These two-bite wonders, from Johnson’s cookbook Between Harlem and Heaven, hail directly from the history in South Carolina and Gullah cuisine. As Johnson writes, “The Lowcountry Gullah islands (located on the coast of South Carolina) offer a legacy of Africa and the Caribbean on the doorstep of the American South, and their culinary and social richness can’t be captured in any one thing. Which is why instead of trying that, we take inspiration from their cuisine and fly off to Asia.”
A hearty and sustaining dish, asopao is a Puerto Rican stew filled with rice and plenty of vegetables and topped with spiced ground chicken. Starchy potato can stand in for the yucca.
“When I serve fried guinea hen, I call it simply ‘fried bird’ because it truly is the best fried bird,” says J.J. Johnson, chef at Henry, New York City, and author of Between Harlem and Heaven. “I also really like the history of this recipe and the connections that it makes. You’ve got this African bird, so loved by the French that some people call it the French bird, and I’m putting chiles, cinnamon, and peanut butter on it and frying it in a Southern tradition. It just makes so much sense to me.” Grains of paradise, also known as melegueta or Guinea pepper, is a West African spice with a slightly citrusy, floral burn that gives this peanut-butter-and-lime-based marinade a lingering heat. The heavy use of spice in the marinade (plus an extra dose in the rice flour coating) turns the coating extra dark when frying. Like all good fried poultry, this is delicious hot and crisp from the fryer, and leftovers are also super-tasty enjoyed cold.
Starchy, slightly sweet plantains are a natural addition to winter squash. Here, New York chef JJ Johnson simmers both, along with canned chickpeas, in coconut milk that’s steeped with aromatics. The result is creamy, fragrant, and so comforting. Slideshow: More Chickpea Recipes
Shrimp are seared and glazed in chipotle-honey butter in this warm seasonal salad from chef JJ Johnson. He serves the shrimp over gently sautéed radicchio and endive, which mellows their bitter edge without losing their color or delicate crunch. Slideshow: More Shrimp Recipes
A red wine braise, complete with other mulling ingredients like fresh orange and whole spices, makes the oxtails in this stew fall-apart tender and flavorful. The longer the braise, the better, says New York chef JJ Johnson. “I forgot about it in the oven and returned to find it perfectly cooked,” he says. Slideshow: More Hearty Stew Recipes
Black rice, also called forbidden rice, gives this dish from New York chef JJ Johnson its striking appearance. “Kids love fried rice,” says Johnson. “And it’s a perfect vehicle for sneaking in some fruits and veggies.” This black rice is stir-fried with edamame, bean sprouts, and juicy diced pineapple. Slideshow: More Fried Rice Recipes
Asopao de pollo, a Puerto Rican chicken-and-rice stew, is one of New York chef JJ Johnson's childhood favorites, what he calls soupy rice with chicken and vegetables. Just like his grandmother did, Johnson stirs briny, pimiento-stuffed olives into the finished dish.