Free Range on Food: The African roots of Southern cooking and more

African Soul Fried Rice.
Feb 17, 2016

Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions. Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, and welcome to today's chat! Hope you're enjoying our coverage this week, including Michael Weissman's profile of the fascinating Michael Twitty, who is joining us on today's chat to answer any and all questions about his passion -- the African roots of Southern cooking -- and anything else you want to throw at him.

You can throw any and all q's at us regulars, too, naturally!

For you PostPoints members, here's today's code: FR9910. Remember, you'll want to record and enter it into the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.

We'll also have a giveaway book for our favorite chatter today: This week it's "The Plantiful Table: Easy, From-the-Earth Recipes for the Whole Family" by Andrea Duclos (source of this week's Weeknight Veg recipe for Lentil Shepherd's Pie).

Let's do this!

How much Jewish cooking do you do? Do you write about this aspect? I saw some mentions in the article and on you website about Jewish cooking, but I didn't find much. Also, I noticed your twitter handle is koshersoul, but there are regular mentions of cooking with pork. How do you combine your Jewish and Southern/African cooking? Do you have any internal conflict between kashrut laws and the desire to cook faithful Southern food?

Afroculinaria is all of me--so I have an entire tag called--"Jewish stuff." I am at a point in my career where I am trying to not "give it all away," so writing a blog becomes very very tricky--I want to write a whole book project on my relationship with kashrut and Jewish food as an Afro-culinarian and practicing Jew...

but I digress--the pork thing-let's be clear--when I am on the grounds of a historic plantation--telling that history faithfully is critical. When I do synagogue dinners and talk to Jewish groups--I am fully kosher and recognize the role kashrut plays in defining "kosher/soul."  Here is a great piece on me from Tablet that I encourage you to read about my Jewish identity and how it impacts my cooking. 

Thank you for the article with fresh insights into Madeira. (By the way, I once heard a serious recommendation to pair it with peanut butter cups!) Speaking of rediscovering old-fashioned wines, we have 12 bottles of elderberry wine from a Waterford, Virginia, winery. It is surprisingly potable. There is a limit, however, to how much of this stuff we can manage to quaff straight. Any suggestions for how to use up our case of elderberry wine, either in cooking or as a drink ingredient?

That is a LOT of elderberry wine! On the "other drinks" end, I would try playing around with your wine and some gin (or vodka if you're not a gin fan). Depending on whether your elderberry wine leans sweet or tart, you may or may not want to add a little simple syrup -- but try it with gin and club soda, or gin and prosecco if you want to get fancy. A fresh sprig of rosemary or thyme wouldn't go amiss, either.

After not making it for years, have decided to try making pizza dough. Want to make a bunch and then freeze. Most recipes I've seen say it can be frozen, but when do I freeze it? Immediately after I portion it after the first rise? Or do I let it rise again and then freeze. When I take it out of the freezer, I know it needs to come to room temp so I can stretch it out, but does it need to rise at that point? Thanks for any help. You all are the best!

Freeze after the first rise. Then I'd let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator and set it out at room temp an hour or two before you want to bake it.

Bonnie- just have to agree with you that I also love grocery shopping :) One of my favorite past times with my Mom is to go shops that specialize in foreign foods and look at produce or snack food we've never seen (our favorite is one market that has "cookies" listed on 3 different aisles.) When I go on vacation with my husband, he knows that visiting grocery stores is part of our itinerary. In Paris we found lots of wonderful farmers markets, but also a grocery with only one path through the store that only sold frozen food.

Thanks, val! Going into food shops or open markets on vacation is the best -- especially when you have the facilities to cook!  A close second for me is collecting the spiral-bound cookbooks in gift shoppes. The dishes don't always come out right but I like the local-flavor access. 

"Cookies" deserve 3 aisles, don't they? :)


ARTICLE To you, it's a chore. To me, it's a quest with benefits.

When/how did you first start to connect the cuisine of West Africa with the Southern US? Was it an Aha! moment or a gradual piecing together of info/recipes/experiences?

When I was about ten and I read the English translation of The Masters and the Slaves by Gilberto Freye the great Brazilian sociologist...he wrote about how Brazilian food was this collision between West and Central Africa, Portugal and indigenous Native people--so I began drawing the links and it was definitely a lightbulb experience!

Why does the recipe for Snickerdoodles call for cream of tartar? I don't know any other cookie recipes that do.

We have two snickerdoodle recipes in our Recipe Finder, and both of them call for cream of tartar. The reason, I'd say, is that snickerdoodles are a traditional cookie, and older recipes are more likely to contain cream of tartar and baking soda rather than baking powder, which is essentially a combination of the two. Baking soda, you see, requires an acidic element to be activated as a leavener, which is why you often see it paired with lemon juice, vinegar or, in this case, cream of tartar. If you don't have it, you can sub the two with baking powder. Conversions that I've seen call for 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda as the equivalent of 1 teaspoon baking powder, so in the recipes below, I'd try substituting 2 teaspoons baking powder in the Chai-Spiced Gluten-Free Snickerdoodles and 4 teaspoons baking powder in the Cardamom Brown Sugar Snickerdoodles (a creation of yours truly).

Let us know how it goes!

RECIPE: Chai-Spiced Gluten-Free Snickerdoodles

RECIPE: Cardamom Brown Sugar Snickerdoodles

We are interested in having him to speak or do a cooking demonstration at an event in Charleston, SC. How should we reach out to him?

Hi I am always reachable through my booking email: :) I love the Holy City! It is a very deep part of my family story. 

Got a bottle of grappa as a gift and I'm not a fan of grappa. Any good and easy cocktails (i.e., less than four common ingredients) I can make with it to take the edge off? Can it reasonably sub in for pisco in a pisco sour? TIA!

