Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Exploring the African Presence in Modern American Cuisine: Coffee, Cocoa and Black Bean Chili

Wow.  What a month!  February has been quite busy for me with work, traveling, blogging and trying to manage a social life.   

When I launched the Black History Month series at the end of January, I reverted to my 21-year-old self and recalled the searing enlightenment of my informative speech on soul food in my Persuasive Communication class.  I opened up the speech with a poem written by the phenomenal Pat Parker.  Then, I talked about the history and evolution of soul food, and I ended with some open-ended questions and a food tasting of collard greens and candied yams.   First of all, I must ask is it any surprise that I ended up with a food centric career?  Second, I was quite surprised how much I learned about myself and my culture by exploring a topic that seemed so obvious and familiar.   Life Lesson # 324:  No topics are off limits.  Depth is just as important as breadth.   Third, the professor, a legend in her field, gave me the highest compliment by saying she would never think of soul food the same way again after my speech.   When it was all said and done, my multicultural classmates had told me all about their cultural "soul foods" and one of the students in the class had surreptitiously tried to convince me to cook for a campus event.  Ummm... No sir!

Much like that speech some seven years ago, the Black History Month series has been quite eye-opening.  I've learned a lot and I'm better informed about foodways in the African Diaspora.  However, it has also been a major life adjustment restricting my food choices and having such a regimented meal plan for an entire month when my cooking style is pretty spontaneous and in sync with the time constraints in my life.  I had lots of ideas and not quite enough time to blog about peanuts (George Washington Carver), sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas, watermelons, patties, jollof rice, and injera.  I also didn't get around to organizing the Black Heritage Potluck that I dreamt about.    The fact of the matter is I have a full time job with a ridiculous commute.  I work out four to five days a week.  I travel a fair amount in the region.  I have a personal life.  This blog is simply a personal project where I let my creative juices flow.  So, the Black History Month series wasn't all that I wanted it to be, but I hope you enjoyed it and learned something new.  

The last food I will be featuring in the Black History Month series is coffee.  Ethiopia is widely believed to be the birthplace of coffee.  According to legend, a goat herder discovered coffee after noticing his goats were so lively and "spirited" after consuming the mysterious berries that they did not sleep at night.  The goat header confided in a monk who made a drink with the berries and subsequently extolled their virtues to other monks in the monastery.  Word of the "energizing" black beverage eventually spread near and far and coffee soon became a global phenomenon.   Hmmm... Quite interesting.  There's a conversation starter for your next cup o' joe.

I'm actually not a coffee drinker myself, but I decided to try my hand at this quick and easy recipe for Black Bean and Espresso Chili.  I halved the recipe, using two onions and 3 cans of black beans.  I also added 1 tbsp of cocoa powder, substituted dark roast coffee for espresso and substituted two diced chipotle peppers in adobo sauce for the chipotle chili powder.  I initially served it with these Pan-Fried Grit Cakes.  They were okay, but I much preferred it with cornbread.  In fact, the chili and cornbread combination was so tasty that I'd have to say this recipe is a keeper.  It's a breeze to make, loaded with fiber and protein, relatively inexpensive and quite tasty.   I'll just have to tweak the recipe some more to kick the spice factor up another notch for me.

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