The past decade has seen an incredible rise in cookbooks that showcase the diversity of African cooking. Recent cookbooks have focused on recreating classic recipes in ways that are both realistic for anyone with limited time to cook or those interested in venturing into vegan or vegetarian territory.
We asked cookbook authors for tips to help anyone looking to cook more African American, Caribbean and like dishes in the new year. If you’re interested in trying your hand at any of it, you’ll want to equip yourself with the right tools. From soul food to Haitian classics, here are some products that will make your meal prep easier — and hopefully the results that much tastier.
A former co-host of The Chew, Carla Hall dove into her Southern heritage with her 2018 cookbook “Carla Hall's Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration,” in which she walks readers through the history of soul food from its origins in Africa through its evolution into the Caribbean and the American South. For dishes like her Ghanaian Peanut Beef Stew and Roasted Cauliflower with Raisins and Lemon-Pepper Millet, the former “Top Chef” contestant stresses the importance of having the right time-saving tools.
“I absolutely love my Vidalia chopper, because it makes perfect dicing and chopping a breeze,” Hall told NBC News. “I use it when I’m making any chopped pickle (like chow chow) or salsa. Even if I wasn’t a professional, I’d look like one.”
It was Jocelyn Delk Adams’s grandmother’s Southern recipes — whom those around her named Big Mama — who inspired her to put together “Grandbaby Cakes,” the award-winning recipe site.
Throughout Adams’s debut cookbook of the same name, she explores her family history through dishes passed down within it through the generations. Adams also acknowledges many Americans don’t have the time to do the meal prep many recipes — especially older ones — require, and describes the Mueller Onion Chopper Pro as “a life saver.”
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“It’s like having a sous chef right in your kitchen to help you do the heavy lifting so you can get to the fun stuff,” Adams added.
Throughout her legendary career as a food writer, Jessica B. Harris has worked to elevate the place of African American cooking in the culinary landscape of the United States — earning an induction into the Cookbook Hall of Fame of the James Beard Foundation last year . Over the course of her 12 books — among them “High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America” — Harris has explored topics that include soul food, Caribbean cooking and the diverse foods of Martha’s Vineyard. Strikingly, Harris’s recommended kitchen tool for readers is notable for its simplicity.
“My suggestion would be the prosaic-but-oh-so-very-useful grill pan,” Harris said, adding that a heavy, non-stick cast iron pan is best. “I use my blue, round Staub one in New York when making a dish like poulet yassa that would otherwise require a broiler or outdoor grill and my bright red Lodge almost nightly in New Orleans for everything from vegetables to Vaucresson’s Creole smoked sausage.”
The child of Haitian immigrants, Cindy Similien-Johnson has written extensively about Haitian food and culture for a second generation audience, as is true in her “Let’s Speak Haitian Food.” For anyone looking to begin diving into Haitian cuisine, Similien-Johnson recommends two classic tools.
“The pilon is a wooden mortar and pestle which can be passed down for generations,” Similien-Johnson said, adding it's particularly helpful for crushing herbs, garlic and scallions.
Secondly, Similien-Johnson recommends seeking out a wooden plantain presser known as a tostonera.
“You use it to flatten fried plantains to get that extra crispy texture,” she explained.
At 25, Lazarus Lynch is already a two-time ‘Chopped’ champion, a recording artist and a cookbook author with his debut “Son of a Southern Chef.” In it, Lynch puts his own millennial spin on the dishes he grew up loving. Lynch urges readers explore the versatility of the classic salad spinner, the OXO Good Grips being his favorite.
“Of course, a salad spinner is great for spinning tender leaf lettuces, fresh herbs, and micro-greens, but it can do so much more,” Lynch explained. “I like to use my salad-spinner as a storage for washed and spun salad greens. Once the greens are cleaned and dried in the spinner, I pop them back into the spinner with a dry paper towel over it, then pop the whole spinner (lid and all) into the refrigerator or in a cool place.”
Lynch also recommends readers try his ‘stacking method’ for herbs with their salad spinner. “I lay a paper towel down on the bottom of the spinner and stack multiple kinds of tender herbs; paper towel, herbs, repeat!”
With many home chefs looking for ways to make soul food dishes vegetarian or vegan friendly, “Soul Food Love” author Alice Randall recommends gifting anyone looking to cook more in the new year a classic stockpot. Randall also suggests a twist — the gift giver should also fill it with fresh whole raw sweet potatoes and top it with a bow.
“Sweet potato broth is the perfect foundation for a wide variety of easy-to-make and delicious soups that can be vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free,” Randall said.
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