Ah, grappa. I think your pisco sour variation is a good idea. I also like grappa with some of the sweeter amari. I think one of the main things with a grappa cocktail is making sure you stir (or shake, if you're doing the sour) adequately -- good dilution will help cut that harsh grappa note you've likely been put off by in the past? (That said, while I definitely have had some bad grappa experiences, I've also had some mellower ones. Even if you're traditionally not a grappa person, at least give your new bottle a taste before you decide the best use is hiding it!)

Is crème de cacao typically clear or brown, and which did you use in your cocktail recipes? The one I have at home is clear--seems strange now that I think about it, since it's chocolate (supposedly).

They vary, and there are some white chocolate versions too. My personal favorite is the Tempus Fugit one, which is brown but not super dark. I tested the cocktails I did with both it and the Godiva chocolate liqueur (Godiva makes a dark chocolate version as well, which I suspect would would fine too but didn't test.)

SPIRITS: Chocolatinis are terrible. Here's the right way to get drunk with chocolate.

RECIPE: Cocoa Smoke

RECIPE: Chocantonic

I need to bring a dish to a kid bday party where no cheese, no flour and no meat is consumed. Any ideas besides a fruit plate or salad?

How bout this Cauliflower "Popcorn"? Fun, right? You could even serve them with a dipping sauce, like the romesco that's part of the second recipe?

RECIPE: Cauliflower 'Popcorn"

RECIPE: Romesco

Or for something perhaps a little safer, depending on the kids, there's always hummus -- try this one made with carrots. (And get rice crackers or other gluten-free crackers to serve with it.)

RECIPE: Carrot Hummus

If eggs are a possibility, these are super fun:

RECIPE: Guacamole Eggs

Or if they're not, just plain guacamole (well, not PLAIN -- this is a fabulous one), served with corn tortilla chips. Depending on the age/taste preferences of the kids, you might want to tone down the chilies -- or make your own favorite version.

RECIPE: Guacamole Tradicional

I realize you nixed a salad option, but this Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad is good for a crowd and is not your usual greens in a bowl. People can pick/choose components they like. (And it's pretty!)


What influence did native cultures have on Africans living in the south?

Huge. It was a two way street.  Corn was by and far the biggest ingredient of note.  Native people who enslaved Africans certainly passed on dishes like sofkee and tanfula to enslaved people.  The corn heritage drew on both West African and Native American foodways--but mainly the latter, even though many West Africans arrived with corn breads, corn mush, corn liquor, roasted ears of corn since they acquired it from the Portuguese.  There's a great book on that called Maize and Grace.  Anyhow--Native Americans-especially the so-called Five Civilized Tribes--frequently adopted the crops of Africans who sought refuge with them---like black eyed peas, watermelon, rice, and sweet potatoes and elephant ear.  I realize that sweet potatoes are "New World," but their cultivation among Muskogean speakers was directly tied to contact with Africans... Please see the book Creek Country.

I have been gifted a bottle of Cherry flavored moonshine. I'm more of an old fashioned/manhattan person. Can I mix this with some rye whiskey, bitters, and a sugar cube and hope I get something good? Suggestion on proportions and garnishes would be great.

I think the main question here is how sweet the stuff is. I think you'd probably get good results with the mix you mention, but I'd hold off on the sugar until you assess that question. My guess is your jar is probably on the sweet side already, so you might hit pretty close to a cherry-flavored Old-Fashioned riff without even adding the sugar. I think you could play around with some gin options as well; the fruit and the juniper will probably do well together.

I've seen these "smoker boxes" that you fill with chips for use on a gas grill. Is there any way I can adapt this for indoors in my oven? I haven't made any good ribs in a while and it's a bit too cold to smoke outside. I have a really inefficient/leaky smoker so I'll burn what seems like a cord of wood in two hours if I do so.

 Yes, you can smoke indoors. Here is a story I wrote on it, which includes a recipe for indoor-smoked ribs.


For the person who asked about salt shakers with bigger holes: Penzey's carries them online and in its Falls Church store. For the WaPo writer who answered the question about what liqueur to add to fondue: The question, at least as printed, never mentioned chocolate, so my reasonable assumption was that the reader was referring to the original fondue--the cheese one. Kirschwasser is of course classic, and I gathered that the reader wanted to know what might be used instead for a different taste. But perhaps the original question did refer to chocolate fondue and that fact was redacted out, in which case why bother to ask? Almost any liqueur will pair well with chocolate!

Thanks for the intel! Appreciate it.

On the fondue -- what the print section version misses are the little headlines on the chat question. (In your case, for instance, it's "Answers in 02/17 print edition," see?) The headline on that fondue question was, in fact, "Chocolate fondue," so that's what we addressed!

Following up on my question of last week on where to find a shaker for the larger grains of kosher salt. Bonnie suggested I use tiny bowls with spoons. I appreciate her advice but am specifically looking for a shaker, as I like to shake my salt. Can anyone suggest where I might find salt shakers that accommodate the larger grains of kosher salt? Thank you and the readers for your help.

A reader has answered just today! Editor Joe will post it near yours, I'm sure.


I tried to make fufu with plantains and yucca as a Ghannian meal for my students. You mention using perhaps a more authentic combination of yams boiled and pounded into fufu. We're my ingredients authentic to the African tradition?

The most authentic ingredient in African cooking is improvisation.  :) Plantain fufu is a thing. Now you will get arguments from different people from different ethnic groups in Ghana--so just know that--but if you're teaching them that the mother cuisine is starches and sauces and soups--then you have done your job. 

I made this last night with blue fish and it's a winner. But I'm wondering how to get more of a "chowder" like filling....something with a bit more sauce if you will....or even magic this into a (not) tuna noodle casserole type dish. Any thoughts?

