Which Kwanzaa food recipes are best?
Kwanzaa is a harvest holiday typically celebrated by the African American community to honor their roots, heritage and history. The week-long festivities occur from December 26 until January 1 and conclude with a big feast and gift-giving.
Kwanzaa is fairly new compared to other U.S. holidays. It was founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, an activist and author, in response to the Watts Riots in 1965. He took inspiration from African harvest festivals in tribes like the Zulu to create an event that brings the African American community together.
Whether you’re a newbie or regular in Kwanzaa festivities, delicious traditional Kwanzaa dishes, like Creole shrimp cakes, will make the occasion extra special.
What to know about Kwanzaa traditions
The Seven Principles (Nguzo Saba)
Kwanzaa celebrates seven principles, called Nguzo Saba, during each day of the week-long celebration, as follows:
- Unity (Umoja): Maintaining unity in the family, community, country and race
- Self-determination (Kujichagulia): Defining, naming and speaking for ourselves
- Collective work and responsibility (Ujima): Building and supporting community and working together to solve problems
- Cooperative economics (Ujamaa): Building and creating shops, stores and businesses from which the community can collectively profit
- Purpose (Nia): Working together toward a common purpose of building and developing people in the community and restoring their greatness
- Creativity (Kuumba): Using creativity and effort to leave the community more beneficial and beautiful than before
- Faith (Imani): Believing in the community members, including parents, teachers, leaders and their collective victories and struggles
Kwanzaa celebratory symbols are expressed through seven objects with different meanings:
- Crop (Mazao): A symbol of harvest and the fruits of productive collective work and planning.
- Place mat (Mkeka): This represents the history and traditions which form the foundation on which people stand.
- Ear of corn (Muhindi): The symbol of fertility and the idea that children embody future hopes.
- The Seven Candles (Mishumaa Saba): These ceremonial candles represent the Seven Principles people are urged to live by.
- The Candleholder (Kinara): The symbol of roots and ancestry.
- The Unity Cup (Kikombe Cha Umoja): A cup representing unity used in a ritual to honor and thank ancestors.
- Gifts (Zawadi): Gifts given to encourage success and growth and symbolize parents’ love and commitment kept by children.
Top Kwanzaa appetizer recipes
Curried sweet potato puree
Whip up this creamy dairy-free appetizer using almond milk for a satisfying starter. The curry and ginger add a burst of flavor to the sweet potatoes and the lime adds freshness.
- Four sweet potatoes
- Four thin slices peeled fresh ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
- ½ lime
- toasted sliced almond
- chopped cilantro for garnish
- Wrap sweet potato in foil, place it on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven until soft.
- Combine curry powder, ginger and almond in a saucepan and bring to boil before reducing heat and letting it simmer. Remove ginger.
- Add sugary juices from sweet potato foil wrappers, peeled sweet potato, almond milk mixture and salt into a food processor and blend until puree is smooth.
- Transfer puree to a serving bowl and garnish with almond and cilantro and squeeze lime on top.
Creole shrimp cakes
Add a touch of creole flavor to your feast by making these easy and quick, crispy shrimp cakes. You can use fish or crab meat as a substitute.
- 1 pound of shrimp, divided, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup chopped onion
- ¾ cup unseasoned bread crumbs
- Two eggs, beaten
- Two green onions
- 2 teaspoons of creole seasoning
- ½ cup corn starch-based coating
- ½ cup vegetable oil.
- Combine shrimp, onion, eggs, breadcrumbs, green onion and Creole seasoning and mix in a large bowl.
- Shape mixture into ten 2-inch shrimp cakes and coat with cornstarch, pressing firmly.
- Slowly add shrimp cakes to a large skillet on medium heat with oil.
- Fry until cakes are golden brown and drain on paper towels.
Top Kwanzaa main recipes
Ghanaian okra stew
Okra stew is a national dish in Ghana that you can make with or without meat. The consistency and form vary from slimy to soupy and can be adjusted based on personal preference.
- 1 pound of meat, any meat of your choice
- 2 ½ cups of okra, grated or chopped
- Handful of kale or spinach
- Two habanero peppers, crushed
- Two garlic cloves
- One medium onion
- ½ inch ginger, grated
- 2 ½ teaspoons black pepper
- 4 teaspoons of dry pepper
- 100ml palm oil
- salt and bouillon to taste.
Tools: Slow cooker
- Season meat with salt, garlic, ginger, onion, ginger, dry pepper, black pepper and bouillon.
- Pour water into a pot and cook meat until tender. Drain meat and set aside.
- Sauté onion until translucent. Add bay leaves and crayfish and fry for a few seconds.
- Add tomatoes and crushed habaneros, meat water, boil and add the okra and lower heat.
- Add meat mixture, vegetables and season with black and dry pepper.
Grilled Moroccan spice chicken
Spice up grilled chicken with Moroccan-inspired marinade. Adding the aromatic and hot flavors will create an exotic flavored chicken.
- ½ pounds boneless chicken
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons of honey
- 2 tablespoons onions, minced
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon red pepper, crushed
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt.
Tools: Basting brush
- Mix all ingredients except chicken into a bowl to create a marinade.
- Place chicken in a resealable bag and add marinade. Massage chicken for a few minutes and then remove it from the marinade.
- Grill chicken on medium heat for a few minutes per side until cooked. Brush with remaining marinade.
Top Kwanzaa side dish recipes
Sausage cheese cornbread
Delight your guests with this extra comforting cornbread. The melty cheese and savory sausage add a burst of flavor and texture to this traditional favorite.
- One egg
- 2/3 cup milk
- 6 tablespoons of butter, melted
- 1 cup cheese, shredded
- 1 cup onions, chopped
- ½ cup green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 pound pork sausage
- 1 box cornbread mix
- 1 can creamed corn.
Tools: Baking sheet
- Melt butter in a skillet on medium heat, add bell pepper and onion and cook until tender-crisp.
- Add sausage and cook until browned and set aside.
- Add sausage mixture, cornbread mix and remaining ingredients in a bowl and mix until moist.
- Pour batter into a baking sheet, spray with non-stick cooking spray and bake for 20 to 25 minutes in an oven preheated to 375 degrees.
Top Kwanzaa dessert recipes
Caramelized Jamaican rum & pineapple dessert
This caramelized rum pineapple dessert is a simple treat to make and bursts with tropical flavors. It can be used as a topping for cakes, ice creams or be a dessert on its own.
- 1 pineapple, peeled and cut
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
- 150 ml pineapple juice
- 2 tablespoons Jamaican rum
Tools: Pineapple core slicer
- Combine melted honey, pineapple juice, cinnamon powder and stir to mix.
- Pour the sauce over pineapple slices and marinate for about 10 minutes.
- Pour remaining sauce in saucepan on medium heat and allow it to simmer to reduce the marinade to a thick consistency.
- Add butter and when melted, add marinated pineapple and cook 1 to 2 minutes per side.
- Remove from the pan and brush some sauce on pineapple slices.
Cinnamon pecan pie
Spice up the classic pecan piece with the rich fragrance and taste of cinnamon, and is the perfect combination of sweet and salty.
- 1 1/2 cups pecan nuts
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 cup corn syrup
- 3 eggs
- 1 refrigerated pie crust
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
Tools: Pie server
- Prepare pie crust for a one-crust pie on a 9-inch pie plate.
- Mix eggs, corn syrup, sugar, cinnamon and butter in a bowl and blend. Stir in pecans and pour into the crust.
- Bake for about an hour until cooked and cool on a wire rack.
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