My Juneteenth table is inspired by the late 1800s. A time when Black Americans celebrated freedom by wearing their finest, tailored-made clothes. In defiance of statewide laws of 1865 preventing the enslaved from dressing in any clothing not given by their owners, women, in all white, wore elaborate hats, lace dresses, and gloves, and men wore all black three-piece suits and top hats. The day included parades with carnation-decorated horses and carriages, rodeos, street fairs, the popular Miss Juneteenth contest, and of course food led by great Texas barbecue.
As a Southern American chef, I bring all of these elements from the beginnings of Juneteenth and apply my passion for Asian cuisines to create a unique, yet rooted, approach to the Juneteenth celebration table of today. Please join me and be inspired to celebrate your freedom in your own way.
Setting The Mood
My Juneteenth table is an intimate dining experience where we come together as one. A fusion of my two favorite cuisines, Southern American and Asian, the balance of flavor between rich and savory Southern foods and Asian earthy freshness is right on time for this June celebration.
The dress code is all white with hints of black. White to connect to ancestors and their everlasting traditions and black to connect to the strength of Black culture and excellence. Together, they represent elegance, grace, and style.
The most significant Juneteenth color is red. It represents the bloodshed of enslaved ancestors, specifically Texas slaves who were unaware of their freedom for over two years. Red foods and drinks are the highlight of any Juneteenth table.
Setting The Table
For many years I've collected antique dining ware from my family members and close family friends. These are unique cherished items that carry history and connect to our past while congregating over food.
Dress the table with lace, white candles and carnations. Line the table with antique dining ware and cutlery, perhaps that have been passed down from generation to generation.
A Toast To Independence
Over the years Juneteenth red drinks have ranged from soda pop, punch, and cocktails. These custom red drinks symbolize ingenuity and resilience of bondage. Alcoholic or not, red is the color of your Juneteenth beverage like strawberry champagne cocktail or pomegranate champagne punch. Pop some bottles! After all this is our independence.
Filling The Table
My Juneteenth table is my culinary journey as a chef from Southern roots to a passion for ramen and Asian ingredients. From appetizers and starters to the main course and sides to desserts, I tell my story of independence.
Appetizers & Starters
To begin the meal, I am using all of my childhood favorites like black eyed peas and okra. Yes, okra! I love fried okra but in place of cornmeal I use seasoned tempura batter and finish with sweet soy glaze. Okra with more texture, as a “fry and dip” dish, becomes more approachable.
Hush puppies are a Southern classic. They remind me of spending summers in the Carolinas and my go-to snack paired with my grandma's homemade jams. My version are made from black eyed peas tossed in a brown butter and served with ginger tomato jam.
The Main Dish
My Juneteenth table features my chilled watermelon ramen. Traditional ramen noodles in a sweet and tangy watermelon broth and topped with fresh and macerated ingredients. Though an historically negative stereotype, watermelon was the financial backbone of freed African Americans slaves. It celebrates freedom and coming together as one. I welcome that feeling each time.
Barbecued meats are very traditional addition to a Juneteenth table as whole animals were cooked on Freedom Day. These oven-baked barbecue ribs with layers of flavor of ginger, brown sugar, smoked paprika, and cayenne for a little heat. They are also a summertime classic.
There is also barbecue pulled pork with a tangy barbecue sauce that can play with side dishes, on a bun, and added to the watermelon ramen for a complete meal. The acidity and sweetness is a great balance of flavor.
On The Side
There are never too many sides. More is more is more.
There must be collard greens, but for me there is a twist. I add kale to the mix for more texture. To the collard greens and kale, I add an array of toppings like sliced garlic, fried shallots, charred red onions, and citrus to brighten this slow cooked dish.
As a young girl, my Nana Lucy gave me the job to wash and chop the collard greens. I would snack on the raw leaves to save myself from getting hungry. It was then when I shared with her how delicious they were raw. So, as a summer dish, my nana and I would make the best salads with mixed greens with a variety of garden vegetables.
My grandma Remea had the magic touch when it came to pork. She used it mostly for seasoning. She would cook all kinds of pork parts with her beans, peas, and greens. She taught me the importance of pulling flavors through food and the time it took to do so. She would always tell me, "the longer it takes the better it tastes"! Therefore, my childhood favorite black-eyed peas with pork is a must on my table.
A summer succotash is the vegetable confetti for the Juneteenth celebration. A mixture of corn, lima beans, tomatoes, and okra, succotash is a dish most adults grow into and I was no different. Succotash is my father's favorite dish of my mother. Once my mother started to grill the corn, adding that charred and smoky flavor, I was hooked.
Let's not forget about the Juneteenth favorite, red rice. It is easy to make and packed with an abundance of flavor and texture. It is mixed with tomatoes or tomato paste for that deep red color. I add a little spice to my red rice plus the addition of Little Smokies, little links in a spicy sauce.
Now the desserts, not just one, but two are the charm. I love offering more than one dessert, we all deserve to spoil ourselves.
Strawberry cake is a personal favorite of mine. I've celebrated so many birthdays with this cake as a young girl. Red, sweet, delicious, and filled with good memories, that is what Juneteenth is all about.
Happy Freedom Day!
Juneteenth is a magical day, you can feel the joy in the air. For many years this day was hidden or erased. Never will that happen again. We are here to change the narrative and bring out the beauty and strength of our culture, history, and foodways. Let’s not forget we are, too, creating history. As a chef, I am expressing my love for my culture and tell my story through the elevation of our food.
This is my Juneteenth Table. This is freedom and inclusion. This is honoring the past and celebrating the present as it evolves into the future.