We will let FOF Aviva Goldfarb know! It would fall off the healthful scale, but you could create a quick bechamel type sauce -- maybe infuse the warming milk with your favorite fresh herbs or even a bit of Old Bay. Maybe even poach the fish in that milk instead of cooking it separately in the oven. I'd stir in tuna for your noodle casserole after the sauce has thickened and is off the heat. Report back!

RECIPE Cod and Corn Chowder Pie


Mr. Twitty, I've been watching Vivian Howard's TV series "A Chef's Life," and have been struck by her interest in incorporating African-American ingredients and recipes (and consulting African-American cooks) in her restaurant, which features many dishes based on Eastern Carolina locavore ingredients. Have you worked with her?

Vivian is wonderful.  We've met and talked about doing some projects together.  I've been to her restaurant and really appreciate how she strives to interrogate history in the kitchen and bring opportunity to the people of Kinston NC.  She truly loves eastern Carolina and it comes out in her cooking..

I LOVE "A Chef's Life." Obsessed. Also have met Vivian, and she's just as charming as on the show. 

Did you see Jane Black's profile of her a couple years back? A good look at her life and the show.

ARTICLE: Vivian Howard lives 'A Chef's Life'

Re Scandinavian food: I was in Helsinki ten years ago and the food was uniformly excellent everywhere we ate. Helsinki really flies under the radar but it should be top of the list of great food cities. I had raw oysters that were so fresh, they tasted like the ocean. It was a revelation to me.

I haven't been to Helsinki, but it sounds like a must visit.


If you're into Scandinavian food, allow me to plug my upcoming interview with the great Darra Goldstein, founding editor of Gastronomica, who has just published a terrific book, "Fire + Ice," which is park cookbook and part scholarly research into Scandinavian cooking.  The interview is Friday at the Hill Center. Please join us.

My favorite grocery shopping moment: I was living in Aarhus, Denmark in 1883, for work, and had discovered only the meh grocery store and the small farmer's market in the tourist area. One day I was on a bus in an unfamiliar area of the city, when I saw a dozen older women with shopping bags get off the bus. I followed them, and found the REAL local farmer's market. Hallelujah! There were fresh vegetables, and non-frozen chickens! Few of the stallholders spoke English, but pointing worked fine.

Score! Reminds me of when I was in St. Petersburg. I too, followed those "older women"  to a vast indoor market with things I'd never imagined could be pickled, and where single vendors were also selling outside. 

the article about Mr. Twitty and his research. It was fascinating. The only negative is that its "quick" link yesterday when it was in the "in the news" list at the top of the page was "Paula Deen." I honestly clicked on that expecting to see an obituary. It was a great surprise to get a fascinating article which had nothing to do with Paula Deen. I especially liked the information about some plants going from this hemisphere, to Africa and then coming back again as ingredients. OK, real question. I have somehow managed to miss kale. But I was in the grocery store the other day and a package of organic baby kale was on sale so I picked it up. I've tasted it. Seems fine. Is there something else I should be doing with it other than mixing it in with lettuce. Do you cook it like spinach? And I've heard people talk about rubbing it? Is that only for the regular stuff, not the baby form that I have? Thanks so much.

Thank you for that! Kale makes great gomen--which is the Amharic name for greens.  Ginger, garlic, hot pepper, maybe even take a hint from Chef BJ Dennis of Charleston and add a little coconut milk to stew it in--and you've got a great dish over rice--please chiffonade first, before you saute. 

Round steak is frequently on sale but I haven't found any recipes that result in tender meat.

I called my favorite butcher, Nathan Anda with Red Apron, and he has a simple, relatively low-cost solution: Buy yourself a Jaccard tenderizer. They cost about $20, but unlike a mallet tenderizer, this device, Anda says, will not denature the meat or ruin its natural shape.


"It will help its mouthfeel, too," the chef says. "It'll cook better."


The key is not to go crazy with the tenderizing. The Jaccard's needles are about an inch wide; Anda suggests poking the round steak about every inch and a half, then flipping it over and doing the same on the other side.


You'll get a much more tender cut of meat. And less chewy, not matter what the recipe.

I'm certain it does. But I buy a bottle of vermouth and it's not like I down it in a week. What's the best way to keep it fresh? One of those vacu-vin tops in the fridge? Or don't bother?

As someone with a crowded fridge, I hate to say this, but keep those bad boys cold. They'll last a lot longer (we have about 5 bottles of the stuff in ours). The vacuum-vin couldn't hurt if you have one. Also, buy smallish! Especially with the good vermouths, I try to get the smaller bottles so they won't expire before I've used them. It's a little hard to find some of them, but last time I checked Schneider's still carried the smaller Carpano Antica, and I've seen other smaller bottles around as well -- I tend to buy them when I see them.

Thank you for the Lentil Pie recipe. I can't wait to try it. When I was growing up, probably because my mother is a Scot, Shepherd's Pie (or Cottage Pie) was a regular on our family's weekly dinner rotation. Although I remember it fondly as a childhood comfort food, I stopped cooking and eating it when I became mostly vegan. We used to spice up our Shepherd's Pie with a liberal dousing of Worchestershire sauce. I've never tried any of the vegan versions of Worchestershire sauce. How do they compare to the original, anchovy-based version?

Glad you like the look of the recipe. It's a keeper!

I've got the Annie's Naturals vegan Worcestershire sauce, and I like it! I haven't compared it side by side with anchovy-based, but I remember it hitting all the right notes.

