“Grandmothers are the ultimate home cooks,” says Hawa Hassan. That’s why, for her new cookbook with Julia Turshen, In Bibi’s Kitchen, she decided to make them the focus. Part cooking guide, part educational material, and part journalistic exercise, the book features the beloved recipes, and stories, of matriarchs from eight African countries that touch the Indian Ocean. There’s Ma Gehennet, an Eritrean who emigrated first to Canada and then to New York, who shares her shiro (chickpea stew), Ma Wambui from Nairobi, who wants to dispute preconceptions that Kenyan food is “bland and uninteresting,” and Mozambique’s Ma Maria, a complete master of coconut sauce. As each talks about their food, family, and life choices, a diverse and uplifting portrait emerges about both the Eastern African coast and the African immigrant experience in America. “My ultimate goal in life is really to tell an accurate and beautiful story about the continent, not one of despair,” says Hassan.
Hassan’s book comes at an important time for the food and restaurant industry which, over the past several months, has faced a reckoning over whose culinary stories get told, and whose cuisines get supported. It’s a fact not lost on Hassan, who was born in Somalia, then escaped to Kenya during the country’s civil war before settling in Seattle. “African people have not been handed the mic,” she says. “There’s a misconception that [the cuisine] is difficult, that it’s far, that it’s not ‘sexy,’ for lack of a better word. But that’s not true. Everything you need, for the most part, is in your pantry. We want to dismantle that this food is somehow at a reach.”
It’s a goal that In Bibi’s Kitchen succeeds at. Full of delicious and easy-to-make dishes, you’ll find yourself wondering why, exactly, a Somali restaurant serving canjeero (sourdough pancakes) and suugo suqaar (pasta with spicy meat sauce) hasn’t popped up in your neighborhood, or why we aren’t downing more Mozambique ginger-beer or rum berry-soda cocktails on Friday nights. As Hassan notes of her East African coast recipe collection: “It’s clean, it’s lean, and it’s beautiful.”
Inspired to cook something for yourself? Below, find the recipe for suugo suqaar.
Italy’s colonization of southern Somalia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had a lasting impact on Somali cuisine. 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).
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 (see below)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons tomato