...or, Happy Black History Month
I wanted to make a special Black History Month post, just to say "hey, Black People, thanks for helping make American food so fucking great! Cuz' if we didn't have soul food then I just don't know what." Have you noticed that, like jazz is to music, the only real completely "American" food we have is soul food? Black people are awesome.
So I wanted to conduct an interview of sorts with a fellow food blogger, like the foodie version of Ask a Black Dude. I looked around a bit and with a little hand-holding from Cynthia (who graciously bowed out of my invitation since she's a Guyanese Barbadan, and doesn’t actually celebrate BHM) I had the good fortune of making a new friend in Bloggyland - Courtney (aka Glamah16) of Coco Cooks. Courtney is hell of cosmopolitan - the lovechild of a Mississippian (but raised in Chicago) mother and Nigerian father - and she went to college in Paris! Perfect!
She was game, and so I pretended that I was sitting there with her like James Lipton instead of typing questions for email.
Heather: Hi, Courtney. Okay, sorry it took so long for me to get my shit together, but I finally have some interview questions. I want you to answer in your true voice, don't worry about how it types up. You may have noticed that I tend to say whatever the hell is on my mind, and type phonetically, so answer as honest as you wanna be. I will try not to use my "blaccent", but feel free to use yours, if you have one. :)
Courtney: Remember I grew up as the only black, or just a few in an all white environment. Let’s just say I was, and still am, mimicked. I have been called Carlton from Fresh Prince, or my new favorite (not) Oprah (in terms of speech). But that’s the beauty of being me and black. Not being pigeon-holed as to what society expects you to be like. I am what I am. Some people, either my own or others, don’t like it and that’s their issue.
H: Who taught you how to cook? (btw: my mom never let me help in the kitchen when I was a kid. She was always afraid I'd get kid germs and hair in everything or that I'd cut/burn/dismember myself if she let me do anything besides open a can or peel a potato. I didn't get to handle a real knife until 6th grade Home Ec.)
C: I was one of those precocious kids that was ahead of her time. My Mom encouraged me to cook. My parents were divorced and I remember her boyfriend at the time was speechless when he saw me grill my own lamb chops under the broiler for my dinner. I must have been like 11. My Mom let me start off experimenting with eggs. She was the most overprotective Mother you can imagine but that didn’t stop her from letting me cook. My favorite was lobster. Always had to have it. I was spoiled. I always liked grilled meats, and unusual things. On weekends when I visited my father I always plotted some concoction to cook for him that I got from a magazine. I never liked Nigerian food. Not that it wasn’t good, I just got sick of us having to eat it everyday. There was always a pot of "Soup" which was really a tomato based stew with meat, dried fish, or chicken served up with fufu. Not really exciting if it’s in your face everyday.
H: You mentioned to me once that your favorite food growing up was more influenced by your Southern mom. Is that still true, or have you begun to explore your father's Nigerian cuisine, too?
C: Oops, I answered this above. But now I can appreciate it more (Nigerian).When my father died and all these relatives were coming, I had to find a Nigerian restaurant to cater [the funeral]. I wish there were better and more Nigerian restaurants in Chicago. It turned out okay, however, and the cousins were pleased. Will I have a dinner party with it? Probably not. But it's simple comfort food.
H: When you talked about all of the foods that you loved growing up, you used the word "stereotypical" to describe them. This makes me think of that Dave Chappelle sketch where he says he's afraid to eat fried chicken in public because it means he's "living up to the stereotype". But shit, my mom's family is Southern too - I loved eating all that good shit growing up, and I'm white. I also grew up poor. Do you think that black people are reluctant to identify with those foods because they are "black" foods or because they're "poor folks'" foods?
C: That’s more of a class thing than a race thing. I find at least in my world. A lot of people who become enlightened or educated move away from these foods. The big thing I see is the rejection of pork. I love my pork. But for dietary, health, or religious [reasons] I see a lot moving away from it. I also see a lot of vegetarians out there. There’s this cool place called Soul Vegetarian in
H: It find it ironic that a Jew recommended a rib joint named after a Hebrew name that means "belonging to God". Anyways, I can relate to what you said about continuing to eat foods that are sort of reminiscent of harder times (like neck bones, chitlins, etc.), because I still love a pot of just regular white beans cooked with a ham hock, or S.O.S. (that's "shit on a shingle", for those of you who didn't have military parents), etc. This attitude towards the "nasty bits" is a very French one and is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. How does that make you feel?
