West African palates favour chilli, hot spices, yams and, on the coast, fish (fresh, dried and smoked). In West Africa, fufu is usually made from yams, sometimes combined with powdered cocoyam, plantains, cassava, or maize. The best way to eat it is to have a mound of fufu served alongside a sauce (commonly containing okra, fish, tomato or cassava leaves). The diner pinches off a small ball of fufu with the right hand and makes an indentation with the thumb. This is then filled with sauce and the ball is eaten.
Red palm fruit oil is also a West African staple – it’s the cooking oil used for most meals. Unlike its infamous, trans-fatty cousin palm oil, the palm fruit oil is high in beta-carotene and antioxidants and is actually good for you.
Often in the news for war and famine, most Westerners know nothing of the fabulous culinary traditions of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. In this region, the wonderfully spongy, fermented bread called injera is a staple. Almost every meal is served on the large, round flat bread. Made from the grain called tef which only grows in Africa, it’s multi-functional - serving as an edible plate, a knife and fork and an absorber of every last drop of delicious juice, especially when served with stews known as ‘wats’. Injera bread in Australia is made with white, wholemeal and sometimes rye flour and is delicious.
With its origins in Ethiopia, coffee is a crucial part of social and cultural life. Unlike Western baristas, Ethiopians roast-as-they-go. Each bean is treated with great respect during the roasting and grinding process and the resulting taste is a deliciously soft brew that sometimes has spices added, including kibbled ginger. No coffee ceremony is complete without popcorn and sometimes dates and a sweet soft bread called himbasha. The ceremony has three rounds of coffee and is accompanied by burning frankincense – it’s a heady feast for the senses and takes at least an hour – far from the Italian espresso taken standing up in a coffee bar!
Along the "Swahili Coast" of Kenya and Tanzania is a wonderful culinary fusion of African, Indian and Arabic flavours. Local produce such as fish, bananas and coconuts feature prominently and curries, pickles and Persian flavours (like saffron, nutmeg and pomegranate) are a legacy of the spice trade with the Arabs, the Indians and the British. The Portuguese also had an impact in the region – particularly on marinating and barbecuing techniques.
Further inland, cattle breeding tribes (like the Masai) provide more of a meat and milk-based diet. And the beloved, omnipresent, starchy porridge strikes again – but with a few variations. In Uganda, it’s steamed plantains (green bananas) called matoke, that provide the carb-filler of many meals.
View our Ethiopian recipe collection here.
View our African recipe collection here.
Fast, fresh, simple and delicious, kulwha is an Eritrean lamb stir-fry that uses the spiced ghee (clarified butter) called nit’r kibbeh.
A wat or wet is an Ethiopian red stew that uses the red chilli-spice mix called berbere and spiced ghee called nit’r kibbeh, and begins with a rich onion base. It's best made a day ahead to allow the flavours to intensify. This dish is traditionally served on top of injera bread.
Jollof rice, or ceebu jen as it's known in Senegal, is perhaps the best-known West African dish because it's delicious, colourful and easy to prepare. Think of it like an African paella. It uses "parboiled" rice, which has a different texture to regular white rice.
Protein-rich and widely available, black-eyed beans are a popular ingredient throughout Africa. Akara, or black-eyed bean fritters, are the national snack food of Senegal and Nigeria. This recipe is great for vegetarians and vegans and the fritters are especially delicious with the kosayi dipping sauce. A good red kosayi shouldn’t be too hot, you should just be able to feel the heat. The sauce will keep for about six months in the refrigerator and the older it gets the better it tastes.
This recipe for a healthy, refreshing, zesty ginger drink from West Africa can be enjoyed either hot or cold, and is an excellent flu helper.