26 September 2023

Intro to Africa

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By Christine Salins.


“African cuisines are often labelled as too oily, too spicy, too rich, too strong smelling or criticised for being served up in a slapdash manner … But rest assured, if you are able to enjoy a French foie gras, delight in a good home-made mayonnaise or hollandaise sauce, savour a smelly blue cheese or eat your sushi with wasabi, then you will be able to appreciate the varied and tasty dishes that come from the cradle of humanity.”

So says Anto Cocagne in the introduction to her first book, Saka Saka (Murdoch Books, $45), co-authored with photographer Aline Princet.

French-born Anto grew up in Gabon and returned to France at the age of 20 to study cooking. Today she works as a home chef and consultant on African cuisine, presents regularly on French television, works as a consultant helping restaurants revamp their menus, and is the recipe co-ordinator for Afro Cooking, a leading African cooking magazine.

Driven by a bold ambition to present traditional pan-African cuisine with a modern spin, she deliberately showcases African produce rather than countries. “The borders between the countries in Africa were not chosen by Africans but imposed on us,” is her simple explanation.

Saka Saka takes its name from a cassava leaf dish that is a staple across Africa (albeit appearing in a variety of forms with different names). It’s a beautifully presented book with a bright yellow and blue cover depicting a traditional wax print.

The vibrant cover follows through with equally lively portraits of personalities with African heritage and diverse backgrounds: an artist, a writer, musicians, a choreographer and a fashion designer, all of whom talk about their connection with food, their memories of taste, and even their cooking tips.

Their interviews, presented as though they’re talking around a dining table, are interwoven with recipes from Gabon, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Congo and Ethiopia. Each recipe comes with information on its origins, its key ingredients, and tips for cooking them to perfection.

Anto deliberately chose recipes that weren’t too complicated, so as not to discourage beginners. “My goal is to make African recipes accessible to everyone,” she says.

One of the book’s finest attributes is its clear and concise way of presenting the principles and traditions of African cooking, the pantry, and the produce most commonly used in West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa and South Africa. Educational without being overwhelming, it’s a fascinating introduction to cuisines that most Aussies know little about.

Essential Ingredient stocks many of the ingredients in the book, some flours and grains are available at wholefood stores, and you can also buy from African online grocers.

The salad here is found everywhere in Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi. Served as a side, it is traditionally made with tomatoes, onions and chilli with a lime juice dressing. Add whatever ingredients you have on hand, such as avocado, mango, cucumber and radish.

Kachumbari salad

Serves 6

2 small red onions

1 mild/sweet green chilli

3 multicolour mini capsicums

20 yellow cherry tomatoes

6 mixed tomatoes (green, black and red)

3 limes

½ bunch mixed coriander and chervil

Salt and pepper

90 ml vegetable oil

Peel the onions. Deseed the chilli and cut in half lengthways. Use the tip of a small knife to remove the seeds from the capsicums, keeping the capsicums whole.

Carefully remove the stems from the tomatoes and cut a shallow ‘X’ in the base of each. Immerse the tomatoes in boiling water for 20 seconds to make them easier to peel. Peel the cherry tomatoes and keep them whole. To make tomato petals, peel the green, black and red tomatoes, cut into quarters, remove the flesh and pat them dry with paper towel.

Finely dice the chilli and slice the mini capsicums into thin rounds. Cut the red onions in half first, then thinly slice them lengthways.

Zest and juice the limes. Pick the leaves from the herbs and chop finely.

To prepare the dressing, combine the salt, pepper and lime juice in a bowl. Add the lime zest and oil.

Make a rosette with the tomato petals, top with the cherry tomatoes, sliced onions and mini capsicums, and sprinkle with the diced chilli. Drizzle with the dressing and scatter the herbs on top.

Recipe and image from Saka Saka by Anto Cocagne & Aline Princet, photography by Aline Princet. Murdoch Books RRP $45.00.

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