giveaway: in bryant terry’s ‘afro-vegan,’ a vivid collage of flavors

Sweet Potato and Lima Bean Tagine--Credit Paige Green.IF YOU DON’T KNOW Oakland-based, Memphis-born chef and food activist (and gardener) Bryant Terry, prepare to have your tastebuds reinvigorated, and even realigned. Terry’s fourth cookbook, “Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed,” is just out, and despite my 35ish years of home-growing and vegetarian cooking, it woke me up to flavor ideas I simply hadn’t considered. Learn about them–and maybe win the book for yourself.

“Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed” (Amazon affiliate link) is also an education in another way: about the culinary and cultural history of the African diaspora, and about food politics.

Terry became a vegan in high school, and admits at first he proselytized to “convert” people to using less animal products–or at least to trying fresh and local ingredients. More often than not, his soap-box campaigns failed.

“It was such a good lesson for me about the way you don’t get people interested,” says Terry. “Rather than harangue,” he says, he just started bringing home ingredients from the local farm market to share with his relatives.

“I remember one time my aunt Tina tasted some fruit I’d bought, and said, ‘I haven’t had a peach like that in 30 years.’ Everyone’s used to produce from the supermarket that tastes like paper.”

Once enticed by that kind of flavor, convincing people to try “fresh, local, seasonal and prepared- from-scratch foods”—Terry’s signature–wasn’t a hard sell at all.

“I don’t care how ethical, how sustainable, how healthful the food is: If it isn’t delicious, I don’t want it,” says Terry, “and I know most eaters feel the same way, so flavor really helps shift people’s attitudes and habits around food.”

Our recent conversation on the radio was all about Terry’s very convincing-sounding flavors. (A recipe from the book–for Glazed Carrot Salad with cinnamon, peanuts, cilantro and mint, is at this link.)

Afro-Vegan--book covermy q&a with ‘afro-vegan’ author bryant terry

Q. Both my parents loved to cook, and there was always music piped into the kitchen where I grew up. So I loved that each recipe in “Afro-Vegan” has its own suggested soundtrack. Why music in a cookbook?

A. Coming up from a very musical family, whenever we gathered food was present—and music was present. From my uncle playing tunes on the piano, to my mother and her sisters singing as a trio, it was always like art, culture, music and food. I really tried to bring that to the reader, as much as I can through text and photos. The suggested soundtracks are very dear to me.

Q. The songs are in the “Afro-Vegan” playlist on Spotify.com. [Note: You’ll need to register on Spotify to listen.] I listened while I read—like they were an extra “ingredient.” Some have clever foodie titles—like “Butter” from A Tribe Called Quest–and others a sense of activism or mission, like the book does, such as the Bob Marley or Staple Singers songs.

Now: I wanted to spend a minute in your backyard. In a video of yours I learned that as soon as you and your wife bought your house in Oakland, you built a 100-square-foot raised bed.

It was symbolic, you said: “We don’t need grass, we need FOOD.” 

A. Back and front yard—we have a 100-square-foot front-yard garden, too.

We really wanted to come out of the closet, if you will, about edible landscapes. There are other people growing food in our neighborhood, but we thought it would be a powerful statement to build one in our front yard.

People walking their dogs and jogging just love it—and right after we built it, the neighbor to one side built several raised beds in her front yard, and another down the street did it.

As much as we can inspire not only to get into the kitchen and make food from scratch, but also to grow their own food–we feel like that’s always a good thing.

Q. That personal anecdote really speaks to the core of your food activism, no?

A. Not everyone is privileged enough to have a piece of land where they live. A friend who is a very spiritual guy is always talking about how growing food is a way of healing the earth. I just love that framing of the idea

Even if one can’t grow a home garden, if you can grow fresh herbs in your kitchen windowsill, or tomatoes in a pot on your fire escape–any contribution to growing food, and to agriculture, is a powerful thing.

Q. So what’s in that raised bed of yours?

A. My wife is Chinese-American, and since we started dating, we have kind of been melding our different cultural foods.

The way we describe it is “Afro-Asian,” and our very quirky, cute title we have come up with to describe the combining of our cultural food ways is “Barbecue Bean Sprouts.” It has been very important for us to think about bringing those foods into our homes since we have a child, and want to make sure that she is connected to all of her cultural food ways.

