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words and definitions
This short glossary provides some more information about many of the ingredients, dishes. and other things mentioned in this website.
When an ingredient name is a link, clicking on it should show you recipes that use that ingredient on the Recipes by Ingredient page.
The fruit and oil of the African oil palm (Elaesis guineensis) are used in many African dishes. The fruit of the African oil palm are called palm nuts, and from these red palm oil and palm butter are made, both of which give many African sauces, soups, and stews (such as Moambé Stew, Poulet Nyembwe, and Palm-Oil Chop) their distinctive taste and red color. Red palm oil and canned palm butter (also called Palm Soup Base, Sauce Graine, Noix de Palme, or Cream of Palm Fruits) is exported from many African countries and can be found in African import grocery stores. (Red palm oil and the white palm oil should not be confused; they are not interchangeable. Red palm oil is made from the fibrous fruit of the palm nut. White palm oil is made from the seed kernel.) African oil palms (as well as other palms) are also a source of sap that is used to make palm wine and distilled alcohol.
Aubergine is the French word for Eggplant, from Catalan Albergínia, from Arabic Al-Badingan. see eggplant
Sometimes used in African cooking to approximate the taste of indigenous salts which were obtained by drying or burning leaves or barks of various plants. Potash is also sometimes used in place of common salt.
Various fruits of Musa, of the family Musaceae, cultivated throughout the tropical regions of the Old World since ancient times. Many varieties of sweet bananas are popular in Africa. see plantain
Used to wrap food for steam-cooking.
(1) a group of some 200 to 700 African languages belonging to a branch of the Niger-Congo language family. Bantu languages are spoken in most of Africa south of the equator, and in adjoining areas north of the equator. The most common Bantu languages are Rundi (in Burundi), Rwanda (Rwanda), Shona (Zimbabwe), Swahili (Tanzania, Kenya, etc.), Xhosa (South Africa), and Zulu (South Africa). Swahili is widely spoken as a second language in eastern Africa and is much used in business and literature. (2) The sixty million Africans who speak Bantu languages, probably descended from a common early Bantus culture in central Africa. It is generally thought that beginning around 100 AD the Bantu population increased dramatically and expanded into lands previously occupied by Pygmy and San (Bushmen) peoples. The Bantu expansion was made possible by their ability to work iron into tools and weapons, and their adaptation of new food crops, principally bananas, plantains, taro, and yams.
(Laurel Leaf, Bay Laurel, Laurier) Aromatic herb from the evergreen Bay Laurel Tree, native to the Mediterranean. Bay leaves are used to flavor soups, stews, vegetables and meats, especially in Western Africa.
Afrikaans word for dried meat similar to jerky. see meat, dried or smoked
(Ndole, Vernonia amygdalina) Variety of African greens. To reduce the bitter taste it should be soaked and washed before cooking. Dried bitterleaf may be obtained in African import grocery stores. In Africa both humans and chimpanzees use bitterleaf medicinally, to fight intestinal parasites and cure stomach complaints.
(Piper nigrum), native to Asia, introduced to Africa sometime in the first millennium AD. Before Asian pepper was introduced to Africa, Africans had Grains of Paradise, also called Melegueta Pepper, Atare, or Guinea Pepper. (Aframomum melegueta) which is native to West Africa. In the 1300 and 1400's, before Europeans knew of America or the sea-route to Asia, Grains of Paradise were imported from Africa to Europe. The African coastline in the present-day Liberia was known to Europeans as the "Grain Coast", named for the trade. (Just as Ghana was the "Gold Coast", and part of Nigeria, Togo, and Benin were the "Slave Coast". The name "Ivory Coast" still survives, though the elephants are rarer today.) Presumably Grains of Paradise were used in Africa the same way black or red pepper is used today: as a seasoning in sauces, soups, stews and on roasted meat. In Europe, Grains of Paradise were used as a substitute for the more expensive black pepper. They were also used in beer and spiced wines. Grains of Paradise are mentioned in some European cookbooks of the 14th and 15th century. As Black Pepper became more common, demand for Grains of Paradise declined and today the spice is nearly forgotten in Europe and in most of Africa as well.
