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Vegan Soul Food With A Side Of Soulful Music

Da Capo Lifelong Books

Imagine this scene: you're in the kitchen, cooking up a big dinner of black-eyed peas, pickled mustard greens, and candied sweet potatoes, listening to the soulful voice of Nina Simone.

It's a feast for your family and for your ears. But you might notice there's something missing from the menu — meat.

Chef and author Bryant Terry says you don't need a big hunk of meat on your plate to complete your meal. In an interview with NPR's Michel Martin, Terry says his goal isn't to convert readers to veganism, but to encourage them to eat more plant-based foods.

"The American diet is too heavily meat-centered," says Terry.

Terry first burst onto the food scene with his cookbook, Vegan Soul Kitchen. Now he's out with a new cookbook, The Inspired Vegan: Seasonal Ingredients, Creative Recipes, Mouthwatering Menus.

He says vegan food isn't for everyone, but it's a tool to help create a healthy diet and prevent chronic pain and illness. He takes this message to communities with high rates of obesity. But too often, he says, African-American and Latino kids respond with one statement: "That's white people's food."

"So many communities just have very little access to healthful sustainable food," says Terry. "They're what people describe as food deserts."

By food deserts, he means neighborhoods that have only what he calls "the worst food sources" — fast food restaurants, corner stores and liquor stores.

"We need to think more creatively about bringing more healthful food sources," says Terry, "supermarkets, community gardens, farmer's markets, and we know that will be one step in addressing this public health crisis."

In The Inspired Vegan, Terry presents a series of menus, each paired with its own soundtrack, based off the music that inspires him to cook. Terry says when he was growing up, music was central to all of his family gatherings. That's why, in his books, he tries to bridge the gap between food, music, art, and culture.

He wants to encourage readers to "get together with friends, leave their Twitters, and actually engage and cook and have fun with people."

For the menu Detroit Harvest, he recommends songs like "Detroit Summer" by Invincible + Waajeed, and "Revolution" by Nina Simone.

Terry says the menu is inspired by a hybrid of African-American and Chinese-American cuisine that he and his wife try to create at home for their daughter. He says, at ten months old, she's already starting to embrace her cultural roots.

Molasses, Miso, and Maple Candied Sweet Potatoes

For the Detroit Harvest menu, Terry presents a fusion of African- and Chinese- American dishes that emphasize seasonal fall vegetables.

Soundtrack: "Revolution" by Nina Simone from Protest Anthology

Book: Conversations in Maine: Exploring our Nation's Future by James Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs

/ Da Capo Lifelong Books
Da Capo Lifelong Books

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes or garnet yams, peeled and cut into 1/2–inch rounds

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick

2 tablespoons molasses

1 teaspoon tamari or shoyu

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

1 heaping tablespoon white or yellow miso

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest

6 tablespoons filtered water

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

In a large bowl, toss the sweet potatoes with 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil.

Spread the sweet potatoes on a parchment-lined or well-greased baking sheet in a single layer and roast for 50 minutes, turning over with a fork after 25 minutes.

Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven and lower the heat to 375°F.

Place the cinnamon stick at the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish, and add the sweet potatoes in layers. Set aside.

In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the molasses, tamari, maple syrup, miso, orange juice, lemon juice, lemon zest, water, and the remaining tablespoon of sesame oil. Pour over the sweet potatoes.

Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes, thoroughly basting the sweet potatoes every 10 minutes.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sanaz Meshkinpour