“African Rhythms” Sankofa Bowl w/ Suya Grilled Duck Breast & Fried Collard Greens.

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I’m proud to collaborate with more than 30 Black recipe developers as we celebrate Black History Month 2022. This Virtual Potluck explores Black food through the lens of Afrofuturism. Our collaboration of recipes explores the intersection of the Black diaspora via culture, future, geopolitics, imagination, liberation, culture, and technology.

Be sure to check-out the full participant list and their related recipes at the end of this post.

My contribution is what I’m calling a “Sankofa Bowl,” which is a Grilled Suya Duck Breast-based bowl concept. It features indigenous African ingredients and seasonings like Suya spice, sorghum, egusi seeds, and collard greens reimagined to reflect my vision of what black food could be and is.

Black Food is often treated as this static, unevolved culinary tradition grounded only in iconic “soul food” dishes. Black food is indeed that, but it is also so much more. In more recent times through the contributions of black culinary scholars and historians origin stories of black food have gotten attention, but it is still early.

Attention to the future of black food has basically been non-existent. This is why this year’s focus on Afro-futurism is so important as it explores the intersection of the past, current, and future in a way that showcases both the diversity of black food and the shared connections across the entire African diaspora.

What is Sankofa?

Sankofa is an African word/concept from the Akan tribe in Ghana. The theme is “Sankofa” as represented by the iconic bird that moves forward while looking back symbolic of the act of revisiting the past, taking those learnings of value, and using them as a guide to improving the future. In this sense, there is much value placed on knowing one’s history and learning from it.

From a culinary and foodways perspective there is high unawareness of food crops indigenous African food crops that have contributed to Western nations especially, the U.S. The same negative, racist views that Westerners hold towards black folk drive their views on African indigenous food crops and agricultural systems so the stories and history of these amazing crops don’t get told and are not as revered as crops indigenous to Mexico, South America, etc.

This lack of awareness and appreciation is acutely relevant in several contexts.

Black peoples’ contributions continue to be devalued and we will not be able to resolve our racist past until we can start to see black people differentlyIndigenous crops like okra, sorghum grain, fonio, teff, cowpeas, yams, leafy greens, egusi melons, etc. survived and thrived harsh dry climates. Western societies have focused on the commercialization of these crops and their exploitation, but the reality is that their history and ancient methods of cultivation likely hold the key to solving for issues created by climate change.Africa on the whole hasn’t benefitted proportionally from it’s indigenous crops, as global economic pressures have led to outside crops displacing many local crops ones.

In the spirit of Sankofa, if we study the history of ancient African agricultural practices we may find answers to many of the sustainability issues that plague us. Looking back just may offer improvement and/or correction going forward.

What is Suya?

Suya is Nigerian street food. It’s usually beef served on skewers with a peanut-based seasoning and grilled over direct heat. Suya refers primarily to the technique but can also describe the flavor/seasoning. In this way, it’s similar to Jamaican jerk seasoning. Suya can be applied to other meats like lamb or this duck breast.

What are Egusi Seeds?

Egusi or Agushi refers to the protein-rich seeds from West African melons/gourds. They are essential to soups in the region. They are the primary ingredient in traditional egusi soup and are frequently used as a thickener in stews and soups.

Watermelons in American society have often involved racist tropes such as the picaninny caricature.

The reality is our ancient African ancestors cultivated this drought-resistant crop and have figured out ways to improve their profitability by intercropping them with crops like cassava, peppers, and tomatoes. This indigenous knowledge of melons can be critical to not only worldwide conservation strategies, but also solving for food insecurity and health issues.

Because they’re so high in proteins and nutrient-rich they are seen as a great supplement to or substitute for meat-based dishes. I use them as a plant-based protein source in my morning smoothies.

Egusi is also essential to local economies in parts of West Africa. It’s considered a cash crop particularly for women who earn relatively high earnings for harvesting and picking the seeds.

What is Sorghum?

If you grew up in the South you’re likely familiar with sorghum as a sweetener like syrup or molasses. Sorghum is actually a gluten-free super whole grain similar to corn. Its origin like many things is in Africa where it was domesticated in the northeastern region (Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt).

