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.
What to Eat
A typical meal in West Africa is heavy on starchy foods, light on meat, generous on fat and commonly cooked in one pot. Other than that, the most telling characteristic of an African dish is heat: chile peppers are used beyond what we would begin to think of as hot. The most notorious peppers, the Scotch Bonnets and the pilli pilli, earn respect from even the most dedicated chile-heads. Equatorial climates all tend to encourage the use of chiles, as these hot foods produce the effect of "gustatory sweating"—distinguished from other types of bodily perspiration and resulting in an overall cooling effect.
West African cuisine bears more seafood than the rest of the continent, and unlike most other cultures, mixes seafood and meats together in many dishes. Most dishes are some form of stew, allowing for the stringy, poorer quality lamb and goats to be used, and chickens and eggs are commonly served throughout Africa.
Peanuts can be found in just about anything, from soups and stews to garnishes, snacks and pounded into a paste. West Africa is blessed with rain, resulting in rice as the predominant starchy food, while corn, millet and sorghum dishes are featured on the rest of the continent.
Along with rice, yams, sweet potatoes, cassava and potatoes and root vegetables fill the bellies of the people, as do plantains. All can be cooked in multiple ways: roasted, baked, boiled, mashed, with cinnamon, or sugar or oil or in a range of both sweet and savory dishes.
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