Connecting With West Africa’s Plant-Based Past – The New York Times

Connecting With West Africa’s Plant-Based Past – The New York Times

When she moved back to Lagos in 2010 after living and working abroad, Affiong Osuchukwu noticed that a lot of the Nigerian food she cherished had become meat-centric. Although the essence of the dishes hadn’t changed, they seemed, to her, to be meatier.

“I never recalled a pot of soup as having as much meat and fish as I see today,” she said. “My running joke is ‘Where is the soup in the soup?’ Because all I see is animal parts. The soup is not there.”

Ms. Osuchukwu runs Plant Food Federation, a website focused on plant-based approaches to Nigerian cuisine, and she is one of many cooks in West Africa and the diaspora navigating the experience of being vegan in a culture that holds certain ideas about food close. She is also part of a growing number of people trying to confront a misconception that it is difficult — and even limiting — to eat a meatless diet using West African ingredients.

On the contrary, Ms. Osuchukwu, who is originally from Calabar, in southern Nigeria, said that there are many ingredients available across the country that can be used to adapt traditional dishes for a plant-based diet, like sliced ugba, a fermented oil bean seed, which steps in for dried and smoked fish in native rice and in abacha, a salad of shredded cassava, red palm oil and fresh herbs.

“People always ask me know how I handle being vegan or plant-based in Nigeria because they believe we don’t have food diversity here,” she said, “and I always look at them like, ‘No, actually, we have more food diversity locally, right here, than in many different parts of the world.’ ”

West Africans are passionate about adaptations to their dishes. New approaches are questioned, and traditional ways of making beloved recipes are championed. But plant-based ingredients are not just replacing meat in these recipes; they are revealing new paths to familiar flavors.

Removing animal products from recipes like moin moin, steamed bean cakes that may be packed with meat, fish or eggs (sometimes all three), and often served at holiday celebrations; gizdodo, a chicken gizzard and plantain dish; and kontomire stew, a melon seed soup made with cocoyam leaves, hasn’t created the kind of culinary gap one might imagine.

Moin moin, for example, does not need the additions of animal products that have become ubiquitous across Lagos. (“The Nigerian Cookbook” by H.O. Anthonio and M. Isoun, published in 1982, features a plant-based recipe.) Mushrooms can step into many dishes, hitting all of the same notes you would find in a meat-based recipe. Lemongrass, coconut, cassava and seasonal fruit are indigenous ingredients across many parts of West Africa, and they shine in a lemongrass tapioca.

Afia Amoako, who posts on Instagram and TikTok as @thecanadianafrican, said something that resonated with the recipe developer in me: There is no standard recipe for many traditional dishes. There are only standard methods, ways of building and layering flavor, …….

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/14/dining/plant-based-west-african-cuisine.html

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