12 Festive Recipes to Celebrate Kwanzaa

Malva Pudding
Photo: Victor Protasio

Kwanzaa is a community-centered holiday and, because of that, the table you set should feed a crowd, and then some. Kwanzaa dishes are bountiful, culturally rich offerings that welcome guests in and guide them on a taste journey through the African diaspora. Buffets or family-style presentations are ideal. When it comes to a Kwanzaa spread, the more options, the better. The holiday is excellent for potlucks, with guests coming together to contribute to the bounty. Another convivial way to spread the joy of Kwanzaa and satiate the masses is by setting an elaborate grazing table, crammed with a mix of snacks, salads, and crowd-pleasing appetizers that may be refreshed throughout the celebration. Recipes like our BBQ Shrimp with Shrimp Calas Griddlecakes and Jamaican Escovitch Fish are delicious dishes you'll want to add to your holiday spread.

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Leg of Lamb with Blood Orange, Garlic & Ras el Hanout

Leg of Lamb with Blood Orange, Garlic & Ras el Hanout
Evan de Normandie

Dr. Jessica B. Harris offers this richly spiced, citrus-scented lamb option that will make you fall in love with the cut.

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Jamaican Escovitch Fish

Jamaican Escovitch Fish
Jacob Fox

Whole fish presentations are an ideal option for family-style meals. This escovitch is a Caribbean classic that celebrates fresh fish with bright and flavorsome onions and peppers. This version, from Dr. Jessica B. Harris, celebrates Jamaica but escovitch shows up all over the diaspora with slight variations.

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BBQ Shrimp with Shrimp Calas Griddlecakes

BBQ Shrimp with Shrimp Calas Griddlecakes

New Orleans is a ripe and clear place from which to draw inspiration from the American part of the African diaspora. Creole cuisine is this country's first fusion food and draws heavily from French and Spanish cooking as well as from African and Caribbean cuisines, creating a wholly new American presentation. This dish combines quintessential Creole-style shrimp with a modern (rice-based) play on calas.

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Monticello's Macaroni

A dish of baked macaroni and cheese
Jerrelle Guy

Classic Southern mac and cheese is a holiday staple and no-brainer for a Kwanzaa table. This rendition is adapted by Dr. Leni Sorensen from one of the first versions ever made in the U.S. Chef James Hemings was the first American to train as a chef in France. He was also enslaved. He brought back cheesy "macaroni pie" to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, where the dish was first prepared. The recipe is very simple, relying on milk-infused pasta water, butter, and cheese to provide a creamy texture. There are many versions of mac and cheese and you can surely try them all, but this is a baseline that has worked for over 250 years.

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Mable's Mac 'n' Cheese

mac and cheese in a casserole dish
Johnny Autry

If the Monticello mac and cheese is foundational, Mrs. Mable Owens Clarke's dish is canon. This evolution of James Hemings' macaroni pie is a classic Southern baked mac and cheese, the likes of which is served today at church potlucks, soul food restaurants and holiday tables across the country.

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Gomen (Ethiopian-Style Collard Greens)


Dark leafy greens are a must-have Kwanzaa side dish. Collards are a diasporic heirloom that show up in various forms, often changing slightly from home to home. This version is an Ethiopian take from the brilliant Fetlework Tefferi. The dish is spiced with tikur azmud, which is similar to fennel but with an added spiciness reminiscent of jalapeño peppers.

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Creole Skillet Cornbread

Cornbread in a cast-iron skillet
Jerrelle Guy

Corn and cornbread are synonymous with Kwanzaa, and skillet cornbread marries the Southern American traditions with the diaspora in delicious ways. Cornbread as a side dish is a blank canvas for spices and seasonings that make it sweet or savory. Consider adding chiles, African spice blends like berbere, or flavorings like molasses or honey. This recipe from Donna Battle Pierce utilizes creole seasoning, buttermilk and whole corn kernels in addition to cornmeal, which creates a textural experience that elevates this humble bread.

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Caramelized Ripe Plantains with Dark Rum

Caramelized Ripe Plantains with Dark Rum
Andrea Mathis

Plantains are a must for Kwanzaa. They are a foundational ingredient that show up in sweet and savory applications across the diaspora. This play on the classic Bananas Foster swaps in ripe plantains. A wonderful standalone dessert, this recipe may also top cakes like Malva Pudding or classic pound cake.

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Malva Pudding

Malva Pudding
Victor Protasio

Malva Pudding is a delicious, neutral South African sponge. This version is from Ghanaian chef Eric Adjepong. This elegant pudding can be made all the more tasty by simply adding fruit, nuts, or flavorful extracts. Serve it traditionally, with a custard or ice cream.

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Sweet Potato Bread Pudding with Pecan Praline Sauce

Sweet Potato Bread Pudding with Pecan Praline Sauce

Bread pudding is a profoundly adaptable and quintessential Southern dessert. It's perfect for Kwanzaa. The ingredients are affordable and the format is customizable. Here, the dessert combines the flavor profile of sweet potato casserole with pralines. It will transport you to New Orleans and become your new holiday favorite.

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three glasses of coquito
Brie Passano

Coquito is the diasporic equivalent of eggnog. It employs Caribbean rum and coconut to create a creamy, egg-free drink. And plant-based substitutes for evaporated and condensed milks may be used so everyone can be in on the coquito toast.

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Bourbon Hot Cocoa


Kwanzaa celebrations deserve festive and warming beverages. There is no drink more cozy than hot chocolate. Eighty percent of the world's chocolate is produced in the Global South. Combining that diasporic ingredient with Bourbon, an heirloom of the American South, is a deliciously appropriate choice for your Kwanzaa table. Play with spices like cinnamon, chiles, and ginger for interesting upgrades.

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