Juneteenth is a time where we celebrate and remember. We say the names of our ancestors and honor their sacrifice. We celebrate the freedom and resilience of African Americans and the resourcefulness that has kept us alive in this country. In the last few years our Juneteenth celebrations have become more vibrant and robust, with Americans from coast to coast “giving what needs to be gave” at our gatherings in the name of Blackness. At the center of it all, you will find our food traditions.
Black American culinary traditions are American culinary traditions. From the hill rice of low country, South Carolina to the mumbo sauce and fried chicken of Washington DC, the history of the diaspora is well-documented on the American plate.
Chefs don’t only create formulas that capture the soul of our appetite; they are also griots, members of a class of storytellers who maintain a different kind of interpretation of our oral history.
Cookbooks document our forebearer’s living memories, the ones that were made in our grandmama’s or great-gran’s kitchens. For me, these culinary tomes are just as important as collecting the works of Maya Angelou, Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison. I own many, but some of my favorites are The Dooky Chase Cookbook, penned by his daughter Leah Chase; it sits on my kitchen bookshelf alongside High on the Hog by Jessica B Harris ( with a foreword by the legendary Angelou), and the Red Rooster Cookbook by my chef hero, Marcus Samuelsson.
For me, these succulent works represent the unique cultural point of view of the Black culinary experience. So in the spirit of legacy and tradition, let’s honor Juneteenth with some of my favorite recipes from the above works, plus one from a rising star in our industry Chef Rāsheedah Purdie, whose creative approach to traditional cuisine is another brick being laid on the foundation of Black excellence. Go and check out her reimagination of our food at her Juneteenth Roots + Ramen Pop Up happening in the New York metro area.
Sweet Potato Biscuits
from the Dooky Chase Cookbook
Yield: 6 biscuits
- 1tbsp butter
- 1 cup cooked mashed sweet potatoes
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 egg beaten
- 2 tbsp baking powder
- 3 cups self-rising flour
- ¼ cup shortening
- 1 cup milk
-Melt butter and add sweet potatoes. Add sugar and egg. Beat mixture until creamy. Set aside.
-Mix baking powder with flour and sift.
– Add shortening and mix well into flour.
– Add sweet potatoes and milk to make a soft mixture. Work all ingredients together well.
-Turn mixture onto a well-floured board. Roll dough out to about ¼ inch thickness and cut with a biscuit cutter. Place on Baking sheet.
-Bake in a 400 degree oven until biscuits are brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Obama’s Short Rib
- 4 (8-z.) boneless short ribs
- Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp. grapeseed oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 1 lemongrass stalk, trimmed, smashed, and minced
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 (1-in.) piece ginger, peeled and minced
- ½ cup dry red wine
- 3 cups beef or chicken broth
- ½ cup plum sauce
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
- 2 bay leaves
- Horseradish, preferably freshly grated, for serving
-Preheat the oven to 325°F.
– Pat the meat dry with paper towels and season all over with salt and pepper.
-Heat the grapeseed oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add the short ribs and brown on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. Put them aside on a plate.
-Add the onion, carrot, celery, lemongrass, garlic, and ginger to the pot. Season with salt and cook, stirring often, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Pour in the wine and cook, stirring to dissolve any of the brown bits that may still be on the bottom of the pot (the juice from the onions will have dissolved most already). Add the broth, plum sauce, soy sauce, thyme, parsley, and bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Return the short ribs to the pot, along with any of the juices, cover, and slide the pot into the oven. Braise until the meat is fork-tender, about 1½ hours.
-Transfer the meat to a plate. Strain the braising liquid into a fat separator. Discard the bay leaves and put the vegetables into a food processor. Process until smooth. Add 1½ cups of the defatted braising liquid to the processor and pulse to combine. Return the sauce to the Dutch oven and check for salt and pepper. Bury the short ribs in the sauce, cover, and leave on the back of the stove until you’re ready to serve.
-Reheat the short ribs in the sauce.
-Divide the short ribs among four shallow bowls. Top each with a spoonful of sauce. Put the rest of the sauce in a bowl for passing at the table, along with a bowl of horseradish if you’d like.
Chef Rāsheeda Purdie’s Watermelon Poke with Teriyaki Sauce
Teriyaki Sauce Ingredients
- 1 cup of soy (low sodium)
- 1 cup of water
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- 1 large clove of garlic, finely minced
- 5 tbsp dark brown sugar
- 1-2 tbsp honey
- ¼ cup water
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
-Combine 1 cup water, dark brown sugar, soy sauce, honey, garlic and ginger in a medium saucepan and set over medium heat.
-In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch with the 1/4 cup water and mix until dissolved. Add the cornstarch mixture to the saucepan.
-Heat the sauce until it thickens to your desired thickness. If the sauce becomes too thick, add more water to thin out the sauce.
-Slice 1 small watermelon* into 1/2-inch – 3/4-inch in width cubes. Transfer to a large bowl or container. *save watermelon rinds for slaw
-Pour the teriyaki sauce over the watermelon and gently toss.
– Refrigerate for a few hours, up to overnight.