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Add flavor of Kwanzaa to holiday season menu

So many cultures and religions have holidays that take place in November and December that it sometimes seems that they all happen at exactly the same time.

While many of us are guilty of “lumping” them together to form “the holiday season,” it’s important that each be given its own form of recognition and respect.

If you were to gauge your knowledge of holidays at this time of year, I’d suppose you could come up with Thanksgiving, Christmas and Chanukkah (or Hanukkah, or Chanukah, or however you choose to spell it). But what about Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa celebrates African-American culture and history and focuses on family and the community. Kwanzaa is celebrated for seven days starting Monday and ending Jan. 1.

Dec. 31 is commemorated by preparing a sumptuous meal. Typically the dishes are a blend of the cultures from around the world (Caribbean, Africa, South America, etc).

The following recipes offer just a small selection of the amazing dishes that can be associated with the holiday. I suggest you incorporate one or two of them into your own holiday menu and experience a small taste of different cultures.

Kwanzaa Corn Bread

1 cup flour

1 cup cornmeal

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup oil

1 cup canned corn, drained

3/4 cup finely chopped red sweet pepper

Honey and butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan; set it aside.

In mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another mixing bowl, combine the eggs, buttermilk and oil. Add the egg mixture to the cornmeal mixture. Stir just until moistened; do not over-mix. Gently stir in the chopped red pepper and corn.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Let set for 5 minutes before cutting into squares. Serve with honey and butter. Serves 9 to 10.

Jerk Chicken Loaves

1/3 cup couscous

1/2 cup water

2 teaspoons oil

1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 pound ground chicken (you can use turkey instead)

2 to 3 tomatoes, sliced

2 avocados, sliced

Toasted pine nuts, optional

Combine couscous and water in a small bowl; let stand for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the couscous is tender and the water is absorbed.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a small non-stick skillet over low heat. Add bell pepper, garlic, thyme, curry powder, cumin, allspice, ginger, salt, pepper, paprika and cayenne. Cook, stirring, until the bell pepper is slightly softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Let cool. Mix with couscous.

In a bowl, combine the chicken and couscous mixture. Shape into four 3/4 -inch thick loaves. If using the grill, oil the grill rack or oil the broiler pan. Grill or broil the loaves until browned and no longer pink inside, about 5 minutes per side. Serve with tomato and avocado slices, and top with toasted pine nuts. Serves 4.

Jamaican Rice and Beans

1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed

1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk

1 to 2 green onions, sliced thin

1 to 2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon dried thyme

Ground black pepper

2 1/4 cups rice

3 to 4 dashes hot sauce

In a large saucepan, combine the beans and coconut milk. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 1/2 hour.

Add the green onion, garlic, thyme and black pepper. Mix to combine. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the rice. The liquid should be about 1 inch above the rice, so add water if necessary. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover and then reduce to a simmer. Cook about an additional 20 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. Add the hot sauce to taste. Mix to combine and serve. Serves 6 to 8.

– Modified from Slice of Life is a food column that offers recipes, cooking advice and information on new food products. It appears Sundays. If you have a question about cooking or a food item, contact Eileen Goltz at or write The Journal Gazette, 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802.