“Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean and Southern Flavors Remixed” (Ten Speed Press, 2014), the latest cookbook from nationally recognized food activist and eco-chef Bryant Terry, delivers flavor and fun with a political punch.
Do you cook to music? Once you get into Afro-Vegan, you will get your groove on, too. With plant-based menus becoming more popular, get ready to rock your vegan souls to another level.
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By Bryant Terry
During a recent interview, Terry said that he cooks with an attitude about health, flavor and fun. He wants to improve the health of people of color who exceed the general population with a long list of diseases like obesity, diabetes and cancer. Indeed, his scholarly work was immersed in studies about the intersection of food, racism, poverty, malnutrition, environment and health.
“Celebrating the flavor profiles of African Diaspora food is the best way I know how to improve the health of people of African descent,” Terry said. “I would like to impact their physical, spiritual and emotional health through food knowledge, celebration of culture and connection to planet Earth,” he added.
Terry’s book teaches history, too. “I want people to recognize that the current farm-to-table movement originated with us — black people.”
Terry reminds us that most of the American cuisine originated from African, Caribbean and Southern traditions. “Our food was always flavorful plant-based cooking and never boring. Far from it!”
Not your usual vegan
Taking issue with standard vegan fare, he said: “Why do we think of vegan as bland, hippie food? Many vegan restaurants are so disappointing, and there’s no excuse for lack of flavor and joy.”
Terry’s recipes are really edible collages, and re-creating them can be fun. Instead or wine or beer, he pairs his recipes with Afrocentric soundtracks, memories, books and films. These pairings might remind you of Vertamae Smart Grosvenor’s “Vibration Cooking” book popular in the ’70s. She combined music and dancing in the kitchen to encourage good “vibrations” in the pot.
Terry showed his Southern charm by bowing down to the grand dame of Southern cooking, Miss Edna Lewis. He re-imagined her fruitcake from a photograph and created Spiced Persimmon Bundt Cake With Orange Glaze. This lovely dessert is paired with Miriam Makeba’s song “A Piece of Ground” and “To Us, All Flowers Are Roses: Poems by Lorna Goodison.”
Romare Bearden tribute
This jazzy cookbook is a tribute to artist Romare Bearden, whose supersized quote guided Terry through the writing of it: “The artist has to be something like a whale swimming with his mouth wide open, absorbing everything until he has what he really needs.”
Do you love sweet potatoes, okras, black eye peas, beans, nuts, watermelon and greens galore? If so, here are some learn new ways to turn them out. Through these pages, you will have fun assembling all the ingredients, shopping in ethnic groceries and searching for the music, books and film pairings. Most of all, you will enjoy the journey of learning how to “vegan-ize” a variety of Creole, Caribbean and Southern dishes. Try making the Jamaican Patties With Maque Choux to the soundtrack of “Brass in Africa” by Hypnotic Brass Ensemble from Best of BBE 2011. Then watch the film “Life and Debt,” directed by Stephanie Black, while eating this simple street food. Your taste buds will wake up with happiness and excitement.
Maque Choux is a Louisiana side dish made with corn, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions and bacon, butter or cream. The pastry for this meatless patty is made with flour, turmeric, sea salt and coconut oil. The plant-based Maque Choux filling was Caribbean-ized by adding cumin, thyme, black pepper, cinnamon, allspice, cayenne, corn broth, coconut milk and lime juice.
Healthy, fresh meals
Terry’s cooking genes come from his grandparents and parents in Memphis via rural Mississippi. They nurtured edible gardens and prepared simple healthy, fresh meals.
He said he expanded his repertoire in Louisiana, where he earned an English literature degree from Xavier University and developed a passion for Creole and Cajun food. “That’s where I first tasted savory breakfasts, beignet and coffee.” Living in Brooklyn as a starving New York University grad student, Terry dined on tasty and affordable Caribbean street food such as Trinidadian roti and Jamaican patties. “My combined travels and studies in Harlem and other diverse black communities helped me trace and interpret the arc of food’s African ancestry,” he said.
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When Terry moved to Oakland, Calif., he said he discovered East African foods, especially Ethiopian flavors, and Asian food too. He called his cooking style “Afro-Asian.” He and his Chinese wife and their two children enjoy growing bok choy, collards and mustard greens in their Oakland backyard garden.
Terry said he started his work in grassroots in Brooklyn, where an all-girls black basketball team booed him off the stage for bad-mouthing McDonald’s hamburgers.
