African-American cuisine with a Japanese accent

April 03, 1994|By Jeanette Holley | Jeanette Holley,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

When I am asked to describe "fusion cooking," I lean toward an explanation that has a specific meaning for me. Fusion cooking is food that I grew up eating.

Two totally different cultures became a union -- and so did the food in our home -- when my Japanese mother married my African-American father. Of course, many meals that we ate retained the elements of each cuisine, but at times the dishes borrowed parts from each other to develop a new language of their own.

When I first arrived in the United States at age 17, I found that my friends' acceptance of the foreign foods I loved was made easier if their introduction was softened through blending the unfamiliar with the familiar. Sake-kasu (sake lees) on its own is very pungent; it received an immediate positive nod, however, when I used it as a marinade.

I found other combinations that mixed together successfully: Chitterlings are a simmered food and work well with soy sauce and ginger; crab cakes are delicious served with a light tangerine vinaigrette.

Now I make sweet potato pie and barbecue ribs with Asian influences. The pie uses the basic ingredients with the addition of cinnamon and nutmeg, but enough ginger is added to make it the secondary flavor, and I incorporate sesame seeds in the crust. The barbecue ribs are a Southern vinegar-basted style, but the seasonings in the rub and basting sauce have Asian components that work well with pork: star anise, Sichuan peppercorns and spicy Chinese chili paste.

Ginger and rum-spiced sweet potato pie

Makes 2 (9-inch) pies


2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons ground ginger

3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

3 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening

3/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted (see note)

6 to 7 tablespoons iced water


5 pounds sweet potatoes

3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground allspice

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger root (best if young, non-fibrous ginger is used)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons melted butter

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1 1/2 cups whipping cream

1 1/2 cups half and half

6 eggs

4 egg yolks

1/4 cup dark Meyers rum

To prepare sesame-seed pastry crust: Mix flour, salt, sugar and ginger in large bowl. Cut in butter and shortening, using pastry blender or 2 forks until mixture resembles coarse meal. Mix in sesame seeds. Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix quickly until mixture forms into a ball. Knead until blended, but do not overwork dough.

Divide dough into 2 equal portions. Pat each into flat disk. Wrap with plastic wrap and chill 2 hours. Roll each portion out on slightly floured surface to 1/4 -inch thickness, 10 inches in diameter. Ease each round into 9-inch pie pan. Flute edges.

To prepare filling: Pierce sweet potatoes all over with fork. Bake at 375 degrees 40 to 50 minutes, until very soft. Allow to cool long enough to handle. Peel potatoes. Cut into chunks and then puree in food processor until smooth. You should have 3 1/2 cups puree.

Blend potato puree with sugars, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, gingers, salt, butter, lemon zest, cream and half and half until smooth. Whisk in eggs and egg yolks, 1 at a time, until incorporated. Whisk in rum.

Pour filling into 2 prepared pie shells. Bake at 400 degrees 15 minutes. If pies begin to brown too much, reduce heat to 350 degrees and cover crust with foil. Otherwise, continue baking until skewer inserted 2 inches from edge of pie comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes longer. (Total baking time is 45 to 50 minutes.) Serve pies warm or cold, with whipped cream, rum-spiced whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, or simply dust with powdered sugar.

Note: To toast sesame seeds, place sesame seeds in dry medium saute pan. Place over medium-high heat and toast about 3 minutes, stirring constantly with wooden spoon. Seeds will slowly turn golden as temperature of pan gets hotter. Seeds burn quickly, so watch closely. When golden brown, transfer seeds to another pan or dish to cool. Do not leave seeds in pan because pan will continue to brown seeds.

Barbecued pork spareribs

Makes 4 servings


5 pounds pork ribs, 1 3/4 to 2 pounds per rib rack (best if small-boned, baby back pork ribs are used, as they are more tender)

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon paprika

2 teaspoons onion powder

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons ground star anise seed

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground Sichuan peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you prefer)

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon salt


1/2 cup sorghum syrup, cane syrup or pure maple syrup

1 tablespoon Chinese mustard or Coleman's dry mustard

3/4 cup rice vinegar or black Chinese vinegar

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

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