Culture Tuesday is a weekly column in which Best of Vegan Editor Samantha Onyemenam explores different cultures’ cuisines across the globe through a plant-based and vegan lens. Before you start exploring vegan Ivorian cuisine with her today, you might want to click here to read her column about Kenyan cuisine, here to read her column about Ethiopian cuisine, and here to read her column about Ghanaian cuisine.
Culture Tuesday – Ivorian Cuisine
Ivorian cuisine is the cuisine of the West African nation, Côte d’Ivoire. Its cuisine is influenced by that of the country’s neighboring nations – Burkina Faso, Ghana, Liberia, Guinea, and Mali. However, it is also influenced by the nation’s colonization by France and Portugal.
During the colonial era, French and Portuguese merchants sought the ivory and gold found in abundance in Côte d’Ivoire. Those who opted to trade with the locals, as opposed to forcefully obtaining the gold and ivory, chose to pay for what they collected by supplying the locals with a range of things, such as cassava (yuca). The cassava they traded with was acquired from Brazil and other South American nations colonized by the Portuguese during that period. As more Ivorians were introduced to cassava, they began to cultivate the land for its production and develop new recipes using the tuber. Over the years, this led to cassava becoming one of the staple foods in Côte d’Ivoire.
Despite the range of cash crops produced in Côte d’Ivoire, not all of them are significant parts of the cuisine of the nation.
Although the Portuguese had an influence on Côte d’Ivoire, its colonizers were the French. While the nation was under French rule, its colonizers sought to improve the economy of the nation (for themselves) through the production and sales of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts. These foods were mass-produced successfully for commercial purposes and the farmlands were maintained after the nation gained its independence resulting in an abundance of foods such as cocoa, palm oil, cashews, corn, rice, yams, plantains, and pineapples. Despite the range of cash crops produced in Côte d’Ivoire, not all of them are significant parts of the cuisine of the nation. However, foods such as corn, millet, rice, aubergines (eggplant), plantain, yam, and peanuts did become integral parts of the cuisine.
Cassava is used to make some of the most popular Ivorian dishes. It is the main ingredient in dishes such as attiéké, placali, and foutou.
Attiéké can be described as the Ivorian version of couscous. It is made by steaming fermented granules of cassava till they have a couscous-esque texture. It is often served with a spicy sauce, stir fry, or flavourful salad often containing onions. Some Ivorians, more so those in the diaspora, make a quick version of attiéké by steaming garri – coarsely ground and fried cassava the commonly eaten in Nigeria, the Republic of Benin, Togo, Cameroon, and some of the countries bordering Côte d’Ivoire. When made with garri the texture of the final dish is similar to traditionally prepared attiéké. However, the mild sour flavor associated with attiéké is a bit diminished.
Foutou is a type of fufu (starchy mound served as a side for soups) made from cassava (or yam) and plantains. The cassava and plantains are cooked in boiling water till they are soft prior to pounding them using the large mortar and pestles common in West Africa. The cassava and plantains are repeatedly pounded till they form a smooth, stretchy mouldable dough which can be shaped into a ball and served on a plate to be eaten with a soup.
Placali is similar to foutou. However, it is made solely using cassava. The cassava is fermented and cooked in boiling water prior to being pounded into a smooth dough and shaped to be served. Despite the similarities in the process to make placali and foutou their final appearances are different. Foutou has a yellow tint from the plantains which placali has a creamy white appearance.
Plantains are used to make a range of homecooked meals and street foods in Côte d’Ivoire. These include foufou, alloco, banane braisé, and gnomi.
Foufou, like placali, is similar to foutou. However, also like placali, it is foutou made without one ingredient. In this case, that ingredient is the cassava. Therefore, foufou is a starchy mound made from cooking unripe plantains in boiling water and pounding them until smooth, stretchy, and mouldable. Sometimes, palm oil is added to the plantain during the pounding process. This imparts a distinct flavour to the foufou while also making it less sticky and more deeply coloured.
Alloco is a dish consisting of plantains deep fried in palm oil, but also often made deep fried in vegetable oil. The plantains are usually just salted on their own prior to frying. However, some cooks add onions to it while others, influenced by the Ghanaian kelewele, toss the plantains with spices and other ingredient prior to deep frying them. Alloco can be eaten on its own, as a side, or garnish, to dishes such as attiéké or served with a tomato sauce.
Banane braise is often found as a street food. It is plantains that are peeled and grilled on a wire rack placed above fiery coal. The outer layer of the plantains is browned from the direct heat on them and form a somewhat firm layer which the inner parts of the plantain are cooked till soft and sweet.
