Tamarind tree’s are common in Sierra Leone. This tree has a short trunk and very thick foliage, making it ideal shelter for both people and animals. The fruit is a hard, dark pod, containing dozens of seeds surrounded by pulp.
The tamarind has many uses in the kitchen because its tart flavour is similar to lemon, and it is found in numerous dishes and sauces. The pulp can be eaten seasoned with salt and pepper, but the most common product made from tamarind is juice, made by macerating the pulp in water and sugar. Sweet little balls of tamarind seeds are often sold at the markets, prepared by women on the spot.
Butter beans are a staple in Sierra Leone, and often added to Plasas or cooked on it’s own with Okra leaf. Beans are used in several types of dishes, for instance: soups, stews, rice dishes, salads and as snacks. They are mostly grown small scale in compound gardens.
They are actually Lima beans but often called “Butter beans” because of their starchy yet buttery texture, lima beans have a delicate flavor that complements a wide variety of dishes.
Seaseme seed (Benne)
The sesame plant is native to west and central Africa and cultivated before written history.
The sesame plant is an important plant in Sierra Leone, the seeds are often used to facilitate childbirth, heal sprains and make, and excellent seasoning called ogiri. The leaves of the sesame plant are also used as laxative and as topical remedy to heal stings of scorpions.
Did you know that Slave ships cargoes brought crops directly from Africa to North America for enslaved Africans to consume during their passage to the New World under the transatlantic slave trade?
Dried Chili (Dry Pepe)
The best spicy meals can’t be made without a generous dose of Chilli Pepper. Specific recipe calls for specific variety of Chilli Pepper and any deviation can be a disaster. Needless to say, knowing the right Chilli Pepper is one of the secret of making a good meal.
African Birds Eye are up to SHU 250,000 on the heat scale. Like all chilli peppers, the piri piri is descended from South American cultivars, but Piri piri has grown in the wild in much of Africa for centuries.
Sierra Leonean Rice (Wala Res)
Did you know Sierre Leone is spending over $200 million yearly importing rice, yet its climatic conditions are generally favorable for rice production?
Rice is the most important staple crop in Sierra Leone with 85% of farmers cultivating rice during the rainy season. Rice is grown in three different ecologies, mangrove swamp rice, upland rice and deepwater rise. With around 200 km2 (77 sq mi) of land in deepwater rice cultivation Sierra Leone is the main area for tropical deepwater rice.
Sierra Leone is working to reinvigorate agribusiness development with a focus on rice production and is depending on the African Development Bank (AfDB) to achieve it.
Gari, a popular food in West Africa also known as tapioca, is flour made from cassava tubers. We would like to acknowledge Fanta Conteh of Welbodi gari. Do check her out on the web.
Welbodi gari is a business in Sierra Leone that produces and sells “Welbodi Gari” made from locally processed cassava (gari) with added ingredients which increase flavor and nutritional value.
African Sugar-loaf pineapples are an excellent source of manganese and a good source of potassium, calcium, vitamin C, and fiber. They also contain magnesium, phosphorus, copper, folate, and vitamins B1 and B6. Their overall nutritional content provides digestive and immune support, as well as anti-inflammatory benefits.
Do check out http://sierra-agra.com/
Black eyed Beans (Binch)
In Africa, black-eyed beans (which are indigenous to the continent, where they are a staple food), mung beans and red kidney beans are most commonly used. Beans are used in several types of dishes, for instance: soups, stews, rice dishes, salads and as snacks. They are mostly grown small scale in compound gardens.
Did you know that Black-eyed beans were used as food on the slave voyages, and enslaved Africans in the Caribean thereafter consumed these easily cultivated beans as a basic food?
Coconut is truly a tropical fruit, spread on its own to tropic coastal zones all over the world. The flesh and milk from coconuts are widely used in Africa.
Creamed coconut is used grated onto casseroles or used to make coconut milk by dissolving it in boiling water. Coconut is used in relishes, frying dishes, sauces, desserts – you name it. Coconut milk is also widely used in all kinds of warm meals.