The species of breadfruit tree that are most often cultivated as a food crop (Artocarpus communis, Artocarpus incisa, and Artocarpus altilis) are native to the South Pacific. A native African species (Treculia africana) is less important as a food crop. The breadfruit most often cultivated in Africa are the South Pacific varieties. Breadfruit may have been brought to Eastern Africa in medieval times by Arabs, Persians, or Malayo-Polynesians. Later they were introduced to Western Africa by Europeans, some time after the famous voyage of Capt. William Bligh in the HMS "Bounty" which introduced breadfruit to the Americas. The breadfruit tree grows 12 to 18 meters (40 to 60 feet) high and bears a roundish greenish-brown fruit with a white starchy pulp. The fruit is usually cooked before being eaten. Breadfruit should be cooked as it begins to become ripe. Fully ripened, mushy, breadfruit is not as good.
see fish, nile perch
(Cardamon) spice, the whole or ground dried fruit of Elettaria cardamomum, a plant of the ginger family, indigenous to India and Sri Lanka. Used in curries and spiced tea and coffee.
(Manioc, Manihot esculenta) Native to the American tropics, brought to Africa by Europeans in the early 1500s. Cassava tubers (roots) are prepared as a starch as Fufu and similar dishes. Leaves of the Cassava (Manioc) plant are consumed as greens (green leaf vegetable that are cooked before being eaten) in Central Africa. Some varieties of cassava contain toxic substances. These are rendered harmless by fermentation and thorough cooking.
see chile pepper
fruits of the Chile Pepper (various species of the Capsicum family, native to the American tropics), used fresh or dried and ground to make Cayenne pepper or Red Pepper. They arrived in Africa around 1500 AD, soon after Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World. Hot peppers are used throughout Africa, in sauces, soups, and stews and as a condiment. In Africa, the most commonly used chile pepper may be what is called the "bird pepper", so named because wild birds eat its fruit and spread its seeds.
Spice made from the bark of the Cinnamomum zeylanicum, native to Sri Lanka and nearby India. It has been used since ancient times. It is mentioned in the Bible as an ingredient in sacred anointing oil and as a perfume, and was used in Egyptian embalming.
flower bud of Syzygium aromaticum, indigenous to the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, of Indonesia, used as a spice since ancient times. In the 1600s Dutch-colonized Indonesia had a monopoly on clove production. Since then, Zanzibar (Tanzania) has become an important producer.
(Coconut palm, Cocos nucifera) tree of the palm family, probably native to the Indonesia/Malaysia region, but long dispersed throughout the world's tropical areas, which yields a fruit prized for its juice (consumed as a beverage) and meat (used in cooking. and to make coconut milk). Other food products derived from the coconut palm include toddy (or palm wine, the fresh, fermented, or distilled sap), and palm cabbage (the tender leaves from the top of the tree that is eaten as a vegetable).
Spice, made from the seed of Coriandrum sativum a relative of the parsley family, native to the Mediterranean and Western Asia. Coriander seeds are mentioned in early Sanskrit writings and have been discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs. In ancient Rome it was baked in bread. The leaves of Coriandrum sativum are called cilantro (at least in English) and are also used as a spice. The flavors of the seeds and leaves are completely different.
Cowpeas (a.k.a. China Beans, Black-Eyed Peas, Black-Eyed Beans, Vigna unguiculata) a legume, are native to Asia, the Middle East, and perhaps Africa. They were cultivated in the Mediterranean region in ancient times, and have been grown all over Africa for centuries. They are thought to have been introduced to the Americas via the Atlantic slave trade. In the Southeastern United States they used in the traditional dish Hoppin' John.
(Comino) Spice used since ancient times. Cumin is the dried fruit of a plant in the parsley family (Apiaceae umbelliferae). A native plant of the Mediterranean region, Cumin is common in Asian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisine. In India, Cumin is used in most curries, and in the United States it is an ingredient in chili powders.
Curry powder is a blend of a dozen or more spices, herbs and seeds. Most curry powders include some combination of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel seed, fenugreek, mace, nutmeg, red or black pepper, tamarind and turmeric. Curry dishes are common in Eastern Africa, where there is a large West Asian population and a long history of trade across the Indian Ocean. Curry came to Western Africa, particularly Nigeria, during the age of British colonialism. British colonial officials who worked in India often acquired a taste for curry that they took with them when they were transferred to Africa.
