For Chef Huda Mu’min, Kwanzaa Is a Celebration for Everyone

"It’s a holiday really just to reflect, learn about your fellow man’s culture, appreciate our foods, our contributions and really build community," she says.

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Photograph by Mike Garten for Food Network Magazine

Photograph by Mike Garten for Food Network Magazine

Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday. It was established only 55 years ago in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, who was the chairman of Black Studies at California State University at the time. Dr. Karenga founded Kwanzaa, which is derived from a Swahili phrase meaning “first fruits”, with seven main principles in mind: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. These principles are meant to be reflected upon, and discussed, during the seven-day celebratory period of Kwanzaa, which also honors African American culture, history and community.

What makes the holiday so special and unique is its versatility. Absolutely anyone can celebrate Kwanzaa, in whatever way they choose. Some sing songs and dance, while others gather together to tell stories and recite poems. Sharing a big meal with friends and family is also common, though the menu is completely up to the person preparing the meal. It’s something chef and founder of Just Savor Spices, Huda Mu’min knows very well. "The great thing about Kwanzaa is you can freestyle it. Kwanzaa means something different to everyone. The importance is the principles. You can pay homage to your history or your culture with the dishes that you serve traditionally at your holiday spread. But there’s a great thing where you have that flexibility to be creative," she says.

Get the Recipe: Signature Soulful Soup

For the former Cutthroat Kitchen champion, who began celebrating Kwanzaa as an adult, this creativity is often reflected in her Kwanzaa menu, which features a mix of African American classics, like shrimp and grits, and healthier dishes, like roasted salmon. "We do everything from including more traditional dishes [like] collard greens, black eyed peas and sweet potatoes," Huda shares. "Cornbread in my family is like a religion itself — so that’s a whole thing. But I love including — especially during the holiday season when we’re eating all these luscious and beautiful, comforting foods — things like salmon or turkey, versus pork, to kind of make sure that we’re doing healthy options, as well as including traditional options."

A must-have at Huda’s Kwanzaa dinner every year, however, is her Signature Soulful Soup (pictured above). The dish a total crowd-pleaser and features a handful of ingredients that have a very special place in African American culture, like blackeyed peas and collard greens. "I think traditionally with the Kwanzaa holiday, you want to incorporate ingredients that have African roots, that have historical value to them," Huda shares. "[These ingredients] are part of our cultural food story here in the United States and also overseas. So including things like peanuts, including things like rice, including things like collard greens and blackeyed peas — those ingredients all have a story — as all ingredients do but that story ties to our history and our culture. If you can include that in your celebration, it pays homage to what Kwanzaa is and why it was started."

Photograph courtesy of Priscilla Clarke

Photograph courtesy of Priscilla Clarke

Sharing the soup and other dishes with those around her is also one of Huda’s all-time favorite parts of the holiday, because it’s another way of bringing people together. "I just love the soup, because when you’re eating soup, everyone feels like they’re getting a warm delicious hug," the chef says with a smile. "And if you're doing that and you’re sharing joy, you’re spending that time with your loved ones, there’s nothing better."

The dish’s super straightforward nature and 40-minute total cook time is also a plus. “I really love that the soup is easy, simple, anyone can make it. It’s fresh ingredients -- you’re letting those ingredients shine with not a lot of fuss, and it’s really just appreciating food for what it is: just delicious and nourishing and bringing people together," she adds.

If you’re never been to a Kwanzaa celebration, Huda also wants you to consider throwing your very own this year, regardless of your own heritage or race. "Whether you’re African American or not, it’s a wonderful holiday. The principles are to have pride in your community, to bring communities together, unity — which I think we all definitely need right now," she shares. "It’s a holiday really just to reflect, learn about your fellow man’s culture, appreciate our foods, our contributions and really build community. For African Americans, it’s to build legacy and to really invest in our communities, so we can be part of this wonderful world that we’re building together. So, Kwanzaa is a holiday for everyone. I really, truly believe if we learn a little bit more about each other, whether that’s through our foods or our history or our cultures, we would all be in a better place and the world would be a better place. And a more delicious one, too! So try Kwanzaa this year guys!"

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