15 Delicious Kwanzaa Recipes to Make This Year (2024)

Kwanzaa is an ever-evolving celebration of Black American heritage and culture that links African traditions with African American customs. The week-long celebration takes place December 26 through January 1, ending with a feast called karamu. The meal usually takes place on the final night of Kwanzaa as an alternative to New Year's Eve celebrations. Traditionally, the karamu might include dishes from across the African diaspora, such as Jollof Rice from West Africa, Jamaican Jerk Chicken from the Caribbean, or other traditional offerings from the American South. Here are recipes for those and more delicious Kwanzaa food to celebrate the holiday.

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Jamaican Jerk Chicken

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In 2018, we named this recipe one of our 40 best, and we stand by that decision. There are as many takes on jerk chicken in Jamaica as there are cooks on the island, but most share the same method: Chicken is coated in a seasoning mixture dominated by spices and chiles, then grilled. This version comes from Paul Chung, a self-taught cook of Chinese-Jamaican descent who worked in the mail room at Food & Wine. It's wonderfully spicy, smoky, and fragrant — everything we want jerk chicken to be.

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Mirliton and Gulf Shrimp Casserole

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Mirliton, or chayote squash, tastes like a blend of cucumber and crisp zucchini, and is beloved in New Orleans, where there is even a festival dedicated to it. Paired with warming Creole seasoning and savory andouille sausage, the tender squash and sweet shrimp bring balancing freshness to this hearty casserole

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Southern-Style Mac 'n' Cheese

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Three kinds of cheese — extra-sharp cheddar, Colby-Jack, and cream cheese — go into this creamy, savory macaroni and cheese recipe, which also gets layers of flavor from fresh bay leaves and dry mustard. Southern-style mac 'n' cheese is typically made with a milk-and-egg base rather than a roux. Here, that milk component is an infused milk-and-cream mixture reserved from cooking the noodles (which adds even more richness to the dish).

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Rosy Hibiscus-Gin Lowball

On the fence when it comes to gin? Try a sip of this gateway co*cktail. Known as sorrel in parts of Africa, roselle — the type of hibiscus used in most hibiscus teas — complements the floral notes found in gin, resulting in a refreshing, balanced beverage. Stir leftover hibiscus tea into lemonade for a refreshing nonalcoholic sipper.

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Glazed Beef Shanks with Coffee and Peanuts

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Mashama Bailey roasts these hefty beef shanks in a ginger- and spice-spiked tomato sauce which she finishes with a generous dollop of thick and creamy peanut butter. She garnishes them with grated coffee beans; toss them in a coffee grinder for a chunkier texture.

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Nigerian Clay Pot Chicken

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For this homey dish, a whole chicken is trussed, rubbed with an infused compound butter — Alligator Pepper and Makrut Lime Butter, in this case — then nestled in a layer of seasonal vegetables. Lemongrass, whole lime slices, and ginger add a punchy fragrance and a tangible sweetness to the pot. In the oven, the delicious herb-spiced chicken drippings coat the vegetables and citrus slices, which gently caramelize as the chicken cooks.

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Hoppin' John with Turnips and Turnip Greens

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Todd Richards spices up his family recipe for this Southern favorite (often enjoyed on New Year's Day) with harissa for extra heat. Richards adds smoked paprika and cumin to deliver a similar savory depth. Turnips become soft and tender after a quick braise, adding body to the dish. The traditional ham hock is optional so that vegetarians can enjoy the dish as well.

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Candied Sweet Potatoes

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Sweet potatoes are baked in a sweet, buttery sauce with hints of maple syrup and warm autumn spices in this satisfying side. The syrup thickens and becomes sticky as it rests; sprinkling on grated orange zest at the end balances the sweetness of the dish.

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Island Jollof Rice

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Jollof rice, a spiced red rice dish with diasporic expressions across the Atlantic, starts with rice, tomatoes, onions, and chili peppers. It's such a beloved dish that several West African countries claim ownership of it. Historians believe it was actually created in Senegal, but that doesn't stop the competition; Nigerians and Ghanaians especially squabble on who makes it better.

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Sweet Potato Oven Fries

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Jessica B. Harris serves these sweet-salty oven sweet potato fries for herKwanzaa celebration dinnerfor what she says is, "another nod to the African-American diet in the South."

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Mom's Fried Catfish with Hot Sauce

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Todd Richards' mother made catfish on Fridays as part of her weekly rotation of dishes. He recalls how he was always amazed by the crispiness of her fish: Her secret is to let the dredged catfish sit in cornmeal for about 5 minutes before frying it — a technique he uses today.

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Sour Cream Pound Cake

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The combination of sour cream and buttermilk in this recipe creates a lighter pound cake. For a decadent breakfast, serve toasted slices with butter and preserves.

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Okra Gumbo with Blue Crabs and Shrimp

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In this recipe from the iconic The Dooky Chase Cookbook, the late chef Leah Chase used okra (and lots of it) to thicken the dish.

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Coconut Chicken with Pickled Pepper Collards

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"Coconut connects with my African roots," says Ethiopian-born Marcus Samuelsson about the key ingredient for this dish.

