"A Taste of Africa," Dorinda Hafner

Pros: Easy, good recipes
Cons: A few difficult-to-find ingredients; somewhat bland
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

First posted 8/29/2000

I’m giving this book a 3.5, or a “conditional” 4. The food is consistently yummy. The quality is good. The directions are clear and simple. The techniques are simple and easy. The foreign ingredients always have the American names right there. The recipes don’t use many ingredients that you’ll have trouble finding. There are wonderful details about life in Africa, and even the occasional neat legend, nugget of history, or interesting saying.

The “conditional” part is really a matter of personal taste. I don’t like onions, shallots, and scallions all that much, and I love good spicing. These recipes often involve a fair amount of onion, and they don’t involve much in the way of spicing, so I find the flavors a bit on the bland and unpleasant side. If you love onions and bland food, obviously you aren’t likely to agree with me.

Personality

It’s obvious that the woman who wrote this book (Dorinda Hafner) has a great deal of personality. She’s the only cookbook author I’ve seen whose picture looks vibrant and alive rather than posed. She gives us tiny slices of her life. One of my favorite quotes comes with the Cumin Roast Lamb recipe:

When I go to the butcher’s to buy a leg of lamb for this recipe, I’m frequently tempted to revert to the “home” method of selecting which one to buy. At home in Ghana I would hold a leg in each hand and jiggle them up and down to work out which had enough meat to feed the family. These days, to avoid embarrassing my children, I can only resort to pointing gamely at the one I think will be enough to feed us – such is progress.

And it’s obvious that she feeds her family very well. We found that her estimates of number of servings each recipe provided were quite low. The Jollof Rice will probably feed more like 8-12 people than the 4-6 it claims.

The bits of history and legendry are particularly interesting. They range from how you can tell that thus-and-such recipe from country X originated in Africa, to the significance of a country’s name, to a beautiful and lovely old legend passed on for generations. The chapters even give various vital statistics about African countries. This book is certainly a learning experience, but it never makes you feel that the information is being forced on you. No lectures, just gorgeous bits of information.

The Recipes

You’ll find a great variety of recipes here, from all over Africa. There’s a Ghanaian Salad from Ghana, Cold Guinea Fowl from the Ivory Coast, Maafe (Chicken and Peanut Stew) from Mali, Suliman’s Pilaff from Egypt, and another Chicken and Peanut Stew (Huku Ne Dovi) from Zimbabwe.

These dishes are rich, satisfying, healthy, and very definitely home-cooking. Add a few spices, substitute bell pepper for the onion, and we enjoy them quite a bit. If you aren’t so big on the spices and you love onion, then this book should be perfect for you.

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