Next in our What Is Black Food? series, we visited cxontent creator Malicka Anjorin, who shared her recipe for riz au gras, a West African staple dish she learned how to make by watching her mom. She also chatted about the surprising ingredient she uses in her riz au gras and how the women in her life have influenced her cooking.
How does your heritage/culture influence your home cooking?
The food I cook is always inspired by my Beninese heritage. That’s the food I know. Even when trying recipes from other cultures, I add my own twist to it, inspired by my heritage.
Does the dish you’re sharing today have a story behind it?
Most would know this dish as jollof rice. It’s a staple dish across West African countries. It is cooked differently depending on where one eats it, but the basic recipe consists of cooking rice in a tomato sauce. I’d say that each household has its own way of making it. I learned how to make riz au gras by watching my mom cook it. Back home, it’s not common to write recipes. It’s not common to measure ingredients. It’s all in the hands and the eyes. Riz au gras is very versatile, so I add my twist to it mainly by changing the spices or the type of rice I use.
What does the term Black food mean to you?
Honestly, I was not familiar with the term Black food until recently. I think for me, it means representation. As far as a definition of Black food, I would probably go with food that is produced, prepared, and eaten by folks from any and all Black communities. Emphasis on ALL.
Are there any assumptions made about Black food that you would like to challenge or dispel?
Oftentimes when people talk about Black food, they think soul food or Southern cuisine. If you google Black food, that’s what you see first. I believe the assumption that soul food or Southern cuisine is the only Black food is erroneous, and I hope that people can change that mindset. The assumption that Black food is unhealthy also comes to mind. I definitely challenge that because Black food is healthy and can be adapted to everyone’s diet just like any other culture’s food.
What experiences and people in your life have shaped your cooking practice and the way you think about food?
People… my mom, my grandmother (her mom), my aunts, my sister. The women I grew up with. The ones I watched prepare the food I love, and learned from. They shaped, and still do, my cooking practices. Experiences…definitely moving to the States, and learning to adapt to using new ingredients. It’s changed both my cooking practices, as well as how I think about food. Starting my blog also changed how I think about food. Since I started TheBlvckGourmet, I learned that food is more than just eating. .
How do you incorporate joy into your cooking practice?
I incorporate joy into my cooking practices by trying new ingredients to cook food I am familiar with, like using fish sauce in my riz au gras. I also love playing music and listening to YouTube videos or podcasts in the kitchen while cooking. Recently, I was over the moon when I successfully made one of my favorite porridges after trying for the first time. I called my mom back home, and asked her to help me make it. She gave me directions, no measurements, and I nailed it. I was so happy! So… successfully making food I enjoy but never tried making, also brings me joy.
Where do you hope to see the future of Black food in America / Canada going?
I hope more and more people are inspired to understand where the food they eat comes from. I hope more and more people are inspired to try new ways to cook the ingredients they’re familiar with. Let’s start with that because the above would make them want to learn about and try Black food and ingredients, including those from the African continent.
Malicka’s Riz au Gras
1/3 cup olive oil
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 large onion, sliced
1/2 thumb (about 1 inch) ginger, minced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 green onions, chopped
3 tsp. seasoning mix of choice (Malicka’s is a mix of black pepper, cumin, bay leaf)
2 tsp. all-purpose seasoning
1 tsp. white pepper
1 tbsp. fish sauce
2.5 cups rice, washed (here: Basmati rice)
5 cups water (adjust based on rice being used)
1/2 large cabbage, cut in half
Cooked meat or fish of choice (optional; Malicka uses fried fish here)
Salt to taste
- Heat the oil in your Perfect Pot over medium heat, then add tomato paste. Cook for about 10 minutes while stirring to avoid burning.
- Add onion, green onion, garlic, ginger, and all seasonings, including the fish sauce. Cook for another 5 minutes while stirring.
- Pour in the water. Add the cabbage and your cooked meat/fish. Cover your Perfect Pot and cook for about 10-15 minutes (making sure the cabbage and meat/fish do not overcook). Remove them from the sauce and set aside.
- Add the rice. Stir, cover, and allow the mixture to boil once. Once it starts boiling, reduce heat to low, then cover again for 15 minutes.
- Remove your Perfect Pot from the heat and serve rice with the cabbage and meat/fish.