We often want to improve our diet and eat healthier whole foods because we are aware of the truth in the saying that “we are what we eat”, “food is medicine” and let us not forget that if we do not take our food as medicine, we will soon take our medicine as our food.
We are continuing this series of identifying common food items in west Africa and then finding their names in the local languages of west African societies. I believe there are thousands of languages and I cannot cover all of them so, I will only be selecting the most popular languages of west-Africa. I will be updating the names from time-to-time and including more local languages as time goes by.
In the previous post we discussed grains, tuber and nuts which you are welcome to read here. Today, its all about the vegetables. Green veges, leafy veges, non-leafy veggies, raw veggies, cooked veggies etc. We are discussing them according to three categories which are leafy green leaves, vegetables usually eaten raw as salad and the last section will be about non-leafy vegetables.
Green Leafy Vegetables
English Name: Baobab (leaves)
Botanical Name: Baobab Adansonia
Hausa Name: kuka
English Name: Moringa, Drumstick tree, The miracle tree
Botanical Name: Moringa oleifera
Hausa Name: Zogale, Zogala
English Name (Leaves): Roselle, red sorrel, sour sorrel, Jamaican/Caribbean sorrel etc.
Botanical Name: Hibiscus sabdariffa
Hausa Name: Yakuwa
English Name: Bitter Leaf
Botanical Name: Vernonia amygdalina
Hausa Name: Shuwaka
English Name l)eaves): Fluted pumpkin, Fluted gourd
Botanical Name: Telfairai occidentalis
Hausa Name: Ugu
English Name: African Spinach
Botanical Name: Amaranthus cruentus
Hausa Name: Alayyahu
English Name: jute,
Botanical Name: corchorus oilitorius
Hausa Name: Ayoyo
English Name (flower): roselle, flowers Hibiscus Fower
Botanical Name: Hibiscus sabdariffa
Hausa Name: zobo
I am sure these are not all of the vegetables we use for making vegetable soups which are common foods in almost all indigenous African diets. Some of these leaves can be boiled and then prepared as a salad such as sorrel, rama and moringa leaves (e.g Northern Nigeria).
Baobab leaves are often assumed to just be picked of the plant at any time which is not so because the baobab leaves that we consume are picked from the plant at a specific period of maturity of the leaves for the best taste and nutrients. So do not just pick the plant yourself. It is better to buy it from the local market where you can be sure you are getting a good selection.
Green leafy vegetables contribute greatly to the optimal health and well-being of the human body. Though they are often used as food, they do have other health applications.
An example is fluted pumpkin leaves which can be juiced raw due to its ability to act as a natural and very effective blood tonic for the anemic and those that lost a lot of blood instead of using pharmaceutical drugs.
Bitter leaf is often recommended for its excellent blood-sugar reducing capabilities. Diabetic patients are mostly advised to incorporate as many vegetables in their diet as they can especially, vegetables such as the ones listed above (Green leafy vegetables).
Roselle not sorrel is the name of the plant which is popular for its leaves and its flowers which are used for making the delicious red-purple colored drink very popular in west Africa which is also commonly referred to as hibiscus tea or drink, zobo, wonjo, etc.. Roselle is from the hibiscus family and is unrelated to the sorrel plant. Roselle is commonly found in west and east Africa, north-east india, as well as south east asia.
Jute leaves are eaten in many African and Asian societies though the plant is popular as a resource for textile industries due to its natural fiber that is second to only cotton. People often write that jute is rama in the Hausa language which is not correct as they are two different plants.