Tribal migrations throughout Africa and beyond meant it ended up in different parts of the world including India, China, and Australia. Eventually, slavery brought the crops from Africa to the U.S. where it is now one of the top crops in America. Sorghum grain is primarily used as livestock feed and for ethanol production, but it is growing as a consumer packaged goods.

Sorghum is quite versatile similar to most grains – as a side, in a salad, for risotto, or as popped similar to popcorn, but more like a miniature version. It has the potential to feed a starving world and counteract the progression of climate change. The U.S. is one of the top producers of Sorghum, but when you look at the amount of land dedicated to sorghum crop worldwide, outside of the African continent there isn’t much.

Beats and Eats (music pairing for Suya Duck Breast)

In the spirit of reimagining and Sankofa I decided to pair J Dilla’s “African Rhythms” with this Suya Duck Breast Bowl. J Dilla sampled Oneness of Juju’s song of the same name and put his spin on it with more emphasis on the rhythm. The thing I’ve always appreciated most about Dilla’s music is that though it’s rooted in a very unique Detroit sound, he explores and pulls in black music from all over the world.

The original song is an anthem song about empowerment and liberation. Dilla takes it, keeps those elements, but also makes it groovy AF leaving you mesmerized and ready for whatever. In a similar way, this bowl has elements of many different regions of Africa. The Red, Black, and Green Liberation spice mix is the unifier while the peanut-based suya is the rhythm of the dish.

Grilled Suya Duck Breast Bowl Ingredients

For the Duck Breast

Duck BreastPeanuts (unsalted)Kosher SaltSmoked PaprikaGarlic PowderGround GingerOnion PowderBrown SugarCayenne PepperBlack PepperCanolaor Olive Oil

For the Cherry-Egusi Sauce

Fresh or Frozen CherriesEgusi Melon SeedsShallotsScotch Bonnet Pepper (substitute Habanero if unavailable)Culantro (substitute Cilantro if unavailable)Fire Roasted TomatoesLime juiceSaltPepperGarlic ClovesOlive Oil

For the Fried Collard Greens

Fresh Collard GreensCanola Oil for Frying

For the Popped Sorghum

SorghumCanola Oil

For the Liberation Spice Mix

Aleppo PepperDried CilantroUrfa Chili FlakesKosher Salt

How to make Suya Duck Breast Bowls (step by step)

Make the Suya Duck

Place the peanuts into a food processor. Pulse until coarsely ground. Remove ground peanuts to a medium bowl and add all the spices. Mix well then add the oil to create a paste.

Score the skin side of the duck breast with a sharp knife. Either diamond shapes or straight lines work. You’re only trying to cut the skin so avoid cutting too deep.

Place the breast in a large ziplock bag or bowl. Add the suya mixture and marinate in your fridge for at least an hour.

Fire up your grill and set it up for direct heat grilling. You’ll want a hot fire (400-450 degrees). Clean and oil your grates using an oil-stained and folded paper towel.

Set a cast-iron skillet directly on your grill grates and allow to heat. Once your skillet is hot brush a little oil onto the surface. Add the duck breast skin side down and grill with the lid closed for 4-5 minutes.

Flip the duck breast and place it directly on the grates. Cook for 2-3 minutes more and check for doneness.

Make the Sauce

Add all the ingredients to a food processor. Pulse to desired consistency. I prefer the consistency of a smooth salsa. Set aside.

Make the Fried Collard Greens

Preheat a deep fryer to 325 degrees. Add chopped collard leaves to the fryer and cook for 2 minutes. Remove to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and let rest.

Make the Popped Sorghum

Pre-heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon oil and coat the bottom of the pan thoroughly. Add half of the sorghum; cook about 1 minute or until sorghum popping slows, stirring constantly. Sorghum doesn’t pop like corn. They’re much smaller and unlikely to pop out of an uncovered pot assuming you’re using a dutch oven.

Reduce heat to medium-low, and continue cooking 1 minute or until as much sorghum pops as possible, stirring constantly.

Remove the popped sorghum from the pan and repeat with the remaining sorghum. Set aside.