RECIPE: Lentil Shepherd's Pie

This is apparently off topic for today, but I am really wondering about laminated Danish pastry dough. I've been trying different recipes, shapes, etc to find what I really like. What I've noticed from all of this is that the butter cooks out of the dough and puddles around in the pan. Just now I decided to pour it off as I turned the pans in the oven. No recipe I've found discusses this issue - the finished products are great, very very flaky and tasty. Is this cooking out and puddling what I should expect?? Thanks

Oh, I've been there! This always happens to me when I make pain au chocolat. I used to fret but now, eh -- if it tastes good, and you've got the flakiness, you ought to feel pleased with yourself. (Believe me, it took a lot of zen for perfectionist me to come to that conclusion.) Laminated doughs are tough -- I've even had pros tell me that. I'm guessing both our problem is that the butter isn't quite as evenly incorporated into the dough as it should be. I know I end up with bigger pockets here and there, and even spots where the dough is so thin the butter starts to come through. But hey, you made Danishes, go you! At least you're not eating ALL the butter that went in them. ;-) NYT Claiborne recipe did call for a Bain Marie and I did try cutting the cake with a knife dipped in hot water. I was thinking my problem was due to adding all the eggs at once, over mixing, or cooking it too long. I have looked at other versions of the same recipe that stated one egg at a time, don't over mix and the cooking times had been reduced from 1 1/2 - 2 hours down to 1 1/4 - 1 1/2. A friend also suggested using fishing line to cut it. I will try all suggestions next time. It was a huge hit none the less.

Thanks for checking back in. One egg at a time's almost always a good idea, but if you beat the mixture long enough i can't imagine that you'd see the results of not doing that in the end. Unwaxed, unflavored dental floss might be easier to come by! 

Joe, in my opinion, the veggie ramen at Daikaya is way better than at Yona. When I had Yona's version, the soy milk was the dominant flavor and it was quite dull whereas the version at Daikaya has deep, smokey flavors from the wok. It would be great if you could convince Chef Katsuya to give up his secrets.

I love both of these: The Daikaya ramen is, yes, deep and smoky and clear-brothed, while the Yona version has that great creamy mouthfeel (and, at least when I had it -- and in the recipe that I tested -- also great deep flavors from that black garlic). With Plate Lab, we try to spread the topics around, so don't imagine I'll do another veggie ramen anytime soon, but down the road, maybe!

PLATE LAB: The secret ingredient that makes vegetarian ramen taste almost porky

Mr. Twitty, as a Portuguese-American I wonder if you've observed some similarities between Portuguese and African cuisines? Specifically, I wonder if there's an historical basis for this due to Portuguese traders and colonizers bringing African ingredients back to Portugal, and Afro-Brazilian ingredients back from South America?

OMG  yes! I am part Portuguese by ancestry myself!

You're exactly right-and collard greens may be our best example of this cultural exchange--starting with caldo verde brought to West Africa then transformed in the days of the early Atlantic world.  Its clear that we are having a global discussion here--and that's so critical--that people see their stories and heritage in the wider narrative of African and African Diaspora foodways.

I stewed a chicken during the January blizzard days and of course saved the luscious broth, which formed a layer of schmaltz on top while in the refrigerator. I used the broth and schmaltz little by little but didn't use it all within two weeks. It still looked and smelled okay but I didn't want to risk upset stomachs so tossed it. Was two weeks too long to wait before tossing it or would it still have been okay to eat, reheated? If the schmaltz had remained unbroken on top, would it have lasted longer? There was some citrus (orange juice) in the broth, too, but that's not always how I make it. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

If you'd portioned the broth into separate containers and covered the surface with an airtight layer of the schmaltz then sealed the containers tight, 2 weeks or more would work in the refrigerator. On the safe side, you can keep broth/schmaltz you've dipped into the standard 3 days, but if you boil up the broth for several minutes and cool it down, you can buy yourself another 3 days.


I think next time I'd freeze the schmaltz straight away (if you weren't doing the Plan A storage setup), separately, and maybe portion the broth in zip-top containers to freeze flat.  (Citrus juice?!)

I'm curious who does the cleaning up in your test kitchen at the Post and who cleans up when you test recipes at home. This is more than idle curiosity. I like to cook and love to eat but I hate putting so much time into mopping up and wonder is there some Zen state you get into that you can help me find, too, or does someone else do the washing-up for you?

There's no separation of cook/clean duties here or at our homes, although our aide Kara Elder does pitch in. (If you saw my cuticles just now, you'd have your answer!) Except for the floor part, I've found that cleaning as you go provides the most Zenlike state I can have in the kitchen. It's daunting to look at a counter full of dirty odd bits. Do a task -- like cutting all the vegetables -- then clean off the cutting board and compost/gather the scraps to put them elsewhere. Next...

I have to give credit to my husband, who is always willing to take on cleanup duty at home. Not my favorite task, and I do some of it, but he seems to enjoy washing dishes (I think).

I, too, have a deal with my SO: If I cook dinner for us, he does the dishes. But we both clean, really: I put away food, bring him pots/pans, wipe down counters, etc., while he does the dishes. If I'm testing a recipe that's not for dinner, I clean up after myself. Bonnie's right: If you're a cook, you're indeed probably always cleaning, too. Music helps!

Chefs use the term, "work clean," which just means they clean as they cook. It's the way I like to work in the kitchen. It helps not only to cut down the massive mountain of dishes at the end of a dinner-party meal, but also to keep your work area clean, which is vital as we all fret about cross-contamination and foodborne illnesses.

I also have the advantage at home of being the one who cooks to relax and having a SO who will do more than a fair share of the cleanup. But like Bonnie and Tim said, cleaning as you go is the way to do it. If you're following a recipe, read through the recipe first and see if there are ways to streamline/minimize bowl or utensil usage (as shocking as it seems, not every recipe is written with a home cook in a little kitchen who hates to do dishes in mind). And whenever possible, don't leave a sink of dirty dishes for the next day. I find it that much more daunting to wake up to a dirty kitchen. 

