12 Essential Kwanzaa Recipes for Your Holiday Feast

Kwanzaa was initiated by Maulana Karenga, a professor and activist, in 1966. It's a non-religious holiday that celebrates African American heritage and culture across the diaspora. The recipes featured during Kwanzaa highlight the fruits and vegetables of the harvest, with influences from African cuisine. Here are some of my favorite Kwanzaa recipes!

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Cornbread is one of my favorite foods to make during the holidays. Cornmeal is a humble ingredient that transforms into a comforting bread when mixed with butter, milk, eggs, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Once baked, the result is a fluffy and moist cornbread. It’s a must-have at the table for sopping up sauces!

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Learn more about the story of Kwanzaa.

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Chicken Creole

This dish, made with tender chicken and pepper in a luscious tomato sauce, is incredible. The layers of herbs and spices including oregano, basil, thyme, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper and cayenne take this dish to another level. Serve it as a main on top of steamed rice.
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Fried Okra

Fried okra is a staple in Southern kitchens. The chopped okra gets dredged in a buttermilk, cornmeal and flour mixture and then deep-fried until golden. It’s crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside. Fried okra is the perfect appetizer for your Kwanzaa feast—or any day of the week.

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Sweet Potato Pie

Need an easy dessert recipe? You’re in luck. A sweet potato custard filling gets baked on top of the pie crust. Then cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, vanilla, milk and eggs deepen the sweet, caramel notes of the sweet potatoes. The rich texture of the filling is velvety smooth. Although Kwanzaa food is not set in stone, sweet potato pie should be center stage at any Kwanzaa dinner table.

Check out these Kwanzaa gifts for loved ones.

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Collard Greens

Here’s another Kwanzaa food must! These collard greens are a healthy, yet comforting side dish for the Kwanzaa table. You saute onions, garlic, ham hocks, crushed red peppers, seasonings and wine; then simmer in a pot with aromatics. Then, collard greens are added to the pot. Two hours later, you get perfectly tender and flavorful collard greens.
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Plantain Fritters

Plantain fritters can be savory or sweet. These sweet fritters are made with ripe plantains, which are mashed then mixed into flour, sugar, egg, cinnamon and baking powder. Of course, they’re deep-fried for a mouth-watering dessert that can be served after dinner.
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Peach Cobbler - kwanzaa recipes
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Peach Cobbler

Caramelized peaches topped with a crisp butter topping sounds perfect to me! When this cobbler bakes, the juices of the peach integrate with the dry mix to form a crispy cobbler batter. The peaches are tender and juicy, with a beautiful golden-brown crumble on top. Serve peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for the ultimate Kwanzaa dessert. (I also like to serve these benne seed wafers after the meal.)

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Candied Yams - kwanzaa recipes
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Candied Yams

The sweetness in this recipe is balanced out by the earthiness of the yams. Sliced, coin-shaped yams go into a pot of butter, dark brown sugar, white sugar, baking spices, orange juice concentrate and vanilla. The yams cook and caramelize in the pot. They’re a nice balance of sweet and savory, with a beautiful tender bite.

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Vegan Jollof Rice
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Vegan Jollof Rice

Jollof rice is no ordinary steamed rice. It’s packed with tons of flavor from crushed tomatoes, onions, green peppers, a hot pepper, tomato paste, spices galore and veggie broth. Use a long-grain rice for a little extra bite. Top with fresh scallions. It’s a delicious side dish that your Kwanzaa table needs.

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Southern Coleslaw kwanzaa recipes
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To make this coleslaw, I julienne carrots and cabbage and toss them in a homemade dressing with mayonnaise, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, sugar, celery salt, salt and pepper. It’s creamy and crunchy! The celery salt adds some nice umami to the dish, too.

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Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows and Pecans - kwanzaa recipes
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Sweet Potato Casserole

I make this sweet potato casserole to add a little sweetness to the dinner table before dessert. I mash roasted sweet potatoes and mix them with milk, butter, eggs and warm spices. The filling goes into a casserole dish and is topped with marshmallows and pecans. The dish is baked—and out comes the perfect side dish for Kwanzaa.

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Fried Whiting - kwanzaa recipes
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Fried Whiting

This recipe will be the star of your Kwanzaa feast. Fried whiting is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. You dredge fillets of whiting in cornmeal, flour, garlic powder, cayenne powder, salt and pepper. Then, pan fry them in some vegetable oil. The result is a crunchy, flavorful exterior. Serve this whiting as a main with lemon wedges and a remoulade sauce or with bread, tartar and hot sauce.

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April Wright
I enjoy developing southern, American comfort and ethnic recipes. I've been featured in Walmart,Pioneer Woman, HuffPost, Parade and Essence to name a few. I love food photography and adore learning everything there is to know about food.