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February is Black History Month, and we have only just begun our 28-day celebration of the African heritage diet. From common foods like leafy greens, radishes, and sweet potatoes, to less familiar ingredients like cassava, plantains, and okra, the traditional eating pattern is full of unique and diverse flavors.

For the latest Ask the Experts blog series, we invited our panel to select their favorite recipes that feature foods from our “Common Foods of African Heritage” chart—or how they might spice up a traditional dish with one of the unique flavors from the chart. See their submissions below, and then continue to party by seeing how else you can get involved.

Ask the Experts, African Heritage Edition

I love quick and easy dinners that combine several food groups on one plate, or in this case, in one bowl (courtesy image below). Frozen shrimp are great to have on hand for quick seafood dinners on busy weeknights, but you can also use the fresh variety. If you don’t have any whole grain cornmeal in the house, it’s OK to substitute pasta, but try to make it whole wheat so you include whole grains and fiber. No spinach? Kale works well, too.
– Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D. author of www.betteristhenewperfect.com blog 

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Did you know amaranth is a complete protein super grain?! Yep, this traditional whole grain of African heritage makes a great addition as a protein source to your soups, salads, or even Buddha bowls like this one here (courtesy image below)! I like to create different flavor combos when whipping up my amaranth, so I’ll vary between using paprika and spices to peanut oil and groundnuts! The possibilities are truly endless when you use this grain as a base. 
– Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, Co-Author Fertility Foods, Owner ShawSimpleSwaps.com 

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Go kale. I love all things kale! A kale salad mixed with quinoa, beans, olive oil, and spices and topped with grilled salmon or baked cod makes for a yummy meal (courtesy image below). Delicious and nutritious! Beats a traditional lettuce salad. I try to incorporate kale and other leafy greens into my salad repertoire.
– Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD; Adjunct Professor of Nutrition at New York University, www.portionteller.com

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One of my favorite recipes using leafy greens—a key ingredient in the African heritage diet—is Grits Smothered with Greens (courtesy image below), which is inspired by some of the classic dishes my mother, who grew up in Arkansa, loved to cook. I love that flavor combination of the pungent greens, sweet sautéed onions, and aromatic olive oil under a pillow of creamy corn grits. This combination is very nutritious, too, as the greens are packed in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, and the grits have fiber and slow-digesting carbs. 
– Sharon Palmer, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian, SharonPalmer.com

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When I think of African cuisine, I visualize color and flavor. My favorite side dish is roasted acorn squash brushed with olive oil and seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg. To add color and natural sweetness to the dish, top it with juicy, pomegranate gems known as arils. The flavor is even more beautiful than the picture (courtesy image below).
– Dr. Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, Clinical Associate Professor, Boston University and author of Nutrition & You

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Meaning “head of the shop” in Arabic, Ras el Hanout is thought of as kingly for its 30 or more spices, roots, peppers, leaves, and sometimes saffron, even rose petals. The prized blend is extremely versatile, traditionally used throughout Morocco and northern Africa for vegetable tagines or barbecued lamb. We like to incorporate the mildly spicy, wildly aromatic Ras el Hanout into rubs and marinades for poultry and fish, as well as with whole grains, lentils, and bean curries or stews. Our house standby is to mix a generous amount into minced beef for grilled brochettes served with cucumber yogurt sauce and flatbread, plantain tortillas, or plump Israeli couscous. Take a culinary trip to the souk (market) with your own blend (this recipe using 17 mostly standard herbs and spices) that can be made as bold or tame as you wish (courtesy images top and below)!
– Heather Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN, nutrition consultant and food blogger at Heather Goesch Nutrition, and contributing author to Food & Nutrition Magazine; www.heathergnutrition.com

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So many of the gifts that make our lives delicious come from Africa. I have a passion for all of Africa’s leafy greens, and they all grow abundantly here in South Florida—even in my own back yard. This is an easy version of a traditional Ethiopian stew, or wat. It’s full of flavor with no meat whatsovever. Wats are usually served with injera, an amazing spongy bread made from teff. Should you find yourself fresh out of injera, serve with rice, millet, or scooped up with the flatbread of your choice (courtesy image below).
– Ellen Kanner, Huffington Post’s Meatless Monday blogger, author of Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner and Oldways Vegetarian Network advisor

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The African heritage diet is full of unique and diverse flavors, making no recipe dull in taste (see my infographic on food pairings with herbs and spices that includes African heritage foods). This Roasted Root Vegetable Power Bowl (courtesy image below) starts at the root of African heritage (pun intended). Root vegetables like beets, sweet potatoes, and carrots, are the start of this power bowl. Beets have a very earthy, sultry flavor, whereas the sweet potatoes and carrots provide a sweet element. Sorghum, also called milo and believed to have originated in Africa, can be eaten like popcorn, cooked into porridge, ground into flour for baked goods, or even brewed into beer. Cook like any grain and can be a delicious addition to a salad.
– Julie Harrington, RD, Culinary Nutrition Consultant of RDelicious Kitchen

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Common foods of African heritage are diverse and flavorful, as well as nutritious! However, many popular dishes are passed down from generation to generation and are often prepared using less than healthy cooking methods and less nutritious ingredients. Incorporating more of the nutrient-dense traditional foods, such as leafy greens, whole grains, fruits, tubers, beans, herbs, and fish along with discovering new ways of preparing the dishes will encourage better health. This Chickpea and Sorghum Vegetable Bowl provides healthy alternatives using these traditional foods and flavors (courtesy image below). This colorful dish showcases the delicious flavors of African heritage foods by including whole grain sorghum, garbanzo beans, almonds, and dijon mustard along with the sweetness of sorghum syrup. Whole grain sorghum can be used just as rice in many popular dishes. This versatile grain packs in better nutrition to keep you healthy, adding iron, B-vitamins, magnesium and phosphorous, as well as being an excellent source of fiber and a good source of protein. Enjoy this sweet and savory, quick, and easy dish of fresh ingredients for lunch or dinner.
Kathy Siegel, MS, RDN, CDN Nutrition Consultant at Triad to Wellness

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