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To some 13 million Americans of African descent, December 26 is not just the day after Christmas. Instead it marks the beginning of Kwanzaa, a week of feasting and reflecting on seven principles of particular importance to the African-American community. Each day, a candle is lit to invoke one of these principles, beginning on the 26th with unity and ending on January 1 with faith.

Because Kwanzaa is such a young holiday--it was created in 1966 by Professor Maulana Karenga--its culinary traditions are still evolving. Christmas calls for a ham or a turkey, and potato latkes signal Hanukkah, but there is no set Kwanzaa menu. And since the holiday lasts a week, every meal can't demand a day in the kitchen. Nonetheless, Kwanzaa is a time for creativity, for foods that helped the African people survive on both sides of the Atlantic.

This Kwanzaa dinner centers on chicken--known in the South as the gospel bird because of its place on the Sunday dinner table--given a Caribbean flavor with a mango glaze. Dilled string beans turn up with crisp oven-fried wedges of sweet potato, which is another nod to the African-American diet in the South. So is the dessert, a store-bought pecan pie topped with vanilla ice cream. There's even a cold-weather twist on a popular Caribbean drink, poured over ice in the islands, but here served hot with the meal.

JESSICA B. HARRIS is a New York City cookbook author. Her latest book is A Kwanzaa Keepsake(Simon & Schuster).

Published December 1995


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