Experiencing West Africa from the kitchen: Kedjenou chicken (Ivory Coast stew)
Reading Time: 3 minutes To me, food is medicine. Food is love. Food is insight into other walks of life and is central to human connection. This is my story and recipe experiencing West African culture from my kitchen.
I have been blessed to travel a lot in my life. I have been around North America, Asia, Europe and Central America, and during my travels, I have found that delicious food strengthens our bodies, lightens our souls and breaks down the cultural barriers that too often divide us.
For example, Isaac Andrewsen, a student (and my cousin) at Utah State University studying marketing, had the chance to live along the Côte d’Ivoire (the Ivory Coast) for a year. According to Andrewsen, in Africa, “Eating is everything,” and it is common to be offered food from strangers. “If you were walking, and you saw somebody eating [a] snack, they would say something like ‘come and eat!’” Andrewsen stated. “It was a polite thing to offer food, even if you never accepted it.” In Africa, these polite offers were made to everybody, regardless of ethnicity or status.
Thus, in honor of Black History Month and food’s ability to unite people, I wanted to broaden my horizons and attempt to make a traditional dish from the Ivory Coast. Unable to travel there myself, I sought to experience the beautiful culture of West Africa from my kitchen.
I decided to make Kedjenou (pronounced KED-gen-ooh), the flagship dish of the Ivory Coast. According to africanbites.com, the word Kedjenou comes from the Baoulé language and means “to move or shake.” This name is given because, traditionally cooked over an open flame in a sealed clay pot, Kedjenou is occasionally shaken to evenly distribute the ingredients and prevent burning and sticking.
To imitate the traditional cooking process of Kedjenou, I placed the ingredients in a slow cooker bag to prevent burning and sticking and set the slow cooker to “high” for six hours. I diced several pounds of fresh vegetables, seasoned the mixture with a variety of fragrances and spices, placed bone-in drumsticks on top of the mixture, topped it with fresh herbs and spicy habaneros, and left the dish to cook per recipe recommendations (sourced from gypsyplate.com).
The result was a fragrant stew, loaded with deliciously-seasoned vegetables, tender chicken and a subtle spiciness that added a nice depth to the dish. Although the Kedjenou had finished cooking during a busy time of the day, my roommates and I found the time to sit around the kitchen and enjoy the dish together. It was a unifying cultural experience that I am grateful to have had.
This is how I attempted to recreate Kedjenou:
• 6 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs or drumsticks (I would strongly recommend bone-in chicken for a more flavorable broth and skinless thighs for simplicity)
• 2 onions, diced
• 1 bunch of green onions, diced
• 3 bell peppers, diced (I used red, orange, and yellow peppers)
• 1 small eggplant, diced (I used zucchini as a substitute since eggplant was unavailable)
• 4 medium tomatoes, diced
• 1.5 Tbsp chopped garlic
• 1.5 Tbsp chopped ginger
• 3 bay leaves
• 8-10 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
• 1 tsp smoked paprika
• 2-3 hot peppers (I used habaneros)
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 1.5 cubes of chicken bouillon
1. Dice all of the vegetables (except the spicy peppers), and place in a slow-cooker bag.
2. Cover the vegetables with chopped garlic, ginger, smoked paprika, chicken bouillon, and salt and pepper (helps to draw out moisture during the cooking process).
3. Stir the vegetables to evenly coat them with the seasoning mixture (or shake the slow-cooker bag around instead, careful not to break it).
4. Bury the bone-in chicken under the vegetable mixture.
5. Place bay leaves, thyme sprigs and hot peppers on top.
6. Put a lid on top, set the slow cooker on “high,” and cook for six hours.
7. As six hours approaches, prepare sides of rice or couscous.
8. Enjoy the tastes of the Ivory Coast; be sure to share with your family and friends!
Having researched and tried Kedjenou, I want to broaden my horizons and learn more about West African culture and cuisine. I would encourage you to try it also! It is a fun activity, a unifying experience, and a beautiful introduction to the amazing tastes and culture of West Africa.