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A Kwanzaa Tradition: Jollof Rice

Like so many other holidays, food is an essential part of Kwanzaa. This week-long celebration began in the 1960s and is meant to honor the African heritage in African-American culture. It is a compilation of several African harvest festivals and in fact, the term Kwanzaa derives from a phrase meaning “first fruits of the harvest.”

Kwanzaa is celebrated over seven days, from December 26th through January 1st. It’s not a religious holiday and was never meant to replace Christmas or any other end of the year holidays. Instead, it is a week-long celebration of African heritage, culture, food and family. The holiday feast originally focused on West African dishes, but as the popularity of Kwanzaa spread, the menu began to change and incorporated both old and new traditions.

The main meal is on the sixth day of the festival, when dishes like peanut soup, fried okra, coconut pie (yummy!), and Jollof rice make an appearance. It just goes to show you how food is the easiest way to hold and honor your culture, even when you are far from home.

The basic recipe for Jollof rice, a popular African dish, includes onions, garlic, tomatoes and peppers finely chopped and sauteed with lots of spices. Meat, poultry or fish are also often added. Tomato paste gets added with the rice and water, which makes the rice take on all the flavors and the beautiful red color of the tomato paste. I had this dish a couple of years ago for the first time and it is so delicious and packs so much flavor that it ignited my love for African food. I am just saying, the rice in this dish is amazing! Try it out. If you are willing to branch out of your traditional holiday feast, I would recommend picking up some jollof and serve it at your next meal as a new, tasty main.

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Eden Grinshpan graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in London with the “Grande Diplome” in both Pastry and Cuisine. After graduating she went to India to volunteer with different organizations, one of them being an orphanage called Ramanas Garden. Here she came up with the idea of raising money for the orphanage by re-opening a café, which had not been in operation for some time, and teaching the children the basics of culinary cuisine. After returning to New York City, Eden enrolled in a management program at The Institute of Culinary Education before working at the bakery, Babycakes. Eden is the co-owner of EthNicitY Productions, and hosts Eden Eats, a traveling show to find global cuisine in cities across the US. Check out Eden’s blog, Eden Eats, and follow Eden on Facebook and @EdenEats on Twitter.

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