My Rouses Everyday, November/December 2015
Hanukah is a fantastic time to be Black and Jewish, all jokes of latkes and hot sauce be gone.
My approach is to use the two themes of the holiday — foods fried in or using oil with “light” foods to achieve a balance. (Nothing could be more traditionally Jewish than a good pun.) This year that means serving West African akara (think a fritter like falafel only it’s made with black-eyed peas), with a black-eyed pea hummus redolent with tahini and preserved lemon.
Food is an important carrier of memory. The South is known for its fried food, but few know that Jews and enslaved Africans were responsible for the popularization of deep-frying. Sephardic Jews, used to deep-frying in olive oil and West Africans who used to deep and shallow fry in palm, peanut, sesame and olive oils, increased the use of these cooking methods as they were scattered throughout the Western world. In Lisbon, London, Charleston and New Orleans, the cuisines of the African and Jewish diaspora exerted influence side-by-side, cross pollinated and reinforced each other’s impact.
History is always a presence at my table. People want to know where their food comes from and I want to know more about the circumstances that brought the people to the food. The table is a teaching space and an opportunity. We can also use the table as a crossroads where all of our identities and strivings meet and make sense. That’s why I cook Kosher Soul style — it is my space where I share my spirit.
Enter deep-fried sambusa, a samosa-like appetizer from Somalia, or latkes flavored with the Cajun or Creole trinity and sweet potato beignets. Beignets have long been part of Hanukah celebrations, taking the place of the traditional jelly doughnuts or sufganiyot in some communities. Who doesn’t love matzoh-meal fried chicken?
For the healthy part it’s a good time for collard greens kissed by the frost. Root vegetables get drizzled with olive oil, seasoned with berbere and rof, spice mixtures from Ethiopia and Senegal and roasted brown. Instead of roasted goose, the traditional Hanukah favorite in Eastern Europe, I do a pecan wood smoked turkey. Couscous pilaf salad and Caribbean citrus compote spiked with vanilla and cayenne round it out.
From my menu, you’d never guess this was a minor holiday. It is, however, a major opportunity to educate people through their taste buds at a time of year where everybody likes to eat in community with others. Kosher Soul food allows people to understand the possibilities of the American table — that it is not a matter of fusion, but meaning.
Did You Know?
Hanukah is not pronounced with an “H” sound. It is definitely “Ch,” like you have a little bit of a throat issue or something, or you are a cat…