African immigrants in the United States come from almost all regions in Africa and do not constitute a homogeneous group. They include peoples from different national, linguistic, ethnic, racial, cultural and social backgrounds. As such, African immigrants are distinct from African Americans, many of whose ancestors were involuntarily brought from West Africa and Central Africa to British North America by means of the Atlantic slave trade. African Americans whose ancestors were forced into slavery and Africans who emigrated to the US have all contributed numerous qualities in the development of the US as a nation and have greatly influenced our culinary world.
Since the 17th century, enslaved Africans and their descendants have had a profound impact on what Americans grow and eat. Watermelon, okra, yams, black-eyed peas, and some peppers are all indigenous to Africa. Fruits and vegetables brought from Africa flourished in America in large part because enslaved Africans planted their own gardens to supplement the meager rations provided by their captors. These plants eventually made their way from gardens of the enslaved to those of some of the wealthiest and most prominent people in the country, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, whose gardens were planted with heirloom seeds from Africa. Enslaved African chefs left their mark on certain cooking methods, while also developing recipes that are now staples in the American diet, particularly in the American South. Dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, pepper pot and the method of cooking greens called Hoppin’ John (a dish made with greens and pork) are all examples. “The method of deep frying of fish or barbecuing meats were all documented in West Africa before the transatlantic slave trade,” says Kelley Deetz, director of programming at Stratford Hall and who is also the author of Bound to the Fire, which explores how Virginia’s enslaved cooks helped invent American cuisine. “These dishes and ingredients were essential to the formation of Southern, and eventually American, food.”
The continent of Africa has seen many changes in migration patterns over the course of history. The influx of African immigrants began in the latter part of the 20th century and is often referred to as the “fourth great migration.” About three-fourths of all immigrants from Africa went to the United States after 1990. This trend began after decolonization, as many Africans moved to the U.S. seeking education and an escape from poverty, and this trend has been steadily rising over time. Originally, these immigrants came with the sole purpose of advancing themselves before returning to their respective countries. In recent years there has been an increase in the number of African immigrants interested in gaining permanent residence in the U.S. One major factor that contributes to migration from Africa to the United States is for job opportunities. It has been relatively easier for Africans with advanced education to leave and enter the international labor markets. In addition, many Africans move to the United States for advanced training. For example, doctors from different African nations move to the U.S. in order to increase their skills and gain more economic opportunities.
African immigrants tend to retain their culture once in the United States. Cultural bonds are developed through shared ethnic or national affiliations. Some organizations like the Ghanaian group Fantse-Kuo and the Sudanese Association are organized by country, region, or ethnic group. Other nonprofits like the Malawi Washington Association is organize by national identity and are inclusive of all Malawians. Other groups present traditional culture from a pan-African perspective. Using traditional skills and knowledge, African-born entrepreneurs develop services for immigrants and the community at large. In the Washington area, events such as the annual Ethiopian soccer tournament, institutions such as the AME Church African Liberation Ministry, and “friends” and “sister cities” organizations bring together different communities. According to estimates in 2000, there were 8.7 million African American families in the United States. The ten states with the largest populations of African Americans are New York, California, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina, Louisiana, Michigan, and Maryland.
The migration of Africans to Europe and the US has introduced a range of African culinary dishes to the world. Ethiopian and Moroccan foods have made their mark with popular restaurants in urban hubs like London, New York, Paris, and Washington DC. Traditionally, African cuisines use a combination of locally grown fruits, vegetables, cereal grains, and meats. African cuisine can be broken down largely into styles from Central Africa, East Africa, the Horn of Africa, North Africa, South Africa, and West Africa. Heavily influenced by spices, African recipes are known for their intense flavor and often include combining sweet flavors such as dried fruit, ginger, and cinnamon with garlic and onions.
The historical record indicates chickens were known in ancient Egypt by 1,400 BC, and later in the Greek and Roman empires. When they first arrived in sub-Saharan Africa is unknown, but they are now common throughout Africa as in the rest of the world. A similar bird, the guinea fowl, is native to Africa and is widely raised there. Both are often called kuku in many African languages. Nsusu or soso are words for chicken in the Congo region. Every culture has its own way of cooking chicken. One classic method of preparing chicken in Africa is to stew it in a peanut and tomato sauce (this basic recipe goes by many names in different parts of Africa). Another delicious African chicken dish is Poulet Yassa, which is chicken marinated in an onion-mustard mixture. The African kitchen is traditionally outside or in a separate building apart from the sleeping and living quarters. By far the most traditional and to-this-day the most common sight in an African kitchen is a stewpot filled with meat and vegetables (often greens) simmering over a fire. The pot usually sits on three stones arranged in a triangle, and the fire slowly consumes three pieces of wood that meet at a point under the pot.
