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African cooking styles are as rich and varied as the cultural influences found throughout the continent.
In most African countries vegetable, bean, and lentil dishes are extremely popular. Meat may be added to add a flavor, rather than as the main ingredient. Meats may also be flavored with smoked fish or prawns (shrimp).
Cultural uses of foods
Traditionally when a Cape Malay woman entered her new home, she put containers with three foods in her cupboards.
Rice: her cupboards would never be empty
Sugar: sweetness would always fill her house
Salt: kept evil spirits out
Each container stayed in the cupboard until the family moved again.
(from Flavors of Africa cookbook, 1998)
Essential staples, such as yams, cassava, plantains, rice, and nuts are used in African cooking. In tropical African countries mangoes, avocados, and paw paw, are eaten.
To enhance a dish, herbs and spices are used. Spices may include: cardamom pods, ground cumin, black pepper, coriander, garam masala, tumeric, and black mustard seeds.
A characteristic dish in the African cuisine is a rich casserole, that uses a variety of meats or fish, which may be fresh, dried, or smoked. Exotic spices liven up the taste buds. A casserole can be further enhanced by serving a sauce. A good example of a common sauce is the pepper sauce. This is made by mixing tomatoes, onions, peanut oil, chilli powder, a dash of thyme and coriander powder, and salt to taste.
Another popular African dish is sweet potato and yam fufu. The ingredients include sweet potatoes, yams, and water to cook. Peeled yams and sweet potatoes are boiled until soft. Once soft, the cook removes them from the water and pounds them with a pestle until they are satiny smooth and like a soft dough in texture. Fufu is eaten with a fish or meat stew, or a vegetable soup.
To capture the authentic flavors of African cooking, be creative. By making a delicate blend of spices with your fish, meat, or vegetables, you will learn how to enhance your flavors. There will be always room for tasting a new flavor when trying African cooking.
Article by: St. Louis Public Library staff