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Ziggy Marley – Hot Licks & Hot Cookin’

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— February 15, 2017

Ziggy Marley – Hot Licks & Hot Cookin’

  • Of course, the young Marley was not weaned on music alone. Ziggy was raised with both traditional Jamaican food and the more natural and healthy “ital” food of the family’s Rastafari culture.
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The oldest son of Bob and Rita Marley, Ziggy Marley used to sit in on recording sessions with his father when he was ten years old. He clearly was paying attention and inherited his parents’ musical chops. On his own and with his band, the Melody Makers, Ziggy has released twelve albums and garnered seven Grammy Awards.

Of course, the young Marley was not weaned on music alone. Ziggy was raised with both traditional Jamaican food and the more natural and healthy “ital” food of the family’s Rastafari culture. Like his parents’ early recording sessions, the Jamaican food culture left an imprint on him.

He launched Ziggy Marley Organics, a GMO-free product line including flavored coconut oils and hemp seed snacks, in 2012, and his journey with food culminated in his recent cookbook, Ziggy Marley and Family Cookbook: Whole, Organic Ingredients and Delicious Meals from the Marley Kitchen (Akashic). The book is a collection of 54 mostly plant-based recipes inspired by his youth and including contributions from his wife Orly, sister Karen and renowned chefs Bruce Sherman, Ben Ford and Leonie McDonald.

Marley just released a song, “I am a Human,” that he offers free on his Facebook page. “It’s a gift for the New Year,” he says. “It’s about all of us. This is who we are. We are humans before anything else. Love one another because we are all human beings, not because of what you are. Don’t ask what I am. Ask who I am.”

Like the purity of spirit behind his music, and the unencumbered reggae of his roots, the food he and his family—he has seven children, ages 1 to 27—live by is simple, pure and satisfying. He discussed his love of food and its connection to the family from his Southern California home.

Discover Life: You write in your cookbook that you were raised on both traditional Jamaican food and the more natural and healthy “ital” food of your family’s Rastafari culture. What are the basic components of each of these?

Ziggy Marley: From my experience, because I don’t think there’s a dictionary definition, ital food uses less oil, is less greasy, uses less salt and more garden-fresh things that you grow yourself, which is healthy. There’s hardly any meat in ital. Some people will eat meat, but most won’t. Traditional Jamaican food is meat and pork and chicken, and jerk, and you cook it down like gravy. Curry goat. Oxtail. It’s good food, comfort food. Fried dumplings and fried plantains. Ital would be fish with some okra, roasted yam. Some of the people I used to know lived by the ocean, so there’s plenty of fish, but simple. Just a little salt water and a sheet of zinc, aluminum. And it’s outside cooking on a wood fire. No kitchen. When we ate ital, we didn’t use plates; we used a gourd. Food tastes different in a gourd than it does on a plate.

DL: You say you started dabbling in the kitchen as a teenager and began appreciating the idea of nourishment. You made cornmeal porridge, Irish moss and some of the foods your father enjoyed. Tell me about those.

ZM: Cornmeal was cheap to get, so you’d make some porridge, maybe with some coconut milk, sugar and allspice. Irish moss is a seaweed from the ocean that we boiled like you’re making tea, and you drink it.

DL: What were some of your dad’s favorite foods and drinks?

ZM: Irish moss was one of them. Honey sometimes, nuts, coconut milk, maybe a raw egg. My father and his friends were athletic, and they used to exercise and play ball. I used to see them doing these things, and it was a good example to follow. They were doing something to stay healthy. My mother was an example, too. My mother used to bring back vitamins and supplements, so she’s a very health-conscious person, too. She introduced me to ginseng. I got a healthy living from both my parents.

DL: It doesn’t seem like you are a vegetarian—there are two chicken dishes in the cookbook. Still, it seems your diet is largely plant-based. True?

ZM: Sometimes I go on a vegetarian sabbatical. I take a week or two when I don’t want anything dead inside of me. I can’t take cooking. My body can’t take it. You have to listen to your body. Don’t try to fool yourself. Your body can tell you some things sometimes— good and bad. Life and food should be about balance. It’s not one idea, it’s a balance. Don’t go too far one way or another.

Once you start listening to your body, you see how you feel when you eat something and you follow the best feeling. Be more aware, more conscious, then choose that direction. But sometimes you still go back to the other direction. Every now and then you have to indulge.

Wild Red Snapper
Serves 4
2 whole red snappers (1 1/2 lbs each)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 tbsp olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 orange bell pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup fresh tomato, chopped
20 pieces okra, sliced
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup water

1. Season fish with salt and pepper. Spread flour on a plate large enough to fit fish.
2. Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a saute pan at high heat. Dredge fish with flour and fry until nice and brown, approximately 5 minutes per side. Set aside.
3. Place onions and bell peppers in a large pot and sauté over medium heat until onions are translucent, approximately 10–12 minutes.
4. Add remaining ingredients (not including the plantains) and simmer over low heat for about 5 minutes, or until liquid is reduced almost completely.
5. Meanwhile, fry plantains with remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil; set aside.
6. Place all the vegetables on a large platter, then layer fish and fried plantains.
Serve immediately.
Reprinted with permission by Akashic Books (akashicbooks.com) and Tuff Gong Worldwide.

DL: Does your increased awareness about the connection between food and health help set the tone for your children, in terms of getting them to eat healthfully?

ZM: They’re young now, and it’s all about balance. They have the good with the bad. When they’re older they will experience things by my example, just like it was with me and my parents. I wasn’t 10 or 12 when I adopted [a healthier lifestyle], but later. They might not be following my example to the fullest right now, but they see the example in front of them that they can follow later.

DL: Your wife is Israeli with an Iranian background. How does your Jamaican culture blended with your wife’s heritage show up on the kitchen table? Is there any jerk falafel served?

ZM: (Laughs.) We do it in subtle ways, you know, not as drastic as jerk falafel. The coconut oil is something I grew up within Jamaica, so maybe we’ll use some coconut oil instead of olive oil for an Israeli dish. Or maybe we’ll have Jamaican fish with some Israeli salad or some Persian rice. But jerk falafel sounds like a good idea.

DL: You see a strong link between food and family. Explain what that link is and how your awareness of it evolved.

ZM: I became more conscious of that when I started meeting my wife’s family and saw how they get together on Friday and celebrate Shabbat. My wife’s family also celebrates birthday for seven days. I also learned about it from my auntie. We spent a lot of time with my auntie because my mom and dad were on tour a lot. I learned a lot about how food brings people together. The meal is an important thing for the family and the community in general. When you can break bread together, it’s an important aspect of humanity.

DL: What recipes in your cookbook were based on dishes that perhaps weren’t that healthful, but that you adjusted to add nutritional content?

ZM: An example I like is the Mancakes. This was the first thing that came to my mind when I was thinking about the cookbook. The Mancake was an idea I came up with when I was making breakfast for my sons. That gave me the freedom to add some elements, some flaxseed, blueberries, instead of just a flour pancake with nothing else in it. I have them enthusiastic about eating it by calling it a Mancake.

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