A Taste for Books: Bryant Terry’s Afro-Vegan

Collage from Archestratus' Instagram
Collage via Archestratus’ Instagram

Welcome to a new Greenpointers food series called A Taste for Books. We’ll be taking a page from the monthly cookbook club and potluck hosted by our Greenpoint neighbors, Archestratus (visit them at 160 Huron Street), featuring a different cookbook each month paired with insights from the monthly discussion. Thanks for joining us on this adventure that will highlight scrumptious recipes, dissect interesting ingredients and generally recap what happens when you mix cooks with books in Greenpoint.

First up – Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed (2014). Read more after the jump.

This book is…
An informative and practical introduction to African, Caribbean and Southern-inspired vegan cuisine. Author, chef and food justice activist Bryant Terry brings you healthy recipes that are imaginative, flavorful and derived from the culinary tradition of the African Diaspora. In the introduction, Terry explains why he sought to fill a void by writing this book, citing a “comically sad moment” when he searched online for “African American beans” and “not one of the ten results was about the variety of beans and legumes historically grown and eaten by African Americans.” And so within these pages he illustrates the “breadth and richness” of food indigenous to Africa, while explaining the food exchange between Africa and the rest of the world. Another theme that flows through the book is his call to action for readers to start cooking as the key to better heath

Bryant Terry's Afro Vegan. Image via Amazon.
Bryant Terry’s Afro Vegan. Image via Amazon.

Content: Ten chapters, three key words guide each chapter. The words flow together either by their similar textures or how/where they are consumed. For example spices, sauces and heat or street food, snacks, small bites.

The food break down: The food tastes light and healthy, but in a wholesome, relaxing type way. Some highlights included the date, nut and cranberry ball, which tasted like a moister, denser and richer oatmeal cookie. Another goodie was the curried corn and coconut rice, which even at the tail end of winter made with canned corn, was the right about of sweet and while providing soothing sustenance.

Some frequent ingredients: Sweet potatoes/yams, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, cane sugar, cashews (it is a vegan cookbook after all) and cumin seeds.

Unique ingredients*: Fenugreek seeds, of the legume family, a favorite ingredient in Indian curries. Dukkah, a blend of herbs, nuts, and spices enjoyed throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

Avg number of ingredients**/ease*: 10-15 ingredients per recipe. I appreciated that he had several disclaimers about how to enjoy this book, encourages people to “switch up” and does occasionally offer substitutes or more convenient ingredients.

A word on style/photography*: Most of the pictures are close up pictures of the food on plain colored plates with a stark background. There are a few action shots of the author’s family or soft/warm hands holding the food. He also added designed fabrics bordering each of the chapter pages.

Random fun facts:
• Renaissance Man-Inducing: Each recipe is paired with a soundtrack and in some instances a book too. For example, the author suggests that Berbere-spiced black-eye pea sliders go well with the soundtrack “An Epic Story” from Inspiration Information 3 and the book Yes, Chef A memoir by Marcus Samuelsson. Terry clearly wants cooking to be a fully sensual, educational and cultural experience, but I wish he gave more explanation for why he believes these go well together!
• Seasonal Suggestions: At the back of the book, Terry provides menu suggestions by season. While some of it seems obvious – corn in the summer, peas in the spring — the way its laid out conjures up images, memories and emotions related to each season in such a comforting and relaxing way.

On the shelf or on the counter?*: Sometimes you come across a great cook book but it’s really more of a reference, while others are designed to be cooked from in the kitchen. The relative ease and small number of ingredients make this a good cook book for those trying to change up their routine by adding different spices, flavors and variety to the mix. It’s especially good this time of year when you are getting tired of heavy winter fare and want a lighter, brighter experience on your palate.

On the literary side, Terry uses warm and descriptive language, while providing a lot of detail about various geographic regions and the cultural meaning of various foods and ingredients . It’s the type of cookbook that can be read in front of a fire and feel like you are taking a trip with the author as your tour guide/historian.

Selection of treats; photo via Archestratus' Instagram
Selection of treats; photo via Archestratus’ Instagram

Key moments/topics from book club:
• Why Chosen: Owner Lipari Paige explains that it’s very different from last month’s book, which was mostly meat, and describes an appreciation for the unique style and historic-approach.
• Basil Salt: I loved that someone brought Terry’s seasoning to the dinner. It was a delectable treat to take home to continue the experience. It also reminded me about all the subtle and easy ways you can add unique flavors and experiences to food.
• Challenges: The group agreed it could be difficult to find some of the ingredients and many wouldn’t be used regularly (e.g., molasses). However, some of these atypical ingredients may push you to visit some of Brooklyn’s specialty and ethnic groceries, which is a plus.

What’s next: Check in next month for a closer look into The Love & Lemons Cookbook.

What did you think of this book? Let us know.

*Full disclosure: this is merely my opinion only and this could be a polarizing topic, so proceed with caution!
**Note, This is merely an estimate from my rough math; this did not include any algorithm and is not statistically significant.

About Clarice Jacobson

A culinary explorer, sports fan and nature/outdoor gear appreciator @rease612

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