Photo: Mina Stone

Cooking with Artists: Lyle Ashton Harris

The artist shares a flexible family recipe in MoMA PS1’s ongoing series with chef Mina Stone.
Mina Stone Jul 7, 2020

“For the last couple of decades, I’ve been very interested in personal archives. How do we deal with the past as a way to imagine the present, but also to influence the future? I would say that’s been a major thrust of my work, in various manifestations, over the last several years.”
—Lyle Ashton Harris

I think about this conversation with Lyle Ashton Harris almost every day. Something about his demeanor embodies everything he is—an artist, an educator, and, as I discovered, a proficient cook.

Everything he said was thought provoking, profound, like a beautiful labyrinth that weaved its way through my mind. As I walk through it, I keep discovering more and more, finding my way to the other side, only to start the journey again.

Before talking about his family’s extensive culinary history, we spoke about having the time to reflect, to have perspective, to put the pieces together, and to process during this time of isolation. He said that going through these archives of letters, postcards, photographs of his mentors, friends, and family has been “a way to recontextualize and ground myself. Also, to somehow give to the future, to give to this generation.”

He mentions his interest in food as a form of warfare—from one extreme to the next. On one hand, food is a healing modality for the body, but it also reflects the strength and commitment of community. He referenced the free breakfast programs of the Black Panthers, as well as his father’s homeland of South Africa, as examples. Lyle’s father was deeply involved with the African National Congress and also worked as translator for the United Nations. “Anyone in the movement has passed through our house in the Bronx,” he said, and there always had to be food.

Lyle speaks of the table as a space to gather, support one another, and process trauma, to discuss and learn through the power and healing of a shared meal.

On the other end of the extreme, he mentioned food deserts, where people lack access to affordable fresh produce and whole grains and therefore have little to no avenue for proper nutrition. Food affects all aspects of our lives.

As an artist whose mediums include photography, video, collage, and installation, Lyle transitions easily into applying themes from his art practice to his cooking. For him, cooking is like a montage, and he works to amplify elements within a basic ingredient—layering flavors to create subtlety.

We can find that same layering in our personal archive, the labyrinth of memories in our mind. May we piece together all the connections, nostalgia, identity, and contradictions that food is. May it make us stronger, weave us together, and allow us to contribute to the next generation.

Photo: Mina Stone

Photo: Mina Stone

Lyle’s Greens
Serves 2–4

Lyle was very close with his grandma, who hailed from South Carolina. He remembers hanging out with his family in the kitchen, talking and cooking. Those experiences are forever ingrained in his psyche and are core to his idea of family.

This recipe has evolved over the years from his grandma’s original recipe to many family variations: the addition of some tofu (“very ’70s”) from Lyle’s mother, his Aunt’s version that omitted meat and added navy beans, his own version that incorporates vegan sausages and shiitake mushrooms.

1 medium red onion, chopped
1 leek, washed well and chopped thin
3–4 cloves of garlic, chopped
7–9 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and thinly sliced
2 Field Roast vegan chipotle sausages or any vegan sausage of your choice
2 bunches of hearty greens, thinly chopped*
Extra virgin olive oil
2–3 tablespoons of low-sodium Tamari or Bragg’s liquid aminos (to taste)
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
crushed red pepper to taste

Photo: Mina Stone

Photo: Mina Stone

In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the chopped onion, leek, and chopped garlic. Sauté for about five minutes, until translucent.

Stir in shiitake mushrooms and cook until soft for another five minutes.

Quarter the chipotle sausages lengthwise and slice thin; stir into the mixture once mushrooms are soft and sauté for another five minutes.

Remove the onion mixture from the pan and set aside.

Thinly chop the two different kinds of greens of your choice.

Lyle sometimes stems the greens, and sometimes he does not: ”Depending on my mood. Stems are good for roughage...so most times I keep them...but if I’m cooking for holidays or a party, I often cut them out.”

Mina’s note: I used kale and collard greens. I didn’t stem the kale as the stem was tender and thin but I did take out the thicker stalk of the collard greens.

Photo: Mina Stone

Photo: Mina Stone

Add a splash more olive oil to the pan (keep whatever is left in the pan to add flavor) and raise the temperature to medium-high, then add the greens. Sauté the greens for three minutes. Fold in the sausage and mushroom mixture and toss to combine.

Add the Tamari or Bragg’s liquid aminos, one teaspoon of garlic powder, and red crushed pepper (adjust to how much heat you like) and mix well.

Let simmer on a low heat for five to seven minutes, stirring occasionally. The greens should still be slightly crunchy and vibrantly green.

Lyle’s note: Serve with salmon, Japanese yams (not as sweet as American yams), and pepper sauce for a real treat. Leftover greens can be used in a frittata.

Lyle’s note: Use two different greens, such as collard greens and lacinato kale or collards with beet or dandelion greens.

Photo: Mina Stone

Photo: Mina Stone