SIERRA LEONE

Sierra Leonean Proverb: NA LכV MEK TεN PIPUL IT FAZIN AKARA – It’s love that makes ten people eat and share

In 2014 the West Africa Ebola epidemic greatly damaged Sierra Leone’s already limited health infrastructure and economic resources. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) before the outbreak in 2014 there were 136 doctors and just over 1000 nurses to a population of 6.1 million. Many of the people who died during the Ebola crisis did not die from the disease but from lack of medical attention from a severely understaffed and overstretched health service. Quarantines, border shut downs and travel and trade restrictions have also affected an economy already troubled by years of civil war.

Happily, as of November 2015 Sierra Leone has been declared Ebola free by WHO after going over 40 days with no new cases of the virus and the last sick person testing negative from the disease. To celebrate the end of the epidemic, Sierra Leonean rapper Block Jones created ‘Bye Bye Ebola’ which you should definitely watch below!

In 2014 Action Against Hunger helped 30,552 people to implement protective measures to stop the spread of Ebola and gain access to clean drinking water.

Donate here to support their work: https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

 

Binch Akara Burgers with Scotch Bonnet Mayonnaise

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Akara, a black eyed pea fritter, is dish originally from the Yoruba people of Nigeria traditionally served at 70th birthday parties . Today there are significant numbers of Yoruba people across Western Africa with a large population in Sierra Leone who brought akara with them.

Binch akara, as it’s known in Sierra Leone, is enjoyed as a snack throughout the day bought fresh and hot dipped in scotch bonnet relish, straight from street vendors all around West Africa. Just like jollof rice and other favourites, this bean fritter transcends country lines in popularity and akara has made it’s mark in West Africa as a staple street food snack.

I’ve decided to adapt this classic snack and make it into a bit more meal  – to do this I’ve turned the akara into a burger. Burgers are not something which would usually be my first choice – especially veggie ones because I find that they’re often quite dry. But as this is a fritter I thought it would be perfect made slightly bigger as a vegetarian burger because it would be much lighter than what you would normally get for a veggie option. I don’t think that just because you are choosing not to eat meat that the texture of meat has to be emulated in the substitute. So it’s basically just the same as a snack akara but larger in a bun and in my opinion a much lighter option for a veggie burger! I chose to make a scotch bonnet mayo instead of using relish for the same reason just to make it a bit lighter. This is a really good, cheap and not too heavy West African inspired alternative to a burger! I would serve with sweet potato fries for a complete meal.

Ingredients

For my previous posts I haven’t been listing measurements – this is because I don’t really cook that way. I prefer to cook instinctively and taste along the way. I’ve had some advice recently saying that it’s good to put measurements in even if you don’t actually use them, so from now on I will (where I can) put numbers in front of words!

  • 2 tins of black eyed peas
  • 1 onion
  • 5 scotch bonnets + other chillies if you have some lying around
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • Coconut oil
  • Flour
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Fresh spinach
  • Burger buns

Method

First of all start by making a scotch bonnet sauce. You can buy chilli sauce in the shop but it’s SO easy to make your own and way way cheaper. It’s also a really good way to use up a bag of chillies that you’ve got in the fridge. I actually made mine a while ago, it keeps in the fridge for ages because of the vinegar and the coconut oil seal.

Put whole scotch bonnets and other chillies in boiling water and cook on a high heat for about ten minutes. When soft, drain and put chillies in a mini chopper with 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar and 3 tablespoons of sugar then blitz into a paste. Transfer into a clean jar leaving a centimetre of space at the top and leave to cool slightly. Fill that centimetre with coconut oil and put in the fridge to set.

Next make the mayonnaise.

Separate 3 eggs keeping the egg yolks (save a small amount of egg white for your fritter). Add a tablespoon of white wine vinegar and begin whisking very strongly. Slowly dribble, or get someone else to dribble vegetable oil while you keep whisking hard. You will get a sore arm but after a little bit the mayonnaise will get lovely and thick. Once it’s at a mayonnaise like consistency season with salt & pepper – most classic recipes call for Dijon mustard at this point but I’ve left it out because instead we add some of the scotch bonnet sauce ‘made earlier’ and mix well!

Now you can move onto the akara which is really the easiest bit!

In a mini chopper or blender add a whole tin of drained black eyed peas and a splash of water. Blend until very smooth and transfer to a mixing bowl. Put the second drained tin in the blender without water and blend until just crushed – you want a thicker paste for a bit of texture. Transfer this to the mixing bowl. Finally put one whole onion into the mini chopper and blend until very smooth then also add to the mixture and season well. Add the white from one egg and enough flour to bind. Drop the mixture into hot oil in burger sized dollops. Your fritter burgers are ready when they’re crisp and golden brown.

To serve, warm some burger buns then spread your scotch bonnet mayo on the bun add the akara and some fresh spinach – make sure you have extra mayonnaise for dipping.

This recipe will make enough for 4 burgers.

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Enjoy!

Remember to donate to Action Against Hunger by following this link:  https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

NIGERIA

Nigerian Proverb: Fine words do not produce food

With over 170 million people, Nigeria is the post populated country in Africa – that’s nearly 2.5% of the world’s population. It is estimated that there are up to 500 ethnic groups in Nigeria, with the three main groups being Igbo, Hausa and Yuroba.

From the late 1960’s to 2000 Nigeria saw a number of civil wars and military coups, greatly affecting security and economy in the country. Now the economy is one of the fastest emerging in the world and GDP is ranked 30th in the world. Since 2000, Nigerians have taken part in democratic elections with the March 2015 election largely hailed as the fairest yet.

For over a decade terrorist group Boko Haram have been operating in Nigeria killing over 12,000 people, and committing large scale atrocities; including the mass kidnapping of 276 school girls  in 2014. Despite Nigeria having the second largest economy in Africa, malnutrition and poverty are strife. Action Against Hunger estimates that 1 in 4 Nigerian children suffer from acute malnutrition.

In 2014 Action Against Hunger helped 2,807,302 people through their Child Development Grant Programme.

Donate here to support their work: https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

Jollof Rice

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Jollof rice is probably the epitome of West African cuisine. Both Nigeria and Ghana claim it as their own and variations are found throughout the region. The name Jollof originally comes from the Wollof people of Senegal, whose version of this dish is known as Ceebu Jen (see my blog post on Senegal!), the dish spread throughout with travelling tribes and quickly secured it’s place as a favourite across the region.

Jollof rice is the ultimate party food – big, hearty sharing food. Here’s my version:

Ingredients

  • 6 chicken drumsticks
  • 4 cups of Egyptian rice (or any short grain rice)
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato puree
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 carrot
  • 3 scotch bonnets
  • 2 Maggi stockcubes
  • 4 tablespoons of palm oil

Method

  1. Blitz a whole onion, a couple of small carrots, scotch bonnets (as many as you like) and garlic in a mini chopper.
  2. Add the chicken to hot palm to brown then remove and add the onion, chilli, carrot and garlic mixture. Turn the heat right down to sweat.
  3. Once softened add tomato puree and cook slightly then add rice and cook for five minutes to ten minutes or once the grains become white.
  4. Return the chicken to the pan.
  5. Add chopped tomatoes and mix thoroughly. Crumble in 4 small cubes of maggi – seriously don’t skimp it’s traditional!
  6. Once mixed through top with boiled water to just above the rice and chicken.
  7. Simmer until chicken has cooked through and the rice has a little bite.
  8. Serve with extra hot sauce!

Enjoy!

Remember to donate to Action Against Hunger by following this link:  https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

DJIBOUTI

Djiboutian Proverb: Un invité qui brise les plats de son hôte est pas vite oublié – A guest who breaks the dishes of his host is not soon forgotton

Over half of the 859,652 population of Djibouti live in the capital city, after which the country is named. Despite the country being home to one of the busiest and most strategic ports in the world, Djiboutians are mostly unemployed and living in extreme poverty. The land, of which only 10% is arable, is extremely unresponsive to farming and is frequently affected by drought. Therefore the majority of the country’s food supplies are imported raising the cost of food to way over what it’s population can afford. In 2006, then again in 2011, in what the UN called the Horn of Africa Food Crisis upwards of 400,000 Djiboutians, 1/3 of the population, was affected by famine and food shortages still remain.

In the 1990’s Djibouti experienced civil unrest between the two main ethnic groups, the Afars and the Somali Issas, which after a decade ended in 2000 with a shared power agreement. Recently there have been frequent tensions between the settled urban population and the ‘newcomers’ – over 20,000 refugees from neighbouring Somalia and Eritrea – whose care, shared with the UN, takes next to all of the government’s welfare budget, something which many Djiboutians are resentful for as they themselves are living below the poverty line.
In 2014 Action Against Hunger helped 19,414 people to access clean water and develop economic self sufficiency.

Donate here to support their work: https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie.

Beignets de Banane

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I only knew about Djibouti before this because at uni we used to play the ‘countries game’ which is basically a load of people sitting round naming countries that begin with every letter of the alphabet… It was, as it’s borders are now, declared a country by the French in 1894, so the modern history of the country is very short . Before that it’s population was pastoral, and many of the people are ethnically Somali. The cuisine is very similar to the rest of the Horn of Africa – heavily influenced by it’s proximity to Yemen across the Red Sea.

Like so many other countries around the world bananas are a vital food source in Djibouti, this dish is simple and cheap to make which is very important in a country where more than half the people are living below the poverty line. While this is neither the national dish, or particularly traditional, the banana is a national favourite so there we go!

One banana/plantain has the same amount of calories as a potato, which is one reason why it is such an important staple food in developing countries and features in many cuisines across the world. It also grows all year round making it particularly important to countries like Djibouti that suffer from frequent drought. Bananas are grown in more than 100 countries. Apparently because of their high potassium content bananas are naturally a little bit radioactive. I remember when I was younger there was a thing that came out about eating too many bananas making you sick. I actually ate a whole bunch in one go once I love them so much! I’ve learnt so much about bananas while researching Djibouti. There is literally a million facts about them – there are actually banana scholars and there’s even an International Banana Agenda. Go look it up it’s crazy.

Today is Eid al Adha which is an important religious festival in Islam. Djibouti is in the region of Africa which is thought to have been the first to accept Islam more than 1000 years ago. 94% of the population of Djibouti are Muslim and this is a very special day so Eid Mubarak to everyone! 

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Ingredients

  • Bananas
  • Flour
  • Oil
  • Sugar (optional)

Method

  1. Mush bananas and add flour – If you want add sugar but I don’t think it needs it.
  2. Heat oil in a pan, when hot add banana batter just like you would scotch pancakes.
  3. While these cook add sliced banana with skin on to a griddle pan – once cooked peel the skin off.
  4. Finish with raw banana.

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Remember to donate to Action Against Hunger by following this link:  https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

SOUTH SUDAN

South Sudanese Proverb: Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fatted ox where there is hatred 

South Sudan is one of the world’s ‘youngest’ countries having gained independence from Sudan in 2011. Since 2013 South Sudan has faced violent civil conflict within it’s newly established borders leaving over 2 million of it’s population displaced as refugees, many of them in neighbouring countries. With a total population of only 11.56 million, 66% are affected by food scarcity and chronic malnutrition – the highest percentage of any population in the world. In 2014 Action Against Hunger have helped 447,217 people, predominantly in getting access to safe water.

Donate here to support their work: https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

Pasipasi kpedekpede na passio

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The food in Sudan is very similar to that of it’s Nile River neighbour Egypt and is heavily influenced by Arabic culture. The food in South Sudan however, more closely reflects the food of it’s neighbours in Kenya and DR Congo. Peanuts feature heavily as do sweet potatoes, yams and sorghum (a type of grain). Here I’ve made one of the most popular South Sudanese dishes – spinach, sweet potato and peanut stew which would normally be served with rice, couscous or sorghum. Due the price of meat, beef would normally only be added on special occasions – I had some left over beef short rib so this is a special occasion Pasipasi kpedekpede na passio.

Ingredients

Pasipasi kpedekpede na passio

  • Rice
  • Vegetable oil
  • Sweet potato
  • Garlic
  • Fresh tomato
  • Spinach
  • Tomato puree
  • Stock cubes – Maggi brand is the famous stock cube used in Africa – it’s very salty so it works as seasoning too!
  • Peanut butter
  • Palm oil
  • Peanuts
  • Beef (optional)

Tomato Salad with Peanut and Lime Dressing

  • Fresh Tomatoes
  • Parsley
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Chilli
  • Pepper
  • Peanut butter
  • Lime
  • Olive oil

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Method

Pasipasi kpedekpede na passio

  1. First put on some rice – heat some vegetable oil in a pan and boil the kettle. Add uncooked rice and salt to the oil and fry until the rice toasts and becomes white, once all the rice is equally toasted add boiled water to up to  cm and half above the top of the rice, cover and low the heat completely.
  2. Peel and cut sweet potatoes into chunks and add to a pan with palm oil, fry on all sides then add chopped garlic.
  3. In a bowl add boiled water to Maggi stock cubes to dissolve – add the whole thing to the pan with some fresh chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and let the mixture cook and the sweet potato braise.
  4. At this stage I added the meat from some left over beef short ribs and added a bone to the pan for flavour – if you don’t have cooked meat, brown some beef at the beginning before adding the other ingredients then just cook as before, alternatively don’t put any meat in at all!
  5. Turn off the rice but don’t remove the lid, the steam will finish the last bit of cooking.
  6. The liquid should now have reduced a little and have good flavour! Stir in quite a bit of peanut butter so that the sauce thickens.
  7. Once the sauce is a good consistency pop a pile of spinach on top – the steam from the stew will cook it down and you’ll be able to mix it in after about 30 seconds.
  8. Crush some peanuts and serve on top of your stew with rice.

Tomato Salad with Peanut and Lime Dressing

  1. Chop fresh tomatoes roughly and finely chop fresh parsley, mix together in a bowl an sprinkle a little sugar to bring out the flavour. – This also helps to release the juice from the tomato so it literally creates it’s own dressing anyway!
  2. In a separate bowl squeeze a lime and add a tablespoon of peanut butter to the juice with olive oil, finely chopped chilli, salt and pepper.
  3. When you’re ready to serve spoon some dressing over the salad.

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Enjoy!

Remember to donate to Action Against Hunger by following this link:  https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

SENEGAL

Senegalise Proverb: Sahha kënz lhayaat  – Health is the treasure of life

Senegal has a population of approximately 13.7 million. 47.6% of Senegalese people are failing to meet their basic food needs as a result of devastating natural disasters; including flooding and drought exacerbated by the effects of climate change. Because of this over half of the produce consumed in Senegal is imported which means that prices for basic provisions are severely inflated. In 2014 Action Against Hunger helped 18,443 people in Senegal by providing nutritional support to vulnerable families.

Donate here to support their work: https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie

Ceebu Jen

Ceebu Jen

Ceebu Jen (rice and fish in the Wolof language) is the national dish of Senegal. Ceebu Jen is also known by it’s French transcription Thieboudienne. It’s widely acknowledged that this dish, and it’s Wolof roots, is the inspiration for the ubiquitous West African dish Jollof rice. Ceebu Jen is a festive, sharing dish centred around a large platter of tomatoey rice topped with fresh fish and vegetables – enjoy with a glass of hibiscus ice tea!

For this recipe I had all the ingredients I needed to create an adaptation of the dish therefore I have donated £5 – 100% of the estimated cost of the ingredients for the Senegalese national dish Ceebu Jen.

Ingredients

Fish Marinade (or stuffing if using a whole fish):

  • Fresh Parsley
  • Lemon or Lime Juice
  • Red Chilli Flakes
  • Minced Garlic
  • Spring Onion
  • Salt and Pepper

Ceebu Jen

  • White Fish
  • Rice
  • Fresh or Tinned Tomatoes
  • Tomato Puree
  • Harissa (cheat addition)
  • Scotch Bonnets
  • Fish or Vegetable Stock
  • Onion
  • Parsley
  • Pretty much any vegetable you have lying around (especially Cassava)
  • Tamarind Paste or Hibiscus Flowers (optional)
  • Fish Sauce
  • Oil
  • Sugar
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Lemon Wedges

Method

  1. Make a marinade for the fish – in a pestle and mortar make a paste of garlic, fresh parsley, chilli flakes, lemon juice and salt. Rub into fish and put in fridge to infuse.
  2. In a mini food processor (if you don’t have one just chop finely) blitz up onion, red pepper (keep two bits aside), half the parsley and all the parsley stalks. Heat some oil in a large saucepan and add – keep it low and let it ‘sweat’ so the mixture release liquid but doesn’t colour.
  3. In a little bowl with hot water mix two teaspoons of tomato paste and one teaspoon of harissa *I added for additional flavour – not strictly traditional*. Stir till diluted and add to the pan.
  4. I added 3 scotch bonnet chillis, you choose how hot you like it!
  5. In the same bowl with more hot water add fish or veg stock – two cubes, pots whatever you’re using – then add to the pan. The saucepan should be just over a quarter full of liquid.
  6. Some recipes call for tamarind paste, I didn’t have any so I soaked some hibiscus flowers in water and added to the pan. Hibiscus has a slightly bitter, lemony taste like tamarind and is actually native to Senegal where (like in Egypt) it’s drunk as a soft drink both hot and cold.
  7. Let it cook for a little bit while you shop up your vegetables. I only had courgettes so I only put courgettes. If you have carrots, turnips, butternut squash whatever put it in!
  8. Add rice to the liquid in the pan. I used Spanish which is more robust than Basmati and is less likely to go soggy. Turn down as low as possible and put a lid on. Set aside for about ten minutes.
  9. In the mean time I make ‘garnish’. That’s; chopped fresh parsley, small cubes of red pepper, small cubes of tomato or half cherry plum tomatoes and this time because I had courgette – ‘courgette ribbons’. I do this by turning a cheese grater flat on it’s side and using the wide section as though it was a mandolin!
  10. By now the rice should have soaked up most of the water in the pan. Give it a good mix then add the courgettes (and/or whatever veg you have) to the pan and put the lid on. The steam will cook the rest through.
  11. For the fish it’s traditional to steam the fish with the rice – I like different textures so I cooked mine on a griddle pan. Add oil to your marinated fish and get your pan really hot, you don’t need oil in the pan at all. Cook fish for approximately 3 minutes on each side or until you get a nice colour. It’s good to be a bit translucent inside as it will keep cooking when taken off the heat.
  12. Stir most of the parsley into the rice then spoon rice big serving dish – add fish – add garnish. Finish with the last of the chopped parsley and a couple of wedges of lemon.

Enjoy!

Remember to donate to Action Against Hunger by following this link:  https://www.justgiving.com/Sophia-Vassie