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Molto benne 

The final week of the year tends to have a peculiar rhythm. No one, it seems, is really working, yet it feels like one big race, from yuletide caroling to New Year's reveling.

With all of that energy bubbling to the surface, it's easy to miss Kwanzaa, a holiday that falls during this seven-day stretch and tends to get lost in the mass-media shuffle. Beginning the day after Christmas, Kwanzaa is a celebration of the African diaspora and African-inspired culture in this country.

Food is central to Kwanzaa celebrations, which borrow culinary references from Africa, the Caribbean and the American South. At the table, you might find chicken yassa from Senegal, callaloo soup from Guadeloupe or American spoonbread, all reflecting the cultural heritage of African-Americans and their ancestors.

For a first-time crack at Kwanzaa, I suggest benne crackers, a simple snack/appetizer that still holds court in Charleston.

"Benne seeds" -- which means sesame seeds in a Bantu dialect spoken by West African slaves -- were among the few prized possessions that made it aboard the slave ships and eventually into the cuisines of Charleston and New Orleans. Apparently, the seeds are harbingers of good luck, an appropriate culinary symbol to sidle up next to the required pot of New Year's hoppin' John.

Better still, these seed-studded beauties take all of 15 minutes to make, plus another 15 in the oven. And if you're looking to up your mineral intake, sesame seeds are loaded with copper, manganese and iron.

Who would have thought that from one little cracker, you could get a history lesson, a good luck charm and a shot of nutrients?

Benne Crackers

Adapted from The Ethnic Vegetarian by Angela Shelf Medearis

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup sesame seeds, toasted

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine brown sugar and butter in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until creamy, about 1 minute. Add egg and lemon juice and mix to combine. Add flour, baking powder, salt and sesame seeds and blend until well combined.

• Drop batter by rounded teaspoon onto baking sheet, 2 inches apart (batter likes to spread). Bake for 15 minutes, or until edges are browned. Cool on rack or silicone baking mat. Makes about 3 dozen crackers. Store in an airtight container.

Holiday cooking questions? Check out Kim's blog at blogs.washingtonpost.com/seasonedgreetings.

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