Oakland-based food justice activist, Bryant Terry, reflects on bringing the vegetable kingdom to life in his new cookbook.
Oakland-based food justice activist, Bryant Terry, reflects on bringing the vegetable kingdom to life in his new cookbook.

Tune Up the Vegetable Band

And get ready to play with Bryant Terry’s Vegetable Kingdom

Book review by Annelies Zijderveld

 

Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes
By Bryant Terry
Ten Speed Press, February 2020

 

In his newest cookbook, Oakland-based food justice activist Bryant Terry tells a story about finding fennel at the farmers’ market and finessing it into something his daughters, Mila and Zenzi, would devour. He comes up with a citrus and garlic-herb braised fennel with sunchoke cream. The game-changing ingredient is plantain powder: “They will sprinkle this on anything—it may as well be the new salt,” Terry says of his kids’ penchant for this flavorful powder as we discuss the book.

Terry’s Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes takes readers on a tour of 30-plus members of the edible plant kingdom through 175 vegan recipes and sub-recipes. Terry dedicates the book to his daughters, who taste-tested 80% of the recipes, and their imprint is evident throughout. For instance, the book’s categorization by seeds, bulbs, stems, roots, flowers, leaves, fungi, and tubers is borrowed from eldest daughter Mila’s gardening class, where the kids classified the parts of the plants that get eaten. Terry also introduces a counterintuitive solution to getting kids to enjoy their vegetables, one that he used to coax his youngest daughter and less-adventurous eater, Zenzi. He redefines the idea of “kid friendly” through recipes with interesting and sophisticated flavors.

Now serving as chef-in-residence at the San Francisco Museum of the African Diaspora, Terry is expansive in his manner of sharing the experience of cooking. He mixes media, calling recipe development a “collage.” Inviting music into the mix is a signature Terry move. He pairs a song with each recipe, and a playlist that reflects his eclectic taste sits at the front of the book.

“I think about music all the time,” says Terry. “Cooking a dish might evoke a song. Some obvious. Some not so obvious.”

Zero-waste cooking is another feature of the book. Terry addresses the topic in a dish of warm beluga lentils with roasted leek tops and kale that he finally perfected after trials of blanching, boiling, grilling, and frying the leek tops, which most often are discarded.

Vegetable Kingdom gives permission for meat-free and plant-curious eaters to play with new approaches to vegetables they feel they already know. He remixes them as if adding a new backbeat to a well-known song. Try his Sautéed Cabbage and Roasted Potatoes served with carrot purée and ginger-habanero vinegar—inspired by the Ethiopian dish atakilt—if you think you already know cabbage. (See recipe below.)

Dishes infused with East Asian and Southeast Asian ingredients rub up against foods from sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, and the American South, organically multicultural just like Terry’s Afro-Asian American family. The flavors and unexpected pairings show up in recipes like Taro Fire Fries with Green Herb Aioli served with pili pili sauce (his nod to poutine). In a dish combining red rice with spring vegetables, he acknowledges the influence of West Africa’s jollof rice without naming his version “jollof.” “This rice is its own thing,” he says.

For chefs and passionate home cooks, Kingdom offers tips like making a roux with millet, which Terry does in his mushroom gumbo, or rethinking comfort food, as in the Big Beans, Buns, and Broccoli Rabe sandwich or Creamy Sweet Potato Leek Soup served with puffed black ginger rice. Recipes cross over into one another like a music mash-up, as in an Afro-Asian dish of dry yardlong beans with broken rice tossed with shoyu-vinegar sauce, peanuts, and pickled mustard greens.

For Terry, cultural sensitivity includes paying homage to culinary ancestors and contemporaries alike. He does this in head notes and also in his introduction:

“For me, recipe creation is a praxis where I honor and bring to life the teachings, traditional knowledge, and hospitality of my blood and spiritual ancestors by making food,” writes Terry. “While it may not be obvious, most recipes that I develop stand on the shoulders of relatives, mentors, historical heroes and heroines, and those who inhabited the land on which I live and work.”