Last week, I wrote in to ask about outfitting my kitchen after years of non-cooking. Your responses far exceeded anything else I found online in practicality and helpfulness . I never would have thought of things like a kitchen scale (my mother reminded me that my sister-in-law in Europe only cooks or bakes using a scale) and I certainly didn't know I could get parchment paper that's pre-cut to fit the baking sheet. I'll be picking stuff little by little. I hope you decide to put all your suggestions together into a piece that Google can find! Thanks again.

You're welcome! We'll mull that idea.

Has the current unrest in the Middle East affected the availability of certain food products? Last night, I as I was preparing a dish with Aleppo pepper, it struck me that this particular pepper has become very popular lately. Yet Aleppo has been in the news as a conflict zone. Has that affected the availability of Aleppo pepper, or could it soon?

Conflict has indeed affected the availability of Aleppo pepper; I've seen a few articles addressing the issue (for example, this one from the LA Times). 

Most people suggest using the Turkish Urfa or Marash peppers as a substitute, which are very, very tasty but don't taste the same as Aleppo. Urfa is a bit smokey and almost raisiny, Marash more bright and citrusy. You'll find both at specialty markets or well-stocked spice shops.

Here's a recipe that puts Marash (or Aleppo, if you have it!) to good use:

Emmer, Lentil and Celery Salad With Lemon-Cumin Dressing

RECIPE: Emmer, Lentil and Celery Salad With Lemon-Cumin Dressing

Maybe. Something stinks and I've ruled out all food items one by one. Nothing dead underneath or behind it. Looks like nothing on the inside either (where the compressor is). Yet if I leave the fridge closed for up to 2 hours, this nasty, rotten smell comes about. Almost like bad cheese. And yes, I've cleaned the interior. I'm totally lost on what it might be.

How old is the fridge? (Sometimes rubber seals/gaskets can inherit stubborn odors.) Are there any places where water can collect, maybe under a crisper drawer? Such liquid is a disturbingly successful collector of smells. Another source of stench: mildewed coils (hidden). It's worth removing the vent panel to look....

Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed the profile of Mr. Twitty. I was wondering whether he had any thoughts on the books "The Jemima Code," or Edna Lewis and "The Taste of Country Cooking"?

Toni Tipton Martin is a dear mentor and friend.  The Jemima Code is like a family album--a genealogy, a literary study of documented cookbook authors leading to the 1990s..I think its the best book to start with when reading about African American foodways.  Edna Lewis is critical--but one major point--Edna Lewis once told Toni Tipton Martin that she was to "leave no stone unturned" in finding out more about chefs just like her that were not as celebrated.  Its so critical that we tell every story we can as loud as we can.  The kitchen is a social justice space where we can do so much to improve lives and feed the soul of the world. 

Did you see our excerpt of Toni's book? If not, it's a great taste of this important work.

ARTICLE: Why I wanted to break the Jemima Code

I'd like to make the cauliflower popcorn this weekend but don't have any parchment papper and have never used. Why is it needed?

It's mainly to help with easy cleanup. But you can skip it -- and scrub!

Mr. Twitty: If a museum were to do an exhibit dealing with cultural exchange of food (i.e. the "whitening" of southern dishes as explained in The Washington Post article or the adoption of foods between African slaves and Native Americans you mentioned in another answer), what is the most important point you would expect to see? In other words, what is your answer to "so what if this happened?"

What an excellent question.  Here goes--that for nearly 300 years the Master class had free use and free access to ideas about food that were capital then as they are now.  We all eat this food-regardless of color---but when I challenge people with the idea of culinary justice--they balk--probably because they are working on a melting pot model....but Chinese Americans and Mexican and Italian Americans used food in their uplift...during our formative period--African and Native peoples had their foodways largely taken without any sort of control over what was going on--and consistently told---you deserve the worst food--now we have chronic diseases....and poverty--but people forget that unlike other ethnic groups we went almost three centuries without any control over how our food worked for us instead us for the food.  Bless you!

I have a recipe I love for a fondue made with beer, cilantro and Monterey Jack cheese. Basically, you bring the beer to a boil and whisk in the cheese off the heat. Sometimes it is perfect. Sometimes, the cheese gets all stringy and seems to separate. The resulting liquid is still delicious, but it isn't very nice on chips. I suspect the problem is the temperature. Should I be aiming to keep the beer hot or cool it off a bit before adding the cheese? The cheese is mixed with flour to help the emulsification. This is a treat I make only for my family because I am never sure when it will turn out right!

Hmm....who's calling it foolproof? Without knowing the ratio of ingredients, I think your mix might just need a little more flour to pull it together, and maybe a little butter. Make a slurry using a bit of the warm beer and the flour, then once it's smooth, stir that into the beer on the heat. Once that's thickened, take it off the heat and stir in the cheese and cilantro. The cheese shouldn't get stringy. 


What do you use for dipping? 

A couple of decades ago the Post published a recipe for caldo verde. The potluck I attended the next Sunday had no less than THREE versions of the recipe. All somewhat different, but all derived from the Post's recipe. Mine was best of course, as I stuck to the original recipe.

Now why wouldn't we post that? ;-)

Are you sure it was a couple decades ago, and not one? Here's one in our Recipe Finder from 2005. Recognize it?

RECIPE: Caldo Verde (Portuguese Kale Soup)

I started thinking about what the Europeans and Asians brought to the Americas, and wondered where the energy sources for pre-columbian cultures came from. Game meat is so lean. Is honey the result of European honey bees only? Where did sugar cane come from?

Honeybees were Eurasian in origin.  Sugarcane starts in New Guinea and Southeast Asia--comes to India--the Middle East, Africa and the Mediterranean then the Americas.  The three sisters diet--especially because it was legume heavy worked quite well for a large swath of Native populations.  Taken together--nixtamalized corn--hominy/posole, beans squash, pumpkins, seeds, wild greens--give you a lot...In the Eastern Woodlands and plains--the diet was very game heavy--and bear fat--the lard of the pre-columbian North American and beaver fat--was especially prized.  One early European writer in New York talked about Native people eating bear fat like it was cheese. 