English Name: Lettuce, Salad (colloquial name)
Botanical Name: Lactuca sativa
Hausa Name: latas
English Name: garden cress, curly cress
Botanical Name: Lepidium sativum
Hausa Name: Lamsir
English Name: cucumber
Botanical Name: cucumis sativa
Hausa Name: gurji not kakamba
English Name: tomato
Botanical Name: Solanum lycopersicum
Hausa Name: Tumatir
English Name: mini bell peppers
Botanical Name: Capsicum Annuum group
Hausa Name: tattasai
English Name: Carrot
Botanical Name: Daucus carota subsp. sativus
Hausa Name: karas
English Name: Cabbage
Botanical Name: brassica oleracea var. capitata
Hausa Name: kabeji
English Name: Onion
Botanical Name: Allium cepa
Hausa Name: Albasa
English Name: Scallion, spring onion, green onion
Botanical Name: Allium fistulosum
Hausa Name: Albasa mai lawashi
English Name: Bell pepper, sweet pepper (colloquial name)
Botanical Name: capsicum annuum group
Hausa Name: koren tattasai
English Name: Radish, Daikon
Botanical Name: Raphanus Sativus
Hausa Name: Muruchi
English Name: Avocado
Scientific name: Persea Americana
Hausa Name: Fiya
Raw salads are not as common or frequent in our diet as cooked vegetables. But I will say this, I think sometimes a raw salad is a better option to cooked vegetables. This is because we sometimes over cook the vegetables to the point that most of the nutrients are gone or depleted. So I will say we should try to remember and incorporate raw salad in our diets especially those rice diets that are made without any vegetable accompany.
Lettuce leafs are commonly found almost everywhere in Africa all year round. They are the most common raw vegetable salad prepared though there are many varieties in the color, texture, form, and so on. This includes butter head lettuce, curled endive lettuce, leaf lettuce etc. Cabbage is best not eaten raw though some add it to their lettuce salad for a richer meal.
There is a misconception which confused me also in the beginning of the exact type of cress that is called Lamsir in Northern Nigeria because there are three main types of cress which are garden cress, water cress and upland cress. From my studies, garden cress is the most common type found in Africa and there are other types grown in some regions as well.
Other vegetables that are not native/common in Africa but were mostly imported or introduced include cauliflower, parsley, coriander leafs (cilantro), broccoli and others. Sometimes you simply have to look at the vegetable to know it is not from Africa. These vegetables do not have a local name as they are not from here and they tend to be called by their English and in some cases its Arabic name by Nigerians.
English Name: Lady finger
Botanical Name: Abelmoschus esculentus
Hausa Name: Kubewa
English Name: Pumpkin
Botanical Name: Cucurbita
Hausa Name: Kabewa
English Name: African Eggplant, Garden egg
Botanical Name: Solanum macrocarpon
Hausa Name: Yalo, Gauta
English Name: Plantain
Botanical Name: Musa paradisiaca
Hausa Name: Doodo
Okro is perhaps the most popular vegetable that Africans and people of African descent continue to use for centuries. There are many variations in how to cook it and many of us believe that our own culture cooks it best (a topic for another day haha).
Pumpkin is more popular internationally but is also very common in African dishes and the plant is traditionally used for making calabashes and kitchen utensils in Nigeria. In some cultures, the leaves both young and nature are added to soups as they are also nutritive just like many other green vegetables.
Bitter gourd/bitter melon in not common in African recipes but it is very common in South Indian foods and other Asian recipes. Here, it is mostly used for medicinal purposes and it grows as a weed and it produces a kind of sponge that is collected then soaked to be used as a natural sponge for bathing.
The last but not the least, is the plantain; a fruit but is eaten as a vegetable which is very popular especially in west Africa. plantains are eaten raw, boiled, baked or fried but frying is the most common method. Similar to bananas, they taste rather sweet and compliment rice dishes quite well.
I personally love them. I can eat them every day without getting tired of them (I am not exaggerating)
There is no limit to the variety of vegetables that can be included in our soup, salads etc. and as west Africans, the majority of our dishes include vegetables. So you are allowed to go a little wild and try some new ones from this limited selection. You can find really good recipes on the net as food blogging is very popular and now with their English name, we have a wider selection to choose from. Challenge yourself to cook a foreign dish from your local ingredients and I would love to know how it went. I will be waiting for your comment down below in the comment section.
I will also be updating and including more local languages as time goes on so, subscribe and I will notify you every time I publish a new post and also you will be the first to know when I publish the next item on the local foods agenda which is local fruits.
Update: Here is the post on local fruits. I hope you enjoy it.