Here is another traditional recipe for chicken.
Piri-Piri Chicken with Piri-Piri Sauce
Piri-Piri (sometimes spelled peri-peri) is Swahili for ‘pepper pepper’, or ‘strong pepper’ and refers to an African-style chili sauce. Piri-Piri Chicken is marinated in a hot chile pepper marinade, then grilled. This dish evolved in Angola and Mozambique (once Portuguese colonies) after Portuguese explorers and settlers brought American chili peppers to Africa.
The most basic piri-piri marinade recipe calls for just oil, cayenne pepper or minced fresh hot chile peppers, and salt. Many piri-piri recipes add an acidic liquid (usually lemon or lime juice, or vinegar, or possibly wine or liquor) which adds a tang and tenderizes the chicken. More elaborate versions also include additional flavorings and spices.
This recipe makes quite a bit and since I cook for two most days, I cut the recipe in half. This dish is delicious and the chicken turns out quite tender and juicy. The sauce has a bit of a kick but not overly spicy.
4 lb chicken cut into parts or 4 lbs of your favorite chicken parts, about 8 pieces.
Peri Peri Marinade
3 red chilies (reduce for less heat or remove seeds), finely chopped or use 2 tablespoons red chili paste
1 green chili, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon of sea salt
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Peri Peri Sauce
3 tablespoons reserved marinade
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
Combine all marinade ingredients in a bowl large enough to hold all the chicken parts and blend well.
Reserve 3 tablespoons of the marinade in a small storage container and the coat the chicken with the remaining marinade. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours to overnight.
Hear an outdoor grill or stovetop grill pan.
For the Piri-Piri Sauce
Add reserved marinade, water, and sugar to a small saucepan and bring to boil. Cook for 2 minutes, remove from the heat and keep warm.
To cook the chicken
Place chicken bone side down on the grill. Cook for 10 minutes. Turn chicken over and cook for 25-30 minutes. Turn chicken over once more and grill for another 5 minutes. Remove the chicken to a serving platter and drizzle the sauce over the grilled chicken.
African Cucumber Sambal
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, minced
1/2 green chili (jalapeno pepper), minced
1 teaspoon sugar or natural sweetener (honey, agave nectar, etc.)
1 (2-inch) piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 mint leaves, minced
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, quartered and thinly sliced
Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Stir and toss well to cover.
West African Style Rice With Black-eyed Peas
Every culture seems to have its own version of rice and beans. Peanut oil and hot red pepper give this dish a West African flavor.
Carolina Gold Rice, long grain rice, was the basis of the colonial and antebellum economy of Carolina and Georgia. Considered the grandfather of long grain rice in the Americas, Carolina Gold (which came from Africa and Indonesia) became a commercial staple grain in the coastal lands of Charles Towne in the Carolina Territory in 1685. The rice has a superior flavor, nutty aroma, a tiny texture and a beautiful golden hue in the field. Cooking directions differ from traditional rice, in that, Carolina gold is boiled in salted water rather than simmered.
1 cup (200 grams) dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight in water to cover or one 15.8 oz can of black-eyed peas
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 large vine ripe tomato, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 ⁄ 4 teaspoon ground hot red pepper (cayenne)
1 ⁄ 8 teaspoon salt
Cooked Carolina (Charleston) gold rice (recipe below)
To cook the beans if using dried beans:
Cover black-eyed peas with water in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat until soft, about 1 hour. Drain and set aside.
Or drain and rinse the canned beans. Set aside.
To finish the dish
Heat oil in a heavy pot. Add onion, tomato, tomato paste, red pepper, and salt. Simmer 10 minutes, uncovered, over medium heat until vegetables are soft. Add rice and beans to the pan. Cover and let the dish sit for 5 minutes before serving. Adjust seasoning if needed.
If you use regular long grain white rice, follow the package directions for cooking 1/2 cup rice.
1/2 cup Carolina gold rice
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups of water
Bring the water to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan. Rinse the rice three times with tap water in a mixing bowl. Add the rice and salt to the boiling water. Stir gently to separate the grains and cook in boiling water 12-15 minutes until rice is tender and doubled in size. Drain the rice in a colander and rinse with cold water. Set aside to add to the beans.
Sources: Jessica B. Harris’ The Africa Cookbook; Marcus Samuelsson’s The Soul of a New Cuisine and The Congo Cookbook.