Back to Africa
There is a crescent, sinuous imaginary line that begins on Mauritania's coast and sweeps downward along Africa's palm fringed beaches from the buff-colored sand dunes of Senegal and Mauritania, through the lagoons of the Ivory Coast and beyond, to Togo, Benin and Nigeria, then down to the forested regions of countries with names like drumbeats: Congo, Gabon, Angola. The same line continues to sweep across the Atlantic, carrying with it music, gesture, speech, dance, joie de vivre, and yes...food. Culinary Historian Jessica Harris
Aaron Douglas, Aspects of Negro Life: The Negro in an African Setting, 1934
Uprooted from the mother continent, West Africans did not leave behind the idea of the family nor the legacy of good eating. In the Americas, West Africans brought their proficiency in metallurgy, pottery, leather work and weaving. They also carried with them okra, sesame, watermelon seeds, black-eyed peas, African yams and a preference for spices and seasonings such as peppercorn, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, cardamom, ginger, chili peppers and turmeric. West African cooking did not transform with the migration to the Americas. It evolved as people adapted to the new environment and availability of ingredients. Whether on the shores of West Africa or in the Mississippi Delta recipes evolved while still linking together family and West African ancestors creating cultural and familial unity.
The diet of the West African Yoruba consisted of tubers, grains and fruit grown on their farms. They practiced hunting, fishing, animal husbandry and gathered wild foods. When transported to the Americas, slaves brought with them farming techniques and rituals which linked their diet and food to their native land. Obatala, Shango, Yemoya, Oshun, Ochoosi, and Oya signified orisa, or gods, in the Yoruban dialect. They resembled humans because they had preferences to what colors they wore, to the rhythms they danced, and what foods they ate. In West African tribal practices, the orisa had a variety of foods that people offered to them. For example, Obatala, the orisa of purity, did not eat spicy foods while Ellegba, the messenger of the orisa, loved staining red palm oil.
Culinary historian Jessica Harris refereed to the orisa as "demanding gourmet gods" who crossed the Atlantic with the transatlantic slave trade. She further wrote that "invention and innovation mark the food on the African continent." When Africans came to the new world they brought with them their beliefs in orisa and took their love of improvisation with them, and "the ritual foods of the Yoruba religions on both sides of the Atlantic have a specificity that is a part of their continuity." Retaining African techniques and religious beliefs "presented many slave women with an opportunity to dispel negative images about their lack of history." Food served as a ritual which linked many slaves back ancestors and spirits in their homeland.
||Recipes, cooking utensils and large open fireplaces also linked African Americans back to West Africa. Like their West African ancestors, many African American slaves made handmade earthenware bowls, pots and jars. They used these utensils to prepare one-pot meals and stews from the fireplace. Many slaves used cast iron skillets and large kettles over fires to make one pot meals.|
Traditional West African Dishes
1 onion, peeled and chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
2 fresh hot chilies, washed, stemmed and chopped
1 tablespoon tomato puree
a little chili powder
½ cup water
2 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
Mix all the ingredients except the oil and pound together until the mixture is smooth. Heat the oil in the saucepan. Add the puree vegetables and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thick.
Ground Nut Sauce
2 oz shelled and roasted but not salted groundnuts (peanuts)
2 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
I teaspoon ground chili pepper
2 tablespoons groundnut (peanut) oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
Grind the nuts finely until they become a paste. Then put paste in a sauce pan with the water, salt and chili pepper. Heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, fry the onion in oil until soft and then add it to the sauce. Stir well and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Serve with starchy or vegetable dishes.
11 oz. Dried beans, soaked overnight
3 medium onions, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon oil
2 pints vegetable or meat stock
2 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 medium eggplants, parboiled for 5 minutes
chopped salt and chili powder to taste
cooked fish (optional)
Rinse and dry the beans. Fry the onion and drained beans in oil, add the stock and simmer until the beans are soft. Add the chopped tomatoes and eggplants. Season to taste with salt and chili powder. Add flaked cooked fish if you wish. Reheat and serve.
Lamb and Yam Stew
1 1/4 lbs yam
1/4 cup oil
½ lb peeled and finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 1/4 lamb cut into cubes
3 tablespoons tomato puree
3 medium fresh tomatoes or 8 oz canned tomatoes
3 cups boiling water
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Peel the yam by cutting deep into the flesh to remove all the hard parts. Cut into fairly thick slices and wash in cold water until they no longer feel slippery to the touch. Keep the slices in a bowl of cold water until to prevent discoloring. In a heavy sauce pan, heat the oil and fry the onions and garlic until soft. Add the meat pieces and fry for 10 minutes. Gradually add the tomato puree and the chopped tomatoes. Then cook briskly until the mixture is thick. Add the boiling water, bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat, partially cover the pan and simmer until the lamb is almost cooked. Drain the yam, add to the stew and cook further for 30 minutes, until both meat and yam are tender. Season with salt and pepper and serve. Serves 4.
Fish with Greens
2 oz margarine
2 onions, peeled and sliced
1 green pepper, deseeded and sliced
2 lbs kale or green cabbage, roughly chopped
5 tablespoons water
1 lb fish fillets, cut into strips 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
pinch of ground black pepper
Melt the margarine in a sauce pan and cook the onions and green pepper until soft. Add the kale or cabbage and water, cover the pan and heat gently until cooked. Add the fish strips, salt, paprika and black pepper. Cover and continue to cook on a low heat until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Serve with boiled yam or sweet potatoes.
Pumpkin and Blackeye Pea Stew
9 oz dried beans, soaked overnight
1 lb lamb, crab meat or smoked fish
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon red chili powder
small piece fresh ginger, scrapped and grated
1 lb pumpkin/squash/marrow, peeled and chopped
2 tomatoes, skinned and chopped
Drain and rinse the peas, place in a large sauce pan and cover with double their volume of fresh water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the peas are cooked. Cut the meat or fish into small pieced and place in another large sauce pan with 2 cups water, the salt the chili powder and ginger and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the meat or fish is tender. Add the pumpkin, mash it and then put it back with the meat. Add the tomatoes and the cooked and drained beans and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with boiled rice.
Blackeye Pea Dish
½ lb blackeye peas
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper
bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
½ onion, peeled and thinly sliced
Cover the peas with fresh water and bring to a boil. Drain the water, cover the peas again with fresh water and bring to a boil. Boil briskly for 5 minutes, drain and cover again with fresh water. Add the garlic and the bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook the peas until tender but not too soft. Allow to cool. Add the parsley and onion. Mix together the oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pour over the peas, mix thoroughly and serve. Serves 4.
Yam and Sweet Potato Fufu
1 pound yams, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
Place whole peeled yams in a pot with salt and enough water to cover 2 inches. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered over medium-high heat until the yams begin to soften. Add the peeled sweet potatoes to the same pot and continue cooking for about 15 minutes. Remove each yam and sweet potato when tender. Check for doneness by piercing with a knife. Do not let overcook or yams and sweet potatoes will absorb too much water. To prepare fufu in the traditional method, place the drained yams and sweet potatoes in a wooden bowl. Pound the yams and sweet potatoes with a mallet in small batches until smooth and satiny. Continue mixing until dough like. Do not add water. Mound the fufu into desired sizes and shapes.
It is time to eat. Here is supper. Black-Eyed Peas with Ham Hock·Fried Okra·Country Cornbread·Sweet Potato Pie·You talk of supping with the Gods. You've just done it for who but a god could have come up with the divine fact of Okra. James Dickey