Family Meal Season 1 Episode 8
Each month, on this cooking show, I show you how to prepare a delectable feast with wine pairings. Then, you get to watch while my friends tell me what they think about it all.
Family Meal is about exploring food from different places and different times to understand how people make awesome food with what they have.
For our first season, we are cooking from vintage African-American cookbooks.
Check out our eight episode now! The transcript is below. ↓↓↓↓
Coming up are 8 stellar wines paired with 5 tasty dishes with African roots. These dishes are savory, creamy, hearty and sweet. You’ll love these diasporic deep cut recipes inspired by Jessica Harris. Pair this kind of food with good wine and what you have is a Family Meal.
Act 1: Introduction
Welcome to Family Meal: a virtual wine tasting party. Every month I cook a 4-course meal and pair it with some fun wines. Then, you get to watch as my friends tell me what they think about it all.
In this series, we’ve prepared dishes with clear African roots such as okra salad, black eyed pea salad and peanut soup. By the way, you can click the links to see those recipes. But today, we’re digging into the deep cuts, looking at the African roots of 5 dishes people eat in North America. And we’re pairing them with rosé. The recipes are inspired by Jessica Harris’s 1989 cookbook: Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons which “traces the ways African cuisine has migrated to the New World and has been transformed there.” I’m calling this episode “deep cuts” partly because of Harris herself. She is perhaps the black foodies’ foodie; the foodie that other foodies look up to. She’s not as well-known as B. Smith from two episodes ago. But, her recipes come with stories as tasty as the food you can make with them. You can’t beat that. These are also the deep cuts of Black food, perhaps. The breadth of dishes she claims under the umbrella of African cuisine, with scholarly acumen by the way, includes everything from Ackee fruit to Z’Oiseaux chillies, from cold weather saffron to tropical mango. Yes, the Black “celebration plate” dishes are covered in the book. But, they sit with 200 other recipes that are also gems, even if less well known. Harris is an English professor at Queens College in New York and has written 12 cookbooks. She’s written about everything from spicy food to rum drinks.
And she has a podcast that’s a great listen. Pour yourself a glass of wine and settle in. Her voice is poised and pleasant and her stories evoke the breath and heartbeat of the places she explores.The very first episode is about New Orleans, which happens to be my grandmother’s city of birth. One of the dishes I’m making today is inspired by that City and by Dr. Harris’s take on it. But, more on that later. Harris’s mother took young Jessica to West Africa for the first time in 1972. There she encountered Yassa chicken, a dish that tasted familiar even though she was far from home. Looking for connections like these, is at the center of her writing. She’s looking for ways to connect ME to the food in books in the same way Yassa chicken connected her to Africa. So, that’s what I looked for in the recipes in this book, ones that I felt connected to, had experienced in some way. Then, I added my spin to these dishes. We’ll see if it worked.
Here’s what’s on the menu this month. I think of hushpuppies as a celebration food, but as a special occasion food. They are the little bite you have on any Friday when you need a treat. I hope my friends think they’re a treat. These crispy fritters are stuffed with cheese and herbs so that they have that classic crispy outside, creamy inside combination that everyone loves. The wines with this pairing are two Cremant D’Alsace from the north of France. These are both very light wines. Sparkling rosé Pinot Noir. Anything deviled is super tasty. Deviled eggs, deviled crab, even deviled nuts make my mouth water. Course two today is deviled ham tea sandwiches. They’re creamy, spicy, porky and even a little bit sweet. I’ve paired two still rosés from Northern Italy with this course. They are both Corvina dominant wines. Corvina is one of my favorite grapes. I think they’ll be nice with the creaminess of ham salad.
Course three is a hearty stew. This is a mash-up dish with influences from Accra to New Orleans to my backyard. It has lots of greens, a savory broth, some dumplings to soak up the sauce and a mix of duck and seafood. I’m excited to try it. The stew will be served with two Tavel, from the Rhone region in France, just across from Chateauneuf du Pape. They are Grenache and Cinsault, lighter grapes. But, the grapes are treated in a way that makes for a pretty hefty rosé. So, I’m hoping that goes well with the stew. The sweet course is a Praline. Well, can you call it Praline if there’s no pecan? In any event, these pralines have mango leather, melegueta peppercorn and pumpkin seeds. We’ll see what the eaters think about that. Two Brachetto finish off the tasting this month. They are from Piemonte, Italy. This is a sweet, sparkling wine that I’m expecting to taste like flowers and candy. So, it should pair with the candied sugar dessert I’m serving. I’m very excited to share these heritage dishes with you and my friends. So, keep watching.
