For two months, I lived in a village in rural Sierra Leone while working for a small non-profit. During my time there, my way into the culture was through the food. At first, I simply enjoyed the unusual taste. However, my appreciation for the taste soon evolved into an appreciation for the skill of chef. I watched Fudea, Sally and Regina, the women who prepared my meals, slice, pound, crush, deep fry, and lightly simmer their ingredients while stooping over a hot fire. Despite the immense differences between these women and myself, I started seeing similarities in how we cooked. Precision, attention to detail, efficiency and pride seem to be universal qualities in the kitchen. In my spare time, I began filming these women as they prepared some of my favorite meals.
Most Americans who know anything about Sierra Leone associate the small African country with poverty, diamonds, child soldiers and civil strife. The three films I produced of women cooking capture a side of Sierra Leone that transcends what Americans hear about the country on the news. They demonstrate the warmth of the people, the beauty of the country and the tantalizing food.
Since returning from Africa, I have reproduced the recipes and found that, with the right ingredients, the dishes are relatively easy to recreate in modern kitchens. Below is a fabulous pumpkin soup recipe, adapted for modern kitchens. However, before giving the dish a try, check out the video that inspired the recipe: https://vimeo.com/81600444
¼ cup of vegetable oil or red palm oil (if available).
1 small to medium sized white onion, coarsely chopped.
1 large butternut squash, cubed.
3 table spoons of creamy peanut butter.
1 cube of Maggi or vegetable bullion.
1 can of tomato paste.
1-1 ½ cup of vegetable broth.
2-4 green Thai chili peppers to taste.
1 can of tomato paste.
1) 1) Heat oil in a crockpot over medium-high heat until oil splatters when drops of water are added.
2) 2) Add the chopped onion and all of the squash. Stir and cover.
3) 3) Once onions become soft and translucent, add peanut butter. Break up the Maggi or bullion cube into tiny pieces and add to the soup. Cover.
4) 4) As the squash becomes soft, add the tomato paste and chili peppers. If the soup is still to firm, slowly add vegetable broth until desired consistency is reached. For a more “western-style” soup, add more broth. For more of a curry texture, add less broth or none at all.
5) 5) Turn heat to simmer and cover. The soup is done when the cubed squash can be easily penetrated with a fork. Serve over rice.
Aaron is a documentary filmmaker from New York City. He loves to travel and experience different cultures and especially different kinds of food. He lived in Sierra Leone for a summer while doing documentary work for an NGO. In his free time, he learned a little of the local language, a few football moves and a lot about West African food. Whether he is home or abroad, Aaron likes to find and tell stories about our common humanity despite perceived differences. Check out some of his photographs from Sierra Leone on Instagram @onevillagepartners