What do you think you know about African food?
Why haven't you tried it before?
Why haven't you cooked it before?
This menu was created in hopes of sparking something in you all and how you can connect to African food.
If you've been fortunate enough to catch my pop-ups last year, you would've gotten a taste of West or East African foods. This time I'm going to be focusing a bit more attention on North African flavours with some Sub-Saharan African influences from my personal background, as my family is from Ghana. A simple pleasure of this project so far has been accidentally sparking nostalgia, perhaps I can do that for some lucky diner or two.
This menu contains familiar ingredients like tomatoes, semolina and coconut. There are also foods that you may not be as familiar with like okra, moringa or fonio. The Abibiman Project's spice blends like dukkah, tabil, ras el hanout and savoury salt are also included. This has been done intentionally to give an example of how our spice blends can be used but more importantly how these "foreign" flavours can coexist with familiar recipes and encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. The hope is that you'll be more inclined to personally explore African products and ingredients, regardless of whether or not they are purchased from The Abibiman Project, an ethnic grocer or your local African cuisine restaurant.
This menu is my way of sharing the harmony of my personal culinary identity as well as touching on more common flavours and textures found in the Western palate. The North African influence will likely seem familiar based on some Middle Eastern foods that you've potentially had in the city. All of the dishes either touch on traditional flavours, traditional recipes or indigenous ingredients.
Note: As with any representation of foods that I’ve done so far, I will always state the origin as well as what I did that deviates from the original recipe.
I strongly believe that providing a background or story with food can give a greater appreciation for whatever is on your plate. So, let's break down this menu:
Okra salad: Okra is a vegetable indigenous to eastern Africa, thought to have originated near present-day Ethiopia. It is eaten widely across the African continent and is found in cuisines throughout the Black diaspora, as many displaced peoples had their indigenous foods brought with them. This salad is based on an okra stew that my mom used to make for me as a child. What I've done is taken the nostalgia plus all the elements and flavours of that stew; tomato, chilli, shrimp, Dawa Dawa (Fermented African Locust bean) and gari, and gave them a playful twist.
Charred okra and tomatoes, savoury salt (my funky vegan Maggi made with Dawa Dawa), chilli-ginger oil, dried shrimp, cured egg yolk and gari (dried fermented cassava).
Batbout: A rich flatbread from Morocco that can only be described as a pita and an English muffin's love child. Also known as mkhamer or toghrift or matlou'. The dough is a mix of white, whole wheat and semolina flours and cooked in a skillet, for a unique taste and texture. It is often stuffed with meat when made thin with a pocket (pita-like) or eaten with honey or preserves when thick and pillowy (naan-like). Ours has been spiced with Tabil, a spice blend originating from Morocco's neighbours in Algeria/Tunisia. *Tabil translates to "coriander in Tunisian Arabic, one of the key ingredients. It's often used in spreads or for flatbreads. As with any regional spice mix, there are variations from home to home, some people may add bay leaf, mint, cloves or turmeric. In comparison to another popular northern African spice, Ras El hanout, this focuses on simpler nuances of flavour and will not be too overpowering in any dish. What makes this tabil unique is its subtle floral taste from rose petals and bay leaves.*
Pan-fried yeasted semolina flatbread with tabil spice
Bessara: Have you ever had a soup that's also a spread?
Served hot or cold, bessara is delicious. A fava bean-based puree seasoned generously with cumin and paprika and finished with olive oil and a splash of lemon. We've added roasted garlic to ours for a touch of sweetness to compliment the earthy fava beans.
Roasted garlic fava bean spread with cumin and paprika, an accompaniment to batbout
Pepe Soup: Based on light soup. One of the most common drinking soups in West African cuisines. It is called light soup because unlike, its popularly eaten cousin, peanut soup, it is closer to a broth than a thick soup. It is traditionally cooked with fish, chicken or goat meat and enjoy ed with fufu. It is simply made with tomato, onion, ginger, garlic, chillies and spices. *I personally have a childhood memory of my mom making this for dinner for my siblings and I. The soup was so spicy that we were trying to rub cold carrots on our lips to cool them down. Nonetheless, it was delicious and I still bring it up to my mom anytime she says my food is too spicy* For those that fear spice, this iteration is on the milder side. The focus is more on the flavour than just the heat. There will be many opportunities for me to make exclusively West African level spicy foods.
Red snapper poached in a flavorful tomato broth
Braised beef cheeks: Beef cheek is a great example of traditionally eaten “off-cut'' that is widely appreciated in traditional African cuisines. Flavoured with pomegranate and ras el hanout. *A house spice mix from Morocco but common throughout Northern Africa. Every person makes this differently, this is The Abibiman Project’s iteration. Translating to "head of the shop", referring to the best spices the shop owner has to offer. Based on the variety of spices introduced to the region by Arab spice traders, centuries ago. This blend is very layered in dynamic flavour and gets better the longer you cook it.* A slightly sweet braise from slow-cooked onions, peppers and sweet pomegranate molasses.
