Matunda ya Kwanza – First Fruits

Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration beginning on December 26th. It was established 46 years ago in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor at California State University. As chairman of Black Studies at California State University he used his knowledge of various African harvest traditions to create a celebration that would help foster a sense of community amongst African-Americans.

For the uninitiated it may appear like a smorgasbord of Chanukah and Thanksgiving all rolled into one. A candle is lit for every night of the celebration (kinara) and its corresponding principle. In Chanukah each of the candles on the menorah is lit for eight nights straight. The coming together of family/friends and giving thanks to celebrate the harvest is reminiscent of Thanksgiving. However, this celebration is not meant to mimic other holidays. The spirit of Kwanzaa is to celebrate the values of African culture.

There are particular symbols, colours and gifts associated with Kwanzaa. On each day of the festival there is also pause for reflection on each of the 7 principles connected to Kwanzaa.

The 7 Principles:

  1. Unity
  2. Self-Determination
  3. Collective Work and Responsibility
  4. Cooperative Economics
  5. Purpose
  6. Creativity
  7. Faith

And of course there’s the food! What is a festival, particularly one based on the harvest, without food?!  African flavours and ‘soul’ food i.e. food of the American south seems to be the order of the day. Though there is no official meal set for Kwanzaa, the dishes likely to be prepared include sweet potato pie, groundnut stew, macaroni and cheese, beans and rice, cornbread, okra, collard greens and Hoppin’ John-a meal eaten for good luck in the coming year. Many of the foods traditionally contain chicken, pork and are fried. Here are my tips to adapt Kwanzaa foods for the health-conscious vegetarian/vegan who may have a nut allergy.

Groundnut stew
Substitute cashews or tahini (sesame seed paste) for peanuts. If avoiding all nuts and seeds together then simply use quinoa, a nutty-tasting berry eaten as a grain.

Chicken
To get a similar flavour use nutritional yeast. To get a similar texture use tofu.

Pig
Substitute with vegetarian bacon i.e. tofu or seitan and a little liquid smoke.

Fried
Just bake it! Recipes will contain enough oil to provide satiety and mouth feel.

Butter
If baking, replace with safflower oil and a little tapioca starch. You may need to adjust the amount of the other wet ingredients to get the right consistency. If cooking, use coconut or grapeseed oil instead.

Eggs
If using to bind ingredients in cornbread, mix 1 TBSP. ground flax seed with 3 TBSP water until frothy to make equivalent of 1 egg.

The New Year’s Southern saying goes: “Peas for pennies, greens for dollars and cornbread for gold

To see a Kwanzaa-inspired meal to bring good luck for the New Year make sure to check out our New Year’s Eve Meatless Monday feature in 6 day’s time.

For more info:
Kwanzaa History
The Official Kwanzaa Website
Kwanzaa Recipes from the Food Network

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