Use a left over turkey neck to make gravy and don't skimp on the Tabasco once they are served. (Recipe to follow.)
Mustard Greens Be sure you wash your greens well and remove the stem before cooking. Fry up a slice of bacon or two in the bottom of your sauce pan. Remove the bacon. Leave the drippings, add two tablespoons of flour and saute a large, thinly sliced onion. Add the greens and cook until tender. I can't promise that they'll be as good as Yo Mama's Soul Food, but they'll be in the neighborhood.
Apple, Marshmallow and Yams
- 2 apples, sliced
- 1/3 cup chopped pecans
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 17 oz. cans yams, drained
- 1/4 cup butter
- 2 cups mini-marshmallows
Toss apples and nuts with combined brown sugar & cinnamon. Alternate layers of apples and yams in 1 1/2 qt. casserole. Dot with butter. Cover. Bake 350 for 35 to 40 minutess. Sprinkle marshmallows over yams and apples. Broil till lightly brown. 6 to 8 servings.
- 2 cups mashed potatoes
- 1 cup cooked fish - flaked
- 2 beaten eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tbsp. melted butter
- 1 tsp. Accent*
- ¼ tsp. red pepper
- 3 tbsp. shallots - finely chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
* - Accent is MSG, which you may not be cool with. Skip it if you like or leave it in if you want an authentic 1970s flavor in your cabeza.