Act 2: Stuffed and Fried Cornmeal Fritters
I don’t know about you, but hushpuppies are usually served with fish in my experience. And there’s a history there. That pairing is about 120 years old in the Carolinas according to some. We’re having fish in course three. I’ll give the eaters enough to have some for both courses. But, why not enjoy these little bites as a starter with some bubbly. That’s what we’re doing today. They are easy enough to get started. Combine the dry and sifted ingredients in a large bowl. Make sure they are mixed thoroughly. In another bowl, combine the egg and buttermilk. You want it to be as close to one solid color as possible with no discernable yolk left.
As you might have guessed, now we put the wet and dry stuff together. It’s going to be a gloopy batter, a bit thicker than pancake batter, and gritty from the cornmeal. While the dough is resting, dice the cheese into even bits. Then, start warming up the cheese until it just begins to get soft. Now, make dough balls with about a tablespoon of dough. Then, flatten them with a glass. Push a cube of cheese and a few fresh herb leaves into the center of and wrap the dough around it. The final step is frying. Put some oil in a skillet and heat it to about 350 degrees. That’s hot enough for a popcorn kernel to pop. Then fry each dough ball until brown and crispy. Let the fritters drain on paper towel. Now, they are ready to serve. I’ve put this on this plate with some lemon wedges and a few herbs on top. Don’t you want to dig into those? I’ve also got a freshly made hot sauce to go with them. It’s spicy and vinegary. It’s also got some papaya juice and herbs for freshness. If you want that recipe, it’s on the blog too.
So, the fritters are being served with Cremant d’Alsace, from north of France. Wines from wine regions with cool summer night like this tend to be delicate and crisp. This is also a fully sparkling wine. They’re made from Pinot Noir, a thin-skinned grape. So, they don’t have a lot of drying tannin. To make it, whole bunches of grapes –skins, stems, seeds and all– are just lightly pressed. The light touch with the press also makes for a lighter juice. These wines have some color, but they are still light a fresh with a bright raspberry flavor. Let’s see if my friends think this bubbly rosé goes well with this crispy fritters. So, I’m convinced. Hushpuppies definitely an appetizer worthy dish made all the better with a bit of bubbly.
Act 3: Deviled Ham Sandwiches
So, one theory is that deviled food is just red food. Normally, that red comes from paprika. This recipe has paprika, but also onion, pear and pine nuts. While nuts and fruit add crunch, the ham has to be spreadable. So process the ham into a chunky pureé in a food processor. From there, add the remaining ingredients: diced pear, pine nuts, mayonnaise, relish, garlic powder and of course paprika. Mix that well to combine everything. And now you’re ready to make the sandwich. This flax bread that I made.Fresh bread is the perk of being an eater. But, the recipe is also on the blog. I’m just going to cut this in half. Add a bit of horseradish spread to each side of the bread. Then, add a few leaves of basil to cover the lower side of the bread. The ham spread is next. About two tablespoons will cover the bread. All you need now is the top half of the bread. I’m going to cut this in half. But you can cut these sandwiches into thirds or even quarters. Yes, you can buy ham spread in a little tin. But, that tastes like it came out of a little tin. This spread is smoky and salty and has a light sweetness from the pear and crunch from the pine nuts. Add fresh basil and fresh bread, and you have a sandwich worthy of a wine party.
The wines for these are two Corvina blends. When people say fresh wine, the first grape I think of is Corvina. It’s got lick-smacking tartness and fresh cherry for days. The rosé we’re having will be lighter than a red Corvina, which is perfect for a light and creamy ham salad. Both wines are from Verona, in northern Italy. This region’s weather is influenced by the nearby Alps, but also the large bodies of water nearby. Its cool there, but warmer than Alsace. So, these wines will be fuller tasting, a step up from the previous course. They are a very light pink and have a fresh flavor to match: strawberry and citrus. I’m a Corvina fan. But what about today’s eaters? Let’s see.