(Aubergine, Garden Egg, Guinea Squash, Biringani, Solanum melongena) plant grown for its fleshy fruit, native to southern and eastern Asia, where it has been cultivated since ancient times. Used in classic Mediterranean dishes as the Greek moussaka, Italian eggplant parmigiana, and the Middle Eastern baba ganoush. Used in many African soups and stews.
(Agusi, Agushi, Egushi, etc.) Flour ground from seeds of (various?) species of Cucurbitaceae (the plant family that includes gourds, melons, pumpkins, and squashes, many of which are native to Africa). In Western Africa, the plants and seeds, as well as soups and stews made with them, are all called Egusi, and this is the name most commonly used outside of Africa. In Central Africa's Congo River region, Egusi is called Mbika. Egusi not only serve to thicken soups and stews, but also add flavor and protein.
Fishing is common on African rivers, lakes and coasts. Before refrigeration the need to preserve fish for future use led to the development of a tradition of dried, salted, and smoked. Today, dried cod or haddock (stockfish), imported from Scandinavia, is a common ingredient in many African dishes. Dried fish, and oftentimes dried shrimp or dried prawns, are used as a flavoring or seasoning in many African dishes, especially in Western Africa. The dried fish and shrimp are similar to the bombay duck (bumalo, bombila) of India.
(Capitaine, Mbuta, Nile Perch, Lake Victoria Perch, Lates niloticus) a prized eating fish throughout Africa, native to Lake Chad and the Nile, Congo, and Niger rivers. In the 1950's it was introduced to Lake Victoria, where it destroyed many of the endemic cichlid fish species.
Canned Sardines, usually from Morocco or West Africa, are found in every Central African shop and market.
(Ngege, St. Peter’s Fish) Many species are native to the lakes and rivers of Africa. Tilapia is best known for being easy to raise and harvest in man-made ponds. They reproduce and grow quickly, are disease-resistant, and omnivorous. Tilapia aquaculture has become common all over the world in the last few decades, but was first practiced in Egypt and Israel in ancient times. In Africa, both farm-raised and wild tilapia are eaten.
Garam (hot) Masala (mix) various blends of ground spices, popular in Indian cuisine, usually including black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, cardamom, chile powder, etc. Garam masala is often sprinkled over a dish just before serving.
Small egg-shaped vegetable, similar to eggplant
(Allium sativum), plant of the lily family, indigenous to central Asia, cultivated all over the world for its bulbs which are used as a flavoring. Garlic was known in ancient Egypt; evidently favored by the pyramid builders and mentioned in the Bible. Garlic has been a used in Europe since the time of ancient Rome. Garlic spread to sub-Saharan Africa in the time of the Portuguese navigation around Africa.
A form of clarified butter, used in Indian, Western Asian, and Middle Eastern cuisine. Sometimes used in Eastern Africa, especially in Swahili dishes.
Herb plant (Zingiber officinale) native to southeastern Asia (?), cultivated for its flavorful rhizome (underground stem or "root") used as a spice and as a medicine. Ginger root is used both fresh and in ground or powdered form, but the two forms are hardly substitutes for one another. Ginger was probably introduced to Africa via Eastern African connections to the Middle East and West Asia. Ginger is used as a spice all over Africa, and strong Ginger drinks are especially popular in Western Africa. Some food experts see a connection between the words "Zingiber" and "Zanzibar".
(Pomelo Citrus paradisi), citrus fruit and tree, probably first cultivated in the 1800s in Jamaica as a hybrid of other citrus species. Grown throughout tropical Africa.
(String Beans, Snap beans), edible seed pod, common in Europe and North America. Rather rare in Africa (except South Africa), but having something of the status of a luxury good in Liberia, where canned green beans (and other canned vegetables) became popular due to Liberia's connections to the United States.
Green tea, especially Gunpowder tea (Chinese green tea named for the way the tea leaves are rolled into small pellets, which look like old-fashioned gunpowder) is popular in Northern and Western Africa. In Africa, tea is usually served very sweet, with mint, in small glasses.
