Next Week's Meal Plan

The 5 Essential Gullah Recipes from Kardea Brown’s The Way Home

updated Feb 3, 2023
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Cover of Kardea Brown's cookbook, The Way Home: A Celebration of Sea Islands Food and Family
Credit: Courtesy of Amistad/Harper Collins Publishers

Kardea Brown is all about keeping family traditions alive. The Food Network star has been, and continues to be, determined to highlight her Gullah heritage through flavorful, Lowcountry meals and preserving heirloom recipes that have stood the test of time.

In her first cookbook, The Way Home, Brown showcases both traditional and contemporary Gullah recipes while also illuminating how the history of the Transatlantic slave trade influenced the incredibly diverse nature of Black American foodways.

In addition to the wide-ranging cuisines of soul food and Louisiana Creole fare, Gullah-Geechee food carves out its own unique path. The Gullah-Geechee people are known today as the descendants of West and Central Africans who were enslaved and brought specifically to the coastal regions of South Carolina, Georgia, and northeastern Florida, known as The Sea Islands.

To this day, many Gullah-Geechee descendants in that region have preserved much of their culture, including language, art, and food. In just about every episode of her successful Food Network show, Delicious Miss Brown — which first premiered in 2019 — Brown, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, shines a light on the Gullah recipes she grew up learning and perfecting. The show’s seventh season premiered in the summer of 2022. 

Although her show has been on air for a few years now, Brown’s cookbook was something that’s been in the making even longer. “For so many years, people always asked, ‘When are you gonna write a cookbook?’ or ‘Where can I find your recipes?’” Brown explains. For a long time, Brown would simply develop her own recipes and share them with her fans via Instagram posts only. But she always felt that they should be in a more central place too. “There needs to be a place where my greatest hits exist,” says Brown.

Even though Brown hasn’t always worked in the food industry professionally (she was previously a social worker in New Jersey, prior to 2015), she grew up in the kitchen and knows her way around it well. As an adult, she’s held tightly onto family recipes passed down to her from her great-grandparents, grandmother, mom, and her Aunt TC. Brown includes traditional recipes, as well as new ones she’s developed with her cultural heritage in mind. 

Having plenty of recipes to choose from was one of the easier tasks in getting the book finished, Brown notes. It was condensing the recipes and making careful revisions that proved more difficult. “The most challenging part for me was the edit,” notes Brown. Getting more involved recipes like Pecan Pie Cheesecake (page 107) to fit perfectly and making sure each and every recipe was consistent and cohesive was a feat, but a rewarding one.

At its foundation, the title of Brown’s cookbook is an ode to the journey she’s taken to get where she is today. “I found myself going back home to this newly discovered purpose of mine, which is cooking,” Brown explains. “It all involved going back home.”

Here are five essential recipes from The Way Home to try.

Credit: Sully Sullivan

Snookum’s Okra Soup

This lovely soup is named after Brown’s great-grandfather. The dish shines a light on a rather unsung hero of summer vegetable: okra. Okra is a valuable part of many different types of Southern cuisine, including Gullah-Geechee. When cooked the right way — as Brown has done here — okra is a substantial part of a filling and hearty soup or stew. Plus, the soup gets wonderful flavor from fresh tomatoes and is served over fluffy rice. 

Credit: Sully Sullivan

Red Rice

Red rice is one of the most iconic Gullah dishes out there, which is part of why this is one of Brown’s most popular recipes. Many cultures have that one flavorful rice dish that’s meant to feed (and please!) a large crowd, and this red rice from Brown is no exception. Rice in particular has an important history in Gullah cuisine, as it was a crop that enslaved people from Sierra Leone, Angola, and other West African nations were experienced in cultivating.

The rice turns a bright-red shade from tomato paste and takes on a nice, smoky flavor from the sausage. Plus, the perfect combination of water, tomato sauce, and parboiled rice makes for the most amazing texture. 

Credit: Sully Sullivan

Hoppin’ John

Hoppin’ John is another well-known dish that showcases why rice is an incredibly versatile grain. Hoppin’ John is a symbolic part of modern-day African American foodways. In fact, Hoppin’ John is commonly eaten as part of a New Year’s Day celebration throughout the South as a way of encouraging prosperity and good fortune in the future. The dish was a mainstay for enslaved West African people of the Lowcountry. Brown’s version of the dish includes field peas, smoked meat, and plenty of flavorful alliums like onions, garlic, and scallions.

Credit: Sully Sullivan


You can’t talk about classic Gullah food without mentioning some of the sweet stuff! Chewies, which look like sugar-dusted brownies but taste like rich molasses, are a sweet-lover’s dream. These delicious bars are made with many familiar baking ingredients and get a lovely crunch from the chopped pecans. You can only imagine the amazing aromas that’ll be coming from your kitchen once you get these in the oven!

Get the recipe: Kardea Brown’s Chewies

Credit: Sully Sullivan

Benne Wafers

Upon first glance, Benne Wafers might look like your average golden-brown cookie, but they contain a special ingredient. Benne Wafers get their name from what many people call sesame seeds. In the Sea Islands, however, sesame seeds are known as benne seeds. These seeds were cultivated in the Sea Islands by enslaved people and have become a valuable part of Gullah cuisine. These cookies from Brown are filled with flavor not only because benne seeds themselves have a lot of taste, but when they’re toasted they also become even more delicious.