Total time:1 hour
In February, more than 30 fellow Black food creators published a collaborative project called Eat the Culture’s Black History Month Virtual Potluck, which took a look at the concept of Afrofuturism and explored what that looks like through the lens of food.
Writer Ytasha L. Womack defines Afrofuturism as “an intersection of imagination, technology, the future, and liberation.”
Today’s recipe, for Salmorejo de Jueyes (Crab Stew) with Coconut Grits Cakes, highlights how the past and future crashed at that intersection. It’s the love child of two cuisines with a history of derision and displacement — African American soul food and Puerto Rican.
Rather than using the traditional stovetop cooking method, I steamed the grits in banana leaves, which gave them a thicker, shapeable consistency. Though grits are a staple in many soul food recipes, I’m basing this coconut-flavored version on Puerto Rican funche — a firmer style of polenta, which is often served with stewed beans. Here, we’re making it with white corn grits.
Salmorejo de jueyes is a dish that, for my family, has direct ties to Loíza, Puerto Rico — the heart of Afro-Puerto Rican culture. Traditionally, it’s prepared with aromatics, a thick tomato sauce and lumps of sweet crab meat.
The concept of my dish is tied to the Afrofuturism theme in that it provides a visual representation of the plight of Black and Brown communities affected by gentrification. As a Black and Puerto Rican child with familial ties to Brooklyn and the eastern region of Puerto Rico, it’s not lost on me that the neighborhoods where my family comes from are now being completely transformed into nearly unrecognizable urban “utopias” or tax shelters for B-list celebrities.
So-called “ethnic” cuisine, even that which was birthed in the United States, such as grits, is often made into a spectacle. Because both of my parents were active-duty military, we were often moved to less racially diverse locales. The struggle of most children with parents like mine was played out in the school cafeteria. Recipes like this tomato and sofrito-based crab stew really threw folks for a loop. The sauce has a distinct aroma that would waft through the cafeteria and incite jeers or mock fainting from my schoolmates. But if Mom sent me to school with salmorejo de jueyes in my lunchbox, not eating it wasn’t an option. Ridicule be damned. All that was left to do was grin and bear it and hope that Mom would give me a turkey sandwich for lunch the next day.
Now the same dishes whose “weirdness” I had to explain to people who stereotyped what little they knew of Black Americans and who had never even met a Puerto Rican are becoming new culinary trends. Much like the neighborhoods that were, for decades, if not centuries, unappealing to mainstream America, the foods of my past (and my ancestors), such as grits and plantains, are being “elevated” to suit the palates of people who had never heard of them 10 or 15 years ago.
Going forward, reclaiming our ancestors’ cuisines is vital to protecting our cultures, but in doing that, we can also expose others to what makes these cuisines unique. By doing both, the hope is that we can all respect and honor that shared experience. Eat the Culture’s mission is to continue to champion Black food creatives to further that hope.
Salmorejo de Jueyes With Coconut Grits Cakes
- You can use old-fashioned grits instead of quick-cooking. >> Just add 15 to 20 minutes to the steaming time.
- Don’t have grits? >> Use yellow, coarse-cut cornmeal.
- Swap out the crab meat for conch, desalinated codfish (bacalao), or chopped shrimp, using the same weight.
- In place of fresh tomatoes >> canned diced tomatoes are a great option.
- The tomato sauce is optional.
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For the coconut grits cakes
- 1 1/2 cups coconut milk, preferably full-fat
- 1 1/4 cups (6 3/4 ounces) quick-cooking grits
- 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
- 1/2 teaspoon adobo seasoning or fine salt, plus more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 banana leaves or parchment paper cut into 8-by-16-inch rectangles
For the salmorejo de jueyes
- 1 tablespoon achiote oil or olive oil
- 1 small white onion (5 ounces), diced
- 1/4 medium green bell pepper, diced
- 2 tablespoons prepared sofrito
- 2 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
- 2 medium tomatoes (15 ounces total), diced, or 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 4 manzanilla olives, sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon adobo seasoning or fine salt
- 1 bay leaf
- 3/4 teaspoon sazón (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 8 ounces lump or claw crab meat, canned or fresh
- 2 cups plantain chips, for serving (optional)
Make the coconut grits cakes: In a large bowl, stir together the coconut milk, grits, coconut oil, adobo seasoning or salt, and black pepper until the mixture forms a paste. Let the mixture sit for 5 to 10 minutes; it will be loose initially, but will thicken to the consistency of a soft dough as it sits.
Place a steamer basket or metal colander in a wide pan, and fill the pan with just enough water to reach the bottom rim of the steamer. Set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat to maintain a low but steady simmer. Line the bottom of the basket with the banana leaves, cover, and steam until softened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow the leaves to cool. (If using parchment, there’s no need to steam it.)
On a countertop or large cutting board, crisscross two 12-inch pieces of string to make a plus sign. Place a wilted rectangle of banana leaf (or parchment) over the cross.
Scoop 1/2 cup of the coconut grits into the center of the banana leaf and spread it into an even 4-inch circle. Fold the edges of the banana leaf up and over to completely cover the grits. Cross the strings up and around to tie each packet into a roughly 5-inch square that’s about 1-inch thick. Repeat with the remaining banana leaves (or parchment) and coconut grits.
Transfer the packets to the steamer basket, allowing them to overlap one another covering any gaps, if necessary. Cover the pot and steam until the packets feel about as firm as an orange, 30 to 35 minutes, checking the water level periodically and adding more as needed to keep it just below the bottom of the basket.
Make the salmorejo de jueyes: While the grits steam, in a 4-quart pot over medium-high heat, heat the achiote oil until it shimmers. Add the onion, bell pepper, sofrito and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the diced tomatoes, sauteing until they start to break down into a sauce, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the olives, adobo seasoning or salt, bay leaf, sazón, if using, oregano leaves and black pepper. Return the sauce to a simmer, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until the flavors meld, about 10 minutes. Gently stir in the crab meat, and simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes.
To serve, unwrap each grits cake and place it on a plate. (If you used banana leaves, you can leave the cakes on the open, fragrant leaves; if you used parchment, discard it.) Spoon 1/2 cup or more of the salmorejo over each grits cake and add plantain chips as a garnish or on the side, if desired.
Per serving (1 grits cake and 1/2 cup salmorejo)
Calories: 565; Total Fat: 35 g; Saturated Fat: 28 g; Cholesterol: 44 mg; Sodium: 543 mg; Carbohydrates: 49 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugars: 7 g; Protein: 13 g.
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
From recipe developer Marta Rivera Diaz.
Tested by G. Daniela Galarza; email questions to [email protected].
Catch up on this week’s Eat Voraciously recipes:
Monday: Tarragon Chicken Salad
Tuesday: Okonomiyaki With Smoked Tofu
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