We just planted our spring-into-summer garden. Do you know Farmer D, Daron Joffe? He has a new book out called “Citizen Farmers,” and he came over and helped us plant our new garden. Everything from pac choi to joi choi to collard greens to mustard greens. In a couple of weeks we’ll be planting watermelons, different cucumbers, tomatoes.

We have a bed solely dedicated to herbs: from parsley to thyme to lemon balm to all types of Asian herbs my wife got from family members that I don’t even know the names of.

Q. When I got “Afro-Vegan,” I could barely get past the first chapter, titled: “SPICES. SAUCES. HEAT.”  It sounds as if a mortar and pestle is as important a tool as your shovel is.

A. I have a collection of mortar and pestles—I probably have 20 (I used to have about 40) from different parts of the world. They’re always been symbolic about the connection that all people share, because so many cultures use them. Mexico, Puerto Rico, Ghana, South Africa….everywhere.

I know people like the convenience of a spice grinder, or using pre-ground spices, but I talk about taking fresh whole spices and toasting them, and then grinding them in a mortar and pestle. It’s just one more way for us to connect with our food.

Q. In “Afro-Vegan,” you take something as bland as a zucchini (dare I say zucchini is bland?), but you make it genius: Grilled Zucchini with Mixed Herb Marinade, of orange juice, lemon, olive oil, garlic, parsley, thyme, and chervil. It’s Egyptian-inspired, the book explains.

A. I love preparing simple food with fresh herbs, a little olive oil, and citrus—and letting the flavor of the actual vegetable shine.

Q.  There are so many flavor ideas in “Afro-Vegan.” I love coconut, and the book has Coconut Rice Pudding With Nectarines; Curried Corn and Coconut Rice; and Curried Scallop Potatoes with Coconut Milk.

And I notice that nuts figure into many recipes—for instance, into your Skillet Cornbread With Pecan Dukkah [top photo]. What’s dukkah?

A. It’s a mixture of nuts and spices and seeds that’s used in a lot of Mid-Eastern and North African cooking. One of the ideas behind the book is collage: cutting and pasting the ideas and flavors of the African diaspora into the recipes, including that one.

One of my favorite dishes growing up was my Aunt Brenda’s cornbread, which she added pecans to—it was the best thing in the world. So I thought about adding the pecan dukkah, and also the spices and herbs that give it not only that flavor but also that crunch: texture.

Q. You use cashew cream in it, too, as you do in other recipes.  Nuts soaked overnight in water, then pureed.

A. I typically use creamed cashews as a substitute when people might have used heavy cream, to give a creamy texture with not too much flavor. Coconut milk can be used for that effect—but it has a distinctive flavor.

Using raw cashews, soaking them overnight and blending them with water—the flavor tends to be pretty neutral. I add it to grits, I add it to baked goods—and I find it works really well.

Q. Peanuts! The Spinach-Peanut Sauce in the book, with spinach, peanuts, onion, garlic and ginger, is what I am trying with my first spinach this spring. Where did that flavor idea come from?

A. It’s inspired by the national dish of Cameroon, called ndole.

[Another peanut-enlivened recipe from the book–for Glazed Carrot Salad with cinnamon, peanuts, cilantro and mint is at this link.]

Q. I can’t let you get off the line without asking: Let’s talk for a minute about grits. I read I think in Oprah’s magazine that you call yourself a “grits connoisseur.” So what should I be looking for when I purchase the cornmeal product that is grits? How does Bryant Terry shop for grits? 

A. I’m going to be honest with you: It takes a little more effort. You’re just not to get any grits better than the ones that are freshly milled down in Mississippi. I found some sources online—and I have bags of them that I put in the freezer to keep.

These people are like grits artisans. There’s something about those grits that come from the place where grits are king.

(Photography from (c) 2014 by Paige Green; used with permission.)

enter to win an ‘afro-vegan’ cookbook

I’VE BOUGHT TWO EXTRA COPIES of “Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed” (Amazon affiliate link) to share with you. All you have to do to enter to win is answer this question in the comments box below:

What are the cultural riffs running through your cooking, and perhaps growing in your garden, too? Are you planting the ingredients of any new cooking directions this year?

I cook with a lot of Indian spices, but like many gardeners, I mostly grow the ingredients of flavors with a Latin or Italian influence. This year I’m trying a wider-ranging list of basils, some Andean tubers (not potatoes!) and xxxxx.