Fresh coconut is sometimes peeled into slivers and used as topping on desserts. It is sometimes grown on plantations, but is mostly harvested directly from wild trees.
Did you know the name comes from the old Portuguese and Spanish word “Coco”?
This word means ‘head’ or ‘skull’. The shell of the Coconut also has three indentations that resemble facial features.
Sweet Potato (Sweet Petete)
Both the leaves and the tuber of sweet potatoes are also consumed and they form part of common dishes (soups, stews, and sauces).
Furthermore, sweet potatoes are accessible both in the dry and wet seasons, making them a good supplement or substitute for rice. Unlike cassava, practically all sweet potatoes are consumed fresh.
Sweet potato production has expanded in recent years and is practiced across Sierra Leone. Sweet potato production is attractive to farmers due to their adaptability to different environments, and are an important source of food during the lean season.
Big Pepe aka Scotch Bonnet
The habanero is a hot variety of chili pepper. The most common color variants are orange and red, but the fruit may also be white, brown, yellow, green, or purple. The habanero’s heat, flavor and floral aroma make it a popular ingredient in African cooking albeit this variety comes from South America.
These chili peppers were bought from the lovely Sarian Karim at No.4 Atwell Road, Peckham. Sarian is also a community hero so do check out her store.
Mango is an important tree fruit in Sierra Leone since it participates to food and nutritional security mainly in rural areas. However, the economic potential of this tree fruit is still untapped to a large extent.
The fruit is an important source of nutrients and energy because it is rich in amino acids, carbohydrates, fatty acids, minerals, organic acids, proteins and vitamins, mainly vitamins A and C.
Most of Sierra Leonean mango plantations are wild, justifying the oldness of its introduction and first grown in the country. Mango is being considered as an important tree for job creation and poverty alleviation in Sierra Leone.
Do check out http://sierra-agra.com/
Cassavas are an important source of dietary carbohydrates in the tropical and subtropical areas of the world, with its roots providing food for over 500 million people. It comes with hard and starchy white flesh.
This vegetable is the basis in the making of cassava flour. Cassava contains a strong poison, cyanide, which needs to be eliminated during the preparation of the flour. This is done by cooking or fermenting the vegetable. Drying and grounding comes next, which leads to cassava flour – or gari – ready for storage or use.
The cassava or manioc plant has its origin in South America. Amazonian Indians used cassava instead of or in addition to rice, potato and maize.
Portuguese explorers introduced cassava to Africa through their trade with the coastal communities and nearby islands. Africans then further diffused cassava, and it is now found in almost all parts of tropical Africa. They adopted it for several reasons: the cassava plant can be cultivated in shifting systems and it gives flexible harvest. Furthermore, it is resistant to locust attacks and drought.
Bitta Balls (Jakato)
Bitter balls or Jakarto as it is commonly known in Freetown is a fruit from the African garden eggplant called Solanum Aethiopicum. It is low in sodium, low in calories and very rich in high dietary fibre. A slightly sweet, tender fruit covered with a shiny skin used in savory dishes.
Coco Yam (Yams)
Yams are a vegetable that should not be confused with sweet potatoes. Yams come with a white flesh and texture, similar to a turnip.
The flesh can be eaten boiled, roasted, baked, mashed or made into chips. Yams are native to tropical regions throughout the world.
It is cultivated for its edible tubes, and comes in all sizes. Yams are mostly grown small scale in compound gardens, but also on a bigger scale in wetter climates.
Yams were the most common African staple fed to enslaved Africans onboard ships bound for the Americas. The slave merchant John Barbot for example, noted that “a ship that takes 500 slaves, must provide above 100,000 yams”. or roughly 200 per person.
The clove plant has its origin in Indonesia (the Molucca Islands). The Portuguese carried it to the East African islands. Today clove is produced on a great scale both in Madagascar and Tanzania. Clove is a common spice in African cookery, and is also one of the ingredients in five-spice powder. It is mostly grown small scale in compound gardens.
Cayenne Pepper (Pepe)
This is dried cayenne pepper.
