For many Black Americans, our holiday traditions reflect the ways our ancestors celebrated during and after they were enslaved in the South. However, we know our roots stretch much farther than the United States, and it’s become important to find ways to connect with and honor our African diasporic traditions.
Perhaps one of the simplest ways to get a taste of a nation is through its hand pie recipe. Every culture has a version of the hand pie, which originated during the Neolithic period and then later spread to the rest of the world by the Cornish in the 14th Century. In the Caribbean, the cornish meat pastries were flavored with Jamaican and African spices like cumin, cayenne pepper, and Scotch Bonnet chilis. And in Nigeria, the traditional hand pie recipe calls for a meat, potato, and carrot filling. In the 1960s, Jamaican immigrants introduced hand pies to the United States and they were embraced by Black Americans as a taste of home.
The Kwanzaa holiday blends different customs from various countries and cultural groups within Africa, as a way to unite the Black community and celebrate our African roots. The seven-day celebration features a special candles ceremony, seven principles that encourage kindness and sustainable living, and a traditionally plant-based feast.
Many of the robust tastes that represent the African diaspora can be found in the celebratory dishes on the Kwanzaa table. The Kwanzaa feast features traditional African delicacies such as jollof rice, hand pies, plantains, and stew. It also includes vegetables like okra, peanuts, and yams, spices like berbere and mace, and flavorings like hibiscus, tamarind, and ginger—all of which reflect the bountiful harvest festivals held by African tribes during this time of year.
This hand pie recipe is filled with a mix of flavors and spices from both Black American holiday experiences, Christmas and Kwanzaa, for a celebration dish that packs a lot of tradition into one bite. In my recipe, I made a flavorful, well-seasoned jackfruit turkey reflecting many of the native spices and herbs of the Americas, and filled my hand pies with the beloved soul food ingredient of sweet potato, as well as cranberry sauce and brussels sprouts. These ingredients and their synthesis into one sweet, savory package represent our blended histories and pay ode to the multiplicities of our identities.
Jackfruit Turkey, Sweet Potato and Cranberry Hand Pies
1 (14-ounce) can jackfruit in brine, drained and rinsed
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried sage
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon vegan Worcestershire
- Vegan pie dough, store-bought
- 1 cup sweet potato, cooked and mashed
- 1 cup roasted brussels sprouts, shredded
- 1 cup vegan cranberry sauce
Drain the jackfruit, then rinse under cool water and pat dry.
Place the drained jackfruit in a bowl large enough to work in. Using your fingers or two forks, break apart the chunks of jackfruit into shredded pieces.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the jackfruit pieces and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, until the jackfruit starts to color slightly.
Add in the vegetable broth, salt, pepper, rosemary, sage, thyme, onion powder, garlic powder and vegan Worcestershire. Cover and cook over medium for 10 minutes, or until the jackfruit has absorbed the broth. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, add the sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts and jackfruit. Mix together until combined.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Prepare two small ramekins: One with water to seal the pies, and the other with 1 tablespoon water and 2 tablespoons unsweetened plant milk to make a vegan egg wash.
Roll out the premade dough on a lightly floured surface. Use a small bowl (about 5 inches round) as a dough cutter to make the rounds for the pies. Gather dough scraps, reroll, and repeat the cutting process. Repeat the process with the remaining disk of dough.
Add a small amount (about 1 tablespoon) of the jackfruit mixture to the center of each 5-inch round and top with a dollop of cranberry sauce. Be careful not to overfill.
Dip a finger in the ramekin with water and rub a little water around the very edge of the dough. Gently fold the top edge over to the bottom and press slightly to seal.
Crimp the edge with the prongs of a fork. Poke each pie on top with a fork for air vents and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Transfer the baking sheet to the refrigerator and let cool for about 15 minutes.
When ready to bake, brush the tops of each hand pie with the vegan egg wash. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.
More vegan soul food recipes
To cook more of my vegan soul food recipes, including vegan mustard-glazed ham with southern-style biscuits, vegan smothered pork chops with cauliflower mash, and my deliciously-torched update to a traditional corn pudding, go here.