Mr. Twitty, have you explored which areas have the closest replication of African cuisines/ dishes? Southern? Caribbean? Brazilian?

That's a fantastic question--and its really hard to answer.  I think they all have their genetic markers LOL But that's why I make it very clear in my forthcoming book, The Cooking Gene that food traditions in many ways mirror our random gene patterns--who knows what recipes, ingredients, words will survive in the shuffle.  Short answer to your question--I think Brazil/Brasil is the best answer to your question since enslaved Africans were brought their as late as 1888. 

I really want to make this but I rarely have three cups of mashed potatoes in our two-person household. How can I adapt this recipe to use for instance thinly sliced potatoes to top? Cooking times etc.?

Why not just make mashed potatoes? So easy, and they are crucial to a good shepherd's pie.

While the lentils are cooking, peel and cut up 3-4 large potatoes, boil until tender, drain well, put back in the pot over medium heat to dry out for a few minutes, then stir in melted butter and milk and salt and pepper. Or make the following.

RECIPE: Simple Mashed Potatoes

This got me thinking about other mold bits I scrape off of food because I don't like to waste anything... Any guidelines to safety for things like -- moldy/rotting fruit or veggies (okay to cut off the bad parts?), bread, cheese, etc. FWIW, I live alone and cook only for myself so it would only be a suicide, not a homicide, if something dangerous got through :-)

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service offers these guidelines. And Eating Well reminds us about the moldy foods you can eat.


CHAT LEFTOVERS Some molds you can eat. This one, you shouldn't.

if you can stand another egg discussion, has anyone noticed that the round end and pointy end of an egg are the same now? Or am I buying mutant eggs?

Where are  you buying such eggs, and do they come from chickens?

I offered to make a birthday cake for a friend, and she requested Black Forest cake. I wasn't crazy about the recipe she showed me, so I figured that I would incorporate the elements (make a tried and true chocolate cake recipe, add cherries to cake, top with cherries and whipped cream). Is there anything else authentically in Black Forest Cake, that I am missing or a good recipe or tip that anyone suggests? I was going to whip some mascarpone into the whipped cream topping, too.

If you find a good one, let me know! It's my dad's favorite and I made one from Cook's Illustrated that was a real letdown -- one of my few fails from them.

In the future, I'd probably just hack my own with some good chocolate cake (love the classic Hershey's one), whipped cream (like your mascarpone idea -- will lend it a nice flavor and more stable texture) and cherry filling (I just made a cherry cake filling in which I riffed on the strawberry sauce in this recipe, adding a bit more cornstarch to keep it from being too runny). Kirsch is typically part of Black Forest, so you can spike your cake and cherries with a bit of it. And don't forget the chocolate shavings on top!

These have been pretty popular for a few years now. I think the company that makes them is called Epicurean. They look and feel a bit like plastic but can be pricey (around $80). Are these things good to use with good knives? Or is real wood a better option to save my edges?

Those boards, according to the Epicurean website, are made with "recycled high density polyethylene," which is a common kind of plastic.


I can't speak to how well plastic boards will treat your knives. But all knives will get dull over time, no matter what board you use. It's best to keep those knives in good shape, with a honing steel and regular sharpening. 


The main drawback for plastic boards is their tendency to scar. Bacteria and pathogens can hide in those furrows, and you don't want that. Wood boards don't scar as easily.

I really enjoyed today's profile of Michael Twitty, who I met at an event a couple years ago and found to be a very engaging and interesting guy. Lately, I've been interested in cocktail history, which is proving to be a fascinating subject. I'm curious whether Michael has come across any interesting history about cocktails from the South (or elsewhere) in his work.

I haven't really delved into it-but there are a couple of folks working on the histories and stories of Black mixologists--going back into antebellum America.  Toni Tipton Martin certainly talks about a few in the Jemima Code but the great Black mixologits of today like my friend Tiffanie Barriere in Atlanta are certainly standing on the shoulders of giants. 

Just a shout out. I have been attending cooking demos at Botanic Gatdens with one of your former colleagues Adrienne Cook and her sister Danielle Cook. Great info and the sisters are so personable. Today is ancient beans. I have been attending for over a year now and would never miss a demo. And the backdrop is the Botanic Gardens.

We endorse! They're a good-cookin', knowledgeable team.

Have you taken everything out and removed every shelf, bin, and anything else that can be removed? You'd be surprised where a tiny piece of cauliflower can hide (I found a little "tunnel" behind my crisper drawer. Now, why would they design a refrigerator with a place like that?

Do not get me started on the design of residential refrigerators. Inefficiencies built in! 

Did any of you have a chance to read this article about the problems with food media?  As an outsider, a lot of the points ring true. I'd be interested to get your take(s).

The diversity part was extremely important to see and read and shout from the mountaintops. We have so many stories to tell but largely we seem fixated on talking about how a very small aggregate experiences food--rather than having the talk about food and spirituality, identity, sexuality, gender, racial caste, or ethnicity or even just the personal design of the individual--we need editors and writers and thinkers and chefs and farmers who can tell a more complete picture---in many ways that's what affects the rest of the points raised in that excellent piece.

I agree with Michael that the diversity part felt the most important. I thought lots of the points were good ones, but found myself wishing the piece went into more depth and gave more concrete examples. And I thought it needed more of a historical context; many of these problems are far from new. They seem new to us now, but a lot of these dynamics are age-old.

I agree with Joe. The recipes section was a whiff to me. I'm not sure I consider cookbooks as "food media."

How long is it necessary to cook a dish (like soup) to which wine has been added in order to cook off the alcohol from the wine? I assume it's impossible to cook all of the alcohol off, but what's long enough to make a dish safe for a non-drinker?

