7 Cookbooks That Will Give You a New Perspective on West African Cuisine
As the pandemic swept the globe and quarantine kept us confined to our homes, many people began cooking and experimenting with food for themselves. If you’ve never really cooked before, it can be hard to figure out where to start. This is especially true with time-honored, traditional family recipes that can be difficult to nail when left to your own devices. As each of us works to expand our own culinary palate, it can be helpful to have a guiding hand navigating you through the world of cooking. That’s where cookbooks by award-winning chefs come into play.
Each of these books puts its own unique twist on West African cuisine to bring its traditional methods and flavors to kitchens around the world while catering to both seasoned pros and amateurs. From Senegal to Nigeria to Ghana, each cookbook takes you on a journey of not only ingredients and measurements, but an immersive cultural experience that will have you cooking like an expert in no time.
The Fonio Cookbook
Fonio, an ancient “miracle grain” that has been grown in Africa for centuries, has largely flown under the radar outside of the continent in terms of cooking. Senegal native and award-winning chef Pierre Thiam decided it was time to bring this easy-to-cook, nutritious wonder grain to the rest of the world with The Fonio Cookbook. The recipes are easy to master so that even novices can get a handle on them, and each dish brings rich West African cultural history to all kitchens. Thiam even takes a detailed look at Senegal’s fonio-growing region, with photos from harvest season highlighting the people who work to grow the grain and the decades of tradition behind the process.
The Orishirishi Cookbook
Looking to introduce the abundant history and tradition behind Nigerian food to a global audience, Tola Akerele decided to bring a little bit of culinary flair from each of Nigeria’s regions to the table in her cookbook, hence the name “Orishirishi,” which roughly translates to “varied” in Yoruba. From soups native to the south region, to gbegiri and ewedu from the south west, the delicious range of recipes is paired with travel stories and images to guide you through Nigerian customs and culture. It also features an insider’s look at the process behind each dish, from sourcing the ingredients to serving the finished meal.
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen
Chef and author Zoe Adjonyoh has called Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen her “love letter to Ghana,” as well as an introduction to “the life, culture, and kitchens,” of her home country. After taking a tour of Ghana in 2013, she became fascinated with oral recipe traditions and the localization of the creation process. Upon leaving, she was determined to highlight traditional recipes while updating them for the modern kitchen These remixed recipes include a “Ghana-fied” Caesar salad, a new twist on Aboiboi, and Black Pudding and Yam Scotch Egg as a nod to Adjonyoh’s Irish heritage. The book even comes with a link to Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen Spotify playlist to get you into the right sonic frame of mind while you’re cooking.
Though vegan food is now more accessible than ever with tons of inventive options available, there can still be a desire to experiment and search for what else is out there. With her Afro Vegan cookbook, chef Zoe Alakija sought to draw inspiration from the various cultures and flavors of West Africa, combined with her own British-Nigerian heritage, to deliver an eclectic lineup of vegan dishes that offer a new take on time-tested classic recipes. These new fusion recipes, which include jollof arancini and plantain brownies, provide step-by-step instructions to create a plethora of traditional recipes with a contemporary twist.
Part cookbook and part joyful celebration of Black culture, chef, food educator and activist Bryant Terry has compiled the voices of more than 100 cultural luminaries from across the African diaspora to contribute to this innovative cookbook. Serving as a cultural scrapbook, Black Food features recipes, essays, poetry, and artwork all celebrating and commemorating the Black experience. The recipes included are expansive, such as jerk chicken ramen by Suzanne Barr, sweet potato pie from Jenné Claiborne, okra and shrimp purloo from BJ Dennis, and much more. Once again, a signature musical playlist, curated by Bryant Terry, accompanies the contents of the book to make your reading and cooking experience even richer.
After being voted the Observer Rising Star of Food for 2017, Lopè Ariyo decided to incorporate the fresh, flavorful meals she’s known for into her first cookbook, Hibiscus. Featuring Nigerian-inspired flavors and cooking methods combined with new ingredients and reimagined ideas of old favorites, there’s something for every event and every experience level. Classics and remixed new recipes include Hibiscus chicken, grapefruit and guava cheesecake, Nigerian roast veg, and plenty more for every diet and any occasion.
Through the Eyes of an African Chef
With a focus on classic techniques passed down through generations, Through the Eyes of an African Chef follows chef Nompumelelo Mqwebu’s journey to rekindle her love of African cooking. Aimed at both expert chefs and amateurs, the book is divided into meals by course, including starters, side dishes, mains, and desserts. It also features recipes from the author’s international travels, including cream cheese and bread-making from her time at Cookery School in Ireland, as well as her father’s traditional recipes. By returning to the most basic elements of her cooking education, Mqwebu sets out to show the joy behind traditional meal preparation made with fresh, natural ingredients.
Featured image courtesy of Zoe Adjonyoh on Instagram
Words by Elise Soutar