On October 15, 2011, Jelani Adofo Shaw and Nicole Picinich Cardoni, two student chefs at the Washburne Culinary Institute in Chicago, Il., hosted, A Taste of the African Diaspora, a pop-up dinner featuring dishes inspired by ingredients and culinary techniques from the cultures and peoples of the African Diaspora. The dinner was held at the charming Parrot Cage, Washburne’s student-run restaurant located at the South Shore Cultural Center in Chicago.
By now, pop-up dinners and restaurants, underground supper clubs and roving food trucks have become familiar elements of our contemporary food culture. However, dinners featuring African and African American cuisines are not as common. But Shaw and Cardoni saw in these cuisines a rich and relatively unexplored culinary landscape. “We wanted to elevate these cuisines, to show people how diverse and sophisticated the food could be,” said Shaw.
Incorporating spices such as berbere, a spice mixture from Ethiopia, and traditional ingredients such as okra and groundnuts, the chefs created a complex narrative of African and African American cuisine that flowed throughout the multiple course meal. Chef Shaw also provided historical and cultural context in his introductions of each dish. Here are some of the highlights of the evening-including Chef Shaw’s commentary, followed by a recipe for delicious Corn, Okra and Lentil Fritters. To learn more about the chefs, visit http://popupstudentchef.com.
Soup: Obe Ata
Pepperpot Soup with Shrimp
“Obe ata is a traditional Nigerian stew; we took some liberties and blended it with the notion of a Caribbean pepperpot soup, sometimes referred to a callaloo and garnished it with smoked shrimp. We then took the okra, which is native to Africa, out of the soup and added to the fritter, which also has its origins in west Africa. Gombo is one of the original words for okra from which the dish gumbo is named. Though corn has its origins in the new world, it has been immensely assimilated into African gastronomy. In this instance we’ve taken south African mealie meal and used as the base for the fritter. Use it for dipping or as crouton or oyster cracker in soup.”
Fish Course: Red Snapper Escabeche Avocado|Mango Salsa; Red, Black & Green Grain|Legume Salad; Toasted Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette
“Known as escovitch in Jamaica, this is more of a Cuban-style escabeche. We first rubbed the fish with a north African inspired black olive oil (black olives, extra virgin olive oil, anchovy, garlic and thyme) & spice blend of paprika (sweet and smoked), ground ginger, cumin, pink Himalayan and grey sea salts & white and black pepper grilled off the fish, then marinated/cured it at room temp in red wine vinegar, lime, onion, red, yellow, orange bell peppers, grapefruit juice, agave nectar, cilantro and culantro. It’s served atop a salad of the veggies from the cure/marinade and garnished with an avocado, mango salsa – lime juice, cilantro, culantro, diced veggies from the marinade/cure, red wine vinegar, cumin. On the side is our red, black, green and gold grain & legume salad of red and gold quinoa, black beans and green peas garnished with pomegranate seeds. [Quinoa is an ancient grain from Peru.] We combined the grain and legumes and tossed them in a toasted pumpkin seed vinaigrette.”
Dessert: Zanzibari Spice Cake with Dates, Groundnut Ice Cream, Banana Whipped Crème
“This is the signature dessert for Zanzibar whose one-time riches were built upon the clove industry. Many of the tourists who come to Zanzibar spend a day in the “shamba” or farmlands of the island, visiting the spice plantations where some of the finest quality cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg can be found. This cake uses a bit of them all and leaves guests with a flavor of the island. We decided to add dates since they pair so well and we began the meal with them as well. Then since groundnuts are such a fundamental part of African cuisine, we wanted to use them in an unexpected application, hence, groundnut ice cream. Finally, banana whipped crème; we used these tiny baby bananas with heavy whipping cream to create this unctuous garnish.”
Recipe: corn|okra|lentil fritters
1# okra pods
2T peanut oil
1 red onion minced (reserve 1/4 cup for lentils)
2 tomatoes concasse (peeled, seeded, small diced)
2t powdered devil chili
3 garlic cloves minced
salt To Taste
bring pot salted water to boil, add okra & simmer apprx 5 min. drain, shock in salted ice bath, pat dry
2c corn meal
1c ap flour
1t baking powder
1/2t baking soda
1 1/2 t salt
1T brown sugar
1/2c chopped yellow onions
1/2c buttermilk + more as needed
3/4 c water
1/2c melted butter
heat oil to 325
sift corn meal, flour, baking powder, soda, salt and sugar into bowl. add onions, buttermilk, water, butter and egg, blend with wooden spoon just until combined. add okra, lentil mixture, blend thoroughly. if too think add buttermilk until batter is slightly thicker than a cake batter
drop tablespoons of finished fritter batter into hot oil, cook into golden brown, drain on paper towels, serve immediately.