This is a case, too, in which I have to freely admit my ignorance: I went into this book knowing nothing about African cuisine, and very little about Africa as a continent. Africa was never a place emphasized in my studies growing up, and I know much more about the animals then the people, even as impassioned as I am about projects such as HEAL Africa. I'm rather embarrassed. I had no idea the scope of my ignorance, the variety of cultures and ways of life that I was clueless about. Other then some knowledge of how the Moors influenced Medieval European food, I had no idea about the impact of African cuisine on the world. Having spend my teenage years in South Florida, I found while reading this book that some of my favorite foods from the Caribbean, traditional Southern and Creole, as well as Central and South America owe their linage to African cooking. Anyone with an interest in those flavors would do well to read this book, particularly considering the impact of the Colombian Exchange on the food of both sides of the Atlantic.
Harris varies her recipes, organized by type, and obviously tried to go to as many different locations as possible while researching her book. Egypt and Ethiopian recipes show the influence of Muslim culture, while South Africa surprisingly has a great deal of flavor in common with India, due to centuries of trade and immigration. Eastern Africa was also an area she traveled quite extensively, with recipes from Cote d'Ivoire, Morocco, Senegal, Benin, and Nigeria. This will be of interest to many African American cooks, since this portion of Africa was the landing point for the slave trade, leading to many fascinating similarities to Southern cooking.
Some ingredient will, understandably, be difficult to find. Thankfully, the internet means that spices such as cubebs, and ingredients like orange flower water are only a few clicks away. However, this is a cookbook that I'm sorry to return to the library. It will most definitely be on my wish list this holiday season, and I look forward to finding her other books.
Here is Ms. Harris' trademark recipe for Chicken Yassa, a Senegalese dish.