There's no easy answer for that one, unfortunately. It depends on the amount of alcohol and the cooking method. Take a peek at this page for a deeper understanding.

Thank you so much for the piece on buffalo mozzarella. It brought back some great memories. My husband and I went to Italy late last spring, and we toured a farm/dairy operation while we were there. We tasted mozzarella that was made just an hour or so before our tour, and we had cannoli, gelato, and milkshakes that were all made using buffalo milk. Fresh mozzarella from cow's milk is good, but it just doesn't compare to buffalo mozzarella. (This is the farm, in case any travelers are interested.)

I'm alarmed by Bonnie's reply about how long chicken broth keeps when sealed immediately. My wife cans the stuff and keeps it in a storage room for months! Does broth not adhere to rules surrounding the canning of vegetables, etc?

She's pressure-canning it? Not everybody has the equipment. I didn't get the sense that the chatter who asked was going to go that route, since the broth and schmaltz were being dipped into with some regularity. 

Glad to hear I'm not the only person who likes to go to grocery stores when I'm traveling. Even when I'm not buying anything, I like to look for different regional offerings in stores in the US. And outside of the US, grocery stores are part of the cultural education!

Agreed! I've definitely coerced traveling companions into exploring grocery stores. For whatever reason, I'm amazed at the variety of chips that exist. (Found Sour Cream & Onion Doritos in Puerto Rico once. They were meh.)

Mr. Twitty, the patty pan squash stew sounds amazing. Sadly, it doesn't seem to be with the Post article. Is there a recipe or a video somewhere so I can try it?

HI! Please see a book called "Housekeeping in Old Virginia," its free source and they have a recipe in there--I don't really use the recipes in precise terms but its one of many inspirations for what I did.  Enslaved African Americans were "notorious" for enjoying their cymling squash heavy on the of course they are working 16 hour days----but they preferred oilier and greasier foods than we do today.  Fat was your friend. Not so much today..

I hope you keep that butter! A ready-made suply of browned butter is such an asset.

Sounds like good #leftovers advice to me!

ARTICLE: How to reuse absolutely any leftover

A few years ago, I visited Cameroon while my son was in the Peace Corps there. In the smaller towns, there were no actual grocery stores, just open air markets. Women sitting on blankets next to piles of flour, beans, rice, vegetables, etc. Tables piled with whole chickens, cow hearts, and other cuts of meat. I had to wonder what happened to the unsold meat at the end of the day. All food items were sold in units of 100 West African francs (about 20 cents) which bought a pretty large quantity of food. The vendors were referred to as the "bean mama", "rice mama", etc.

So similar in description to a lot of the early Southern markets where the whole petty trading of food ingredients and cooked food persisted in Southern coastal cities.  Amazing--thank you for that! Many African-Virginians can trace their roots back to southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon and the Grassfields region. 


Is it okay to eat frozen corn without cooking it? I tossed some in a salad last week, but then wondered whether--given all the food-borne illness issues these days--it was a bad move. Granted, I'm here today, but that doesn't mean it's a recommended practice.

Was it commercially frozen corn? If so there's a good chance it was parboiled/blanched beforehand. Check the package -- if it says "frozen fresh" then I'd cook it first. 

I am planning a three day veggie cleanse. I was going to do a juice cleanse but decided the sugars would be too much. Trying to cut those out as well. I want a mix of raw and cooked. I'm not going to cut out all fats, they help in digestion and keeping that full feeling. Any suggestions for meat/cheese free dishes that would travel well for lunches. It still being winter I am still on Brussels sprouts, raddicio, carrots, kale etc. Are there any protein rich veggies? I'm keeping the grains to a minimum for the three days.

I'm by and large anti-cleanse (why not just try to eat more vegetables generally?), but I can understand the need to reset. I've had a few recipes recently that might be what you're looking for. And on that protein-rich veggie question, yes there is: They are called pulses!

RECIPE: Squash With Chickpeas, Kale, Pomegranate and Tahini Dressing

RECIPE: Cream of Broccoli Soup Concentrate

RECIPE: Smoky Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

RECIPE: Tropical Green Protein Smoothies

ARTICLE: Why a food you've never heard of could be key to feeding the world

I prefer Maras pepper to Aleppo (but I lived in southern Turkey for three years and that was all I used). The fabulous La Cuisine in Alexandria carries a good version with a bit of heat.

Yes and yes!

FYI, the link to this still shows old stuff, not the latest recipes.

It's not in reverse-chronological order, right. We're aware.

Reading the grocery shopping stories brought back a great memory. When I was in high school I did an exchange program and stayed for a month with at family in France. They lived in a smaller town and really didn’t go to the grocery very often. Instead they walked to the outdoor market every day and chose fresh ingredients that they cooked with that same evening. As someone who grew up in American suburbia eating a lot of canned and processed foods, this was an eye opener. I discovered that many foods I thought I hated I actually love when they are fresh. This one experience changed my eating habits.


I just wanted to let you know that the dessert buffet I "catered" a few weeks ago was a huge success -- 15 desserts, plus, on the advice of a chatter, a basket of chips and a basket of Ritz crackers. The chocolate Pavlova was the most popular, followed by the Penzey's recipe mango saffron cheesecake. To add texture variety as you suggested, I also included a hazelnut pudding. All was great -- thank you!

Glad to hear it!

I keep a box of instant potatoes on hand (just plain dehydrated potatoes) to use as a thickener. I bulk up mashed potatoes with these sometimes if I need more or if I've added way too much liquid and need to thicken them. I find that the instant flakes have a certain flavor if eaten completely plain (not bad exactly, but distinctive). When mixed in with other things, it's not noticeable. They should work for lentil shepherd's pie.

Eh, I agree with the use of them as a thickener, but for this recipe, I'd use the real thing. You want every part to hold up its end of the bargain, which is deliciousness.

