Tag: African cuisine

The African Chef who’s bringing baobab to British kitchens

“Africa is the final frontier in food,” says Malcolm Riley, a Zambia-born, Devon-based chef. He has a point. Trend-hungry Brits have latched onto everything from Korean to Peruvian cuisine in recent years, but Morocco (and perhaps Ethiopia) aside, we have yet to turn our culinary antennae towards Africa in a big way. Riley is on a mission to change all that, by spreading the word about African ingredients and cooking techniques. According to him, eating more sustainably-sourced baobab, shea butter and moringa could have health benefits for Britons and help create jobs in Africa. He hopes to achieve both with his line of African Chef products and so far, he is doing most of it from his kitchen in Newton Abbot, where he is now cooking me a traditional Zambian lunch and waxing lyrical about pumpkin leaves and Ray Mears.

Riley, whose father is English and mother is half-Indian, half-Zambian, moved to the UK when he was 25. Following stints working for Planet Organic and Riverford, he was itching to set up his own company: “I wanted to source an ethical product that rural communities in Africa could benefit from”. The first lightbulb moment came eight years ago when he was watching a Ray Mears documentary: “He was in the Sahara with the San tribe, using baobab seeds to make a coffee drink. I ate baobab as a kid but I’d never seen it used like that before.” Baobab trees grow all over Africa, and their fruit pulp is a rich source of Vitamins C and B2, iron, calcium and antioxidants.

Shortly after lightbulb moment #1, Riley took a trip back to Zambia and met Margaret Zimba of the Mthanjara Women’s Co-operative. Lightbulb moment #2: Zimba was making baobab jam and donating the surplus to children with HIV. She showed Riley how to make it and he decided to produce and sell baobab jam in the UK. He has since worked with Phytotrade Africa and the Eden Project (which has a tree in its Rainforest Biome) to source baobab sustainably and says that “harvesting the fruit can help double the income of 2.5m households in rural Africa”.

Riley is at pains to point out that promoting African ingredients and techniques is not the same as suggesting African food is one homogenous cuisine. “Across Africa the diversity of the food is phenomenal. We have influences from the Persians, the Portuguese, Dutch, English, French, and all the same spices that landed on the shores of India. There’s also great diversity among tribes. It could only be a village away where a dish totally changes.”

He shows me a baobab fruit – it looks like a hairless coconut. Inside are clusters of white, marshmallowy stuff: the pulp. This crumbles to a powder when you touch it. You can add the powder (which tastes a bit like mango, but tarter) to porridge, yoghurt, smoothies or condiments, like Riley’s fiery Baobab chill jam.

 A fruit from a Boabab tree in the village of Thiawe Thiawe in Senegal. (Pic: AFP)
A fruit from a Baobab tree in the village of Thiawe Thiawe in Senegal. (Pic: AFP)

But baobabs are not the only ingredient he wants to shout about. There’s “smoky, fruity, complex” moringa, packed with B Vitamins and iron. The moringa tree is grown widely in hot countries and can be used in everything from curries to soft drinks. He also has some shea butter to show me – it’s not just for hand creams. This white, waxy substance from the nuts of the shea tree (found in many countries, including Ghana and Nigeria) “can be used for frying and roasting, or add a touch to a sauce before serving”. Riley is also hoping to visit Cameroon to learn more about the Safou – a type of plum.

Moreover, the health benefits of adding African influences to your cooking go beyond these exotic ingredients. According to Riley, the typical African diet is low-fat and high-fibre. Today he’s cooking us a typical Zambian meal of pap with village chicken (substituting thighs for the gamier bird you’d get in Zambia) and pumpkin leaves. Pap is a thick, white porridge made from maize meal (it’s also known as nshima in Zambia and sadza in Zimbabwe). “This is what fuels most of the continent. It’s high-fibre, gluten-free and extremely rich in a lot of vitamins.” It also stretches, as you need only one part maize to three parts water. “I can make a bag last two months,” says Riley who gets it from a South African shop (you can also find it on Amazon and eBay).

With shocking UK food-waste stats emerging almost daily, we can learn from such thriftiness – stretching ingredients, using cheaper cuts of meat (“My mum worked in a butchery, I grew up with brisket and shin”) and using neglected bits of veg. “Millions of pumpkins are grown for supermarkets – all of their leaves are left to rot.” Today Riley is cooking pumpkin leaves from his allotment with tomatoes and onions – a traditional combination in Zambia. They have a subtle, smoky flavour and you can use them instead of spinach.