“As a chef, as an activist, as an author, I wouldn’t be here had it not been for the many mentors and colleagues and supportive friends and family who have brought me to this place. I think a lot of times people forget all the support they’ve gotten along the way when they get to a certain level or imagine that we did this all on our own and I pull myself up by my boot straps or whatever fantasies people like to have. The reality is we’re always consuming influences and ideas, and I feel like it’s important for me to recognize that and pay it forward.”

Terry speaks of a broader mission in the dishes he creates:

“I think my food is my attempt to educate people about these historical and contemporary connections I think Black folk have with each other and further figuring out how we can love each other, how we can build power, how we can fight back against these forces that have historically oppressed us and how you can celebrate, build, connect, and break bread and love each other at the table.”

Annelies Zijderveld writes about food, books, and the arts for The Kitchn, Paste Magazine, and San Francisco Classical Voice. She authored Steeped: Recipes Infused with Tea and teaches cooking classes around the Bay Area centered on vegetable-forward or Latin American cooking. Connect with her on Instagram at @anneliesz. Find her stories and poetry at anneliesz.com.

Bryant Terry’s Sautéed Cabbage and Roasted Potatoes
with carrot puree, ginger-habanero vinegar, parsley

 

The initial inspiration for this recipe was atakilt, a hearty Ethiopian dish of slow-cooked potatoes, cabbage, and carrots. Here I roast cubes of potatoes until just crisp so they remain firm and hold up while being sautéed with the cabbage. Rather than adding cut carrots to the mix, I smear a carrot puree onto the serving plate and pile the cabbage and potatoes on top. The carrot puree visually brightens the dish and adds a “saucy” element. To pull everything together, I created a spicy and acidic ginger-habanero vinegar. The vinegar has more of a Caribbean flavor profile, so I see this as an East-Africa-meets-West-Indies mash-up. When prepping, be meticulous about cutting the potatoes into equal-size ½-inch cubes (as precise as you can get them). This facilitates even roasting and provides consistency in each bite.

Makes 4 servings

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, plus more as needed
Freshly ground white pepper
1 pound carrots, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, plus more as needed
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon raw cane sugar
8 ounces green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
6 tablespoons vegetable stock or water
Ginger-Habanero Vinegar (recipe below)
½ cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 450°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and a few turns of white pepper and toss well with clean hands to combine. Spread the potatoes over the prepared baking sheet in one layer and roast until tender and starting to turn golden on the edges, 35 to 40 minutes.

While the potatoes are roasting, in a medium saucepan, combine the carrots, ¾ cup water, and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stir, and quickly decrease the heat to medium-low. Partially cover and steam the carrots until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the carrots in a colander and let them sit until they have dried, about 20 minutes.

Transfer the carrots to a blender, add the red wine vinegar and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and purée until smooth, adding a little water if necessary. Taste, add more vinegar to brighten the purée, if necessary, and season with salt and white pepper. Set aside.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, sugar, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Simmer, stirring frequently to prevent the spices from burning, until the mustard seeds start to pop, about 2 minutes. Quickly add the cabbage and sauté, stirring often, until completely wilted, about 3 minutes. Add the stock and the roasted potatoes and gently toss to combine. Cover and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and white pepper to taste.

To serve, slather the carrot purée over four plates, scoop a mound of the sautéed cabbage and potatoes on top, and generously sprinkle with Ginger-Habanero Vinegar. Garnish with the parsley leaves and serve.

Ginger-Habanero Vinegar

Makes about 1 cup

3 habanero chiles, stemmed and seeded
½ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
½ cup distilled white vinegar
1½ teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon raw cane sugar
Pinch of kosher salt

Place the chiles in a heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegars, ginger, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately pour the vinegar mixture over the chiles and let cool completely. Transfer to a jar, seal, and store at room temperature for up to 1 year.

Bryant Terry’s Playlist: “Wubit” by Mulatu Astatke & Black Jesus Experience from Cradle of Humanity

Photos and recipe reprinted with permission from Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes by Bryant Terry, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Photography copyright: Ed Anderson © 2020