What does West African and Caribbean cuisine have in common? A special rice dish, known as waakye (pronounced waa-che), which consists of rice and beans.
Jamaica has a similar dish of peas and rice, which is believed to have come from their roots in Guyana. Some believe it to be based on the recipe that made its way to the islands in the days of the slave trade.
The traditional waakye ingredients include black-eyed peas, which are actually beans. They’re boiled with dried red sorghum leaves and kanwa, a sodium salt, which gives waakye its distinctive red color. If the leaves are not available, then ½ teaspoon of baking powder or bicarb of soda produces the same results.
In the streets of Ghana today, waakye rice is eaten as a street food for breakfast or lunch. Don’t be surprised if it’s served wrapped within a leaf. It’s not unusual to have it with spaghetti, or even a boiled egg and salad. Waakye remains a staple part of the Ghanaian diet because it’s made of the affordable and nutritional ingredients.
Africans take their traditional rice dishes very seriously, even being protective of them. A recent comment by a Nigerian minister over who makes the best rice caused a Jollof War.
There is even a day of celebration in August, known as Jollof Rice Day. The disagreement is due to the different types of rice and other ingredients used to make Jollof. It is believed that the rice dish original came from Senegal.