Dishing Up Juneteenth

On this day in 1865, Union General Gordon Granger showed up with his boys in Galveston, Tex., kicked out the lingering Confederates and informed the nation's remaining slaves that they were free.

Two-plus years earlier, in 1862, Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but it took that long for the word to get to Texas, the final frontier for emancipation.

Red rice: the risotto of the south. (Kim O'Donnel)

This day of independence, known as Juneteenth, is an official paid state holiday in Texas (since 1980, under Gov. "Bill" Clements) and officially observed in more than 20 other states, including Virginia (not without its controversies, of course), plus the District. (Efforts to create a state holiday in Maryland have been squelched in the past.)

Freedom is an interesting and complex notion; when you have it, you forget; when you don't, you yearn, and the inequities affect us all. We take the day off and celebrate as a nation our independence from the British; why not celebrate our independence from slavery with equal fanfare and fireworks?

To pay tribute to the notion of freedom, I got into the kitchen, poring through recipes with roots that tie Africa to America and foods that tell the many stories of slavery. Rice is one such ingredient, a major cash cow crop on plantations in South Carolina and Georgia; in the 1730s, Charleston, S.C. was rice central, where some 12,000 slaves from West Africa were indentured for this purpose.

And in the cuisine of the Gullah people, descendants of these slaves, rice figures prominently (I hope to shed more light on rice after a Southern Foodways confab later this week).

I had always wanted to make red rice, a side dish with entrée potential, traditionally flavored with pork fat, onions and garlic. Tomatoes didn't really take off in North America until 1820, 1830, so I don't know when this dish got "red" but maybe it was from the red pepper.

Let me tell you something. This dish rocked my socks off. It seems so simple (and is quite easy to put together), yet the final result is complex and layered in flavors, like a good risotto. In fact,
I'd like to call it the risotto of the south, if you don't mind.

Don't worry if you stay away from bacon; simply omit and proceed with vegetable fat instead.

Those of you much more in the Juneteenth know please, please share your favorite recipes that pay tribute to African-American heritage. I'd love to get a collection going in this space.

Here's more information on the long-running efforts to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

Join me today at noon ET for this week's edition of What's Cooking.

Recipe below the jump.

Red Rice
Adapted from "The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook" by Matt and Ted Lee

3 ounces slab bacon or 2 slices thick-cut bacon cut into small dice (KOD Note: Can be omitted without a problem. I'd use peanut or olive oil in its place)
1 1/2 cups diced yellow onion (about 1 onion's worth)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cups long-grain grace
2-2/12 cups chicken stock (KOD note: Vegetarians, use a full-flavored meatless stock)
One 29-ounce can whole Italian tomatoes
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (KOD note: Don't buy it if you don't have it; use what you got at home)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees (KOD note: I thought this was a tad hot, so reduced temp to 400).
In an ovenproof skillet or deep pot with a lid, fry bacon until firm and barely crisp, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a small bowl and reserve. (Meatless version: Use 3 tablespoons of oil with a high smoking point and proceed to the next step.)

Saute onion and garlic in fat over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant and slightly translucent. Add 2 cups broth and turn off heat.

Meanwhile, puree tomatoes, using a food processor or food mill. Stir in red pepper flakes, paprika, salt and pepper. (KOD note: I added a handful of fresh thyme from the garden and an extra glug of my favorite hot sauce for some heat). Add puree to the rice mixture, stir to combine, and bring it up to a boil over high heat.

Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer vigorously until rice is tender but soupy, about 20 minutes. Add more broth, 1 tablespoon at a time, if rice is getting too dry.

Transfer cover pot to oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until all liquid has been absorbed.

Serve garnished with reserved with bacon (KOD note: 'Twas wonderful with some chopped fresh parsley).

Makes about five cups, enough for 4 people.

By Kim ODonnel |  June 19, 2007; 10:52 AM ET African-American History
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

What's the controversy in Virgina regarding Juneteenth?

A humorous take on the holiday from the San Antonio Express-News' S.A. Life columnist Cary Clack, as it appeared in today's paper.

Posted by: Loomis | June 19, 2007 12:34 PM

Loomis, see this Washington Post story about Va. Del. Frank D. Hargrove, who proposed the Juneteenth resolution a week after he publicly questioned the need for a state apology for slavery. The fracas took place in January of this year:

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | June 19, 2007 1:14 PM

Originally from Charleston, you make my mouth water! Red rice is a great side dish with seafood! Another thing you can add to it if you are using it as an entree would be to put some Hillshire Farm Smoked Sausage in it. Another great Southern Dish is Frogmore Stew, which has smoked sausage, corn on the cob, and shrimp. Another name for this is Low Country Boil. Some people like to add potatoes to it. An African influenced dish that is also great is shrimp gumbo! Yum Yum!

Posted by: Southern Gal | June 19, 2007 2:14 PM

I have a bit of a nitpick. It wasn't the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves. If you read the text, you'll see that it only applied to the rebellious South, much of which was not under Union control. That includes Texas. The Union-controlled areas and the border states were unaffected, such as in Maryland. Slavery was officially outlawed nationwide with the passage of the 13th Ammendment, in December 1865. That's AFTER Juneteenth.

Text of the Proclamation:

But about the recipe: Is this essentially the same thing as Spanish rice?

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | June 19, 2007 2:17 PM

Red rice is different from Spanish rice in that it isn't as spicy. I personally have never seen a recipe like Kim's that calls for red pepper flakes or paprika. The recipes for red rice that I am used to is similar to this:,1950,148181-227196,00.html

Google low country red rice recipes and you will be surprised at what you find.

Posted by: Southern Gal | June 19, 2007 2:51 PM

According to this website, it was Loomis descendant President Millard Fillmore (see Achenblog archives) who signed the bill abolishing the slave trade in the District of Columbia. The trading may have stopped, but I'm assuming that the practice of slavery in D.C. didn't?

For a bit more history, it was to Loomis descendant and Secretary of the Navy Gidein Welles that President Abraham Lincoln first read the draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Kim, many thanks for the link.

Posted by: Loomis | June 19, 2007 6:24 PM

FYI: Robb Walsh, restaurant critic for the Houston Press, wrote a great piece on Juneteenth that was published in this month's issue of Gourmet.

Posted by: Bill in Dallas | June 19, 2007 7:26 PM

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