’It would give me great joy to see African food, in its entirety, on the centre stage of the world’s cuisine,’ Dorah Sitole writes in the introduction to her African cook book Cape to Cairo (Tafelberg, 2009). The book is a gem when it comes to the documentation of traditional African cuisine, and Dorah Sitole is my favourite South African food writer.
She is the editor of True Love magazine and writes a weekly food column in The Sunday Times. Her tales from the African kitchen are the real deal. She seems to have a lifetime of cooking experience to draw from and her writing is as much about the social anthropological context of different dishes as it is about taste and cooking instructions.
One of her latest food columns in the Sunday Times was on pig trotters for example, and she explains how she is ‘fascinated by how as Africans we are able to consume an animal in its totality. There is the offal: stomach, intestines, lungs and liver, which are enjoyed the day before the event; and the head, trotters and tail, which are eaten on the day after the feast.’
In Cape to Cairo she has collected her favourite traditional recipes from all over the continent, including several of the many South African cuisines that make up our multi-cultural national map. The book includes stewed ox tripe from South Africa, Masamba cakes from Malawi, Lamb with peanut and okra sauce from Senegal, and yoghurt with cucumber from Egypt.
I have tried several of the chicken stews. There does seem to be a chicken stew recipe from almost every African country, the base of which is generally tomato, onion and chicken. It’s a great, simple mid-week meal, and I have tried the Sechu Sakhoho version from Lesotho, the Chicken in peanut sauce from Zimbabwe and the Chicken and peanut stew from Ghana.
All three are very easy to cook and all have turned out very well. There is no need for any fancy ingredients. The recipe from Ghana is my favourite, and it’s also a great dish for a large, non-fuss dinner party as it is easy to scale up. The photographs are basic but fine, and each country chapter starts with an introductory text on the national culture and cuisine.
Dorah Sitole says that she wishes the book ‘will continue to inspire everyone who reads it to become excited about Africa.’ It is very inspiring indeed, and a must-have for anyone interested in African cooking. I can highly recommend it.
I have three criteria for a good cook book. 1) It should be beautiful and inspiring. 2) It should tell a story. 3) The recipes must work.