Collard & Rice Dumplings with Mamba 9 Sauce
Here tender collards are wrapped around a filling of rice and lamb spiked with Japanese ingredients like sake and furikake, then baked in a barbecue-like sauce that gets sweetness from pineapple juice, for an incredibly flavorful dish. Dark leafy greens like collards are the base of the African Heritage Diet food pyramid, a pattern of eating that draws from the foodways of the African diaspora. You'll make more sauce than you need, but you won't be mad about it! Freeze it away and serve with grilled pork, chicken or tofu.
Hundreds of nutritious fruits, vegetables and grains are indigenous to the African continent, where the cuisines of each country and region are as diverse as the crops that grow there. Our series, African Heritage Diet as Medicine: How Black Food Can Heal the Community, explores the African Heritage Diet and highlights some of the most nutrient-dense foods found on the African continent and treasured by the diaspora. This dietary pattern—introduced by Oldways—promotes health outcomes associated with longevity and increased vitality and features foods that are most likely to be available worldwide.
To the African Diaspora, Collards Mean Prosperity & Good Health
I am always taken aback when people use judgment-laden terms such as greasy, unhealthy, fatty or "eat with caution" when talking about traditional African American foods or our diet (relating to the cuisine that has evolved from enslaved Africans in pre-emancipation America). Phrases such as "slave food" absolutely make my skin crawl, because although many of the foods that are consumed by African Americans were sustenance for enslaved people, those foods were—and still are—a source of nutrition for all races throughout the entire world. When movies like Soul Food, based upon an African American family in Chicago, are seen by non-African Americans, many of them note how many dishes were deep-fried or looked as if they were drowning in gravy. Yet this movie is only a single small peek into the African American diet and the way food is truly consumed in its communities. African American cuisine is not monolithic, after all.
I remember dinner in my family growing up as a way to give thanks for a safe return home and a time to discuss our days with one another. I knew that no matter what, there would be something green on my plate. One of my all-time favorites was (and still is!) collard greens. My mother or Nana would prepare a big pot of them at the beginning of the week that we'd often eat in multiple meals. I loved mixing my rice and peas together with the collards on my fork, enjoying the different flavors that danced around on my tongue. It was a hearty forkful of goodness that still comforts me in my present life.
Some of those greens may have been accompanied with freshwater fish, or maybe no meat was provided at all because meat was a delicacy often devoured on Friday, often at a fish-fry fundraiser, or on Sunday, when religious services being held on plantations allowed for tending to slow-roasted meats. In fact, upon their arrival to what is known as North America, many Africans led vegetarian or vegan lifestyles. Before the rise of colonialism on the continent of Africa, the diet of West Africans consisted primarily of fruits, roots and vegetables that they grew seasonally. Meat was used sparingly, often as a complement in stews. It was not until the institution of chattel slavery that African descendants were forced to begin consuming meat to stay alive for many reasons. One of the main reasons for meat eating was that enslaved West Africans had to wait until their work was completed on plantations to tend to their own crops, so it took those fields longer to yield food. This meant that many enslaved people ate out of desperation to survive until their crops were productive, often relying on less desirable scraps of meat from plantation owners.
When we view the food pyramid for the African Heritage Diet (a way of eating based on the food traditions of people with African roots that promotes health outcomes associated with longevity and increased vitality), greens are at its base, a testament of the truth about how food should be consumed based upon our ancestral palates. Kale, spinach, cabbage, turnip, mustard and collard greens are abundant in nutrients and promote health. Consuming greens daily can help reduce the risk of high cholesterol and hypertension, due to their nutritional benefits, and they can be prepared in a multitude of ways, including eating them raw.
I always look forward to sharing my fond memories of eating greens as a way to introduce others to the versatility of the African American experience through food. Although we think of greens as a staple in our New Year's dishes to bring forth prosperity, they are usually consumed with each meal to support and promote health daily. It is also encouraging to witness the return to the practice of vegetarianism in the African American community, because it brings a sense of connection back to the bounty of nature. The celebration of our foodways goes back to the root of the Earth that buoys us all in the power of greens.
Written with Helen Ladson, Executive Director of Heritage Works.
To make ahead
Refrigerate sauce for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
Furikake is a Japanese seasoning blend made up of a variety ingredients, including seaweed, salt, bonito flakes, sesame seeds and more.
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