Illustration by Neema Iyer
My mother and I are publishing a cookbook!
We have titled it, 'Taste of Two Regions: Celebrating East and West African Cuisines'.
Ten years in the making, though maybe closer to 40 years, if we’re being realistic.
With the time away from intensive computer-based work post-Pollicy, I found the headspace to come back to this project that my mother, Farida, had started while she still lived in Ghana. My parents have (sadly) since moved away.
When I started the project, I had never put together a cookbook. I've published many reports and a few book chapters in my career but a cookbook presented a new and fun challenge. Even though I’m happy to enter any challenge and figure my way out, this project has been quite the learning experience in writing, editing and designing as well as weaving through memories and flavours and culture and history, with many back-and-forth edits in Google Docs and Canva.
It brought back many memories of holidays in Dar es Salaam which were never complete without several trips to K.T Shop. My mother often recounts her sweet childhood memories with her father on trips to town for sambusa and kebab there. Or my own memories with my mother to Mr.Biggs in Ilupeju or Agbamami in Tema. The two of travelled the world together for many years and there was a beautiful joy in experiencing new cultures and cuisines together. Below, the famous KT Shop in Dar es Salaam (courtesy of Wesley M.).
What’s the theme?
The cookbook is a collection of family-favourite recipes that come from my mother’s home countries - Tanzania and the Comoros, and her two adopted countries - Nigeria and Ghana, where she spent a large chunk of her adult life. Once documented, we discovered the contrasts and similarities in the cuisines of the Swahili Coast and the coastal regions of the Gulf of Guinea. For example, coconut milk features in many of the Tanzanian recipes in the book but I’ve rarely come across coconut as a key ingredient in West African dishes. Or the similarities between Bajia za Kunde in Tanzania with the Akara in Nigeria or Koose in Ghana.
The book is divided into chapters on snacks, stews and soups, rice dishes, breads, everyday meals, desserts and drinks - and for some reason - plantain and cassava are a category of their own. It covers comfort food like Maharage ya Nazi (kidney beans in coconut milk) and my favourite, Egusi soup (melon seed soup) and dishes like Nsibe (dry-fried meat), whose origin and history I can’t find anywhere online. We’ve shared our versions of universal favourites like pilau, biryani, jollof and waakye as well as long-lost siblings like bofrot and kaimati.
The Making of the Cookbook
It might be useful to share the process of creating this book for anyone else thinking of documenting their own culinary heritage.
Creating ‘Taste of Two Regions’ involved several distinct stages:
Writing the Recipes: The original recipes were written some ten years ago.
Copyediting: This involved fixing up grammar and punctuation, fact checking and making the recipes consistent. This probably took the longest time of the entire process.
Testing Recipes: We prepared several of the recipes, to make sure they still worked and then tweaked the writing based on the outcomes.
Food Styling and Photography: This was the trickiest part because I am NOT a photographer or a food stylist! We did hire professional photographers to support on some of the shots but in the end, I ended up documenting several of them.
Illustrations, Layout and Design: I did the illustrations on Procreate and used Canva for the Layout and Design. I hired some help from Upwork to use a template to copy all the recipes from Google Doc to Canva.
Indexing: Meticulously matching page numbers.
Uploading to Amazon KDP: This final step means uploading the PDF to be accessible as an eBook or a paperback or a hardback copy.
Overall, a delightfully engaging project that my mother and I could connect and bond over. I feel proud to be able to share these recipes, developed over years, with love at the core - and to have this collection from my mother to share with the world.
You can pre-order the book here on Amazon and I will also make other modes of purchase available.