Mr. Twitty, have you explored differences among the cuisines of various regions of Africa? I'd think that, for one thing, climate plays an important role in such differences. E.g., a friend who grew up in Addis Ababa ate differently from what we think of as African-American food (whose ingredients presumably have their roots in the more tropical parts of the continent). Heck, even in the US folks up North don't have long or hot enough growing seasons for produce that grows readily in the South.

Absolutely--what's very interesting is that there are bonds of similarity between all parts of the African continent and food--and yet there are differences in ecosystems, biota and ethnic and historic realities which provide subtle, nuanced distinctions.  I recognize those differences since I am tracing African American foods from particular regions to unique corners of the Americas. 

Really enjoyed the feature article, and it struck me about your calling Paula Deen a cousin of sorts. What an olive branch! My family (grandparents) were sharecroppers in South Carolina, and worked side-by-side with African-Americans. Poor white families like ours learned a lot about cooking from our African-American neighbors, and the friendships formed then have lasted generations.

That's what The Cooking Gene is all about--we are family--we have developed a culture side by side--and while we have differences what we have in common marks us as a singular Southern family.  I salute you my cousin!

I've read that you cannot completely cook off all the alcohol--that some will remain no matter what.

According to the alcohol burnoff chart, via the USDA. After 2 1/2 hours of cooking time, 5 percent of what you started with would be left in. 

I have a cookie recipe from a 1950s Bakeoff contest and the blurb from the contestant says, "I acquired this cookie recipe from a Mammy who used to sell them on the streets of Charleston." It's a great recipe and when people request it I always delete the blurb before handing it out. I'm afraid I might offend somebody. Am I thinking too hard about this? Any opinions?

Just put it in context and you will be fine.  It's bringing honor to the nameless when you do.  I support you. 

I want to thank Joe for the cardamon snickerdoodles recipe. They're great. I've made them several times.

Delighted to hear this! I'm a cardamom fanatic, and my love hasn't abated since I first developed these -- oh, six years ago now!

Could you make this ahead and bake it the next day?


Thanks for the suggestion (I'm the OP) but I never touch instant potatoes. Just not the same. (So call me a snob)

I'm pretty much with you. Potatoes keep well, and there's nothing like fresh.

I got a package of psyllium husks that I’m incorporating to my overnight oats but would love to try other recipes. I’m looking for a crispy texture but any tried–and–true recipe is welcome.

I know you're looking for crispy, but if I may suggest another non-crisped use, try adding a bit to smoothies.

Anyone else out there have crispy uses for psyllium husks?

Been hearing about the healthy properties of bone broth, but don't get the hype. What IS all the fuss? Is it truly better than regular stock or broth? If it is really good, can I make it with a chicken carcass (after roasting a chicken) and how? Many thanks for letting me pepper you with questions!

The Paleo crowd, of course, swears by it.  So do Kobe Bryant and many generations of Koreans.


Some swear it doesn't matter what bones you use: chicken, pork, beef or lamb. But I say it does. You want rich, collagen-dense bones, like bovine knee caps and femurs, which you can simmer for 24 hours or more with water and mirepoix (roughly chopped onions, carrots and celery). Don't season it. Let the stock cool and refrigerate or freeze until you plan to drink it. You can season the broth however you like to make it palatable: salt, ginger, cardamom, turmeric, etc.


Give it a shot and see how you feel after a month or so.

Not the original poster, but these look good. I may try this myself. I tried to do a 5 day juice and raw veggie "cleanse" several years ago and couldn't take it. The night of day 3 I dreamed about big juicy cheeseburgers. I don't know that I will deprive myself like that again.

See, this is the thing about cleanses and other extreme dietary shifts. I remember when I FIRST tried to go vegetarian a couple decades ago, and like you, I dreamed of rare steaks. The key for me ultimately was that I didn't "try" at all. I followed my natural cravings and impulses, and they led me someplace that fit. Naturally, in their own time.

So don't think about it as deprivation. Think about them as fun new recipes to try!

My mother had a dead smell in her cabinets which turned out to be a box of Bisquick which had gone bad. I never knew it would do that. It looked like and smelled like a dead animal in the box. Absolutely the worst ever.

Bisquick and the Dead?

Thanks for the response about the butter baking out - - the end result is really good, so I won't worry, but I will pour it off to keep. Actually had not considered that.

I've noticed the occasional pointy egg. Most of the eggs that I've bought lately have been regular grocery store brands. I like to poke a hole in the round end of eggs that are going to be boiled, but sometimes there is no round end. In fact, I boiled six eggs this weekend and two were pointy. No idea if it is the chicken breed or the conditions.

OP here: Thanks for the link. I'd say that my standard two hours of cooking a 6-serving batch of soup containing one cup of wine probably is sufficient to burn off most of the alcohol (down to 10%), to the point of not risking any intoxication or other adverse alcoholic reaction.

Particularly if you used a low-alcohol wine!

Well, you've discarded the twine, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Big thanks to Michael Twitty for the great answers, and to Carrie and Jim for helping out. And, I almost forgot: Thanks to newly-full-time staffer Kara Elder for joining the weekly fun!

Now for the giveaway book: The chatter who asked about meat/dairy-free items to take to a kid's birthday party will get "The Plantiful Table." Just send your mailing info to, and she'll get you your book!

Until next time, happy cooking, eating and reading!

Waving from TED in Vancouver!  :) BYE!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie S. Benwick is Deputy Food Editor and recipe editor at The Post. Cook with her each week at Dinner in Minutes.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Becky Krystal
Becky Krystal is a staff food writer.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
Kara Elder
Kara Elder is the Food section editorial aide.
Michael Twitty
Historical cook and food scholar Michael Twitty writes the Afroculinaria blog and is the author of "The Cooking Gene," which will be published this year.
Recent Chats
  • Next: