The depth and range of flavors from Africa are finding their way into the mainstream spotlight more and more—from the playful jollof rice wars to a growing interest in tasting more of the global cuisine at restaurants. Take, for example, husband-and-wife chefs Hamissi Mamba and Nadia Nijimbere’s homage to Burundian food at Detroit’s Baobab Fare, which recently garnered a James Beard nomination; and then there’s chef Shenarri Freeman, known for NYC-based vegan–soul food restaurant Cadence, presenting a vegan West African–inspired menu at the recently opened Ubuntu in Los Angeles. African chefs have also released several cookbooks in 2023, centering meals from the Mother Continent. “The rise in interest in -African food has been bubbling for many years,” says Nigerian chef Lerato Umah-Shaylor, well known for creating immersive supper clubs in London that salute Africa’s vast culinary -offerings. She released the cookbook Africana in March 2023. “I have been collecting and celebrating our recipes, knowing [the cuisine’s] power—and just waiting for the world to wake up and smell the smoky and sweet, spicy, fragrant foods that tell our stories,” she adds.
Growing awareness of how food impacts our health has also led people to pursue the more wholesome options found in these dishes. “The traditional foods of the African continent count among the world’s most nutritious and balanced diets,” says -Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam. “When we take a look at the West African heritage diet pyramid, we notice a strong plant-forward culinary tradition, with leafy greens, vegetables, beans, tuber roots, whole grains, fruits, nuts and seeds as a base for every meal.” Through his recent release, Simply West African, Thiam highlights the rich diversity of this food culture, via both traditional and modern takes on celebrated recipes.
“It’s quite amazing that we have kept the essence of our food, despite the hardship of history—and that it can be found everywhere throughout the diaspora, from Louisiana to Bahia or the Caribbean,” Thiam notes. “It says a lot about the power of food.” That diasporic connection makes its appearance in a number of dishes that serve as the backdrop for holiday platters, including okra-based gumbo and even black-eyed peas. As we approach that time of the year, if you’re looking for inspiration for your Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s meals, African cuisine can serve as a perfect starting point.
“[In] most places in the world, food plays a pivotal role over the holidays or when there’s an event to celebrate,” says Yewande Komolafe, a Lagos-born, Brooklyn-based chef and a cooking writer for The New York Times food section, whose cookbook, My Everyday Lagos, was released in October. “To me, the perfect party plate is one piled with dishes such as moin-moin, pounded yam and efo riro, spicy gizzards, dodo and, of course, jollof rice, with a dollop of ata din din for dipping.”
For more ideas, just look to the influx of exciting cookbooks from African chefs, with recipes from all over the continent. Here are a few recommendations to get you started.
AFRICANA: MORE THAN 100 RECIPES AND FLAVORS INSPIRED BY A RICH CONTINENT
RELEASED MARCH 2023. $37.50, AMISTAD
HOLIDAY DISH: Smoky Jollof Rice with Plantains
“I find that jollof rice, with its unique smoky-sweet aroma, has left an imprint on so many of us who grew up experiencing this culture. It tells us the party has begun, and it calls us to the table to eat. This is an age-old recipe that lives in our hearts and homes and is not just a trend. Enjoy it, savor it and share with your family and friends.”
MY EVERYDAY LAGOS
RELEASED OCTOBER 2023. $35, TEN SPEED PRESS
HOLIDAY DISH: Chuk Chuk
“Large-flake coconut clusters are enrobed in a light layer of a sweet-salty caramel for this treat. I have a huge sweet tooth, and I cannot imagine a holiday spread without this dessert. I love to spike the caramel with a little spice—some ground ginger, nutmeg or allspice for the holidays—to give it a special warm touch.”
ENEBLA: RECIPES FROM AN ETHIOPIAN KITCHEN
RELEASED OCTOBER 2022. $35, AMAZON
HOLIDAY DISH: Doro Wot
“A staple in Ethiopian cuisine, and traditionally served for Christmas, this dish is incredibly fragrant. It’s packed with spice from the berbere and sweetness from the caramelization of the onions; it’s very rich in the flavors that come together in a slow-cooked chicken stew. If you are spice-sensitive, try serving it with Ayib (Ethiopian feta cheese) or Ergo (Ethiopian yogurt) to help cool it down.”
SIMPLY WEST AFRICAN: EASY, JOYFUL RECIPES FOR EVERY KITCHEN
RELEASED SEPTEMBER 2023. $28, PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE
HOLIDAY DISH: Coconut Collard Greens with Butternut Squash
“This flavorful dish can easily be prepared for large groups. So many dishes in the cookbook are perfect during holidays. Food is always an opportunity for celebration.”
Photo credits: Portraits courtesy of Tara Fisher for Africana, Kelly Marshall, Bob Hodson, Evan Sung. Book covers courtesy of publishers.