Take a Bite of History
February 12th, 2011 - By Lari Robling
During African American History month, Jessica Harris, food historian and author of High on the Hog stops by to look at the culinary influences of the African diaspora on the American table. Lauren Swann, MS. R.D. LDN offers tips to keep cultural traditions while maintaining today's focus on nutrition.
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Our food memories are indelible, and are as much part of our collective history as individual. As African American history month unfolds, I spoke with food historian Jessica Harris, her book High on the Hog is a culinary journey from Africa to America. She’s not too fond of the term, soul food, she says, "every culture has its own soul food it’s the food that appeals to the soul of the individuals of that culture. It’s dinner. One of the fallouts is that people codify it. It’s fried chicken it’s a smothered pork chop, it’s collard greens it’s perhaps potato salad it may be coleslaw maybe which is actually Pa Dutch which is German. It limits the food of African Americans which is so, so much wider."
Harris follows that influence from an island off the coast of Senegal throughout the Caribbean, South America and into our American cuisine. "What is African American that is a new question for the 21st century nothing is static. African American cuisine is in a state of evolution like every other cuisine. There is a restaurant in Atlanta airport called One Flew South. He's doing dishes inspired by two cultures he admires, his own African American and the other that of Japan so he does collards in Japanese twist like [oshitashi] I think that this whole notion of limitation of soul increasingly African American chefs are trying to break out of," Harris says.
But for those who still revere traditional family dishes, what about the health factor given the national incidence of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes? Lauren Swann is a registered dietician specializing in cultural foodways and ethnic dietary practices. Swann says, "basics of soul food are incredibly healthy. Collard greens are from the same family as broccoli. What we do as in adding too much fat back or bacon that’s what makes it unhealthy."
What to do? Lauren Swann has some suggestions," you can use smoked turkey meat, a lot of vegetables, sprig of lemon grass, after finish cooking vinegar, lemon juice, hot sauce. Or if you want to stick with smoked flavoring there is a smoked flavoring seasoning you can use. There is also the options of using the good old smoke ham hock, but a lot less."
And what about fried chicken, a dish that is hard to resist. Swann says, "it tends to be an indulgent food like pizza or ice cream. Limit an indulgence to one or two pieces. I don’t know how many fried chicken lovers could do that. If they could they could probably work it into a weekly plan and it wouldn't be disruptive to their health or calorie balance."
"The other thing to do is re-think your fried chicken. Boneless skinless breasts instead of deep frying breasts you can coat with whole wheat flour, whole wheat crackers, bread crumbs. You can sautee them in olive oil or spritz them with oil and bake," Swann says.
That's a sound idea!