C: I never knew that honestly about the Lem’s part. Funny! I crack up about the “nasty bits”. Especially watching Top Chef and they have ‘Offal’ challenges. I was thinking about this pork belly rage. Kind of reminds me just some fat back or slab bacon. I worked in a restaurant once when the chef's amuse bouche was essentially some fat back sliced paper thin with some glaze or something. We have a cafeteria at work. I always chuckle because they actually serve neckbones some days. It’s funny to see the non-black visitors on those days and if they eat it or not. As for the black staff, half opt for a salad. There was this one white guy, a contractor that wasn’t ashamed to eat them and was sucking off the meat, much to the horror of his other white colleague. Must have been a Southern guy.
H: LOL, yeah pork is hell of trendy right now. So, you have a German boyfriend. Does he ever cook German foods, or request that you cook German food? (My dad's family is German and I identify most as a sausage-and-cheese-eating German girl.)
C: Yes. I learned some stuff from his mother. He loves his pork loin roasted on a bed of salt. I started making sausages with the KitchenAid he gave me. He loves his meat and starch. Ironically, he loves Asian too. Especially the noodle dishes. Once a year we visit all the extended relatives on my mother’s side for JULY 4TH. He loves the food. Maybe German and Soul Food have many similarities.
H: Does Black History Month even mean anything to you, or is it just some bullshit "holiday" that white people made up 'cuz they feel bad about slavery/
C: Honestly, I never gave it much thought until I started working for the company I worked for. It’s an all-black company. It’s important for sure. Especially for the young or adults that may not have grown up knowing their history. I love history because there is always so much more to learn. And that shouldn’t be limited to just one month. It’s like only having Valentines Day to show your love. Ridiculous.
H: Word. As a black woman, Obama or Clinton in '08? I know that doesn't have anything to do with food, I'm just interested.
C: OBAMA!!! I love him. I can relate to him with the African father and mother who died of ovarian cancer (like mine). Plus he’s my neighbor. I used to attend the health club he goes to,and I can say he’s the most gracious, real person. Always pleasant. I remember when he was just a State Senator here in
H: It totally is a free country, or I’d have been stoned to death by now. If you could come over to my house for dinner right now, what would you like me to cook for you?
C: That pulled pork you had on your blog this week.
Then I was gonna cook the dish she chose, but it hadn’t occurred to me that she was gonna say something I had already blogged. So I made up a dish for her. It’s exotic, yet down-to-earth. It’s east-meets-west-meets-north-meets-south. Courtney calls it Nouvelle Soul (I’m totally stealing that, btw).
This is corn chowder with coho salmon and coconut milk, spiced up with galangal and star anise. Corn’s sweetness pairs wonderfully with salmon. Serves 4-6.
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
2 oz salt pork (or 2 slices bacon)
1 celery rib,diced
½ jalapeño, seeded and minced
½ c red onion, diced
¾-1 lb. waxy potatoes (I used Russian banana fingerlings), diced
1 c frozen corn
1 can creamed corn
1 c coconut milk
3.5 c seafood stock (I used homemade crawfish stock from the freezer)
2 bay leaves
½ tsp grated fresh galangal (ginger is an acceptable substitute)
3 star anise pods
2 tbsp basil chiffonade
8 oz. coho salmon fillet, skinned and deboned
S&P to taste
Garnish: arugula chiffonade or chopped cilantro
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot melt the butter over medium-high. Add the olive oil to prevent the butter from browning, and add the salt pork. Let the pork render for a minute, then add the celery, jalapeño and onion. Toss in a pinch of salt so the mirepoix sweats (we don’t want browning here).
Add the potatoes and frozen corn, and stir to coat with the buttery pork fat. Add the creamed corn, coconut milk and stock, the bay leaves and the star anise. Simmer over medium-low until the potatoes are tender, ~20 minutes.
When the potatoes are nice and tender, turn off the heat and remove the bay leaves and star anise. Slice the salmon into bite-sized pieces and add to the soup with the basil. The latent heat from the soup will cook the salmon.
Pairs well with a nice tart Reisling.