The cayenne pepper is a type of Capsicum annuum. It is usually a moderately hot chili pepper used to flavor dishes. Cayenne peppers are a group of tapering, 10 to 25 cm long, generally skinny, mostly red-colored peppers, often with a curved tip and somewhat rippled skin, which hang from the bush as opposed to growing upright. Most varieties are generally rated at 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units.
The fruits are generally dried and ground to make the powdered spice of the same name, although cayenne powder may be a blend of different types of peppers, quite often not containing cayenne peppers, and may or may not contain the seeds.
Please do check out The Pepper Tribe Project Sierra Leone.
White Pepper Corn (Wit Pepe)
These light coloured peppercorns come from the same plant as black peppercorns but they are harvested at different times. White peppercorns come from the ripe berries which are removed from their outer husk to achieve the white colour. The process also involves soaking the berries in water for a few days. These white peppercorns have a stronger aroma than other peppercorns. Chefs use white peppercorns primarily in white sauces or light coloured dishes, and again, they are best ground directly onto food.
Black Pepper Corn
The trail of peppercorns can be found scattered throughout human history, back to antiquity and beyond. This tiny black berry has been a currency, a reason for the Age of Discovery and a cause of national conflict, and today is found universally, in every pantry and on every dining table.
Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, cultivated for its fruit, known as a peppercorn, which is usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning. When fresh and fully mature, the fruit is about 5 mm (0.20 in) in diameter and dark red, and contains a single seed, like all drupes. Peppercorns and the ground pepper derived from them may be described simply as pepper, or more precisely as black pepper (cooked and dried unripe fruit), green pepper (dried unripe fruit), or white pepper (ripe fruit seeds).
Cinnamon is a spice, which originally came from the Moluccas (Indonesia) and was brought to Africa by European traders. This seasoning is one of the ingredients used in five-spice powder. It is mostly grown small scale in compound gardens.
Cinnamon is used mainly as an aromatic condiment and flavouring additive in a wide variety of cuisines, sweet and savoury dishes, breakfast cereals, snackfoods, tea and traditional foods. The aroma and flavour of cinnamon derive from its essential oil and principal component, cinnamaldehyde, as well as numerous other constituents, including eugenol.
Fonio is one of the preeminent African super-foods and holds an honored place in West African culture. There are two types, white fonio (Digitaria exilis) and black fonio (Digitaria iburua), but both are actually a type of millet grain. White fonio is grown in the Sahel area that borders the Sahara Desert, and it does well in dry and grassy savannah as well as in richer climates. Black fonio is found in Benin, Niger, Nigeria and Togo and is generally less common (and even more nutritious). Although fonio is found all over West Africa, it is especially prized in the Fouta Djallon region of Guinea and Senegal and the Akposso region of Togo and Central Nigeria.
Want to buy it? Check out Ibemi
Egusi (Melon Seeds)
Egusi (also known by variations including agusi, agushi) is the name for the fat- and protein-rich seeds of certain cucurbitaceous plants (squash, melon, gourd), which after being dried and ground are used as a major ingredient in West African cuisine.
Authorities disagree whether the word is used more properly for the seeds of the colocynth, those of a particular large-seeded variety of the watermelon, or generically for those of any cucurbitaceous plant. The characteristics and uses of all these seeds are broadly similar. Major egusi-growing nations include Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Nigeria, and Cameroon.
Ginger has its origin in Asia, probably India. The Romans imported it via Egypt. Because of its root form, ginger was more easily shipped than most seasonings, and it was thus widely spread at an early stage of History.
Plantains are a member of the banana family. These fruits can either be green, yellow or almost black, according to their ripeness.
When plantains are green and unripe, they have a chalky texture and flavour resembling a potato. Plantains should not be eaten raw, but once cooked, boiled, fried, baked or roasted, they have a wonderful flavour. Plantains are mostly grown small scale in compound gardens.
Okra is a vegetable that is extremely popular in African cookery. It is often added into soups and needs no special preparations besides washing, topping, tailing and cutting up. It is mostly grown small scale in compound gardens.