An amazing variety of greens (i.e., edible leaves that are usually cooked before being eaten) are consumed in Africa. Indeed, one of the distinguishing characteristics of African and African-inspired cuisine is the use of greens in soups, stews, and side dishes. "Efo" means greens in parts of Western Africa, and in French-speaking Africa, greens are called "feuilles" (leaves). Greens not only taste good, they are also a readily available source of vitamins and iron. Greens in Africa could be the subject of a book by an ethno-botanist-gastronomist. The Greens family (in Africa and the Americas) includes leaves of bitterleaf, calalu, cassava, collards, kale, kontomire, mustard, pumpkin, sorrel, sweet potato, swiss chard, taro, and turnip, to name a few.
(Grains of Paradise, Melegueta Pepper, Atare, Aframomum melegueta) pepper-like spice made from the seed of a plant native to Africa, used in African cooking as a seasoning in sauces, soups, stews and on roasted meat before the arrival of Asian black pepper (Piper nigrum) Asia and American red pepper Capsicum. Guinea Pepper, usually called Grains of Paradise, were exported from Africa to Europe. The African coastline in and near the present-day Liberia was known to Europeans as the "Grain Coast" or "Pepper Coast", named for the trade. In Europe, Grains of Paradise were used as a substitute for the more expensive black pepper. They were also used in beer and spiced wines. Grains of Paradise are mentioned in some European cookbooks of the 14th and 15th centuries. As trade with Asia increased, Black Pepper became more available, and demand for Grains of Paradise declined. Today the spice is nearly forgotten in Europe and in most of Africa as well.
(plural, Maboké) Lingala word, meaning banana, used throughout Congo region to describe food such as meat or fish, that is cooked, usually by steaming or grilling, in a packet made from banana (or similar) leaves. This cooking method is called Ajomba (or Jomba) along the Atlantic coast of Central Africa.
L'Arome Maggi, brand of bouillon cube and flavoring sauce (somewhat similar to soy sauce) invented by Julius Maggi (1846-1912), now made by Nestlé. Very popular in Africa.
Maize, or Corn, is native to the Americas. It arrived in Africa sometime after the early 1500's. It quickly spread and is now common throughout the continent. In Africa, maize is often ground into meal (mealie-meal) which is then made into Fufu-like starch dishes such as Ugali, and Banku & Kenkey that are eaten with sauces, soups, and stews. In Eastern Africa it is used in Irio. Boiled corn is sometimes prepared at home. Grilled corn on the cob, "Maïs grillé" in French-speaking Africa, is often available from street-vendors as a sort of African "fast food".
(Mangifera indica) plant and fruit tree, thought to be native to eastern Asia, widely cultivated throughout the world's tropics, very popular in India. May have been brought to Eastern Africa in ancient times. [ The crushed seed kernels of the wild mango, an unrelated species, are used as a sauce and stew thickner; see ogbono .
Africa has a long tradition of hunting game for meat. Before refrigeration the need to preserve meat for future use led to the development of a tradition of dried and smoked meat.
(various species of Gramineae) probably first cultivated in Asia or Africa more than 4,000 years ago. In Africa Millet is boiled in water (like rice), used to make various porridges (such as Tô and Ugali), and brewed into beer. Millet flour is used to make breads.
see african oil palm
see fish, tilapia
Spice made from the seed of the Myristica fragrans, a tropical evergreen tree native to the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, of Indonesia. It is used in baked goods, sausages, sauces, and is well known for as a topping for eggnog.
see african oil palm
(Apon, Odika) Seed kernel of the African wild mango (Irvingia gabonensis or Irvingia wombolu), cooked and crushed to form a cake or powder which is used to thicken soups and stews.
Hibiscus esculentus generally thought to have originated in the wild in Northern and Northeastern Africa or Western Asia, cultivated for its seed pod fruit. It has been cultivated throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Asia for centuries. It is used to thicken many African soups and stews. Okra was evidently brought from Africa to the Americas by enslaved Africans. Africans also brought their names for "okra". The English word "okra" itself comes from the West African Twi (or Tshi) language's "nkruman" or "nkruma" which was shortened in English to "okra". In many Bantu languages of Central Africa, okra is called "ngumbo", or "ngombo", from which the Louisiana creole-cajun soup-stew made from okra gets its name.
