Growing up in the Midwest in the United States, my education was very Europe-centric. It didn’t matter that I grew up in a city with a diverse population. Because of this, I had to wait until college to learn more about different cultures around the world, and their histories.
Even with that, I learned very little about African history outside of the usual topics – Egypt, Slave Trade and Colonialism. Whereas, those three are important, they also exclude the massive history that the continent of Africa has to offer, specifically the distinct cultures that make up the individual countries.
I was excited to move our recipes away from Europe and end this season in Africa. It would make sense that the origin of our species, and the foods involved would end there. With that, I wanted to start with West Africa, focusing on an adaptation of a Nigerian Recipe. The ingredient that inspired all of this was actually gifted to us from our neighbors; Ewedu.
Ewedu, or also known as Jute Leaf, is found in Egyptian, West African and Middle Eastern cuisine, and has a cooked texture that resembles okra and spinach having a baby. This leaf is highly nutritious and is often found in soups.
What is the Benin Empire?
The Benin Empire, is a kingdom that ruled in what is modern day Nigeria, from 1200’s to the 1800’s c.e. Whereas in the later part of their kingdom, they were known for their involvement in the European slave trade; they were also known for their amassed wealth from the arts and goods created from the numerous craftsmen. Their capital, Benin City, had been encased in massive walls and moats.
The Oba, or king, was the steward of all judicial, spiritual, and economic needs for their people. With this, many of the decisions came directly, and like most kingdoms, it depended on a hierarchal rule.
West Africans had been trading with the Middle East for centuries before the rise of the Benin empire, and with that that, many of the flavors used in modern dishes were introduced much earlier. The history of the western part of Africa is as rich and varied as the ingredients in the food and should be explored. The Benin Empire’s history is known through it’s art and through the oral history in the Edo language. This has allowed the culture to continue on, with Edo still spoken, but has also allowed their history to be skewed by the writers. However, there are many who are attempting to make the history more accessible to English speaking audiences, along with taking back work in an academic sense, so their voices within their own culture can be heard.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Another week, another stellar recipe. I love the texture of okra, so the things that often drive people aware from Ewedu; drew me in. All of the rich flavors from the spices and the rich sweetness the leaves gave; it made this a very satisfying dish. I would have giving it a 5 out of 5 if we had used the traditional aspects such a crayfish, but that’s my fault, not the recipes.
4 out of 5 stars
Tonights dinner was amazing. The smell was to die for, but the colour was a little off-putting for me. But I powered through and had an amazingly tasty dinner. There was only one problem that I really had with it, it was sweet and savory all at the same time. I wish that it would have been one or the other. But with that being said, I would eat it all over again. I give it 4 out of five chicken thighs.