Gnomi, also known as ‘gnomi’ and ‘beignets de mil’ is a sweet fried snack consisting of mashed ripe plantains, corn flour and sugar. Gnomi can be found made without plantains, with bananas or with other types of flour, without plantains or bananas added to it. The plantain version of gnomi usually has a sweet and salty flavour which makes it moreish.
Millet, often in its powdered form, is used to make dishes such as dégué or millet porridge in Côte d’Ivoire. Millet porridge is made by cooking millet flour in water, milk (substitute), or yogurt (substitute) until it reaches is a thick consistency and has a somewhat shiny appearance. Flavors can be added to the porridge during the cooking process or afterwards, in the form of toppings.
Millet porridge is often found as a breakfast or dessert meal.
When the flavors are added during the cooking process, they are usually done in the form of adding spices such as nutmeg, to the porridge as it cooks or cooking it with coconut milk or fresh water-based juice drinks such as ginger or tamarind drink made by blending ginger or tamarin with water. Millet porridge can also be made by combining the millet flour with other flours such as cornflour and/or baobab flour for a more filling and flavorful meal.
Soups, Stews, and Sauces
Due to meat being expensive, as well as the increase in people opting for a vegan lifestyle globally, Ivorian soups, stews, and sauces can easily be made vegan either solely through the exclusion of non-vegan ingredients or exclusion of those ingredients, but the inclusion of vegan alternatives to the ingredients. Some common soups, stews, and sauces found in the Ivorian cuisine are aubergine (eggplant) sauce, sauce arachide, sauce graine, and sauce kopè.
Sauce arachide, also known as mafe, is a spicy sauce made from a peanut paste (often substituted with peanut butter). Unlike the other sauces which are served with placali, foufou or foutou, sauce arachide is more often served with rice.
Due to meat being expensive, as well as the increase in people opting for a vegan lifestyle globally, Ivorian soups, stews, and sauces can easily be made vegan.
Sauce graine is a soup made from palm nuts that are cooked in boiling water then pounded and washed in a bowl of water to extract a reddish liquid from them. Onions, tomatoes, chilli peppers, and seasonings of choice are added to this liquid and it is cooked down to make the soup. To make the soup completely smooth, the additional ingredients can be blended. However, some versions of the soup include a mixture of blended and sliced onions, chillies, and tomatoes in the soup for flavor and texture. It is often served with foutou.
Sauce kopè, also known as ‘okra sauce,’ ‘sauce gombo,’ and ‘gombo frais’ is spicy mucilaginous sauce made from okra (lady fingers). The okra is sliced and cooked in boiling, water and stirred, or whisked, often till the water becomes viscous. It is then cooked with palm oil, onions, tomatoes, vegetables, stock cubes spices, and aromatics of choice as well as other additions of choice.
Vegan Ivorian Recipe – Sauce Aubergine (Eggplant Sauce with Placali)
This delicious sauce aubergine recipe was developed by Audrey Mya’Ko (@afrikanvegan on Instagram). It is an easy-to-follow recipe. However, it contains three ingredients that might be unfamiliar to people who do not live in Côte d’Ivoire. These ingredients are yellow eggplant, akpi and kable. Yellow eggplant can also be found under the names, ‘garden egg,’ ‘baby aubergine,’ ‘baby eggplant,’ and ‘young eggplant.’ It is an aubergine in its unripe form. Akpi is also known as djansang. It is not commonly found in supermarkets outside West Africa. However, it is sold online in stores on platforms such as Amazon, eBay and, Etsy. As for kable, it can be substituted with a little basil.
- 9 Yellow Eggplant, halved
- 2 Purple Eggplants, peeled and quartered
- 4 Tomatoes
- 3 Small-Medium Onions, peeled and halved
- 1 Whole Garlic, diced
- 2 Carrots, diced
- Half a bag of Akpi
- 1tbsp Seasoning Mix (of choice)
- 4 Chilli Peppers
- 1 handful Shredded Cabbage
- 2tbsp Tomato Paste
- 1 Kable
- Water (to consistency of choice)
- Combine the yellow eggplant, purple eggplant, onions, tomato and water in a pot. Cook until the eggplant are tender and set aside to cool.
- Blend the eggplant mixture until smooth.
- Toast the akpi for 3 mins in a dry pan and grind it into a powder.
- Sautée the cabbage, garlic and carrots for 10mins, or until the carrots have softened.
- Add the tomato paste to the sautéed vegetables. Stir and cook for a further 3mins.
- Stir in the blended eggplant mixture followed by the akpi powder, kable and seasonings.
- Reduce the heat to low and cook the sauce for 30mins.
- Serve with placali.
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