Book review: Afro Vegan, by Zoe Alakija

10 June 2021 by
Book review: Afro Vegan, by Zoe Alakija

Afro Vegan is the first book from London-based, British-Nigerian art director and food stylist Zoe Alakija, drawing inspiration from the huge breadth of flavours from across western Nigeria, memories of her childhood in Ibadan and family recipes.

The book is separated into soups, stews and swallows (a soft starchy dough made by boiling pounded or floured plantains, cassava and/or yams); mains; sides and snacks; dips and sauces; sweet treats; and drinks. Recipes range from the traditional, such as jollof rice, stewed greens and moi moi, to twists such as jollof arancini and plantain brownies. Alakija describes her recipes as "playfully inauthentic", based on her own experiences and individual taste.

She acknowledges the region's dishes are typically heavy in game, meat, eggs and dairy; however, concerns about animal cruelty and the environment have led her to adapt the dishes for a vegan diet. She claims this was "remarkably" easy, with meat often an afterthought to the main event in Nigerian cuisine.

The book acknowledges Nigeria's influences, such as the small but well-established Lebanese-Nigerian community tucked away in the south-west, from which recipes like the fonio tabbouleh and chickpea shawarma draw influence.

I love the look of the suya-battered vegetable kebabs with ose oji sauce and the ata din din sauce, and I plan to give plantain curls a go at my next summer barbecue. However, it was the desserts in Afro Vegan that really drew me in, from the fluffy coconut layer cake, the brightly coloured vegan ice-cream flavours, such as hibiscus and coconut, as well as the towering chin chin mango cheesecake.

"This book is born of that versatility, an integration of my mixed heritage, of merged cultures and diverse influences, that shapes and channels the flavours, ingredients and cookery of these dishes," writes Alakija. Afro Vegan is a personal ode to the cooking Alakija grew up with and her words beautifully evoke the days of her childhood in Ibadan.

Afro Vegan: Family Recipes from a British-Nigerian Kitchen, by Zoe Alakija (Hoxton Mini Press, £20)

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