For This NYC Chef, Celebrating Juneteenth Begins in a Bowl of Ramen
Rasheeda Purdie crafts a meal that’s imaginative and celebratory
For the first time in American history, more people — Black and non-Black — are formally and vocally recognizing Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the true end of slavery in the United States. Major companies designate it as a paid day off; there’s national momentum to make Juneteenth a federal holiday; and Black Americans around the country are finding new and creative ways to celebrate, especially through food.
New York City chef and ramen enthusiast Rasheeda Purdie is doing just that through an immersive, at-home Juneteenth ramen experience. An alum of Adá Supper Club, an NYC-based delivery series that celebrates Black and female chefs, Purdie is using her experience in Afro Asian fusion to craft a meal that showcases imagination and more.
“It's a real strong sense of freedom, and as a relates to Freedom Day [Juneteenth], and I was very happy to be a part of expressing through this menu because it allowed me to be free with my creativity to give you layers of what I see in Juneteenth as it relates to ramen,” she said.
For a holiday that’s often associated with soul food dishes like fried chicken, collard greens, and mac and cheese, opting to bring ramen to the Juneteenth table may appear as an unusual choice. But for Purdie, who spent time in some of New York’s most respected Black American kitchens, cooking food that demonstrates her culinary interests reinforces Juneteenth’s message of freedom.
“I want to bridge the gap for us,” said Purdie. “I want to be transparent in all of my experiences, and offer something that’s a reflection of what I do and who I am. And I want all of us to be able to do that, regardless of our industries.”
Building on her love of Afro Asian cuisine, Purdie’s Juneteenth meal uses ramen and watermelon — a fruit long used to mock Black Americans — to tell a story about Black freedom and ingenuity. Beginning the meal with a salad of black-eyed peas with blistered cherry tomatoes, edamame, balsamic soy vin, and egg yolk, Purdie then serves ramen in a watermelon broth — with watercress, barbecue short ribs, and watermelon poke.
In recognition of the blood spilled by enslaved Africans, for dessert and drinks, Purdie centers the color red in her red velvet cake roll and strawberry sage soda.
Describing herself as someone, “who can eat ramen all day and pop open some crab legs,” Purdie’s love of fine dining and ingenuity in cooking began during her days as a stylist for Henri Bendel more than 10 years ago. Exposed to luxury and new food, Purdie — a DMV native with roots from South Carolina to Long Island — eventually recognized her knack for cooking, and was introduced to refined Afro Asian cuisine at The Cecil, formerly helmed by Alexander Smalls and chef JJ Johnson. She continued growing as a cook in other New York City kitchens, including Duane Park, Untitled at the Whitney Museum, and eventually Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster. These experiences helped the budding chef define her culinary identity. Recently, Purdie found that ramen spoke to her in a way that other dishes didn’t.
She points to the complex history of the dish, that ramen was considered a “poor” or working person’s food and saw parallels with soul food, which largely emerged from the ingredients wealthy white slave owners wanted nothing to do with. Through these noodles, Purdie saw ingenuity and opportunity.
“It’s just the overall full tastes of it,” said Purdie. “And the layers of the broth, whether it's the tossing of the noodles or the makings of the broth; there's so much in each and every bite that I just became obsessed with.”
In making her version of ramen, she respects Japanese and East Asian cuisines while merging African-American cooking traditions.
She’s done this for other events, too. Her gorgeous New Year’s dinner with Adá featured Hoppin’ John potstickers, ramen in potlikker broth and smoked collards, and a Japanese pancake. For her Juneteenth meal, the chef takes inspiration from a Korean melon soup that she researched, thanks to a friend’s suggestion.
“I'm just like, ‘wow,’” she said. “I didn't even know there's a melon soup in Korea that's so popular. How can I relate that to Black culture and just incorporate it in a way that makes sense?”
In addition, her use of Pan-African colors of red, green, and black highlights that Purdie is all-in on the holiday. Though African Americans were supposedly freed by the Emancipation Proclamation signed on January 1, 1863, enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas weren’t informed of their freedom until June 19, 1865. Since that date, Black Americans throughout the nation, but especially in Texas, have commemorated the holiday through picnics and neighborhood events. As Black history is being recognized on a national scale, and when an ongoing racial reckoning has impacted every industry, Purdie hopes that her food speaks to the ongoing fight for freedom and joy for Black Americans.
“I really just wanted to give watermelon the elevation that I believe in, because even if there's a stigma attached to it, “We're in 2021 now, and we can change this narrative of our food,” she said.
Purdie’s Juneteenth dinner is $60 per person; New Yorkers can begin placing their Juneteenth orders on June 14 through Rasheeda’s website, Ramen by Ra. The ordering system will be open through June 18, and guests can request delivery or pickup in the Harlem area. For those outside of New York? Rasheeda’s got a recipe for you.
Rasheeda Purdie’s Juneteenth Watermelon Ramen
Component #1: Watermelon Poke with Teriyaki Sauce
5 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1-2 tablespoon honey
1 large clove of garlic, finely minced
1/2 tablespoon ground ginger
2 tablespoon cornstarch
1 small watermelon
1. Combine the dark brown sugar, soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger, and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan and set over medium heat.
2. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch with 1/4 cup water and mix until dissolved. Add the cornstarch mixture to the saucepan.
3. Heat the sauce until it thickens as much as you’d like. If the sauce becomes too thick, add more water to thin out the sauce.
4. Cut the watermelon into 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch cubes (save the watermelon rinds for slaw). Transfer the cubes to a large bowl or container.
5. Pour the teriyaki sauce over the watermelon and gently toss. Refrigerate for a few hours up to overnight.
Component #2: Watermelon Rind Slaw
3 cups olive oil
1 cup white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons onion powder
4 teaspoons garlic powder
4 teaspoons dried oregano
4 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons pepper
4 teaspoons lemon juice
4 cups of watermelon rinds, julienned
3 scallions, thinly sliced
3 cups of bean sprouts
1. Combine all the dressing ingredients (everything except for the rinds, scallions, and bean sprouts) in a large bowl and mix well. Pour about half of the dressing into a separate container (you’ll add that to the watermelon broth when you make it.)
2. Add the rinds, scallions, and bean sprouts to the remaining dressing and gently toss. Refrigerate for a few hours to chill.
Component #3: Watermelon Broth
7 cups of watermelon, cut into 1-inch cubes
The remaining vinaigrette from the slaw recipe above (you should have about 2 cups)
1. Place the watermelon into a food processor or blender. Blend until it's a purée. Strain through a fine-meshed strainer into a bowl.
2. Add the vinaigrette and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.
3. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours to chill.
How To Put It All Together
6 servings cooked ramen noodles
Watermelon poke (see above)
Watermelon slaw (see above)
Watercress, for garnish
Sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)
Watermelon broth (see above)
1. Divide the noodles among 6 serving bowls. Add the watermelon poke and the watermelon rind slaw to the bowl, in little piles next to the noodles. Top with the watercress and sesame seeds if you’re using them.
2. Lightly shake or stir the watermelon broth to mix it, then carefully pour some broth into each bowl. Serve chilled.