(Allium cepa), plant and edible bulb, probably native to Asia but now grown throughout the world, used in cooking around the world. Much of Africa is too hot for onion cultivation, in these areas onions were rare until modern times.
Sauce, soup, and stew thickener made from palm nuts, the fruit of the african oil palm.
The fruit of the african oil palm.
Usually referring to red palm oil, made from the fruit of the african oil palm.
(Pawpaw, Paw-paw, Carica papaya) Fruit and tree, possibly native to Central America (?), usually eaten as a snack, in fruit salad, or used for juice. In Africa, sliced unripe papaya is used as a meat tenderizer.
(Groundnut) The Arachis hypogaea is an unusual plant because its edible seeds (which are legumes) grow and ripen underground. Peanuts are native to South America, and were cultivated there for centuries before they were first encountered by Europeans in the early 1500s. Europeans introduced peanuts to Africa (and perhaps North America) at that time. Peanuts were soon widely cultivated throughout Africa, catching on quickly because they were similar to a plant already cultivated by Africans, the Bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea or Voandzeia subterranea). Similar, but the new world peanut proved both easier to harvest and more productive (peanuts have more fat than cream; more protein, minerals, and vitamins than beef; and more calories than sugar). The peanut soon replaced the Bambara groundnut, taking the older plant's place and even its name (peanuts are often called "groundnuts" in Africa), such that the Bambara groundnut is now called an "underutilized and neglected crop". Enslaved Africans popularized peanuts in North America. Africans also gave the peanut one of its many names in America: the Kikongo word for peanut is "nguba", or as they say in the southeastern United States, "goober" or "goober pea". Eventually the combination of Africans in America and peanut cultivation led to George Washington Carver, the agricultural chemist who developed dozens of uses for the peanut.
(Ananas comosus, Ananas) fruit, native of tropical America but carried around the world by the Portuguese during the 1500s. Grown all over tropical Africa, enjoyed as a snack, in fruit salad, and as juice.
(Matoke, Ndizi) Native to the Southeast Asia and the nearby Pacific region, Plantains, or "cooking bananas" are the fruit of the Musa Paradisiaca, a type of banana plant. The plants were probably brought to Africa nearly two thousand years ago by Malayo-Polynesian migrants to Madagascar and Arab-Persian migrants to Eastern Africa. Plantains are more starchy than sweet and must be cooked before being eaten. They are a staple crop in much of Africa, and are served boiled, steamed (sometimes wrapped in their own leaves ), baked, or fried. They are also used to make Fufu and various beers or wines such as Pombe, Tembo, and Máwá.
Asian Rice (Oryza sativa) is truly an ancient food crop, known to have been cultivated and consumed over 7,000 years ago. Both Malayo-Polynesian colonizers from the Pacific Ocean islands, and Arab-Persian colonizers and traders from the Middle East brought Asian Rice to Africa's eastern coast in ancient times. It is not widely known that there are species of rice native to Africa that were cultivated in ancient times in the Western and Central interior parts of the continent before the arrival of Asian Rice. This indigenous variety, African Rice (Oryza glaberrima), sometimes called African Red Rice, has been mostly abandoned by farmers and consumers in favor of the Asian varieties, much of it imported.
(Sorghum vulgare, Durra, Milo, Guinea Corn, Kafir Corn, and Egyptian Corn, etc.) cereal grain plant, similar to corn (maize), indigenous to Africa and Africa's major contribution to the world's grain supply. Sorghum is common in hot and arid regions because of its resistance to drought and heat. In Africa, various types of sorghum grain are boiled like rice, made into porridges (such as Tô), baked into breads, and brewed into beers.
(Roselle, Hibiscus sabdariffa) plant native to West Africa, now cultivated throughout the world's tropical areas. The reddish flowers are used to make beverages, sauces, and chutneys. In Africa the leaves and stalks eaten as a cooked vegetable (greens).