Ras el hanout braised beef cheeks with pomegranate and onion jus
Fonio: Praised as a super grain and “the next quinoa”. A small grain in the millet family with a uniquely nutty flavour. Hailing from West Africa. It is one of the oldest cultivated grains on the continent. Packed with nutrients, flavour, as well as a gluten-free quick cook. Chefs like Pierre Thiam (Yolele foods) from Senegal and companies like Farafena and Addablooms locally are supporting West African farmers and helping continue the ancestral farming of fonio.
Dukkah tahini carrots: Dukkah is a nut, seed and spice blend from Egypt and popular in the Levantine region. Traditionally made with dried ingredients only, for an extended shelf life. Our mixture has earthy spices, toasted sesame , pumpkin seeds and almonds. It can be eaten traditionally (bread dipped in olive oil and spice), can crust vegetables, lamb or fish. Great for quick cook times needing big flavours or even just as a garnish.
For this dish, dukkah is used with tahini, a commonly used Middle Eastern/ Mediterranean/ North African ingredient.
Did you know that sesame originated from Eastern Africa/ Western Asia and is recorded in ancient Egyptian scriptures? Recorded proof of this ancestral food.
Dukkah tahini heirloom carrots with lemon yogurt & herbs
* Generally the use of processed sugar in cakes, cookies and desserts as we know it, are uncommon in traditional African cuisines. Fried doughs (ex. puff puff, mandazi, andsfenj), fruits (dried, in syrup or fresh) and nuts are typically indulged as snacks or treats. Obviously now, with the further reach of Eurocentric/ Western food culture; cakes, cookies etc… are easily found commercially.*
The pastries that I've made are a combination of tradition ingredients and my acquired pastry techniques.
Bissap & Coconut: Bissap (indigenous to Sub-saharan Africa) also known as Sobolo, zobo, karkade, groseille de Guinée, sorrel or jamaica. It is made from roselle petals which is a type of hibiscus flower. It is mixed with a sweetener like sugar or fruit, something tangy or acidic like pineapple, lime or orange plus warming spices like cinnamon, ginger, cloves or star anise. A widely enjoyed tart and fruity infusion. A perfect complement to creamy slightly sweet coconut. Coconuts originate in Pacific Asia & India and were introduced to continental Africa about 2000 years ago and adopted into various local cuisines.
Brown sugar coconut dacquoise
Bissap swiss meringue buttercream
Moringa & Pumpkin: Moringa, if you haven’t heard of it before, you will soon. Hailed as a “superfood”, indigenous to Eastern Africa and highly revered for its medicinal properties. It is bright green in colour and earthy in flavour. Some compare the taste to matcha with the sweetness of green beans. An extremely unique flavour that may take a bit of time to grow on you.
Pumpkins and gourds are commonly eaten, as well as used to make traditional calabashes and musical instruments. Often found in stews or roasted but also used as a source of natural sweetness in porridges and such.
The idea to use pumpkin in this pastry came from a recipe from Through The Eyes Of An African Chef by talented chef, educator and ancestral food advocate Chef Nompumelelo Mqwebu. Her pumpkin pudding (Isijingi), a maize meal and pumpkin mixture, "the ultimate comfort food" that her grandmother would make for her. I used Jamaican pumpkin (calabaza) which is similar in flavour to a butternut squash. Sweeter in flavour, than our fall associated sugar pumpkins, with a slight nuttiness when roasted. Edible seeds are also utilized in this pastry for an added crunch.
Caramelized moringa chocolate
Dragees pumpkin seeds
Tart pumpkin brittle
Green shito: A fresh counterpart to the slow-cooked black pepper paste known simply as Shito in Ghanaian cuisine. As a testament to my undying love for spice, I’ve made a lacto-fermented green shito (hot sauce). Made with green chili, ginger and garlic. *Okra is added as an emulsifier*
150ml bottle of green shito
North African Inspired Chocolate Bars:
Kawano (tasting) box- Burnt sesame, rose & pistachio, pomegranate and dukkah
Burnt Sesame (75% Tanzanie dark chocolate)
Pomegranate (65% Madagascar dark chocolate & Zephyr white chocolate)
Basbousa (40% Ghana milk chocolate & 65% Madagascar ganache)
Rose & Pistachio (Zephyr caramel)
Dukkah (Zephyr white chocolate)
Basbousa (left), Dukkah (middle) & Kawano box (right)
Pick up:Sunday April 18th, 2021
(Queen E. & Broadview)