“I feel it’s a book of the times,” says Hassan, a Somali native who lives in New York City. “It’s deeply rooted in community and inclusion and hearty recipes that are super healthy.”
In the book, grandmothers (bibis in Swahili) from eight Eastern African countries including Somalia, Kenya, and Tanzania, share family recipes. Hassan wanted to show Americans that Indian flavors they love (and have been eating for over 30 years) like coriander, cardamom, and turmeric, are also found in African cuisine.
“I have a love affair with the Indian Ocean,” adds Hassan. “It’s the warmest and most flavorful sea.” Those warm azure waters were once the gateway into Africa, allowing spice traders from Italy, Britain, and Germany to leave behind dishes like Italian pasta and Indian samosas.
Hassan believes these dishes will help people see that they already know more about African flavors than they realize. “I hope that the picture they’re left with is an accurate and intimate portrayal of Africa,” she says. It’s time to add another corner of the world to your pantry:
Xawaash Spice Mix — Makes 1 ¼ Cups
Xawaash (pronounced HA-wash) comes from the Arabic word hawaij, which is used to describe Yemeni spice blends. Xawaash touches just about every Somali dish. It’s like the garam masala of Somalia, and the mix of flavors is truly the flavor of the Indian Ocean. Each Somali home cook prepares hers differently. This is how Hawa prepares hers. She always makes a large batch so she has it on hand to add to dishes as she cooks, adding layers of deep, warm flavors to everything from chicken stew, to rice to stews and sauces like Suugo Suqaar. You can also toss it on vegetables or chicken before roasting or use it as a dry rub on any type of meat before grilling.
One 2-inch piece cinnamon stick
½ cup cumin seeds
½ cup coriander seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
6 cardamom pods
1 teaspoon whole cloves
2 tablespoons ground turmeric
Place the cinnamon stick in a small zip-top plastic bag, seal it, and bang it a couple of times with a rolling pin, skillet, or mallet (anything firm and heavy) to break it into small pieces. Place the cinnamon pieces, cumin, coriander, peppercorns, cardamom, and cloves in a small heavy skillet set over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the smell is very aromatic and the spices are lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Let cool.
Transfer the mixture to a clean coffee grinder and grind into a fine powder (or use a mortar and pestle and some elbow grease). Transfer the ground spices to a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl and sift. Regrind whatever large pieces remain in the sieve and add them to the bowl with the ground spices. Add the turmeric. Whisk well to combine and transfer the mixture to an airtight jar. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.
Suugo Suqaar (Pasta Sauce With Beef) — Serves 4
Italy’s colonization of southern Somalia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had a lasting impact on Somali cuisine. Pasta is just as popular as Somali Canjeero sourdough pancakes. Suugo is the most popular of Somali pasta sauces and resembles an easy weeknight meat sauce but the added flavor of Xawaash Spice Mix makes it distinctly Somali (and distinctly tasty). You can substitute ground turkey or ground chicken in place of the beef if you’d like. Serve with cooked pasta (any shape will work, whether it be a strand-like spaghetti or a shorter cut like penne). If you’re gluten-free, try serving it over grits, polenta, fonio, or roasted sweet potatoes instead of pasta.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped 1 pound ground beef
3 tablespoons Xawaash Spice Mix
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juices
Cooked spaghetti (or whatever shape pasta you like) and coarsely chopped cilantro, for serving
Place the oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic, bell pepper, and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Add the beef, Xawaash, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally to break up the beef, until the meat is browned, about 15 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and diced tomatoes (and their juices). Fill the tomato can halfway with water and add it to the pot. Stir well to combine, being sure to scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet. Increase the heat to high and bring the sauce to a boil, then decrease the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally as the sauce cooks, for 30 minutes. Season the sauce to taste with salt. Serve hot over cooked spaghetti, with the cilantro sprinkled on top. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a few days and rewarmed in a heavy pot set over low heat (stir while you heat).
Sukuma Wiki (Greens With Tomatoes) — Serves 4
These well-seasoned greens are similar to collards, which are popular in the American South with their fragrant potlikker and are a reminder of the undeniably deep threads that tie together African and African American cooking. Sukuma wiki means “to stretch the week”—in other words, using these greens, which are affordable and readily available, can help stretch any meal a bit further. Greens are a staple in Kenyan cooking and in most East African cooking in general. Serve this dish with rice for a traditional, healthy, and completely vegan meal.
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large yellow onion, finely diced 1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
2 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 pound kale and/or collards (or any dark leafy greens), tough stems discarded, coarsely chopped
½ cup water
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Warm the oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot set over medium heat. Add the onion, cumin, coriander, and turmeric, and cook, stirring, until the onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, greens, a large pinch of salt, and water. Stir everything well to combine, cover, and simmer, until the greens are very tender and soft, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, stir in the lemon juice, season the greens to taste with salt, and serve immediately. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a few days and rewarmed in a heavy pot set over low heat (stir while you heat).