Culture is celebrated as we experience new foods, as well as ways to cook. Figuring out what to try in our gardens can be defined by the foods we are familiar with or something new we want to try. The Afro-Asian American style of cooking is shared between the pages of a wonderful book.
Between Harlem and Heaven – Afro Asian American Cooking for Big Nights, Weekends, and Every Day by J.J. Johnson and Alexander Smalls with Veronica Chambers. Not really a cookbook, but a story of a collaboration of two men who enjoy ethnic cuisine. Two restaurants in Harlem celebrate this story, Minton’s and The Cecil.
BIRTH OF A BOOK
Alexander Smalls is a one-man novel. A former acclaimed opera superstar, as well as an accomplished Chef, can add Food Genius to his repertoire. My head simply spins as he shares tales of his youth in South Carolina and New York. Balancing time with his West African grandfather in the garden, as well as time with family in New York, has created quite a successful man.
Mr. Smalls is on a mission to document the diversity found in the kitchen. In Africa, China, Brazil, the Caribbean, Europe as well as America, culture, and food play a role in our lives today. Finding the right Chef to collaborate on this story and write this book was important. Joining forces with Chef J.J.Johnson, these men wowed Harlem with not one, but two award-winning restaurants.
The jazz-themed restaurant, Minton’s is a Harlem landmark. This former hotel turned bar is where bebop was born. Many African American musicians entertained the crowds and were regular patrons as well. Minton’s Playhouse offers a real jazz experience on stage, which enhances the menu items offered. The Cecil features a more diverse menu based on the Afro-Asian-American style of cooking.
J.J. Johnson grew up in the kitchen where his Puerto Rican Grandmother unknowingly directed his path towards the culinary arts. The sights, taste, and scents he experienced on a trip to Ghana brought back many memories. On this journey with Alexander Smalls, J.J. connected with the culture and history of his lineage. J.J. describes this cookbook as a “choose your own adventure” book. These two Chefs suggest the readers try the sauces on different things. Use the recipes by adding a little here as you change things along the way – in essence, cook your own way.
The first chapter has some delectable takes on refreshing salads using many items that can be grown at home. From the Daikon Radish Salad to the Harlem Market salad, my tastebuds danced at the thought of the taste. I dreamt of what I could grow in my garden to authenticate the taste experience. J.J. recommended trying the Mother Africa Sauce on just about anything. Let me tell you, it was quite delicious over steamed squash with brown rice.
MEAT AND POULTRY
Culture meets the soul when cooking Afro-Asian-American Gumbo. No matter what culture you embrace, this dish awakens the readers tastebuds on an International level. Imagine using homegrown oregano, thyme, bay laurel, or garlic to make the Gumbo Spice mix.
SO MUCH MORE…
From Hibiscus syrup to the history lesson tracing the journey which introduced Chinese food to Harlem, this book makes you hungry for more. Not just a cookbook, the importance of culture, and how it affects our foodways is important. Afro-Asian American food has a tendency to create conversation, as well as the discovery of the things from our culinary familiar.
There are more chapters with tasty recipes to try. As I embrace my culture, Between Harlem and Heaven will provide ideas to make this a journey to remember.
As the season for gardening is within reach, I highly recommend this book. Try to grow an ingredient from a recipe, harvest it when the time is right, and use it to enhance the recipes in this book.
Planting seeds for the Apple Cider Glazed Brussel Sprouts (page 208)…yummy!
Teri, (gardening with a passion) Cottage In The Courtby