How Elaine Welteroth Combines Her African American, Irish and German Heritage in the Kitchen
Elaine Welteroth, TV host and bestselling author of More Than Enough, might be five weeks postpartum, but she's as effervescent as ever when you get to meet her. Even over Zoom, she's warm and witty and happy to discuss her role in Ninja's "Recipe of Me" campaign. The goal: To use Ninja's products to honor family recipes.
As a partner in the initiative, Welteroth sees this as a great opportunity to share two of the recipes that best represent her blended African American, German and Irish heritage. These include fried cornbread fritters and smothered cabbage soup with potatoes, a favorite of her mom, who is Black and from the South, and her father, who is of German and Irish heritage. We sat down with Welteroth to talk about food and family. Here are some excerpts:
EatingWell: Your Instagram description says, "Don't be eye candy, be soul food." What does this mean to you?
Welteroth: First of all, no one has ever asked me that. That thing has been there since the beginning of time, since 2000 or whatever! I feel like it's kind of my Instagram MO if you will. There's a lot of thinking that Instagram is a platform that fosters this feeling of needing to put your prettiest picture on it, to curate your perfect life. For me it's never about the pretty picture. I always want to be sharing something that's more than a pretty picture but feels like soul food. What am I contributing to the world that is of substance, that is worthwhile, that feels good going down. And not the opposite, since so much feel likes like junk food, like snackable stuff that's nice for a second but then you feel crappy afterwards. I don't want to leave people with a crappy feeling. I want to offer something to think about, something real.
EatingWell: How did your parents meet?
Welteroth: My mom and my paternal grandmother became close through work, and that's how my dad was introduced to my mom. My Irish grandmother and my Black mother birthed out the family—their friendship, their love and connection led to my birth and this was in the '80s when interracial dating and marriage was less common than it is today. Against the odds they built a family together. They've been married for 40 years.
EatingWell: Does combining your African American, Irish and German heritage and cooking traditions come easily, or is it something that requires a lot of thought?
Welteroth: It requires thought. This fusion of cultures and different food traditions has been the backdrop of my childhood and my life. That's why I love the challenge that the Ninja team gave me. It's an invitation to sit with the people that mean the most to you and collect those family stories and family recipes. You get to reconnect with the traditions that are part of your upbringing. I've always felt that food is emotional, it's cultural. The pan, the pot and the campaign have become a vessel for bringing together family around food. For me, it looked like pulling out the pot and pan and getting my mom in the kitchen to help me learn how to make this recipe. Smothered cabbage is a staple in soul food tradition. And then we incorporated potatoes because that's a staple of Irish cuisine, and smoked sausage which is German-inspired. We put it all together in a pot and had this dinner party for my family for our two-year wedding anniversary. We served this to the whole family, and now we're going to share it with the world and inspire others to do the same thing.
EatingWell: What are your favorite dishes to cook?
Welteroth: This one: Smothered Cabbage Soup with Smoked Sausage & Potatoes, served with Cornbread Fritters! It's a compilation of influences. It's all boiled together in one pot and pan. It's delicious. The fritters are crispy and crunchy on the outside and fluffy in the inside. It's a dish I've been eating my whole life. This recipe is a snackable version. My mom would always make cornbread in a traditional Pyrex dish. She loved the idea of making bite-sized ones in the PossiblePan. We made a big batch of batter, we put it in the fridge, and every day we make them fresh. Within minutes you have this really delicious warm, crunchy slice of heaven that reminds me of my childhood and that you can eat with everything, from soup to collard greens and chicken.
EatingWell: If you swung open your fridge door right now, what would we see?
Welteroth: Way too many leftovers. Because I'm a new mom, we did MealTrain, so, in lieu of gifts or flowers, we asked family and friends to send us food to get us through this period. Everyone has sent us food. Now we have a backup on the train tracks. My fridge is stuffed!