Holiday Celebrations with West African Cuisine


— As people emigrate from various countries to the United States, they bring many of their traditions and cuisine with them. Such is true of those coming from West Africa.

West Africa is made up of sixteen nations, including: Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, and the Islands of Cape Verde.

With the large numbers of residents from these African nations now living in the Baltimore Metropolitan area, many stores and markets now carry spices and specialty foods and restaurants offer many authentic dishes.

Celebrations always include lots of food and Christmas celebrations are fun and happy times with many parties and family gatherings. People begin visiting loved ones a few days before Christmas to wish each other blessings and joy. The celebrations typically include feasts, dancing, singing and church services. Christmas Eve is often brought in with fireworks or candle lighting and parties.

Esme Bentil

Courtesy Photo

Esme Bentil

Ghanaian Esme’ Bentil and local caterer Judith Britton recently prepared some West African dishes for a gathering. The following dishes are usually a part of most holiday dinners: Chicken Peanut Soup from Ghana, Jollof Rice, Liberian Collard Greens and Cabbage, and Baked Fish.

Esme’ Bentil ‘s Chicken Peanut Soup from Ghana

1 cup smooth peanut butter

2 15 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes

1 tsp. light brown sugar

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 cloves of garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 green bell pepper, finely chopped

2 small onions, finely chopped

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp. curry powder

1 tsp. paprika

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Seasonal or creole seasoning to taste

Chicken parts at least six drum sticks and six thighs

2 stalks celery, finely chopped, use leaves for topping

Use fresh cilantro and chopped peanuts for topping

Add eight cups of water and six cups of chicken broth to a six-quart pot. Once the water is warm, add the peanut butter and stir until the peanut butter dissolves. Next, add all of the other ingredients and stir. Add chicken now and bring to a boil then turn the heat down to simmer until the chicken is cooked. Cooked rice can be added to your bowl of soup if desired.

Jollof Rice

Jollof rice is one of the most common West African dishes. It is served throughout the region, including: Senegal, Gambia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togo, Cameroon and Ghana.

1 red bell pepper

1 yellow bell pepper

1 orange bell pepper

2 medium to large onions

3 bulbs of garlic

2 chicken bouillon cubes

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 Scotch bonnet pepper

1/4 pound plum tomatoes

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 heaping teaspoon tomato paste

Generous 2 cups chicken broth

1 teaspoon red palm oil

1 1/4 cups white basmati can rice


Add peppers, onions, garlic, scotch bonnet pepper, tomatoes and 1/2 cup of water to a blender and blend together. In a large pot add oil and spices, saute’ for 1 minute. Add contents of blender and cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomato paste, salt, palm oil and bouillon cubes, cook for another minute or so, then add rice and chicken stock to the pot. Bring to a boil until most of the liquid has evaporated. The pot should have a tight-fitting lid. Stir gently so that all the rice is coated with the red sauce then reduce the heat to low.

Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Open the lid and stir gently again. It is important to get under the center of the pan so all the rice cooks at the same rate. Cover and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes. Open and stir a final time, then simmer a final 10 minutes.

Then fluff with a folk to separate the rice, slowly working inward from the edge of the pan in a swirling motion. If the rice is not completely cooked, add the ½ cup of stock, stir gently, then place back over low heat for 10 minutes. Spoon the rice out onto a dish and serve.

Liberian Collard Greens and Cabbage

Courtesy Photo

Liberian Collard Greens and Cabbage

Liberian Collard Greens and Cabbage


6 slices bacon

1 bunch collard greens (about 2lbs)

1 small head cabbage chopped

1 smoked turkey neck for flavoring

1 pinch soul food seasoning or to taste

1 pinch crushed red pepper to taste

1/3 cup vegetable oil

3 cups water, more if needed

3 cubes chicken bouillon

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Place the bacon in a large deep skillet and cook over medium to high heat— turning occasionally until brown, about 10 minutes. Drain the bacon slices on a plate lined with paper towel and crumble. Cook smoked turkey necks in water for 30 minutes. Add collards greens and cabbage, vegetable oil, water and chicken bouillon in a large pot over medium heat. Simmer until greens are wilted, about 10 minutes. Stir in bacon, soul food seasoning, crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper. Cover and simmer until greens are very tender about 90 minutes. Add water if the mixture becomes too dry.

Whole Baked Fish

1-2 large white fish (approx.2 lbs or more ,stripped sea bass or red snapper)

1-2 lemons

1/2 bunch parsley

1/2 bunch basil

4-5 garlic cloves

2 onions sliced

1 red pepper

1 yellow pepper

1 bouillon cube

1/2 – 1 cup water

Salt and pepper to taste


The whole fish must be gutted and scaled. Make three – four diagonal cuts in each side of the fish. Rub the fish inside and out with olive oil, salt and pepper, squeeze lemon over it. Place fish in a foil lined pan or roasting pan. Add parsley, basil, and garlic cloves inside cavity.

Add bouillon cube and water to the pan. Cover fish with sliced onions, and red and yellow peppers. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for approximately 40 minutes or more depending on the thickness of the fish.

Enjoy your celebration!