Have no answer, or feeling shy? Just say “count me in” or the equivalent, and I will (but an answer is better). Two winners will be chosen at random after entries close at midnight Thursday, April 17. Good luck to all.

listen to our whole conversation: the podcast

BRYANT TERRY AND I talked about “Afro-Vegan,” his new book, on the latest radio podcast. You can listen anywhere, anytime: Locally, in my Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) region, “A Way to Garden” airs on Robin Hood Radio on Monday at 8:30 AM Eastern, with a rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. It is available free on iTunes, the Stitcher app, or streaming from RobinHoodRadio.com or via its RSS feed. The April 7, 2014 show can be streamed here now. Robin Hood is the smallest NPR station in the nation; our garden show marks the start of its fifth year in March, and is syndicated via PRX.

  1. Louisa Dunlap says:

    I would LOVE this book as I am a vegan and love spicy foods!!!! I am trying to grow ginger and I have grown tumeric……makes a lovely flower! I grow tons of Asian greens and choys and all manner of culinary herbs. Please count me in!

  2. Sue says:

    We use a lot of Indian spices since we became vegans but my husband and his family are Italian and mine are French. Both basil and thyme are must haves in our garden.

  3. Sara says:

    Hi Margaret,

    Went to the Union Square Greenmarket, and guess who had a booth there? Yes, Bryant/Afro Vegan himself! I felt I knew a lot about the book already thanks to your podcast!
    Where I work part time we are working on a vegan cookbook as well, so I was eager to tell them what I had heard.
    My garden? Not much new, going to try grafting tomatoes (cutting their heads off later today…), and those little eggplants (kermit and fairytale striped) and small sweet peppers (lunchbox). Italian (my husband) and maybe some middle eastern flavors this year. And of course more fruits…
    Hope to see you soon, happy spring!

  4. Brenda Ward says:

    Hello again…. decided to enter into this Contest too as I loved reading your interview; Bryant Terry sounds like a cook after my own heart, in that I love tasty food. I am not Vegan, but have no concerns with trying some of their ‘tasty’ recipes. Love veggies and use meat as a flavoring. I read cookbooks for ideas and follow those which entice me. That cookbook sounds like one I’d relish having on hand; one which I would actually follow the recipe.

    We grow not only a variety of fruit all over on our one ace but some herbs and veggiestoo, in a effort to be self sustaining, eat healthier, to give back to the environment, community and for preservation, (to include some seeds). This year we are expanding our Veggie Gardens, hubby has one of his own he wants to experiment on. We may be adding Mushrooms, have not decided as yet, depends on timing. If not, then next year for sure, Lord willing. We try to go Heirloom/Organic as much as possible, as we learn as we go, (companion planting and a few medicinal herbs which I am growing if there is ever a need of them).

    Hubby has decided he too likes Chinese Cabbage and Bok Choy, so with the cost of food, we’ve added that. Am trying Savory Cabbage, as it’s too pricy in the store to add to our budget, for the same reason we are growing Red over Green Cabbage this year. Am trying Radicchio too, heard it’s fabulous.

    To our Root Veggies we’ve added Rutabaga and I have added Kohlrabi and Salsify and Parsnips to see what they taste like.

    Bought 2 new kinds of Kale, Italian Giant Leaf and Chinese Kale. We added Morris Heading Collards to add to our Greens. Am also growing Chard and a few new variety of lettuces as well as dry cress.

    Each year we try new type of Heirlooms or Open Pollinated varieties of veggies, in and among our day to day veggies. So we have tried some new varieties of them too…

    Really appreciate the opportunity to enter this Contest, as Cook Books are not in our Budget currently. I like to try new foods/recipes. I am enjoying this site … I use the Internet to find out info and yours is very informative and fits in with my life vision! Keep up the good work…

  5. Linda Lloyd says:

    Oh my but the recipes sound marvelous! I’m working on becoming vegetarian… Love my veggies … Just started the tomatoes … Planted strawberries today and 3 blueberry bushes…I need some new ideas gor recipes ! Best wishes to all!

  6. Michelle says:

    Having grown up eating lots of Dutch and Polish food, I like to veganize dishes from these cuisines and serve them to my family. I love being able to tell them that what they are eating is totally vegan! Most of the meals I create from my garden are Italian-inspired but I’m working on exploring beyond that. My favorite restaurants are Ethiopian and Indian so I sometimes try to make those types of food at home. As long as I get to eat something fresh, satisfying and healthy I’m happy!

  7. Elizabeth says:

    I cook Indian and Chinese, my husband Mexican, and we both do Italian, of course! I love cooking with whatever is in the fridge/has just come in from the garden. Love greens of all kinds. Herbs, parsley or cilantro, a dash of Vietnamese or Mexican hot sauce to finish off most dishes.

