West African Perspective
Recipes Inspired by Gambian cuisine with International Blend
By Ndey Kumba Demba
If there is anything that screams right off the bat from Margret Bajan Ellis' cookbook,
“West African Perspective,” it is her unmatched passion for cooking. This is evident throughout the book with an almost conversational tone to the book. Bajan Ellis took time to help her readers understand where it all began for her, a journey guided by true passion and love. From the inception of the idea, the dismissal of the thought due to some human and often times relatable self-doubt, to the writing of the book, and the processes that followed.
The book according to the author is inspired by Gambian recipes with an international flare. Giving the author's background, coming from The Gambia, West Africa, where cooking is revered and often used as a yardstick to measure marriage eligibility. It is not a stretch to assume that a lot of the African readers would understand this, which brings me to my next point.
Bajan Ellis in her cookbook does well to connect with both seasoned cooks and beginners. For seasoned cooks, there is enough to let imagination run wild and in the words of the author herself, “My goal is to inspire those of you who are going to cook the dishes from this cookbook to add your own flare to it.” And for beginners, the author's suggestion is to experiment with love. “My desire is that the cooking exercise would be fun and memorable.”
Bajan Ellis' cookbook contains a variety of recipes for appetizers, beverages, soups, salads, vegetables and side dishes, main dishes (lunch and dinner) and Gambian dishes. The book contains a list of accessible recipes for each delicacy and easy to follow instructions. What I found very useful for both sets of readers (seasoned and beginner) are the tips provided before the reader dives into the book and the tips carefully placed after instruction for each meal. The idea there is to twig the dish to suit the need(s) of the cook.
My favorite appetizer is groundnut cake, perhaps the simplest to prepare too. The milky, sugary, crunchy pea is all that. The appetizer list is worth trying and so is every meal in the book. I would recommend non-Gambians readers to especially try the traditional Gambian dishes. You might just find yourself loving Gambian food more than you anticipated. And even for The Gambian audience, you can add your creativity to the dishes that may be second nature. The book is so balanced it offers both.
My colleague and friend Abdoulie Bah, a sports journalist who lived with the family for about a week didn't minced his words when he told me his condoles to all the people who have not tried her cooking. Now, we can't all move in to her house, can we? I guess for some of us the closest we can get to tasting a semblance of her cooking is through her cookbook. So long people, read on!
What I particularly liked about the book is the amount of thought and love that has gone into it. It is easy to relate to something that is so genuinely written to share, encourage, inspired and most importantly learn from. For Bajan Ellis judging from the book, it is not so much about the food, but the love, experience, and shared family memories created around it.
About the Author
Mrs. Margaret Ellis (formerly Badjan) was born and raised in The Gambia, West Africa. She is the daughter of a woman who has been renowned to be a creative cook. She started cooking family meals at the age of eight. Her mother taught her a value that is explained explicitly by Elsa Schiaparelli in her proverb: “Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is a great importance to the morale”.