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Black-Eyed Pea and Watercress Salad with Corn Bread Croutons

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Chef Sean Brock seasons his black-eyed peas with hot sauce, lemon juice, and vinaigrette before tossing them with crackling corn bread and peppery watercress for a Southern main-course salad.

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15 Delicious Kwanzaa Recipes to Make This Year (2024)


What are popular foods for Kwanzaa? ›

Catfish, collards, and macaroni and cheese all began showing up on Kwanzaa tables, as did jerk chicken, gumbo, accras (Caribbean fritters) and feijoada — foods of the Atlantic rim expressive of the geography of the African diaspora. Kwanzaa food, at its simplest, is any dish people cook for Kwanzaa.

What is the Kwanzaa meal called? ›

Kwanzaa is an ever-evolving celebration of Black American heritage and culture that links African traditions with African American customs. The week-long celebration takes place December 26 through January 1, ending with a feast called karamu.

What do kids eat for Kwanzaa? ›

Some possibilities include black-eyed peas with rice and ham, seasoned black beans and rice, fried catfish, macaroni and cheese, gumbo, and curried chicken and banana soup. Additionally, any special foods that feel festive or culturally relevant for your family can work as well.

What is a special saying on Kwanzaa? ›

Habari Gani! Wishing you a blessed Kwanzaa.” “Heri za Kwanzaa!” (Swahili for “Happy Kwanzaa!”) “Sending warm wishes for a joyful Kwanzaa!”

What fruit is used for Kwanzaa? ›

Arrange your “first fruits” around the kinara. Fresh pears are a lovely addition to the Kwanzaa table. You will also want to include one ear of corn (a symbol of fertility) for every child in the family. If you don't have kids, you'll still include one ear for the idea of social parenthood.

Can you eat meat during Kwanzaa? ›

Kwanzaa meals might include Jollof Rice, a traditional West African dish, jerk meats from the Caribbean, and black beans that are popular in Caribbean and South American dishes. During Kwanzaa, some people abstain from eating meat or fast until the Kwanzaa feast. This decision is a personal choice.

What do you drink on Kwanzaa? ›

If you celebrate Kwanzaa, a stinger is the co*cktail for you. Invented in the early 1900s by African-American Tom Bullock, it's a great way to pay tribute to the unity of African-American culture in the states. The recipe is simple – blend a two to one ratio of brandy and creme de menthe, shake well, and serve over ice.

What religion is Kwanzaa? ›

The festival is a nonreligious holiday inspired by West African harvest celebrations. The word Kwanzaa means “first fruits.”

Why is corn important to Kwanzaa? ›

The corn represents the children of a family (one ear of corn for each child). The corn symbolizes the parents' wish for the child to grow up strong and happy.

Does Kwanzaa have a Santa? ›

Kwanzaa's official edicts say it was specifically created as a cultural and not a religious observation, although the holiday's official Website states that "one can accept and revere the religious message and meaning [of Christmas] but reject its European cultural accretions of Santa Claus, reindeer, mistletoe, ...

Who invented Kwanzaa? ›

Created in 1966 by Maulana Ron Karenga, Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan-African holiday that celebrates history, values, family, community and culture. The ideas and concepts of Kwanzaa are expressed in the Swahili language, one of the most widely spoken languages in Africa.

What does red mean in Kwanzaa? ›

The official Kwanzaa colors are red, black, and green. Red represents the blood that is shed in the struggle for freedom. Black represents the people of African descent. Green represents the fertile land and hope for the future.

How do you say hello in Kwanzaa? ›

During the week of Kwanzaa, the customary greeting to family and friends is “Habari gani,” a Swahili phrase meaning “What is the news?” The response is one of the seven principles, depending on which day of Kwanzaa it is. For example, Umoja is the response given on December 26th.

What are traditional Kwanzaa foods? ›

What Is Traditional Kwanzaa Food?
  • Collard greens are cooked in veggie broth and aromatics for two hours until tender. ...
  • Candied yams are sliced and cooked in a pot of butter, white or brown sugar, baking spices and vanilla extract. ...
  • Vegan jollof rice is no ordinary rice. ...
  • Fried plantains are made with very ripe plantains.
Dec 10, 2020

Is there a Kwanzaa emoji? ›

On the first day of Kwanzaa, Twitter unveiled an emoji of the Kinara, a symbol of the seven-day celebration that holds seven red, black and green candles. But Twitter users Thursday noticed an error— the Kinara emoji only had five candles in red, blue and green.

Does Kwanzaa have a feast? ›

Kwanzaa is an annual seven-day African American and pan-African holiday celebration from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a communal feast called Karamu, usually on the sixth day.

What are the crops for Kwanzaa? ›

mazao (crops) Mahindi (corn), to represent the children celebrating (and corn may be part of the holiday meal). a Kikombe cha Umoja (unity cup) for commemorating and giving shukrani (thanks) to African Ancestors. Zawadi (gifts).

What do you put up for Kwanzaa? ›

Place the symbols of Kwanzaa throughout your home by decorating with ears of dried corn and other traditional African crops. Display a kinara — a seven-branch candle holder representing African ancestors — on a woven mat placed on a table or another prominent location in the house.


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