When I received a copy of a new cookbook through the post I eagerly ripped open the parcel, as I’d been looking forward to reading The Gambian Cookbook – Recipes from the Smiling Coast, ever since I’d been asked by the authors to review it.

Bread and coconut cake

My first impression was that this was a comprehensive book about Gambian cooking that was long overdue. Although the cover didn’t exactly shout cookbook to me, looking inside I found enticing recipes about how to cook well known Gambian dishes plus many I’d never heard of before. What particularly struck was the friendly style with which it had been written and the wonderful anecdotes that came with each recipe.

At the front of the book is a useful list of ingredients that the reader might be unfamiliar with giving suitable alternatives. For example, almost every main course recipe includes kani chillies, which are not generally available in the UK, although they are similar to scotch bonnet chillies, which are. Alternatively, ‘Aggy’s Hot Chilli and Spicy Sauce’ can be used to give a more accurate flavour. This and the frequently used Maggi cubes can both be bought online if you can’t find them in your local shops.

I found the last section interesting. Entitled ‘Toubab Dishes’ it shows how European influences have been enveloped into modern Gambian fusion cuisine. I also loved the suggestions on presentation including how to make a colourful tie-dye tablecloth, so typical of The Gambia – wonderful!

A Gambian Feast!

I recently invited a few friends to join me in trying out some of the recipes and we had a Gambian feast for World Food Night.

On the menu…

Pepe chicken soup – a seriously delicious spicy soup and possibly my favourite dish of the day

Domada – chicken in a tasty peanut sauce served with rice

Afra – spicy lamb kebabs, a popular Gambian street food

Banana cake – a yummy, easy to make cake

Bread and coconut cake – an even yummier cake

Banana and lime smoothie – one of the most refreshing drinks I’ve ever tried

Everyone cooked a different dish and we had a great time eating them all. We found the recipes easy to follow, the only criticisms were that there are a few omissions in a couple of recipes where the ‘method’ did not say when to add all the listed ingredients. This wasn’t a problem though and there wasn’t a single dish that wasn’t well received. Below is the recipe for our favourite dish of the day.

Pepe Soup – Chicken

The traditional chicken pepe soup is known as a cure-all and, amongst other things, is said to cure the common cold. Beware though – it packs quite a punch!

Time: 3 hours
Serves: 4
Difficulty: Moderate

250 grams of tomato concentrate paste

500 grams of chicken, cut in small pieces
2 litres of water
1 tablespoon of black pepper, finely ground*
2 tablespoons of kani chilli, finely chopped*
2 whole kani chillies
1 teaspoon of salt
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 large Maggi cubes
2 tablespoons of peanut oil

*Far less pepper and chilli was used in the version we tried and while it was hot it was comfortable to eat. How much you add really is a matter of taste but Gambians like it hot!

1. Mix the black pepper, chopped kani, garlic, and Maggi in a blender and blend until smooth.
2. Heat the oil in a deep pan.
3. Stir fry the chicken until cooked, then add the paste from the blender and the water.
4. Bring to a boil.
5. Simmer until the stock has halved.
6. Add the tomato paste and stir until it has been incorporated into the stock.
7. Add two whole chillies.
8. Simmer for 10 further minutes.
9. Remove the whole chillies (which should be soft but not falling apart).
10. Serve steaming hot, with some crusty bread on the side.

This recipe has been reproduced with permission from “The Gambian Cookbook” (Dec 2011, ISBN 9781-908797-001 – Daryanani and Shah).

This really is a lovely cookbook and is so much more than a collection of great recipes. It gives the reader a wonderful glimpse into Gambian life.

You can buy The Gambian Cookbook on Amazon.

Read more about Gambian cooking in my recent post ‘Cooking with Ida’.

Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link so if you purchase The Gambian Cookbook through it, I’ll make a few pennies towards another book to review and it won’t cost you a penny more. 


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Pepe Soup - a deliciously spicy chicken soup from West Africa


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