  8. Mariah says:

    I like simple, clean, flavors in my food. A bit of spice is good (jalapenos) but not too much (habeneros). I grow most of the basics, cilantro, rosemary, thyme (lemon and garden variety), chives, lavender. I sort of love cooking with lavender even though my husband says it makes food taste like Avon perfume.

  9. Nadine says:

    I’ve been a vegan for a couple of years now and am continually looking for new recipes with new spices. This book sounds like an exciting adventure. Count me in!

  10. Olivia says:

    I could barely believe my eyes about the title and recipes in this book. My background speaks to multi – culturalism and the food of peoples from Portugal, 4 Caribbean islands with Spanish, East Indian, African and Chinese influences. In my I could barely contain myself and its all because of all the foods I have come to love because of my inter- racial family. My ancestors and people span the globe from Portugal to 4 Caribbean islands, China, India and now North America. In my garden are bitter melon, tomatillos, spinach, Cuban oregano, hot peppers, bok choy and pumpkins … Wishing I could grow other kinds of beans and have a banana tree but I live in the north east. It should make for a great read!

  11. Debbie Tankersley says:

    “What are the cultural riffs running through your cooking, and perhaps growing in your garden, too? Are you planting the ingredients of any new cooking directions this year?”

    What a great question – count me in too. I love reading your blog Margaret, and Terry’s ideas blew me away. I live in Indiana – not exactly a hot bed for vegetarian and vegan folks, but there are more and more of us all the time. I love to grow tomatoes, pickling cucumbers, strawberries, and of course, flowers each year. My German maternal grandfather used to plant 50 (yes, 50) tomato plants every summer in a big square patch smack dab in the middle of his back yard. He taught me that you could plant different types of tomatoes and see how they did – his favorite was Rutgers. He always had a row of Early Girl, Better Boy, Beefsteak…great memories. My father always put in a vegetable garden with a variety of veggies, corn, and a big raspberry patch. I learned the basics of gardening from him (his grandparents had a south-central family farm & he helped out a lot growing up), but it was my Papa S. who taught me the tricks of tomato gardening. He taught me to always ring the garden with marigolds to keep away the bugs, and taught me to never water in the heat of the day – only water in the mornings or the evenings. He taught me to sucker the plants and how best to tie them up to stakes. I inherited his tomato stakes, and am still using them, 20 years after he passed.

    Tomatoes play a large role in our summer meals and summer salads, but the cultural riff that has entranced me for the last year is fermentation of root vegetables, garlic, cucumbers, and cabbage. The smell of my “veggie kraut” or my “garlic pickles” takes me right back to my German heritage, to my Great Grandma S.’s kitchen. Oh those wonderful smells.

    Thank you for sparking these memories.

  12. Krista says:

    Our culinary life went from quick processed foods to paleo to whole foods with a minimal focus on meat. We love Latin and Asian food, or anything that packs in flavor!

  13. Kristina says:

    I’m a tiny-garden gardener (three 4x4s), so I grow some basics but am always looking for new ways to use them. And you had me at “cinnamon, peanuts, cilantro and mint.”

  14. Sharon Gorbacz says:

    I tend to riff on Asian, though neither of us are of that heritage. There are more brassicas in the Asian repertoire than in many other cuisines, which helps me to expand a small list of veggies that my husband will eat. He will eat napa, kai lan (Chinese broccoli), yu choy, and bok choy. This book sounds awesome for giving me ideas on how to get him to eat even more of a variety.

    I need a better stove to get the high heat that really good stir fries need, though now that the weather is nicer, I can get out my big propane outdoor stove, hook it up next to the grill, and cook up the veg to just the right doneness.

    I’ve been wanting to grow pak choy, long beans, and other Asian veg. I have had great success with Asian eggplants. 2 years ago I grew a Japanese variety, last year’s were Thai. Thai basil becomes a tree in my garden.

  15. Penye says:

    In the Central Valley of California, we can grow most anything…..as long as we remember the actual preferences of the crop. I have Italian, French, Asian and Mexican herbs. Then I attempt to grow everything in the organic catalogs….but the cotton-tails love my garden more than we do. So we becoming a constant customer at the Farmer’s Markets. FUN! So many variations of food. Can’t wait to try Brant Terry’s book :D
    Thank you for sharing your interview!

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