Breakfast in the majority of African hotels involves condensed milk, instant coffee, Danish butter and European jams. Most of the rice consumed in Africa comes from Thailand, and the markets sell European vegetables and American and Asian grains and even imported meat. This is the main challenge that African agriculture must face today. Communities’ traditional products are considered inferior, and unsafe in terms of food hygiene. The continent’s extraordinary wealth of food diversity is not valued, and many varieties of fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes, animal breeds, breads and other products are at risk of being lost. Along with these products, agricultural knowledge, local cultures and culinary traditions will disappear. Cultivating traditional varieties, raising native breeds and eating local products means helping the fight against poverty and teaching younger generations about a proper diet and safeguarding biodiversity, the environment and cultural identity.
The mapping of products from Sierra Leone is part of a project realised by Slow Food in collaboration with the FAO, thanks to the financial support of the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs. At the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre, during the conference From Millet Cous Cous to Natural Kola, Discovering Africa’s Riches producers will be on hand to describe this great heritage of vegetable varieties, animal breeds, products and recipes.
Here we present some local products and traditional recipes from around Sierra Leone
VEGETABLES AND LEGUMES
Local varieties of vegetables and legumes are grown in small family plots and feature in many dishes from Sierra Leone’s culinary tradition. The most common are okra, used for its leaves and fruit; jakato, a small, flavourful eggplant; onions; groundnuts/peanuts native to South America and introduced to the country during colonial times and grounded into a paste; tomatoes; nutritious pigeon peas; egusi watermelons, used for their seeds; cassava, pounded into fufu, a paste eaten almost every day; and tubers like cocoyam and Chinese yam.
Here a focus in Pigeon Pea and three traditional ways to cook it.
Local names: konsho bean, akonsho, ukonshoha, Congo peas
Scientific name: Cajanus cajan
Due to its high resistance to drought, this small legume is mainly grown in the north-eastern regions (Bombali and Koinadugu), where rain is scarce, though humidity is high. The time between sowing and harvest is long, but this is not a disadvantage: the pigeon peas turn green, indicating ripeness, when other plants have already been harvested and consumed, and thus provide an important food resource. They are also highly nutritious – the small, white seed has a protein content of 20 per cent. For this reason, farmers generally eat them on the toughest days of work or on the worst days of the rainy season.
Three Ways to Cook Pigeon Peas
Stewed Pigeon Pea
Clean the pods and shell the pigeon peas. Place the beans in a pot covered with water, bring to a boil and cook until tender. Drain the beans and pound them gently.
Return the pounded beans to the pot and add palm oil, fish or meat, salt and pepper. Leave to cook for about 1¼ hours, add finely chopped raw onions, cook for another few minutes and serve.
Pigeon Pea With Ash
Clean the pods and shell the pigeon peas. Mix the beans with wood ash in a pot. Add enough water to dissolve the ash, cover the pot and cook for about 5 minutes. Rinse the beans in a calabash, repeating three or four times to remove all the ash, and transfer them to a mortar and pound them gently. Wash the pot and return the beans to the pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 20 minutes. Drain the beans and add fresh water. Add palm oil, fish or meat, salt and pepper and leave to simmer for about 30 minutes. Add finely chopped raw onions, cook for another few minutes and serve.
Pigeon Pea Flour
Dried and shelled pigeon peas are pounded into a fine powder. The powder can be added to a mixture of water, fish or meat, pepper and salt, and later onion. After boiling for 30 minutes the sauce is ready.
The extraordinary variety of leafy vegetables that grow across the African continent represent an immense resource to the villagers who pick them and sell them at local markets or cook them for their families. Among the most highly prized are moringa, used for its leaves and seeds; amaranth and sweet potato tops, both native to South America; crain crain, a plant common around Africa; bologi and broad bologi, plants rich in nutrients and vitamins; and sour sour and cassava which, together with rice, are the staple foods of the population.
Bologi and Broad Bologi
Bologi scientific name: Solanecio biafrae or Crassocephalum biafrae
Broad bologi scientific name: Basella alba
Though similar in name and use in the kitchen, bologi and broad bologi are actually two different species. The bologi plant has small leaves and climbs up tree trunks, growing up to three meters tall. The flavourful and nutritious leaves contain iron and calcium. Broad bologi is a common plant in many parts of the continent, mostly in humid zones. Also climbing, and with beautiful flowers, broad bologi is used as an ornamental plant in gardens and hedges. The leaves, rich in iron and vitamin A, are also eaten once they have been carefully washed and boiled. Both plants are used to make soups or to accompany meat or fish dishes.
Bologi and Broad Bologi with Beans
450 grams (1 lb) bologi or broad bologi leaves
2 cups (360 grams) beans
one dry fish
2 tbsp crushed groundnuts (peanuts)
salt and pepper
Wash and debone the dry fish. Remove the bologi or broad bologi leaves from the stems; wash the leaves carefully and slice. Sprinkle the leaves with salt and massage thoroughly with the hands to help reduce bitterness and unpleasant odour.Add the fish, beans, groundnuts, salt and pepper to a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. When the ingredients have cooked down into one incorporated sauce, except the groundnuts, add the leaves to the pot and cook for around 5 minutes more.