Part cookbook. Part manifesto. Created with big Bronx energy, Black Power Kitchen combines 75 mostly plant-based, layered-with-flavour recipes with immersive storytelling, diverse voices, and striking images and photographs that celebrate Black food and Black culture, and inspire larger conversations about race, history, food inequality, and how eating well can be a pathway to personal freedom and self-empowerment.
Ghetto Gastro Presents Black Power Kitchen is the first book from the Bronx-based culinary collective, and it does for the cookbook what Ghetto Gastro has been doing for the food world in general—disrupt, expand, reinvent, and stamp it with their unique point of view. Ghetto Gastro sits at the intersection of food, music, fashion, visual arts, and social activism. They’ve partnered with Nike and Beats by Dre, designed cookware sold through Williams-Sonoma and Target, and won a Future of Gastronomy award from the World’s 50 Best.
Now they bring their multidisciplinary approach to a cookbook, with nourishing recipes that are layered with waves of crunch, heat, flavour, and umami. They are born of the authors’ cultural heritage and travels—from riffs on family dishes like Strong Back Stew and memories of Uptown with Red Velvet Cake to neighbourhood icons like Triboro Tres Leches and Chopped Stease (their take on the classic bodega chopped cheese) to recipes redolent of the African diaspora like Banana Leaf Fish and King Jaffe Jollof. All made with a sense of swag.
Ghetto Gastro Presents Black Power Kitchen by
Seems like we’ve been eating chopped cheese our whole lives. Our favourites were from delis like Hajji’s on 110th (also known as Blue Sky Deli), It’s a hood staple, one that until recent years, you’d find only Uptown.
For $4 or $5, any short-order bodega cook can style it how you like it, but the classic build is ground beef cooked down with onions and American cheese, then topped with tomatoes and shredded lettuce on a hero or roll. It’s a sandwich that’s been extensively rapped and written about, argued over, and widely consumed. Some make comparisons to other sandwiches, but we’re not doing that (this is not the time for Philly cheesesteak debates). Like a lot of foods that emerge from neighbourhoods and cultures where many are systemically deprived of wealth, the chopped cheese is a blue-collar dish. It’s gonna fill you up, get you right. And like many iconic foods, especially those from Black and brown cultures, the chopped cheese is not without its social complexities.
As the class makeup of the BX and Uptown has shifted to attract richer, whiter populations in recent years, the chopped cheese found its way into the hands of folks who didn’t grow up on it like we did but rather often “discovered” the sandwich much and, naturally, loved it. It wasn’t long before chopped cheeses appeared downtown and across the bridge in Brooklyn, at restaurants, not delis, and sometimes at more than triple the deli price (and on the wrong bread!).
In the United States, inexpensive food can often mean it’s actually unhealthy. A widespread lack of care for our environment, agricultural policies that subsidize certain commodities over fruits and vegetables, commercial rents that make running a restaurant in practice a real estate business—these all factor into a $4 beef sandwich that’s no long-term investment in your body. The cost to source antibiotic-free, sustainably farmed meat, organic produce for the fixins, and bread made from high-quality non-GMO wheat would make it unrealistic for most businesses to maintain the low retail tag. But study this: Here’s a class issue exacerbated by racism. Poor people get a sandwich they can afford that’s not nourishing, and wealthy people get offered a healthier, more expensive version that might not even resemble the real thing. Some of us Black folks looked up to see a product of our environment appear in news stories as if it just got invented, a relentless American refrain.
Our take on the sandwich that’s come to symbolize so much in our community is the Chopped Stease. At Ghetto Gastro, we aim to keep pushing the conversation, remixing, repurposing, and subverting where we can. Stease is about that layered flavour, that BX energy. We have to big up where we’re from, and that means claiming the parts that helped shape us. No disrespect to the OG chopped cheese, but it’s only right we add our own stease. Respectfully.
Makes 4 sandwiches
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 hero rolls or French dinner rolls, sliced in half lengthwise
3 tablespoons plant-based butter
1 cup (125 g) cipollini onions, diced
1 pound (455 g) plant-based ground meat
1 tablespoon flaky sea salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
9 ounces (255 g) plant-based American cheese
½ cup (110 g) Aquafaba Aioli (page 290)
1 cup (75 g) finely shredded iceberg lettuce
1 heirloom tomato, sliced
In a large nonstick pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat.
When it begins to smoke, add the rolls, cut-side down, and toast, gently pressing them against the pan, until the insides develop a golden brown hue and crisp up, about 1 minute. You might need to work in a few batches; don’t crowd the pan. As the rolls are toasted, remove them from the heat and set aside.
Add the plant-based butter to the same pan and increase the heat to medium-high. Add the onions and sweat them until they begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the plant-based ground meat and season with the salt and pepper. Cook, using a spatula to break up the meat as it cooks, until browned, 5 to 6 minutes, then layer the cheese onto the meat. Use the spatula to “chop” the cheese into the meat. Chop it! Stir to combine, then remove from the heat.
Take the bottom half of each sandwich roll and spread a layer of the aioli onto it, then add some lettuce. Load on the meat-and-cheese mix, then top with sliced tomato, plus a sprinkle of salt.
Finish with the top half of each roll.
To serve it up deli-style (and for a less messy eating experience), wrap the sandwich in a sheet of parchment paper, then in a sheet of foil. Order up! Serve immediately.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Workman Publishing.