This month I knew that I wanted to explore a West African country - somewhere I have not yet featured in my newsletter. After some research I narrowed my search down to either Nigeria or Ghana. Two countries with rich and diverse cuisines but which both lay claim to one of West Africa’s best known dishes - Jollof Rice. There is a lot of banter between the two countries based on who's Jollof is better - sometimes referred to as 'Jollof Wars'. In the end, I settled on Nigeria.
Here in Andover we are lucky enough to have ‘Rita’s African Caribbean Food Market’ - my one stop shop for this month. What I didn’t realise before getting chatting with the shopkeeper and her friend inside the shop - Rita’s, whilst catering for all African and Caribbean needs, is in fact run by Ghanaians.. If only I’d realised in advance!
The two ladies inside the shop were extremely helpful but also insistent that Ghana must of course feature in one of my future newsletters and that I could make Jollof Rice properly then. I gladly agreed.
First and foremost, Jollof is a party dish - it is highly unlikely that you will turn up to any kind of celebration in West Africa and not be treated to Jollof Rice. This was illustrated by the fact that in searching for recipes online, they all appeared to cater for minimum 10 people.
Despite it's popularity across the majority West of Africa, Jollof was first made by the Wolof people of Senegal and Gambia. There are subtle variations to the dish depending on what country, region and whose house you are in. Ghana favours more fragrant rice like basmati or thai jasmine, whereas Nigerian Jolof uses parboiled long grain rice. The essence of the rice is the same however - it is cooked in a rich tomato sauce flavoured with onions, ginger, garlic, thyme and of course, Scotch Bonnet Chillies.
It was an utter disaster. My rice was gloopy and I was so disappointed. Firstly, I was really excited to try Jollof and secondly, I had made an absolute bucketload of it. Thankfully, my partner Chris is a less discerning rice eater than me and so had gloopy rice for a whole week’s worth of lunch.
Unable to find parboiled long grain rice in the shop, I decided to parboil some long grain rice myself. Judging from the texture in the end result, I reckon I overcooked my rice to begin with and then drowned it further in the cooking process. A spectacular failure.
Did you like it?
Despite the errors in the cooking, the flavour was gorgeous and I can understand why Jollof is as popular as it is. I didn’t shy away from the chillies on this occasion and was fully sweating by the time I had finished eating a portion of it. I am looking forward to trying a Ghanain version of Jollof to see if I have more success!
Marks out of 10: 6/10 (mark based on my own failings, not the dish in general)
Suya Beef is one of Nigeria’s most popular street foods and like so many successful street foods world-wide, it consists of meat and a stick. Thin strips of good quality steak are coated in the dry peanut rub, which is similar in flavour to satay but spicier. Hours of marination help the flavours permeate the meat and tenderise it. The meat is then cooked over hot coals and typically served wrapped in newspaper.
Being a street food, this is not something that would be typically cooked at home in Nigeria. However, I spotted a bag of Suya spice mix in Rita’s and couldn’t resist giving it a go. The trick to getting the steak sliced nice and thinly is to freeze it for half an hour before cutting and this worked an absolute treat. I marinaded the beef in the spice mix for a few hours before threading through skewers and grilling.
Did you like it?
I certainly did. The beef was lovely and tender and spicier than I was expecting with a more subtle peanut flavour than you get with satay. I was happy to take a shortcut with the spice mix this month but I would be keen to give it a go again in the future, making my own Suya spice mix from scratch!
Marks out of 10: 8/10
Egusi soup is made from ground melon seeds (Egusi), a popular ingredient in West Africa but not something I had ever seen or heard of before. The Egusi thickens up the soup and has a slightly bitter flavour to it. Any kind of meat or seafood can be included in the soup and it is typically served with pounded yam or Fufu. Although it is called ‘soup’, it definitely has more stew-like qualities.
I used goat for my Egusi soup - I used to make a lot of goat curry so I was confident that I would enjoy this. The cooking process was quite simple although I realised with hindsight I should have boiled my goat before adding it to the soup to result in a more tender meat. The oddest part of the cooking process I found was when the egusi seed is added in, the whole mix seems to curdle but this is an intentional part of the process and what my image above shows it pretty much exactly how it looks in every instance I’ve seen! I wasn’t able to find pumpkin leaf so I used spinach instead.
Did you like it?
To be totally honest.. No, I didn't really like it. I’m not sure if it’s just an acquired taste or not but I found that the Egusi was quite bitter and this seemed to dominate the soup. However, it could be that I had not seasoned the soup correctly or that something else went wrong! Chris thoroughly enjoyed his though so it is possible that it is just an acquired taste.
Marks out of 10: 5/10
You can view all previous 'Country of the Month' articles HERE.
I’ll be asking for more suggestions through instagram again this month - if you don’t have instagram and want to suggest a country, just drop me an email: email@example.com.