From Nigeria to the American South on a Plate

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  • Published on November 14, 2022
  • Last Updated December 22, 2022

A surprising 8-course meal of organ meats from a traveling chef provides a journey home, connecting the African diaspora and African American.

On my third night in Mississippi I found myself attending an eight-course pop-up dinner helmed by two Black women: Nigerian-born chef-farmer Halima Salazar and her American partner, farmer-baker Dria Price. These women demonstrated the way food travels and transforms culture. My experience with this cuisine began on Nigerian Independence Day, which was also the day I arrived in town.

In search of the party, my girl Deesha and I wandered into Bar Muse, a craft cocktail bar curated by co-owner and James Beard nominee Joseph Stinchcomb. A rising star in the beverage industry and fellow at the University of Mississippi’s Southern Foodways Alliance, which is dedicated to “the diverse food cultures of the changing American South,” Stinchcomb introduced us. Minutes later, we had signed up for an intriguing pop-up workshop.

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Anatomy Eats: Liver-and-onion lentil soup with sourdough bread and herbed marrow butter. Courtesy of Faith Adiele

Gimbia’s Kitchen, which provided the food for the pop-up, started when Salazar, a Nigerian immigrant who studied at Chef’s Academy ABUJA, moved to Oxford and met her “sister troublemaker” Price, who comes from a Chicago baking family and earned a master’s degree in nutrition from the university.

The pair started working with Truelove Seeds, an heirloom seed collaborative that marketed culturally relevant seeds grown by small, sustainable farmers. Many of the seeds Salazar and Price grow, like egusi (white-seed melon), butter bean (lima bean) and honey bean (cowpea), feature in both West African and Black southern cuisine. During the pandemic they came up with the idea of minimizing waste by turning the herbs they were growing, including stevia leaf, into a healthy version of the south’s beloved sweet tea. They started Justeavia just two days before a Black enterprise showcase, where they sold out.

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Repurposed herbs used for tea. Courtesy of Justeavia

A few weeks after the pop-up dinner, I met Salazar and Price at the Oxford Farmers’ Market, where they were selling teas and herb-infused avocado oils to raise funds to purchase a farm. “Now, we travel and cook and do pop-ups,” Salazar said. The pair’s signature dishes, “Your Food Comes from My Food” and “Journey from Home” showcase the impact enslaved West Africans had on southern foodways. “I can almost taste the journey, the adjustments they had to make,” Salazar said. “They want to turn roux into the color of palm oil.”

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Chinese pears. Courtesy of Justeavia

The pop-up we attended was part of the “Anatomy of Fine Dining” series by Philly-based surgeon-author-traveler, Dr. Jon Reisman, who collaborates with local chefs on multi-course dinners that demonstrate whole-animal cooking with the goal of creating less waste. Though ethically down with the idea, as someone who fears offal (much to the amusement of my Nigerian nieces and nephews), I was terrified.

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Baby goat born on the farm. Courtesy of Justeavia

The night in question, we joined an intimate group of diners that included chefs, regenerative farmers, nutrition professors, home foragers and foodies. During the first course, a charcuterie board of head cheese spiced with Nigerian red paste, Reisman gestured at a cloth-covered tray and joked about a pig’s head beneath.

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Halima Salazar and Dria Price with Justeavia teas in Chicory Market. Courtesy of Justeavia.

Only he wasn’t joking. As soon as we started munching away, he flung back the cloth and brandished the porcine head like Rafiki presenting Simba as the Lion King. Later he carried a beef heart around the circle, maneuvering valves with his fingers while raving about the wonders of cartilage and collagen. When he referred to the hardworking kidneys as “the James Brown of the organs,” I nearly lost it.

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Halima Salazar and Dria Price with teas and avocado oils at Oxford Community Market. Courtesy of Faith Adiele

The biggest delight, however, was that I loved all eight courses Salazar and Price turned out. I could see the arrival of Southern and Mexican influences, plus their recent collaborations with Syrian and Egyptian female chefs. There were savory heart tacos tucked into house-made pita, Gbegiri, a velvety bean stew of black-eyed peas with pounded yam balls and an inventive lentil purée that could trick the pickiest eater into consuming liver and onions.

As I polished off a dish of bone marrow ice cream studded with jowl toffee tuiles, I was already WhatsApping my brother in Nigeria: Guess what I just ate? I’m becoming Nigerian.

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