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Africa – the Forgotten Culinary Continent

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Just about everyone forgets that Africa is an absolutely huge continent. Its cuisine varies from the Arabic influences of North Africa to the native foods of Central and West Africa and the foods of East Africa which are influenced by Arabic and Indian influences. Then you have the fusion foods of South Africa which are an admixture of native, European and Indian influences. Countries (most notably in West Africa) which were French colonies have a distinct French flavour to their foods whilst countries (most notably in East Africa) which were British colonies have a British flavour to their foods.

Due to the slave trade Africa is also the spiritual home of many Cajun and Creole dishes of Louisiana and also many recipes of Brazil. Indeed, dishes such as Gumbo (a name derived from the Bantu [West African] word for Okra, kigombo and is ultimately derived from West African dishes such as Dongo-Dongo. Of course, the trade in recipes and foodstuffs is two-way in that African staples such as Maize (corn), Chillies, Tomatoes and Cassava derive from the New World. Indeed, chillies are an important part of many African dishes and in many African countries (most notably Liberia) these are the main source of vitamin C.

Here I will give you an example of a classic North African and a classic West African dish:

The recipe below is typical of North African cooking and is traditionally made in a special clay cooking pot, a tagine. This has a round base and a special conical lid with a small hole in the top to allow steam to escape. Tagines allow foods to be cooked slowly so that meats become very tender. The cooking pot (tagine) also lends its name to the dish cooked within it.

Tabah Moostafah (Tagine of Marrakesh Lamb)

Origin: Morocco

700g lamb, cubed

480ml water

3 tbsp olive oil

2 large, ripe, tomatoes, chopped

1 small onion, grated

1 Preserved Lemon

3 tbsp minced coriander

3 tbsp minced parsley

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1½ tsp Ras el hanout

salt to taste

Warm a tagine and heat the olive oil in this. Add the meat and brown a little. Now add all the other ingredients, bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Cover with the lid of the tagine and leave to cook for 2.5 hours.

Serve with boiled rice and garnish with coriander and parsley leaves.

The next recipe comes from West Africa (Sénégal to be precise) and shows the use of peanut butter, a feature of West African soups or stews.

Nyeleng (Beef and Peanut Gumbo)

Origin: Senegal

900g beef cut into cubes

2 tsp salt

2 tsp ground, dried prawns

1.5l water

900g okra, sliced

240ml peanut butter

90g Bissap flowers (hibiscus flowers) [substitute cranberry juice if not available

1 onion, chopped

2 scotch bonnet chillies, de-seeded and chopped

Place the beef in a large pot and add salt, the dried prawns and boiling water. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, skimming the surface as necessary. Add the okra and cook until the okra seeds turn a reddish colour (about 30 minutes). Add the peanut butter and bissap flowers and stir to mix thoroughly. Cook for a further half hour then add the onion and chillies, stirring briskly to develop a sticky texture. Simmer for 15 minutes and serve over rice or with millet or polenta.

This is just an example of the many and varied cuisines of Africa. You can learn more about them below:


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