Tips and Considerations For Suya Duck Breast Bowls

The cast-iron skillet is perfect for getting a really good sear, particularly on the skin side. This results in super crispy skin that you will love. By finishing the duck directly on the grates after the flip you get a tender and juicy duck internally.

If available to you add some cherry wood chips to your grilling to provide that deep and smoky cherry flavor that goes so well with duck. If using chips then soak them in water first.

You can cook the duck indoors as well right on the stovetop. A cast-iron skillet or indoor grill pan works great for this.

For the suya spice, I use unsalted peanuts since the dry spice mix calls for kosher salt. Using salted peanuts just adds more salt, to the point the dish becomes too salty.

Suya spice can be as hot or as mild as you make it. The key will be the ratio of cayenne pepper to brown sugar you go with. It’s totally a personal preference thing. The ingredient ratio used in the recipe is fairly balanced so this isn’t an overly hot version.

To keep things simple, I used canola oil throughout the recipe where oil is called for. So I fried the collard greens in canola, marinated the duck breast using canola, and even popped the sorghum in canola.

For the sauce I used frozen cherries and just thawed them out. This was strictly a cost-value thing as I buy the big Costco size frozen bag for my daily smoothies. If using fresh cherries, then make sure you remove the pits.

Egusi seeds aren’t available in most mainstream grocery stores, but you’ll likely find them in stores that serve African and possibly Caribbean ingredients. Otherwise, just order online.

I used the egusi seeds similar to how pumpkin or pepito seeds are used in moles.

I served all the ingredients in a deconstructed bowl, but feel free to serve them in a more traditional bowl structure – protein + grain + vegetables + sauce in a single bowl. For my traditional bowl I actually changed up the sorghum and cooked the grain in equal parts coconut milk and water vs. popped.

Frequently Asked Questions for Making Grilled Duck Breast Bowls

What does duck breast taste like?

Though it’s a bird, duck breast tastes nothing like chicken. Taste and texture-wise it’s like red meat. Duck is rich and fatty so it has a stronger taste profile.

How long does duck breast take to cook?

It depends on how you plan to cook. This grilled recipe calls for an estimated 10 minutes of cook time max assuming you hit and maintain the right temperatures.

How well should duck breast be cooked?

I like my duck breast like I like my steaks, i.e. medium-rare. To cook to medium-rare your internal temperature should be in the 130-135 degrees F range. I like to remove mine off the heat just before reaching the temperature the meat will continue to cook some off heat. Use a meat thermometer to check.

Where Can You Find Duck Breast?

Duck breast is a typical farmer’s market, butcher, or specialty grocer-type ingredient. You may luck up and find it in your neighborhood grocery but it’s less likely.

Where to find egusi seeds?

Unless you live near an African market, it’s easier to buy egusi seeds online. Amazon has lots of options.

For similar recipes try these:

Beef Suya Skewers

Smoked Duck Leg

Duck Confit

Duck and Sausage Gumbo

Purple Kale Chips

Southern Collard Greens

Grilled Suya Duck Breast Bowl

African food bowl concept made w/ Suya spiced grilled duck breast, fried collard greens, popped sorghum grain, & a cherry egusi sauce.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: African
Servings: 4 people
Calories: 918kcal
Author: Marwin Brown

Ingredients

For the Duck Breast

2 8 oz Duck Breasts2 cups Peanuts unsalted1 teaspoon Kosher Salt1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika½ teaspoon Garlic Powder¼ teaspoon Ground Ginger½ teaspoon Onion Powder1 teaspoon Brown Sugar¼ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper1 teaspoon Black Pepper¼ cup Canola Oil

For the Cherry-Egusi Sauce

1 cup Fresh or Frozen Cherries de-pitted2 tablespoons Egusi Melon Seeds2 medium Shallots peeled1 whole Scotch Bonnet Pepper substitute Habanero if unavailable, deseeded and deveined¼ cup Culantro substitute Cilantro if unavailable, roughly chopped14 oz Fire Roasted Tomatoes1 small Lime juiced½ teaspoon Salt½ teaspoon Pepper3 cloves Garlic roughly chopped2 tablespoons Olive Oil