I know it’s called deviled ham, but that was pretty angelic in my opinion. And paired well with the fruity rosé. I think these wines were among the faves too.
Act 4: Veggie Stew with Duck and Seafood
This recipe was inspired by Green Gumbo, a New Orleans classic. But, since this episode is about connecting New World food to Africa, we’re going back a bit. The mother dish for gumbo is dishes like Kontomire, a stew of pureed greens and other vegetables. It’s usually served with Fufu, a starchy dumpling. I had Kontomire in Ghana almost 10 years ago now. But, I still remember how savory and satisfying it was. That’s the kind of flavor I’m going for today. Today, I’m making a stew of peppers and onions and serving it with greens from the garden and some yucca fufu. I’m using the kale, collars and sweet potato leaves that are growing in the back. I don’t like chomping down on a tough stem. So, I’m cutting those out. They get cooked for three to four hours on low heat in a crock. You don’t need meat or even fat in these. I’m just adding some veggie bouillon and a lot of vinegar. The stew is also simple. It’s pureed onions and peppers. The puree is cooked down with some palm oil and a creole inspired spice blend. Start it out on high heat so the oil gets hot and things fry a bit. And let it finish up at a simmer. Next, is the duck. I’m using breasts today. Make a cross hatch on the skin and season the duck well. Sear the breasts skin side down for 10 minutes to get the skin crisp. Then finish these in the oven at 400 for about 10 more minutes until cooked. The last component is the seafood. This is frozen mixed seafood that goes in hot water for about 5 minutes until the shrimp shells turn pink and the bivalves open. If you’re having stew, you must have fufu. This is fermented water fufu. This frozen yucca that gets soaked for 4 days. This softens and ferments it. On day four puree it up. Add water until you have paste. Get it as smooth as you can. Now, cook the paste until it becomes a translucent dough. You can adjust the thickness by adding water. Mine was still a bit chunky, so I strained it in a sieve. It made for a really silky fufu. But it’s probably too thin to eat with your hands. Traditionally, fufu is used to pick up bits of stew with your hands. But, all of my friends are fork users. So, I’m ok.
Now it’s time to plate. Put a bit of the stew in the middle and surround it with all the accompaniments. That looks like something to dig into right? There are so many flavors in this: sour, savory, herby, and meaty. It’s all here. I’m serving this stew with two Tavel from the Rhone region of France. Rhone grapes are some of my faves. These rosés are made from Grenache and Cinsault, two grapes common to the area. But, these aren’t the light rosés you might be used to. It was almost like drinking brandy even though these wines aren’t fortified. There’s grapefruit and flowers and a hint of vanilla. These wines are intense with lots of oak and are an intense salmon color. One is even a bit tawny like its aged even though it’s just three years old. I wonder what the panel will say about these unique wines.
For me, these Tavel were like reading a good book of poetry. You have to sit and think for a moment. What did I just read? What did that mean? But……. not everyone likes poetry, unless you have food with it, if you get my gist.
Act 5: Papaya and Peppercorn Praline
Can you call something a praline if there’s no pecan? Oh well, I’m going for it anyway. I’m making candy today. It’s got dried papaya, pumpkin seeds and melegueta peppercorns in it. I picked these ingredients because I thought they’d taste nice together. Tropical sweetness from the papaya, citrus and herbs from the pepper and crunch from the seeds. A mix of flavors and textures. But, these ingredients to me represent the diaspora of African derived people’s food. You don’t get more American than the pumpkin. Melegueta pepper is an important spice in a lot of West African cooking. And papaya is now found all over the tropics as are Black people.
