Here at Laroot we are reflecting on the struggles, resistance and emancipation of our African American kin with a journey through the roots of African American cuisine – roots shared by our head chef Megan. “It’s important to me as a black chef to honor Juneteenth, the day that commemorates the emancipation of my ancestors”. Take a journey through this rich culinary and cultural heritage with us as we dive into the freedom foods that carry their own stories in the resistance against slavery.
No Juneteenth feast is complete without a generous serving of collard greens (said to bring good fortune). "Field greens of many varieties have been used to stretch what have sometimes been sparse meals," Megan says, "and the addition of ham hock and caramelized onion can help to ease some of the natural bitterness." These leafy greens are also slow-cooked with ingredients such as smoked turkey necks, garlic, and a touch of vinegar or hot sauce for that extra kick.
Red Beans and Rice:
Red beans and rice are an instant passport to the flavor and texture of ancestral West African cuisine, and serve as an earthy symbol of resilience, survival, and cultural preservation during times of oppression. This much loved combo has been passed down through generations and traveled the world, and whether prepared with smoked sausage, ham, or veggies, it’s classic comfort food and perfect for Juneteenth.
We all know the sweet, salty, sticky staple of the South and the aromas that fill the air as glazed and marinated meat hits the barbecue. And just as the cooking method itself is a communal affair, so too is the preparation: many articles in the late 1800s cite whole neighborhoods coming together to barbecue for Juneteenth celebrations. In fact the word barbecue itself also has origins in West Africa’s Hausa, who used “babbake” to refer to the communal acts of grilling, toasting, building a large fire, singeing hair or feathers and cooking food over a long period of time over smoke and flames.
As we celebrate with food (a Laroot specialty!) and immerse ourselves in diaspora recipes and ingredients, Juneteenth gives us pause to honor the struggles of the past while fostering unity and appreciation for the present, and the diverse culinary heritage of our African American family – which we are proud to preserve.