What Riley has dedicated the last seven years of his life to, first with a brand called Yozuna, and now with the catchier African Chef, is bringing the best knowledge and ingredients from Africa to UK kitchens. If his ideas catch on, then both British cooks and African workers stand to benefit.

Katy Salter for the Guardian 

How to write about African food

This post is inspired by Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina’s acclaimed “How to Write about Africa essay, published in the Winter 2005 edition of Granta. As a food blogger who reads and writes about African cuisine, the amount of nonsensical articles I’ve come across on the topic have left me exasperated, annoyed, amused, bemused – and with enough material for this piece.

If your editor assigns you to review a restaurant serving African food, the following instructions will prove helpful*:

It is best practice to include the word “Africa” plus a positive descriptor in your headline. If you must be more specific, whole regions like West Africa, Southern Africa, East Africa, West Africa or Central Africa will do. Always keep the headline of your article broad, even when writing about the food of a specific country. Examples: “Tasty South African Food Now in Eastham” or “Africa’s Exotic Delights“.

Exceptions for use of specifics are allowed only when talking about Moroccan or Ethiopian food. Note that it is also okay to mix interchange Ethiopian and Eritrean food.

Insert yourself into the story: you are a writer for a local publication and you have decided to write about a Ghanaian restaurant. You did not make it to the restaurant opening three years ago, but emphasise that you have spent those three years fantasising about trying out the food there.

Mention that the first time you tried Cameroonian food was many years ago. Doing so indicates your expertise and allows for some form of comparative analysis. Other reasons for your expertise include having a Cameroonian roommate in college and enjoying a homemade feast during his graduation celebration.

Comment on the growth of the Somali community in your area in recent years. Give some statistics and bring up the most famous local Somali. A quote from him/her is good, but not necessary. Have said local discuss the population growth of “his people” in your area.

Refute any stereotypes the reader may have about African food. Some of the stereotypes to disclaim: African food is oily; it is difficult to eat; it is not popular; it is hard on the taste buds; African food is bland; it is hard to find; Africans are starving so their food does not offer room for complexity, etc.

Remind the reader that Africa is not a country, but still do not offer specifics.

Quote the African and African American studies professor at your local university.

Mention Marcus Samuelsson.

Marcus Samuelsson is an Ethiopian-born chef, owner of Red Rooster Harlem in New York City and three other restaurants, and author of two cookbooks and a memoir. (Pic: AFP)
Marcus Samuelsson is an Ethiopian-born chef, owner of Red Rooster Harlem in New York City and three other restaurants, and author of two cookbooks and a memoir. (Pic: AFP)

Describe the restaurant. Make full use of your senses and description skills. Note the traditional furnishings (wood carvings, basket stools) and the merriment of the clientele. Take a photo.

Remark that from the sights and the smell of the delicious food to the foreign language being spoken over rhythmic music in the background, you could very well be in Dar-es-Salaam. You have never been to Dar-es-Salaam, but you are sure this is what it would be like. After first reference, call it “Dar” – like the locals do.

Interview some customers, preferably a local taxi driver. He eats his lunch here every day. He is from Rwanda. He is drinking Tusker. Quote him once.

Highlight the four to five white people in the restaurant and emphasise the diversity of the place. Include that this is a place suitable for the adventurous. Quote the few patrons profusely.

Mention Marcus Samuelsson again.

Introduce the owner of the restaurant. If male, he moved to the country 10 years ago and learned to cook by working in the restaurant of a hotel. Another option is that he had no idea how to cook upon arrival and taught himself everything he knew after a bout of severe homesickness. His name is Chuck.

If female, she is a motherly figure who walks round greeting customers as if they were family. Think Mother Africa. She has a twinkle in her eye. She is plump. Everyone calls her Mama O.

Ask Chuck or Mama O why they chose to open a restaurant. Ask about the name of the restaurant and what it means.

Discuss the menu and gloss over the regular dishes (remember, you ate this at your friend’s graduation). Focus on the most exotic-sounding foods.

Point out that Mama O brought out a knife and fork for you, but you endeavored to go ahead and eat with your hands. Mention that you cleared your plate. Don’t offer criticism.

Conclude with your general sentiments of enjoyment. Do it in a way that subliminally tells your readers, especially the adventurous, that it is okay to come eat here. And note that it was only when you walked out the door  that you were reminded that you were back in Seattle.

Visuals are always a plus. Along with the photos of the restaurant’s interior, take photos of the food you ate.  There will be little if any food styling to ensure the reader views the food in its authentic state.

*These instructions will prove helpful even outside of writing restaurant reviews. Use them in whatever context African food is mentioned. This may also be especially useful for the foreign volunteer blogging about his/her food experiences in an African country, as this is a very popular sub-culture of African food writing.

