Manual Soul on Rice: African Influences on American Cooking

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Not that the strategy was effective — he reportedly received just one from a possible 51 votes. Asabee Jollof had Amane!

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Amane oh!!!!! Engaged to Serge Ibaka, a basketball star of Congolese descent, and having been to Nigeria a few times, American singer Keri Hilson tweeted ahead of her visit to Lagos in May to tell fans she was looking forward to tasting jollof again. The Nigerian blogosphere instantly lapped up her tweet, thrilled that its version had been somewhat endorsed by the superstar.

An Illustrated History of Soul Food

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The mere idea of fried chicken, collard greens, and cornbread is enough to make my mouth water. But most of us spend more time drooling over soul food than thinking about it. Soul food takes its origins mostly from Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama, a collection of states commonly referred to as the Deep South. During the Transatlantic Slave Trade, enslaved African people were given meager food rations that were low in quality and nutritional value. With these rations, enslaved people preserved African food traditions and adapted traditional recipes with the resources available.

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Over time, these recipes and techniques have become the soul food dishes we are familiar with today. This food genre, now associated with comfort and decadence, was born out of struggle and survival. Soul food has a rich and important history that ties Black culture to its African roots, and that history is deeply reflected in the staple recipes and techniques.

It may surprise you to know that rice is not indigenous to the Americas. In fact, many crops that are key ingredients in soul food cooking were nowhere to be found in the Western Hemisphere prior to the slave trade.

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During the Middle Passage, slave traders intentionally took several crops native to Africa and made limited portions of these foods available on the slave ships in order to keep the enslaved alive. Once in the Americas, the enslaved Africans grew these crops on the plantations as food sources that would keep their energy up during the long days of hard labor. The transport of the African variety of rice in particular through the slave trade arguably set the foundation for the most notable southern American culinary traditions. Since rice is a staple in many African dishes, enslaved Africans adapted their cooking in the Americas with the food items that were most accessible, creating some of the most renowned soul food staples.


Today, we can still see clear similarities between one-pot rice recipes like jambalaya, and Jollof, a wildly popular traditional dish in many West African countries. The slimy green vegetable has a deep history, likely originating from Ethiopia.

The Humble History of Soul Food

Historically, okra has been used as a soup thickener, a coffee substitute, and even as a material for rope. Okra is still used today in a variety of African soups, stews, and rice dishes, and the recipes vary widely from country to country. While it is usually served fried in the Deep South, many are most familiar with okra as an ingredient in gumbo, a rich and savory stew usually consisting of some sort of meat or seafood, vegetables, and served with rice.

Pork has been the choice meat in the South for centuries, and the preferred method of preserving the meat in the past was to salt and smoke it.

During the Atlantic slave trade, it was slaves who were frequently given the grueling task of preserving the meat.