For the Fried Collard Greens

1 bunch Fresh Collard Greens de-stemmed and roughly choppedCanola Oil for frying

For the Popped Sorghum

½ cup Sorghum1 tablespoon Canola Oil

For the Liberation Spice Mix

1 teaspoon Aleppo Pepper½ teaspoon Dried Cilantro½ teaspoon Urfa Chili Flakes½ teaspoon Kosher Salt

Instructions

Make the Suya Duck

Place the peanuts into a food processor. Pulse until coarsely ground. Remove ground peanuts to a medium bowl and add all the spices. Mix well then add the oil to create a paste.
Score the skin side of the duck breast with a sharp knife. Either diamond shapes or straight lines work. You’re only trying to cut the skin so avoid cutting too deep.
Place the breast in a large ziplock bag or bowl. Add the suya mixture and marinate in your fridge for at least an hour.
Fire up your grill and set it up for direct heat grilling. You’ll want a hot fire (400-450 degrees). Clean and oil your grates using an oil-stained and folded paper towel.
Set a cast-iron skillet directly on your grill grates and allow to heat. Once your skillet is hot brush a little oil onto the surface. Add the duck breast skin side down and grill with the lid closed for 4-5 minutes.
Flip the duck breast and place it directly on the grates. Cook for 2-3 minutes more and check for doneness.

Make the Sauce

Add all the ingredients to a food processor. Pulse to desired consistency. I prefer the consistency of a smooth salsa. Set aside.
Make the Fried Collard Greens
Preheat a deep fryer to 325 degrees. Add chopped collard leaves to the fryer and cook for 2 minutes. Remove to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, season with spice mix, and let rest.

Make the Popped Sorghum

Pre-heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon oil and coat the bottom of the pan thoroughly. Add half of the sorghum; cook about 1 minute or until sorghum popping slows, stirring constantly. Sorghum doesn’t pop like corn. They’re much smaller and unlikely to pop out of an uncovered pot assuming you’re using a dutch oven.
Reduce heat to medium-low, and continue cooking 1 minute or until as much sorghum pops as possible, stirring constantly.
Remove the popped sorghum from the pan and repeat with the remaining sorghum. Season with the spice mix. Set aside.

Video

Notes

The cast-iron skillet is perfect for getting a really good sear, particularly on the skin side. This results in super crispy skin that you will love. By finishing the duck directly on the grates after the flip you get a tender and juicy duck internally.

If available to you add some cherry wood chips to your grilling to provide that deep and smoky cherry flavor that goes so well with duck. If using chips then soak them in water first.

You can cook the duck indoors as well right on the stovetop. A cast-iron skillet or indoor grill pan works great for this.

For the suya spice, I use unsalted peanuts since the dry spice mix calls for kosher salt. Using salted peanuts just adds more salt, to the point the dish becomes too salty.

Suya spice can be as hot or as mild as you make it. The key will be the ratio of cayenne pepper to brown sugar you go with. It’s totally a personal preference thing. The ingredient ratio used in the recipe is fairly balanced so this isn’t an overly hot version.

To keep things simple, I used canola oil throughout the recipe where oil is called for. So I fried the collard greens in canola, marinated the duck breast using canola, and even popped the sorghum in canola.

For the sauce I used frozen cherries and just thawed them out. This was strictly a cost-value thing as I buy the big Costco size frozen bag for my daily smoothies. If using fresh cherries, then make sure you remove the pits.

Egusi seeds aren’t available in most mainstream grocery stores, but you’ll likely find them in stores that serve African and possibly Caribbean ingredients. Otherwise, just order online.

I served all the ingredients in a deconstructed bowl, but feel free to serve them in a more traditional bowl structure – protein + grain + vegetables + sauce in a single bowl. For my traditional bowl I actually changed up the sorghum and cooked the grain in equal parts coconut milk and water vs. popped.

Nutrition

Calories: 918kcal | Carbohydrates: 50g | Protein: 41g | Fat: 68g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 20g | Monounsaturated Fat: 34g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 55mg | Sodium: 1398mg | Potassium: 1157mg | Fiber: 14g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 3446IU | Vitamin C: 33mg | Calcium: 258mg | Iron: 9mg
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