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.
Insalata Caprese (literally, the salad from Capri) is the perfect summertime dish for cooks in a hurry; slicing is the hardest part. The salad was created in the 1950s at the Trattoria da Vincenzo for regulars out for a light lunch. They’d order a just-picked tomato and fresh fior di latte (cows-milk mozzarella — no buffalo on Capri). The salad has evolved on the island to include a few leaves of rughetta (wild arugula) and a pinch of dried wild oregano, both local products; everywhere else in Italy it takes the form of tomato, mozzarella, and basil. The dressing is always a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil — only. Vinegar would destroy the delicate flavor of the cheese and is never used. Sometimes I add Italian black olives to the salad for a change but it is not traditional.
2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes (about 4 large), sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced1/4 inch thick
1/4 cup packed fresh basil or arugula leaves, washed well and spun dry
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled if using arugula instead of basil
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
On a large platter arrange tomato and mozzarella slices and basil leaves, alternating and overlapping them. Sprinkle salad with oregano and arugula and drizzle with oil. Season salad with salt and pepper.
1 lb turkey breast cutlets
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 large egg
2 tablespoons water
1 cup soft bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup butter, cubed
Minced fresh parsley and lemon wedges for serving
Flatten turkey to 1/4-in. thickness. In a shallow bowl, combine the flour, salt, and pepper. In another shallow bowl, beat egg and water together. In a third shallow bowl, combine the bread crumbs and cheese.
Dredge turkey in flour mixture, then dip in the egg mixture and coat with crumbs. Place on a plate and let stand for 5 minutes.
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; cook the turkey cutlets for 2-3 minutes on each side or until meat is no longer pink and the coating is golden brown. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with lemon wedges.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced bell peppers
1 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian sausage, sliced into ¼ inch rounds
2 minced garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sundried tomato paste
1 pound pappardelle or fettuccine pasta
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
Heat the olive oil in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Add the peppers and onion and saute for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add the sausage and cook for 8 minutes, or until brown on all sides. Add the garlic, crushed fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and cook for one minute. Pour in the heavy cream and, then, stir in the tomato paste. Bring to a low boil, lower the heat, and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add 1 tablespoon salt, and cook the pasta according to the directions on the package for al dente. Drain and add to the sauce, stirring to coat the pasta. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes to allow the pasta to absorb the sauce.
Off the heat, stir in the basil and the Parmesan. Serve hot in shallow bowls with grated Parmesan on the side.
Serve with a green salad.
2 lbs whole small unpeeled red skinned potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons pickle juice
1/4 cup minced bread and butter pickles
1/2 a large sweet onion finely chopped
3 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 cup olive oil mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Salt and black pepper to taste
Place the potatoes in a large pot with a lid. Cover the potatoes with cold water and add 1 teaspoon salt.
Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook the potatoes with the lid ajar until tender, about 15-20 minutes.
Drain the potatoes and cool. When cool enough to handle, slice the potatoes into a storage bowl. Add the pickle juice and let sit at room temperature for an hour or so.
Add the remaining ingredients, mix well and taste to see if the salad needs salt. Add black pepper to taste. Cover the bowl and chill in the refrigerator until serving time.
Basic Barbecue Sauce
This is a delicious sauce to have on hand during the summer grilling season. Use it to baste chicken or to top hamburgers and hotdogs right off the grill.
Yield: about 1-1/3 cups.
1 small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup vinegar
4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Few drops hot pepper sauce
4 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon pepper
In a saucepan, cook onion in butter until tender. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes or until sauce reaches desired consistency, stirring occasionally.
Store in the refrigerator or freezer.
Prepare the rub and marinate the ribs one day ahead.
1/4 cup sweet paprika
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried onion
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1-2 St. Louis-cut spare rib racks
BBQ Sauce, recipe above or your favorite sauce
Combine the rub ingredients in a small dish.
Prepare the ribs by removing the silver skin or scoring it between the bones on the underside of the ribs.
Place the ribs in a baking dish and coat the sides of the ribs with the rub.
Allow the ribs to sit for at least 30 minutes or cover and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
Roast the ribs, meat side up, covered with foil, in the oven for 3 hours.
To finish on an outdoor grill
When the ribs are done baking, heat the grill to medium-high. Oil the grill rack.
Brush the ribs with BBQ sauce and place them on the grill. Grill the ribs, basting with more BBQ sauce and turning occasionally until they begin to char about 5 to 6 minutes.
Cut into serving pieces and serve with additional BBQ sauce for dipping.
To finish indoors
Remove the ribs from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Slather the tops of the ribs with the BBQ sauce.
Return the ribs, uncovered, to the oven and roast for an additional 30 minutes.
For every 2 servings
1 small zucchini
1 small green bell pepper
8 cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons Italian salad vinaigrette
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
Salt and black pepper to taste
Cut the zucchini into 6 diagonal slices
Cut the bell pepper into 8 pieces
Place the cut vegetables and cherry tomatoes in a mixing bowl, Add the remaining ingredients and let marinate at room temperature for several hours.
Thread the vegetables on one skewer and the tomatoes on another, Place the skewers on the grill and cook about 5 minutes on each side. Remove to a serving plate.
The kabobs can also be grilled on a stovetop grill pan.