Foodies are always looking for the Next Big Thing. At one time that was Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. Mideastern specialties such as hummus and falafel have now found their way to American menus. Here’s my prediction: in the near future we will all be enjoying foods from various countries on the African continent.
A number of years ago, I discovered baobab, the fruit from an odd-looking tree native to Africa and Madagascar that contains high levels of fiber, antioxidants, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and iron. The tree itself is called ‘The Tree of Life ’because, besides providing nutritious fruit, it also provides water, shelter and material from which cloth can be made. The tart fruit is dried, ground into powder and added to smoothies, stews and baked goods for nutritional punch. In my latest book, The Age Beautifully Cookbook, there’s a recipe for Baobab Butter Squares, which are like lemon bars, but I like the refreshing tart taste from baobab fruit even better.
For many years I have known about the benefits of moringa, which is a plant commonly found on the Indian sub-continent, but also grows in Africa, Asian and even in California. I grow it in pots at home and eat it every day.
Moringa is valuable as a source of proteins, vitamins, and minerals as well as providing antioxidants to help prevent cell damage. I use the leaves in soups, salads and stir-fry dishes and created a Moringa Chiffon Muffin recipe for my cookbook.
You can easily find it in powder form in health food stores and on Amazon. Moringa powder is also easy to add to drinks, sauces, main dishes, desserts and even candy to boost nutrition. My Shrimp and Moringa Curry recipe is from the entrée chapter of my first cookbook, the Age Gracefully Cookbook. The moringa blends easily in this flavorful dish and makes it an even better nutritional value.
This got me to thinking: What other superfoods are found in Africa and how might they be used? Here are some to consider trying:
Teff – A grain grown mostly in Ethiopia and Eritrea, a cup of cooked teff contains as much calcium as half a cup of spinach—123 mg. It’s also high in protein, iron, and vitamin C, which is unusual for a grain. Teff’s tiny seeds are usually ground into flour and made into traditional Ethiopian flat, crepe-like bread called injera. Bob’s Red Mill sells teff flour.
Fonio – Another grain, this one from Senegal, fonio thrives in desert climates and is related to millet. It’s high in amino acids, the building blocks of protein and is used to make porridge, in salads and stews. Bob’s Red Mill also sells fonio, and you’ll find more brands in health food stores and on Amazon.
Amaranth – The grain and the leaves of this plant are commonly eaten in Kenya and Uganda. Amaranth contains 30 percent more protein than other widely consumed grains like rice, sorghum and rye. Replace 25 percent of the flour in baking with amaranth flour for a sweet, nutty taste with higher nutrition than wheat flour. You can find amaranth flour on Amazon and from Bob’s Red Mill.
Pumpkin Leaves – Squashes of all kinds are grown and enjoyed in Africa, but pumpkin leaves are highly nutritious and versatile. In Nigeria they are eaten either fresh or dried. They can be sautéed with garlic, steamed like spinach, used in stir fries and in stews. Pumpkin leaves contain healthy doses of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, and iron, as well as folate, potassium, and some B vitamins.
To cook, be sure to use the youngest, most tender leaves and peel away the tiny ‘thorns’ that appear on the stems. Pumpkin leaves are delicious chopped and blanched with tomatoes in a small amount of salted water. Add peanut butter and a little cayenne pepper and stir for an authentic vegan African dish.
Moringa – The hearty moringa tree is in full leaf at the end of Namibia’s dry season, when other food sources are scarce. The leaves, while highly nutritious, taste strongly of chlorophyll, so they are most often dried and ground into powder, which is high in protein, calcium, iron and vitamins C and A. Soups and stews are especially good vehicles for adding moringa.
Baobab Fruit – Grown on whimsical, upside-down looking trees in southern Africa, the fruit is very dry, so it can keep for a very long time, but in the U.S., it’s more commonly sold as a powder. Baobab has 10 times the fiber of apples and is a good source of potassium, magnesium, iron and antioxidants. Buy the powder from retailers like Whole Foods or order from Amazon.
Tamarind – This tropical tree grows in African rain forests and the fruit comes out of pods, similar to legumes. It features a sweet and sour flavor that can be made into a refreshing drink that helps restore electrolyte balance and has been known to help cure hangovers. The juice and pulp are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Besides African, tamarind is found in many cuisines including Indian, Pakistani and Mideastern. Interestingly, it’s a key ingredient in Worcestershire sauce.
Coconut – Grown in east Africa, coconuts are also found in tropical regions all over the world. They contain healthful fatty-acids that are good for brain function and though the fat they contain is saturated, it provides accessible energy. Creamy coconut milk acts as a natural antiviral. Like tamarind, coconut water is a great electrolytic drink, rehydrating the body at a cellular level.
Kenkiliba – A shrub from which leaves are dried and made into tea, the resulting beverage is beneficial to digestion and for natural detoxification. Some West African Muslims drink kenkiliba tea to break their fast during Ramadhan. You can find the tea in Mideastern specialty markets and on Amazon.
Hibiscus – Juice from the hibiscus flower is added to hot or boiling water, for a deep red, tangy ‘tea’ beverage. Drinking hibiscus tea reduces inflammation in the body and can help reduce blood pressure, cholesterol and boost the immune system. It’s delicious hot or iced.
You heard it here first! African superfoods are the next trend to promote your health and satisfy your adventurous taste buds.