West African cuisine is heavy with starch, light on meat and generous on fat. Cooks in West Africa often use root vegetables like yams, cocoyams, and cassava, as well as cereal grains, plantains, hot spices, rice, peanuts, black-eyed peas, okra, green peas, citrus fruits, and pineapples.
The Arabs were an early influence on the African continent. Decades before Christ's birth, African kingdoms traded their own slaves, gold and ivory for the Arabs' spices, herbs and salt. In the course of events, the Islamic religion gained new followers. Cinnamon, cloves, mint and cilantro arrived in Africa from their Arab partners, and these flavorings continue to be used most widely in North Africa.
The Portuguese, French and British did have some influence in regional cuisines, but not as much as one might expect. More deeply entrenched are the indigenous ingredients and the ones sent back from the slave trade ships of the Americas. The Gambian products of rice, peanuts, yams and black-eyed peas have become cash crops of the United States' southern states. The ships that brought these ingredients returned to Africa bearing foods of the New World and the Caribbean: okra, coconuts, plantains, chile peppers, green beans. Portuguese explorers brought other items from Europe's cache: citrus, tomato, corn and pineapple, many of which also originated in the Americas.
West African Recipes
Cookbooks with Recipes
- The Africa Cookbook by Jessica B. Harris
Back to the main West Africa page
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This page modified January 2007