Whenever I hear my pre-adolescent daughter say, “Mom, I’m hungry!” I’m reminded of how much things have changed since I was her age. At the risk of sounding like I grew up on Little House on the Prairie, I would like to add that at her age I could cook, clean, and otherwise run an entire household; my mother made sure I had been thoroughly prepared for womanhood.
So, given that it is now my role to help prepare others for womanhood, Tuesdays have become “family cooking night” at my home — the children (females and males) engage in family meal preparation — from menu planning to shopping, chopping, cooking, table-setting and dishwashing, everyone plays a part.
As they have been learning more and more about African American history and heritage, my daughters have begun to take a deeper interest in African cuisines and dishes unique to peoples of the African Diaspora. On a Tuesday night within the last 12 days of Christmas, my daughters decided that they wanted to cook Jolof rice from West Africa, candied yams, and collard greens.
These are dishes that they have eaten many times but have never participated in making. Fortunately, we had many of the ingredients on hand and did not need to shop.
While washing the rice and collard greens, I watched as my daughters entered into a trancelike state with their hands skillfully sifting and cleansing the items we would eat later that evening. Amazed, I stood by taking note of the agility and natural rhythm that they possessed in the kitchen.
They were totally engaged, all of their senses, even the sixth one! “No more fighting, no more bickering, no more complaining,” I thought to myself, as I silently acknowledged the fruits of my hard work and theirs.
What was produced that evening was a lovely meal, but most importantly, a lovely home environment and a set of highly proud children. Though we had made other meals, it was this one, the one that connected them directly to their heritage, that brought them peace and tranquility and engaged all of their senses, bringing out the best in them. I admit it: In that moment, I was an especially proud momma.
This year, which is the year of Oshun, the Yoruba goddess of love, hearth, home, sensuality and abundance, I encourage you to create joy in your homes by teaching your children to cook. I encourage you to reconnect to your Oshun — your womanhood — and to transfer your skills to your precious daughters.
Recipe for Jollof rice:
• 1 pound cooked, long
• 1 can tomato puree-400 grams
• 1 onion, sliced
• 3 cloves garlic
• 4 teaspoons olive oil
• 6 small or 3 large
red bell peppers,
seeded and sliced
• 1 bunch
thyme, leaves picked
• 1 teaspoon
• 8 chicken bouillon
cubes or 2.5 cups
of chicken stock
• 2 jalapeño peppers
With blender, blend tomatoes, onions, red bell peppers, jalapeños and garlic until smooth. Add bouillon cubes or stock, thyme and white pepper.
Add olive oil to the blended paste, and set the mixture aside. Add 4 cups of water into a pot.
Wash the rice in hot water until the water is clear. Drain through a fine sieve.
Pour the rice and blended mixture into the pot of salted water (about 1.5 teaspoons) and stir with wooden spoon. Set the stove to medium heat and place pot on stove. Then let it cook for 45 minutes while stirring every 15 minutes.
Let rice stand and serve hot.
Recipe for candied yams:
• 4-6 large sweet potatoes
• 1 stick unsalted butter
• 2-3 cups brown sugar
• 2 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
• ½ teaspoon nutmeg
• Couple dashes ground clove
• ½ tablespoon real vanilla extract
• Preheat oven to 350.
• Wash and dry yams, then
cut off tips and peel them.
• Slice yams into 1/4 thick
• Place into a 12 x 9 casserole dish — layer like lasagna with bits of butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove placed in between each layer.
• Cover with foil and back for 40 minutes.
Plate the yams and spoon syrupy sauce over them. Serve immediately.
Michelle Lawrence, MA, MPH, specializes in cooking African-based dishes and relationship-enhancing dining experiences for families and couples. She can be reached at 612-251-9516.