And all that is wrapped in a Praline. You can’t get more diasporic than that. To make the praline, add sugar, butter, brown sugar and milk to a pot. Heat it over medium heat to 200 degrees. You can use a candy thermometer to verify the temp. Now, add half of the mix-ins. By the way, the papaya leather was dried in a food dehydrator at 125 degrees for 6 hours. But you can also dry them in the sun covered with a cloth or in the oven on the lowest setting for 12 hours. After liquid candy gets to 240 degrees take it off the heat and pour it on a pan to let it cool. I’m going to add the rest of my mix-ins now. After it cools enough that you can handle it, shape it however you like. I’m making cubes using a silicone ice tray. That was easy, wasn’t it? And look how pretty that looks with a bit of clotted cream on top and a piece of papaya leather. A dainty diasporic dessert if ever there was one.
By the way, the clotted cream recipe is on the blog too. The final wines for today are two Brachetto from the Piemonte region of Italy, about three hours southeast of the Rhone Valley, where our last wines were from. These are sweet and sparkling wines made from the Brachetto grape. They’re almost a fluorescent pink in color. And boy do they give you Strawberry. And just a hint of citrusy acid. And they’re sweet enough to stand up to candy, which is perfect. But they’re light-bodied wines, so not too syrupy. Let’s see if the eaters are feeling the Brachetto. I think those were some fun wines to end our rose journey this month.
Act 6: Epilogue
So, there you have it. I made five dishes, inspired by Jessica Harris’s 1989 cookbook: Iron Pots and Wooden Spoons. I made cheese stuffed cornmeal fritters, deviled ham salad sandwiches, a vegetable stew with greens duck and seafood, fermented water fufu and a papaya and peppercorn praline. Harris is a writer first and foremost. She wants to tell you the story of food, about how certain crops and animals become important ingredients… and how those ingredients become important dishes. And I can use her stories to fill out my own, like having hushpuppies at a Friday Night Fish frys as a kid, having Kontomire in Accra ten years ago. And now, straining water fufu by hand in 80 degree weather. The texture was worth it!
In any event, Harris is talking about heritage in her book. These recipes are a cultural inheritance. They are an inheritance for me personally as a Black person. But, also to everyone in America. This country wouldn’t be as tasty a place without hushpuppies, gumbo and pralines, don’t you think? There is culture in everything humans do and make. But the culture around food, around nourishment seems particularly important to me. These dishes don’t just fill the belly. They can fill an afternoon with good cheer, good conversation and good flavors. One of today’s eaters said the stew today was the best dish of all 8 episodes so far. I’ll take it! So, if there’s any dish you want to try. Start with that one. It’s a great representative of the culture and it’s super tasty.
And it’s healthy. It’s mostly vegetables with a few pieces of meat for interest. It’s an herbaceous veggie forward dish that’s easy to make. And if you’re used to canned spreadable ham, this recipe is a different dish all together. It’s more complex but not complicated to make. As for the wines, I really enjoyed rosé month. We started in the far north in Alsace and ended up as far south as the Piemonte. On our north to south rosé journey, we stopped in Bardolino for a Chiaretto. It was delicious and highly recommended. A lot of the eaters enjoyed the Pascua 11. It’s fruity and fresh but complex enough to go with a ham sandwich.
The other wine that was a revelation for me was the Tavel. The Prieure Montezargue was truly stellar. I think the bottle we had was maybe a bit oxidized. But, that’s ok. Tavel’s can age from what I understand. And if that’s what they taste like when they age… more please. I hope you will join us in late November, for the next episode. It will be Thanksgiving. Turkey season. So, this next episode will be about what I’m giving thanks for after 8 episodes of this project. Over these past 8 months, we’ve explored 57 wines, 44 dishes and 8 interesting cooks. That’s definitely something to give thanks for. I’ll be talking about the stuff I wish I had time to say in past episodes, but didn’t get to. I’ll also be talking about what I’ve heard from you so far.
Thanks for watching, folks. Bye!
Check these wines for your reference:
Anne de K Cremant Brut NV (fr) Rose
Albrecht Cremant Brut Rose Tradition NV (fr)
Pasqua 11 Minutes Rose 2019 (it)
CaMaiol Chiaretto Rose 2018 (it)
Prieure Montezargue Tavel Rose 2017 (fr)
Trinquevedel Tavel Rose 2019 (fr)
Stella Fiore Brachetto NV (it)
S Orsola Brachetto d’Acqui NV (it)