One of the best parts of my job, hands down, is meeting some pretty phenomenal people. Bryant Terry—eco-chef, activist, television and radio commentator, author, and entrepreneur—is one of them.
I went to visit with him at his charming home in Oakland. I knew right away that I was going to like him because flanking the driveway in front of his house was a gorgeous edible garden. I can’t grow squat, but I really appreciate those that do. I sat with him in his mid-century styled dining room, listened to jazz tottle low in the background on a mint-condition 1960s record player, and met his darling fiancee, Jidan. We talked for a couple of hours about everything from the best okra recipe to food politics to world travel. I regret that I didn’t stay for their gracious invitation to dinner made up of fresh greens from their garden. I have a feeling that even their simple weekday meals taste fresh and fabo.
I’ve got a full story coming out in the August issue of Solano Magazine, but in the meantime, here’s my informal behind-the-scenes non-twittering uptake.
Bryant has a terrific new cookbook out right now, Vegan Soul Kitchen (De Capo Press, $18.95). Here are the things that I liked about it:
1) The title and subject matter sucked me in: Vegan. Soul Food? Sound oxymoronic to anyone else or is it just me? No fat back? No pork? No ham hocks? No CHEESE in mac n’ cheese? Huh?
2) Every recipe is accompanied by a soundtrack recommendation. Bryant is a huge music fan and collects jazz on vinyl. He cannot disassociate the creativity of cooking from art, film, books and music and it’s a wonderful accompaniment. Plus, before the Foreward, Bryant includes the music sheets/score for a song called “Blessing” by a relative, Donald Bryant. I just loved that. It was personal and soulful. The original title for the song was “Thankful”. How cool is that as an opener for a book that is as much about music as it is about food?
3) The very last sentence in Bryant’s introduction is, “Shake ya a**, watch ya self, and getcha grub on!”
4) This cookbook is a collection of recipes that pays homage to his heritage not by mimicking them, but by being inspired by them. Bryant recreates the evocation, the flavors, the textures and the tastes with a modern sensibility. He is the next generation of African American cuisine.
5) Nearly all of the recipes are simple and easy to reproduce. The list of ingredients is usually surprisingly short and the instructions are broken down into manageable tidbits. This is home cooking folks—recipes that are meant to be a part of your daily lives and incorporated into your family’s traditions. These are recipes that he wants you to tweak and make your own, perfecting them for your own family.
One of the recipes that I loved in this book was the Black-Eyed Peas Fritters with Homeade Hot Sauce. Black-eyed peas remind me of my dad who was born in Little Rock, Arkans. and was ridiculously adamant about having black-eyed peas for new year’s. It was tradition and you don’t punk tradition. There’s a reprint of this recipe in my August story.
But here’s another favorite. Again, full of memories for me. My great aunt used to live in Memphis and whenever I would go visit her as a little girl she made cornmeal pancakes smothered with butter and homeade syrup. Yum! I was thrilled to see a recipe for Johnny Blaze Cakes in Vegan Soul Kitchen. When reviewing the cookbook, it was one of the first that I marked and tried out—with wonderful results. To make ’em “my own” I changed out the jalapenos for green chiles, because I love ’em so much and will stick green chiles in just about anything. Ever had green chiles with strawberry jam and cream cheese on a bagel? Holy baloney. Yummy. Anyway, for some reason I thought this recipe would have also been outstanding with raisins added for a little sweet/savory mix. So go for it and make it your own. Enjoy!
JOHNNY BLAZE CAKES
Yield: 12 cakes
Soundtrack: “Bring the Pain” by Method Man from Tical
1 1/2 cups stone-ground cornmeal
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tspn baking powder
1 tspn fine sea salt
1/4 tspn cayenne
2 1/2 cups boiling unflavored rice milk
2 jalapenos, seeded and minced
extra-virgin olive oil
- In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and cayenne. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan, bring the rice milk to a boil then slowly pour it over the cornmeal mixture, stirring as you pour. Add the jalapeno to the batter, mix well, and refrigerate the batter for 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 250F.
- Warm a large, nonstick skillet or a griddle over medium-high heat and grease well with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add 1/4 cup of batter to the skillet per cake. After about 1 minute, when the bottom starts to set, reduce the heat to medium-low, and use a wooden spoon to shape the cakes, pushing them in and up so taht they are about 3 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick. Cook the cakes for 8 to 10 minutes per side, adding more oil after turning, until they are golden brown and crispy on the outside (do this in several batches). Transfer the cooked cakes from the skillet to a baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven until all the cakes are cooked.
From the book Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry. Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2009.