“Even in cooking school my teachers and classmates laughed at me when I said I wanted to create food programs for low-income urban youth. All they wanted to do was work in a restaurant. My family was very supportive. But some of them did not see my vision. They wondered where I was going with an English degree from Xavier, a history master’s degree from NYU and chef’s training program at the National Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in NYC.”
Who’s laughing now? Every aspect of Terry’s educational and professional studies found application in his books and work.
“Today, I feel very proud to inspire the next generation of food activists,” he said, adding that a recent highlight of his career was giving the graduation speech at UC Berkeley.
No need to pair veganism with perfectionism
“I’m not pushing veganism as perfect. I am simply offering some tools and options. I am a chef. I love cooking and sharing the joy of healthy food. I don’t separate food from culture. When we understand food from seed to table and learn that process, we all become more invested in our own health,” he said.
“More schools now use urban gardens, farmers markets, plant-based eating, cooking and preserving classes to teach life skills. That’s my kind of activism,” he said. The chef said he was inspired by the Black Panther’s children’s breakfast programs of the ’60s and ’70s.
Spices, soups and street food
The book is organized into chapters with titles like “Spices, Sauces, Heat,” “Soups, Stews, Tagines” and “Street Food, Snacks, Small Bites.” Amazing and enticing photographs are interspersed between the pages. Sample recipes include: “Tofu Curry With Mustard Greens,” “Crunchy Bean and Okra Fritters With Mango-Habanero Sauce,” and “Sweet Potato and Pumpkin Soup.” Several dishes use African spices and sauces such as berbere, chermoula and harissa.
My favorite recipe was the “Sweet Potato Granola With Molasses-Glazed Walnuts.” Once the cinnamon and nutmeg aromas filled my kitchen everyone thought I was baking pie. With this recipe, you will never buy granola again. Be forewarned, once you open this cookbook, you will get hungry, head for the kitchen, go grocery shopping, go back to the kitchen, turn on some music and dance as you cook up a storm.
The book begins with “Permission to Speak,” an introduction by Jessica B. Harris, a noted educator, culinary historian and author of 12 books. Reflecting on her travels through Africa, and her grandmother and mother’s larder, Harris said of Terry: “In Afro-Vegan, he amply and ably demonstrates that he knows that food and culture are inseparable and that history is always there on the plate.”
Cocoa-Spice Cake with Crystallized Ginger and Coconut-Chocolate Ganache
Yield: 8 to 16 servings
Soundtrack: “Marcus Garvey” by Burning Spear from “Marcus Garvey/Garvey’s Ghost”
Book: “The Other Side of Paradise: A Memoir” by Staceyann Chin
For the cake:
¼ cup coconut oil, melted, plus more for oiling
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon fine raw cane sugar
¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
1¼ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
Scant ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons coconut milk
¼ cup packed mashed ripe avocado (about 1⁄2 medium avocado)
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon dark Jamaican rum
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ounces crystallized ginger, finely chopped (about 1⁄2 cup)
For the ganache:
5 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, finely chopped
¾ cup coconut milk
5 tablespoons raw cane sugar
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dark Jamaican rum (optional)
12 thin slices crystallized ginger
Whenever I serve this cake, folks can’t believe it’s vegan, and they always get a kick out of it when I tell them that I include avocado to add moisture and natural creaminess. My assistant, Amanda Yee, came up with the idea of pouring a coconut-chocolate ganache over the cake. You can stop there and enjoy chocolaty bliss, or take it to the next level by pairing it with Vanilla Spice Rum Shakes.
- To make the cake, preheat the oven to 375 F. Oil an 8-inch round cake pan with 2-inch sides.
- Sift the sugar, flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt, cayenne, and nutmeg into a large bowl and stir with a whisk until well blended.
- Put the coconut milk, oil, avocado, rum, vinegar, and vanilla extract in a blender and process until smooth (or put them in a large bowl and blend with an immersion blender until smooth). Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients and the ginger. Fold together until uniformly mixed. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread in an even layer. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Slide a butter knife around the edge, then invert the cake onto a rack and let cool to room temperature.
- To make the ganache, put the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. Put the coconut milk, sugar, and cayenne in a small saucepan and heat until steaming hot (avoid boiling), stirring often, until the sugar has dissolved. Slowly pour over the chocolate and let stand until the chocolate is melted, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the rum and whisk until completely smooth. Let stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until slightly cooled but pourable, about 5 minutes.
- To glaze the cake, pour the ganache evenly over the cake and let stand until the ganache is set, about 30 minutes. Garnish with the ginger slices.
Main photo caption: Sweet Potato and Lima Bean Tagine. Reprinted with permission from “Afro-Vegan” by Bryant Terry. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. Photography (c) 2014 by Paige Green