Kwanzaa Karamu menu

APPETIZER
Fried Okra

SOUP
Sweet Potato-Squash Soup

MAIN DISH
Moroccan Cornish Hens with Orange-Almond Couscous

SIDE DISHES
Hoppin' John
Kenyan Collards

DESSERTS
Benne Cakes
Fried Plantains


Millions of African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa each year. They celebrate in many different ways and celebrate many different cultures. The Karamu (feast) is the perfect time to sample many of the dishes from around the world that have been influenced by the African culture. While many families celebrate a different specialized culture each night of Kwanzaa, I have mixed and matched a large variety of foods for a more balanced celebratory menu.

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Fried Okra

Okra is not just a Southern staple as many people suppose. It is native to Africa and was brought to the Americas by African slaves more than 400 years ago. Many people do not like okra because of its slimy texture. By cooking okra in this manner, you get the wonderful flavor of okra and no yucky slime.

  • 2 pounds fresh okra
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • vegetable oil for frying

Wash the okra well. Trim the stems and tips and pat dry with paper towels. Beat the eggs in a large bowl until light colored. Whisk in the flour, water, salt and peppers. Mix until very smooth. Heat about one-half-inch of the oil in a heavy skillet to about 375 degrees. If the oil starts smoking - or the okra burning at any time - remove the pan from the stove and reduce the heat. Toss the okra into the egg mixture in small batches and fry in the hot oil until golden brown. Flip the okra over frequently to prevent burning. Drain the okra well on layers of paper towels and serve hot.

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Sweet Potato-Squash Soup

This makes a wonderful soup to serve during these cold winter months. There is a bit of surprise in this soup - with the fragrant taste of peanut butter - but it is the perfect complement to this dish derived from ingredients found in the Americas. This dish makes an excellent starter for dinner, or as the main dish for any vegetarian friends and family.

  • 4 pounds acorn squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup chunky peanut butter (preferably sugar free)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons chopped scallions

Boil the pumpkin and sweet potato in a large pot of salted water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and puree in batches. Return the puree to the pot and mix in the butter. Stir until the butter is melted and well mixed in. Stir in the vegetable broth and mix well. Gently simmer for 15 minutes. Stir the peanut butter into the hot soup and mix continuously until the peanut butter is thoroughly blended in and smooth. Serve in individual bowls with a swirl of sour cream and a dusting of scallions.

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Moroccan Cornish Hens with Orange-Almond Couscous

This savory dishes mixes the spices and scents of Morocco, which is known for its highly fragrant spiced dishes. The Cornish hens are baked with a fruit-and-spice mixture, which should not be eaten while the couscous cooks up in seconds.

Cornish Game Hens

  • 6 small Cornish game hens, split in half lengthwise
  • 3 lemons, halved
  • 2 oranges, quartered
  • 10 crushed garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
  • 1 teaspoon tumeric
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup canola oil

Place the hens cut-side-down in two large roasting pans. Rub the citrus fruits over the hens, making sure to squeeze out all of the juice. Place the peels in the bottom of the roasting pans. Mix the garlic cloves with the spices and oil to form a thick paste. Spread the paste over the hens and refrigerate for four hours or overnight. Bring the hens to room temperature before roasting. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roast the hens for 45-55 minutes, basting every 10 minutes, until the juices run clear when the flesh is pierced. Serve immediately with the couscous, discarding the fruit.

Orange-Almond Couscous

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced almonds
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 1 small chopped green bell pepper
  • 3 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups couscous
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions

Lightly toast the almonds in the oil until golden brown. Add the onions and green pepper. Cook over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Add the orange juice and spices and bring to a boil. Quickly stir in the couscous and raisins. Cover tightly and turn off heat, but leave on the burner. Let the mixture stand for five minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed completely. Remove the cloves and cinnamon sticks. Fluff the couscous with a fork and sprinkle with the scallions.

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Hoppin' John

There are several reasons why Hoppin' John deserves a special spot on this menu. It is a traditional Southern dish that has been enjoyed for generations. Cooking it is almost an art form in the South, and each cook has his or her own preferred way to go about it. This is a simple, never-fail, easy-to-follow recipe. Another reason that this menu is perfect to eat during the Karamu is the fact that it falls on New Year's Eve. Hoppin' John is considered to be a good luck omen for the new year, and many Southerners would not dream of missing them each year. So, enjoy, and good luck!

  • 1 pound dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and picked over
  • 1 1/2 pounds spicy pork sausage
  • 1 large green pepper, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 3 cups brown rice
  • 6 cups beef broth
  • salt

Combine the black-eyed peas and enough water to cover them by an inch in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let sit for one hour. In a large Dutch oven, saute the sausage, pepper, onion and garlic over medium heat until the sausage is thoroughly browned. Pour off all excess fat. Drain the beans and add to the Dutch oven with two quarts of water. Mix in all of the spices, except for the salt (it makes the beans tough). Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, reduce the heat and gently simmer for 70 minutes, or until the beans are tender. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan or microwave-proof dish mix the rice, broth and salt to taste. Cook the rice as directed on the stovetop or microwave until light and fluffy. Stir the rice with a fork and place in a serving dish. Pour the pea mixture over the top and serve immediately.

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Kenyan Collards

This recipe is a staple in Kenya and has a very flavorful, cool lemon sauce, which nicely tempers the rest of this menu. For the best taste, do not overcook the collards.

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 pounds collard greens, washed, de-stemmed and coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small minced onion
  • 1 medium ripe chopped tomato
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • salt
  • white pepper

Bring the water to a boil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the greens and cook until the greens are just tender, stirring frequently. Drain the greens well. Saute the onion in the oil for five minutes. Add the tomato and cook for an additional three minutes. Stir in the greens and mix well. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients and add to the greens. Stir well, reduce the heat to low and cook until the sauce thickens. Serve immediately.

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Benne Cakes

Benne cakes are traditionally associated with the Deep South, where bennes - sesame seeds - are considered good luck. The recipe actually originated in West Africa, and is enjoyed the world over for its wonderful taste.

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup softened unsalted butter
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup toasted sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease a cookie sheet. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, vanilla and lemon juice. In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix the dry ingredients into the butter mixture and stir in the sesame seeds. Drop by the teaspoonful onto the prepared cookie sheet about two inches apart. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned.

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Fried Plantains

Many people are stymied when trying to eat a plantain. They are not the most wonderful tasting when eaten raw, and using them like the banana they physically resemble usually ends up in disaster. This is a tasty way to serve ripe plantains that are still very firm. The plantain should be yellow when ripe, not green. Do not use soft and mushy plantains. Peel the plantains like a banana and use a knife to remove any very stubborn peel. This dish gets its origins from the Caribbean.

  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 4 large ripe plantains, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch-thick
  • oil for frying

Mix together the ginger and spices in a large bowl. Blend in the water to form a paste. Mix the plantain slices in the spice mixture until well coated. Heat the oil over medium high heat to about 350 degrees. The oil should not be smoking; if it begins to smoke, reduce the heat. Fry the plantains in small batches, turning occasionally, until golden brown. Drain well on layers of paper towels. Keep hot in a warm oven if desired.

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