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“Between Harlem and Heaven”

Sunny Flavours for the Cold Dark Days

Bored bored bored.  Cold dark days? Cookbook overload?  I dunno, but I keep looking at cookbooks that are objectively good, but don’t inspire me.  I guess I needed a little African sunshine. The recipes in Between Harlem and Heaven were developed in Harlem by chefs JJ Johnson and Alexander Smalls, but reflect a culinary diaspora and an Afro-Asian-American flavour profile.  The chapter titles give a sense of the stories and recipes found within, such as “Cumin, Coriander Seeds, and Pink Peppercorns: A Caribbean Childhood”, “The Afro-Asian Flavor Profile:  Where the African Diaspora Meets the Silk Road” and “Bengali Harlem”.


The recipes are very accessible.  I liked the recipe for Collard Green Salad with Coconut dressing, with raw collard greens and a dressing made of cumin seeds, fresh ginger, coconut milk and lime juice.  I love the authors’ comparison of collard greens to kale – collards are digging ditches and roofing houses while kale goes to spin class and leaves early for brunch. I didn’t want to contemplate which greens camp I would be in.  So I went in a different direction and made the Harlem Market Salad, with lentils, roast shiitake mushrooms, spinach, orange segments and a Japanese-tasting Citrus Ginger Soy Dressing. This was a great salad, with flavours that I wouldn’t have necessarily selected to go together but did.  I cut the amount of soy in the dressing, swapped the shallot for garlic and added a bit of sweet, and it tasted very authentic.


For dinner, I considered Grilled Chicken Thighs with Adobo Sauce and Spicy Prawns in Piri Piri Sauce.  But I decided on Citrus Jerk Bass, which was super flavourful and not too spicy. I found that many of the recipes were not particularly spicy, you can choose to turn up the heat, or not, to suit your taste.  Instead of the suggested side of Fonio (an African grain like millet), I served the fish with Pineapple Black Fried Rice, with edamame, carrots and cabbage. We had some black rice hanging around and it made a very dramatic looking dish, with an old-school sweet and sour Chinese food vibe.  


I wanted to try the Mother Africa sauce, a not-sweet spicy peanut sauce, so I made the Udon Noodles with Edamame and West African Peanut Sauce, and I added some crispy tofu and shrimp to balance it out.  The sauce was really good but next time I would increase the heat and serve it on rice because the sauce was thick and it made the noodles heavy.


Lots of interesting stuff in this book, like Roasted Japanese Eggplant with Pecan Bread Crumbs, Yam Flapjacks and drinks like West African Peanut Punch, made with bourbon or Sweet Tea Julep with Black Tea-infused Rum.  


It was a good read, a history/geography lesson and recipes for delicious spicy food.  Medicine for curing the February blahs.