Quarantine Kitchen – West Africa

Coming off a successful Moroccan influenced menu, I was eager to delve into cuisine from other areas of the African continent, feeing especially inspired to seek out recipes that were completely new to me.  I was happy to have Dan join me in the kitchen again as we embarked on a menu comprised of dishes found in the West African coastal countries of Ghana, Senegal, and Nigeria. The inspiration for this meal came from an almost booked flight from Brussels, Belgium to Accra, Ghana back in 2019. We ended up traveling to Egypt instead but are hoping we will not have to wait too long to sample traditional dishes and savory street food on a visit to West Africa in the future.

As I was researching the cuisine, I learned that it’s not necessarily the borders between the 16 countries encompassing West Africa that define the dining preferences of the inhabitants. When European powers occupied and partitioned the African continent during the colonization of the late 1800s and first half of the 1900s, there was little regard for the existing territories and kingdoms. As such, cuisine transcends present national borders as dishes popular across the region are prepared with different ingredients in accordance with the cook’s customs and ethnic group. The result is food that is often seasoned and named differently based on the locale of consumption but, speaking from my experience in our Quarantine Kitchen in Brussels, so delicious!

Our West African meal entailed frying Spicy Fried Plantain and Chin Chin (shown here)

First up was the Spicy Fried Plantain or Kelewele, which I learned is a popular and well-loved Ghanaian dish that is commonly sold as street food while also being easy enough to make at home. Upon finding Lola’s recipe on Chef Lola’s Kitchen, I was confident that this would be a delicious and easy dish for us to master.

After I tracked down plantains in Brussels, Dan took over the cubing, seasoning, and cooking of what quickly became an addictive appetizer. We found ourselves grabbing the fried plantain cubes by the handful the second they had caramelized and browned on the edges and were removed from the hot oil. As confirmed beforehand, the plantain cubes held their shape well even through the frying – the reason they are better suited to making kelewele than bananas.

Our hunger quelled momentarily by the addictive fried plantains, I refocused my efforts on our main dish of a hearty and delicious groundnut stew called Maafe. This particular recipe of the West African peanut stew was made with beef, sweet potatoes and carrots courtesy of Imma from Immaculate Bites.

It’s worth noting that fruit and vegetable-based dishes are staples in the West African diet, while small amounts of meats and fish are primarily used in stews and soups. Maafe can be made with fish or meat, but always incorporates peanuts that have been ground to a paste or flour. According to Imma, her version is traditional in many Senegalese households, but Maafe is thought to have originated in Mali. We weren’t too particular about which regional variation we were making, but Dan’s one request for this dish was that we make it spicy!

The recipe called for a scotch bonnet or habanero pepper, the former of which I wasn’t familiar with. Assuming – incorrectly – it would be easier to find a habanero pepper, I didn’t even bother confirming what a scotch bonnet pepper looked like, but was pleasantly surprised that I ended up selecting correctly at the store because it “looked” like the spiciest. My tolerance for spice is a bit lower, so I was glad we served the piping hot stew in a bowl over rice. It was savory and satisfying, perfect for a cooler May evening.

To balance out the spice, our meal ended on a sweet note with Chin Chin, a fried pastry enjoyed throughout the region, but especially in Nigeria. The main ingredient list for these sweet little snacks isn’t long but there are variations in the seasoning of the recipe as well as how you can shape your Chin Chin. Again, I referenced Imma’s recipe for soft, but not crumbly, square shaped bites.

The making of Chin Chin involved kneading and rolling the dough before I cut it into the desired shape – squares for me.

After kneading and rolling the dough (I’m getting good at this), I cut it into small squares in preparation for frying. The recipe simply called for frying oil, which would commonly be a palm oil, but I alternated between olive oil and coconut oil for experimental purposes. The end result were bite-sized slightly sweet and crunchy squares that may have been even more addicting than the Kelewele we had already polished off.

Having successfully executed another Quarantine Kitchen menu, I yet again reflect on how these meals are helping me understand and appreciate not only new cuisine, but also cultures. When “visiting” these places, I try to locate recipes from the blogs of home chefs who share personal stories and insight that provide additional context on the culture. So, for anyone more familiar with West African cuisine who is reading this post and wondering why jollof rice and fufu weren’t on the menu, know that they’re next on my list, along with some delicious looking Akara black bean fritters. I am very receptive to any recipes for these that someone would care to share and always on the lookout for inspiration!

To finish this post off, I can confirm that you have read correctly and while it has been awhile since my last Quarantine Kitchen post, I don’t foresee my culinary travels coming to an end. If you’re caught up on what I’ve been up to lately, then you know that my location and daily routines have changed, but this is not the end of From Cities to Trails. Keep following along for more to come!

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