Cookbooks have been a collector item for me since I was gifted with one for my wedding. When I travel, my favorite souvenir is usually a local cookbook found along the way.
Tell Me a Story through Food
Every good cookbook tells some sort of story. It may be a story of the community that created it, a story of those who know the local cuisine, stories of the land and people where the food is grown and raised. It is sometimes the story of the cookbook’s author who, with time and love, compiled recipes to share with those of us who read and cook.
The most recent addition to my cookbook shelf tells many stories and tells them beautifully. The Rise, subtitled Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food, is authored by storyteller and highly-acclaimed chef, philanthropist, and restauranteur Marcus Samuelson. His name may be familiar from several television cooking shows such as Chopped.
You may have enjoyed or prepared what is generally referred to as soul food. Samuelson delves into the history and continuing journey of black foodways. He refers to this book as an invitation to a conversation to the historic foods and people who created this widely defined cuisine.
The stories are told through interview vignettes composed by Samuelson’s co-author, James Beard Award winning food writer Osayi Endolyn. Included are some of the stalwarts of the cuisine as well as up and comers related to it.
Cuisine Development Over Time
Among the mouth-watering recipes beautifully photographed by Angie Mosier, writer, photographer, and food stylist, there is background on the origin of what we may know as soul food. Many foods included in the book’s recipes were grown in slave gardens for sustenance of their families. In some cases, enslaved people brought a knowledge of growing specific beneficial foods with them.
Samuelson was joined by recipe developers Yewande Komolafe and Tamie Cook. Through the recipes, homage is paid to the food writers and chefs who understood the importance of documenting black foodways and have kept the history of a cuisine initiated and developed by black Americans. In many cases, dishes have changed as people migrated to and from other areas.
Foods and recipes also migrate. The authors of The Rise discuss how dishes and use of specific ingredients go through a process of change as people migrate from one region to another. Additionally, dishes have adapted based on influences from other groups or countries.
Since this is a cookbook, let’s talk about a few of the recipes that caught my eye. Throughout the book, Samuelson has honored noted chefs, sommeliers, restauranteurs, and food writers by selecting recipes to highlight them.
I spotted a couple of recipes that I plan to try, the first being a staple comfort food, Pork and Beans with piri piri (a sauce with Portuguese-African origins). I think it’s a safe bet it will be a step up from the can of pork and beans in my pantry. The recipe was included to honor Therese Nelson, chef and writer of black culinary history.
Snapper is one of my favorites as are chickpeas, and I’m looking at the Banana Leaf Snapper with Chickpeas and Coconut Rice. I understand banana leaves can be purchased frozen or online, which is a good thing because the climate where I live is not conducive to the banana plant. This recipe honors an anonymous chef.
And finally, a dessert I look forward to preparing this summer, Ginger and Hibiscus Flower Granita. I love ginger, and this one has few ingredients and a short preparation time. The recipe was selected to honor West African chef Michael Adé Elégbèdé
Spices and Ingredients New to You (and Me)
Never heard of a certain ingredient? It’s not a problem. Samuelson includes a resource list of online and brick and mortar businesses that carry many of the ingredients included in the recipes. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find some ingredients in my local grocery stores. They had been there all along, I just hadn’t shopped for them.
There is also a separate section (Chapter 5) where you can find ingredients and techniques for sauces, rubs, and blends to add to your pantry.
Even if you don’t read a word of this book, or try any of the incredible recipes included, paging through it is a pleasure to the eye. Each page is a work of art, deep colors interwoven in each page layout, photographic portraits of the men and women who make these great foods and those who write about the food and the people, from the restauranteurs to the farmers who raise our food.
Do you include foods of the African diaspora in your cooking? When you dine out, do you choose food new to you (ok, maybe no one is dining out right now, but thinking forward)? Do you look for a story in your cookbooks? What is the last cookbook you purchased?