Adhis is a journalist who blogs at Chef Afrik where she is currently cooking her way through Africa one country at a time. She writes about food, travel and culture on the continent. Connect with her on Twitter

Adventures in African cuisine

Have you ever considered what a culinary tour through Africa would be like?

My curiosity to find out led me to start my own African cuisine and travel blog, Chef Afrik. Since 2011, I’ve been indulging in exciting gastronomic adventures. Food from the continent is unimaginably diverse. The flavours we enjoy have been passed from mother to daughter (and sometimes son), mixed with influences from foreign sources. While African cuisine may not be all the rage in major international cities and gourmet magazines, you will always find it within the warmth of every African home.

I’ve discovered:

the sumptuous olives and olive oil monoculture of Tunisia

a sweet cup of mint tea in Morocco

the peanut butter flavour of maffe tiga in Senegal and Guinea

the aphrodisiac oysters of Namibia

the cocoa beans of Côte d’Ivoire

the incomparable palm oil flavors of Nigeria

the fragrant spices of a cup of Somali tea

the hot and fast life of the Ugandan street food “rolex”

the mysterious Mopani worm dishes of Zimbabwe

and the internationally recognised South African wines.

And this is barely a glimpse of the continent’s offerings. Starting with this inaugural foodie post for Voices of Africa, I’ll be exploring the history, culture and lifestyle of a country through the cuisine eaten there.

Take, for example, the strong Vietnamese culture in Senegal. With both countries colonised by the French in the early part of the 20th century, Senegalese men were sent to Vietnam as soldiers. A number of them took Vietnamese wives and brought them back to Senegal.  You will find Vietnamese influences in Senegalese food, or even in the streets of Dakar where the oldest Vietnamese restaurant is called “Le Dragon”.

Or how about the Arabic influences in Somali cuisine? All one has to do is look at the number of spices used in Somali tea – nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and black tea. No surprise that these spices made their way to Somalia from the Arabic peninsula through trade and, at times, empire domination.

What is not included in a country’s cuisine is just as important. In Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s largest grower and exporter of the cocoa bean, chocolate doesn’t feature much in traditional cuisine. What does this say about the country and its relationship to the cocoa bean? You’ll have to keep reading this blog to find out.

I’ll also be sharing a recipe with you in each of my posts. This time I’ve chosen a recipe from a country that was in a region the Romans named Africa in ancient times. The word eventually came to describe the immense continent beyond this country’s borders. I’m talking about Tunisia.

Harissa, an all-purpose condiment and marinade, is a red hot sauce Tunisians commonly eat with bread as an appetiser. To me, it tastes very similar to the East African chili sauce kachumbari. These sauces are usually much hotter than Tabasco sauce.

I used Aliya Lee Kong‘s recipe but adapted it to my liking. If you’re trying this out and want a sauce that’s a deep red in colour, use sun-dried tomatoes instead of regular ones.

3 New Mexican / Anaheim medium-sized dried red chilies
4 Guajillo medium-sized chilies
2 tsp crushed red pepper or Urfa Biber chilies (If you can’t find this, use any two types of hot chilies)
1 tsp caraway seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds
Pinch of saffron (optional)
1 ½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
2 sundried tomatoes, packed in oil or rehydrated (I used a regular tomato)
2 garlic cloves
Olive oil
Lemon juice

Remove seeds and ribs from the dried chilies and place in a heat-safe bowl. Pour boiling water over chilies and let them soak for 15 to 20 minutes until softened.

Flavours galore: chilies.
Flavours galore: chilies.

(Though Aliya recommends removing the seeds in the chilies, I leave them in because my mum reckons that’s where the flavour comes from. I also did not soak the chilies as I did not want to dilute the heat.)

Blend the crushed red peppers or urfa chilies, caraway seeds, fennel seeds and saffron. Add ground coriander, turmeric, salt, sundried tomatoes, and garlic cloves. Add chilies from water and blend. (Mash and mix if you do not have a blender).

Pulse adding olive oil, a tablespoon at a time, until a thick paste is achieved and all of the chilies have been ground up. Add lemon juice to taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Transfer to a jar and cover the harissa with a layer of olive oil to preserve it. Keep refrigerated. It will keep for up to a month in the fridge.

The end result: perfect harissa.
The end result: perfect harissa.

Adhis runs the Chef Afrik blog which focuses on African food, travel and culture. She is currently preparing for ‘Eat, Pray, Africa’, a food tour starting in 2014. Follow her adventures and connect with her on Twitter.