NEW YORK Cookbook writing is a form of food justice for activist chef Bryant Terry, author of “Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean and Southern Flavors Re-mixed.”
The 100 recipes in Terry’s fourth book, all devoid of meat and meat products, reach pointedly back to before the prepackaged, processed food that he says characterizes too many modern African-American diets to tap the cuisines at the roots of the African diaspora.
“A lot of my work is about helping people remember that this is a part of our legacy, that we can extend beyond the American south, to the Caribbean, West and Central Africa, where Africans were brought from. Many of those diets were largely vegetable based.”
The 40-year-old Terry, who lives in Oakland, California, spoke to Reuters about the intersection of diet and politics, why he is reluctant to call himself a vegan, and his belief that food can heal.
Q: Did you always want to be a chef?
A: No, not until grad school. Although I always loved cooking, ... (I) was studying history at New York University when I started thinking about agriculture issues: the intersection of poverty, malnutrition and racism. ... Given the health crisis in many low-income communities of color, I really felt that there’s a larger social justice movement that is missed if it didn’t address the food crisis in the American diet and the effect on people of color, so I decided to go to the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City.
Q: Are you a vegan?
A: I don’t eat animal products, but I reject labeling myself as a vegan because of all the baggage it holds. Especially for African Americans, that term brings up a lot of stereotypes about the food being bland and boring. ... I don’t want people getting caught up in whatever triggers they might have.”
Q: Are these recipes you collected or created?
A: These are all original recipes. The approach I took is that of a collagist. ... I take dishes from the African diaspora and kind of cut and paste ingredients and flavor profiles into a totally different or brand-new recipe.
Q: What are your staples?
A: Fresh herbs - you can grow them in a pot on the windowsill - and whole spices.
Glazed Carrot Salad (yields 6 to 8 servings)
1-½ pounds carrots (about 10 medium carrots)
1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
¼ cup packed chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons roasted peanuts, crushed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a large roasting pan with parchment paper.
Put about 12 cups of water in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat. While the water is heating up, cut the carrots into sticks by cutting them in half crosswise, trimming away the edges of each piece to form a rough rectangle, then quartering each rectangle length-wise.
When the water is boiling, add 1 tablespoon of the salt, then add the carrots and blanch for 1 minute. Drain the carrots well, then pat them dry with a clean kitchen towel.
Put the oil, lemon juice, maple syrup, cinnamon, garlic, cumin seeds and the remaining ½ teaspoon salt in a large bowl and mix well. Add the carrots and toss until evenly coated.
Transfer to the lined pan (no need to clean the bowl). Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the foil, gently stir with a wooden spoon, then bake uncovered for about 10 minutes, until the carrots start to brown.
Return the carrots to the bowl. Add the cilantro and toss gently to combine. Serve garnished with the peanuts and mint.
(Edited by Patricia Reaney and Leslie Adler)