West African and Caribbean Cookery

Considering how many people were transported as slaves from West Africa to the Caribbean, it's hardly surprising that there are culinary similarities between the two regions. However, when you begin to examine the cuisines of these two regions it's truly amazing just how similar some of the dishes are.

This similarity extends all the way from main meals, drinks, snacks and breakfast porridges all the way through to the precise ingredients used. Interwoven through this are the histories of the spice trade and the slave trade. The trafficking of both new foodstuffs and peoples across the globe.

Of course, the cultures of both West Africa and the Caribbean are complex and diverse. And, if you would like a complete view of the cuisines of West Africa please visit the Celtnet West African Recipes page. And for an extensive list of Caribbean recipes please visit the Celtnet Caribbean Recipes pages. Using these pages you can compare an entire range of recipes from these two regions for yourself.

Here, I am going to focus solely on the similarities between some aspects of West African and Afro-Caribbean cookery.

One of the big commonalities between Carribean and West African cookery is the use of hot chillies, particularly Scotch Bonnets and Habaneros in the cuisine. The history here is complicated and reflects the introduction of Chillies to West Africa by the Portugese in the 16th century, the rapid adoption of chilies into the West African diet and then the use of those hot chillies by slaves taken to the New Wrold (for a more in-depth examination of this see this page on The Spread of Chillies from the Americas to Eurasia).

Another example of this spread from the New World to the Old World and back again is seen with cassava [manioc] (tubers that are native to South America but which are similar to native West African yams and were readily adopted in West Africa).

However, slaves also brought native African sweet potatoes, cassava and okra with them and these are staples of the Caribbean as well as of the West African diet. Of course, one of the real staples of the Caribbean diet is the dish of Rice and Peas, which, in various forms, is known to just about every country in the Caribbean. A classic recipe for this dish is given below (from Anguilla in this case):

Rice and Peas

150g rice
1 tbsp butter
hot pepper sauce
juice of 1 lime
114g salt beef, chopped
100g dried pigeon peas (or just about any beans)
salt and black pepper to taste

Add the pigeon peas (or your preferred bean type) to a large bowl, cover with water and leave to soak over night. The following day, drain the peas and add to a pan along with the chopped salt beef. Cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil then simmer until the peas are tender (about 2 hours).

Drain the peas and meat but reserve the liquid. Return the peas to the pan and measure the liquid to make 500ml (if less than this add water to make 500ml in total). Bring the peas to a boil then stir in the rice and season with salt, black pepper, lime juice and the hot pepper sauce.

Return the mixture to a boil then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed. Stir-in the butter, adjust the seasonings and serve.

What is much less well known is that the mix of rice and beans (often with dried, smoked, fish as a flavouring) is also a common in West Africa, it's the basis for Senegalese Ceebu Jen. The dish is also know in its more basic form as a stew of beans, tomatoes, hot chilies and rice throughout West Africa, such as in the recipe for Liberian Rice and Peas.