Various fruits, and the plants they come from, of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae), widely cultivated as vegetables. Some squash may be indigenous to Asia, and possibly Africa, but most squash is probably native to the Americas, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years. There are two types of Squash, Summer (which has thin, edible skins and soft seeds) and Winter (the interior flesh of which is the only part consumed by humans). In Africa, the seeds of various Cucurbitaceae are used to make Egusi.
(Ipomoea batatas), food plant, native to tropical America, cultivated for its edible tuberous root, and particularly in Africa, for its leaves which are eaten as greens. Sweet potatoes have been called "yams" for centuries in the Americas, beginning when enslaved Africans applied their West African word "nyami" to the American sweet potato that resembled their African yam. "Nyami" (or "nyana") became "yam" in English, "igname" in French and "ñame" in Spanish. Yams and sweet potatoes cannot always be used interchangeably.
The fruit or pulp in the seed pods of Tamarindus indica, an evergreen tree native to Africa, the only spice of African origin cultivated and used world-wide, especially in Asian and Latin American recipes. The tamarind fruit is a seed pod, brown in color and several inches long, which contains a sour-tasting pulp. Due to its cathartic properties the fruit was used in ancient and medieval times as a medicine; today it is most often found in various Indian chutneys, curries, and preserved-fish, as well as in Britain's famous worcestershire sauce (whose creators were inspired by Indian cuisine). In Africa it is most often used in Eastern Africa's Swahili dishes. A refreshing drink, a kind of Tamarind-Ade, said to lower body temperature, is made by combining the pulp with water and sugar.
(Eddo, Dasheen, Cocoyam, Colocasia esculenta), plant and its tuberous root, native to southeastern Asia, especially common in the Pacific islands where it is a staple crop. Taro tubers, which are similar to potatoes, are cooked as vegetables, and made into breads and porridges (Taro is especially well know as Polynesian Poi, which is made from fermented taro starch.) The tuber has a hairy outer skin, similar to a coconut's, which is removed before use. The large taro leaves, (called Calalu or Callaloo in the Caribbean and in some parts of Africa) are cooked as greens. Some varieties of taro are highly toxic. Taro tubers and leaves must be thoroughly cooked before they are eaten.
(Camellia sinensis) native to Eastern Asia, and a popular drink all over Africa. Sweet green tea with mint is common in Northern and Western Africa, and spiced tea and chai is popular in Eastern Africa. Kenya, Malawi, and Zimbabwe are producers of tea.
(Lycopersicon esculentum) Native to the American tropics, tomatoes were introduced to Africa by Europeans. Today, tomatoes and canned tomato paste are used to such an extent in African sauces, soups, and stews that many Africans might think that tomatoes were native to Africa. (Italians might feel the same way.)
Native to Asia, cultivated since ancient times, turmeric is the root of Curcuma longa, a tropical plant related to Ginger. Noted for its intense yellow-orange color. It has been used a cosmetic, perfume, and textile dye. It is very popular in Indian cooking and is always included in curry powders. In the United States it is used in prepared mustard. Most commonly seen in Eastern Africa in Indian or Middle-Eastern style dishes.
(Brassica rapa) root vegetable, native to Asia (?), cannot be grown in Africa's hotter regions. Most commonly used in Western Africa.
(various species of Dioscorea), plant, native to Asia and perhaps Africa, grown for its edible tubers. Yam cultivation is especially common in Western Africa, where the tubers are used to make fufu and similar starchy dishes. Yams are also used in many soups and stews. Some of the yams commonly cultivated in Africa are usually very large, sometimes measuring several feet in length and over a hundred pounds in weight. Whether yams like those in Africa can be obtained outside the tropics is a matter of some debate, since so many stores sell sweet potatoes labeled as "yams". There are many varieties of yams, and many varieties of sweet potatoes, and certain types of yams may be quite similar to certain types of sweet potatoes. Genuine African-style yams would most likely be found in African, Caribbean, Latino, or Asian markets,
Traditional Senegalese marinade, usually a mixture of lemon juice, onion, and mustard, used on chicken and fish before grilling. See Poulet Yassa.
(Yoghurt), dairy product made of fermented and coagulated milk. Yogurt, buttermilk, and similar fermented milk drinks are popular in the parts of Africa where cattle can be kept, mostly in Western, Eastern, and Southern Africa.
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