My African-American Kitchen

Yes, I have an African-American kitchen. I'm American and my husband is African (that's where the Ka [pronounced ka as in "the ca' is in the driveway] comes from in my hyphenated name). Our children will be African-American. My husband will be, too, once he becomes a naturalized citizen. That being said, we have two sides to our kitchen, too.

I like how this picture looks old and blurry. A contrast to our youth.

Before I got married, I was told that I'd have to learn how to cook classic Senegalese dishes and do them well, because we'd be having lots of guests over.

I was confident in my ability to do so, because I'd received a few cookbooks for Christmas, and I'd mastered homemade mayonnaise a mere 2 days before our nuptials. Every man I've ever cooked for is still in my life. I made one of my first boyfriends a pair of hotdogs and some potato chips nearly 13 years ago and we're still good friends to this day.

You know the classic story of the housewife being told the boss "is coming to dinner" a frustrating 15 minutes before he (or she, these days) is to arrive? All you planned was a pair of flatiron steaks, ranch beans, and a simple side salad with chantilly dressing made from the homemade mayonnaise made 2 weeks ago?

So, this was me a month after we were married. My husband's boss at the time was Senegalese, too and since this was the first visit to our house, steak and beans weren't going to cut it.

Our steak dinner got put in the refrigerator and wifey went to work.

I decided that I'd combine what I knew with the flavors of my husband's favorite foods. In my limited experience (at that point) of Senegalese food, everything I'd tasted was not just spicy, not just was BLAZING. I couldn't taste the food for the capsicum! Rice, fufu, crackers, milk, nothing could save my mouth. Lots of dishes had peanuts (groundnuts, as they're called, are the #1 export of Senegal). I'm allergic, so those recipes were a no-go. No, no beautiful husband, you will not be getting spicy, peanutty food from this kitchen. Sorry.
Husband and bossman were coming in the door, and I had to think very quickly...

The following recipe is my first-ever fusion creation. It combines the original recipe with techniques and ingredients I know well. Today I served it with some leftover whole wheat linguni tossed with some butter and chopped garlic. Usually I fluff up couscous with the same accoutrements. This is a staple on the Miller-Ka family menu. Maybe it will make an appearance on yours.

Stuffed Chicken Yassa Serves 6 to 8
The mustard accentuates the lemon, making the stuffing bright and flavorful.

2 Tbsp butter or margarine
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 leek, thinly sliced
10 slices Hormel Turkey pepperoni, sliced in thin strips
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 preserved lemon, rinsed
1/4 cup sliced pimiento-stuffed olives
1 1/2 tsp dijon or spicy mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/8 teaspoon fresh habanero pepper, finely minced or 1 tsp red pepper flakes
3 cups day-old bread, cubed or fresh croutons
8 to 10 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded thin
1 cup Fiber One, pulverized or seasoned bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large skillet, melt butter/margarine and add minced garlic. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add leeks, turn heat to low and cook until leeks get soft and creamy. Add pepperoni, preserved lemon, lemon juice, and mustard, Stir to combine. Cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes. Add olives, habanero or pepper flakes. Stir to combine. Add cubed bread and just enough water to slightly moisten the bread. Take skillet from heat, fold to incorporate all ingredients, moistening and coating bread with the skillet's contents. Let cool. Prepare chicken for stuffing.

Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt and pepper; Spread stuffing over chicken breast. Fill with even portions of the filling mixture. Roll up and secure with toothpicks or keep breasts seam-side down. Coat roll ups on all sides with Fiber One/breadcrumbs. Place chicken on a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick spray. Spray a light mist of nonstick spray on top of chicken and place in oven. Cook for 20 minutes.
Serve over cool, crisp salad or lettuce and hot couscous or white rice.

Original Chicken Yassa adapted from The Congo Cookbook

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 large onions, thinly sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/8 teaspoon minced fresh habanero chile, or to taste
5 tablespoons peanut oil
1 frying chicken (2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds), cut into serving pieces
1 habanero chile, pricked with a fork
1/2 cup pimento-stuffed olives
4 carrots, scraped and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1/2 cup water

In a large nonreactive bowl, prepare a marinade by mixing the lemon juice, onions, salt, pepper, minced chile, and 4 tablespoons of the peanut oil in a large bowl. Place the chicken pieces in the marinade, making sure that they are all well covered. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the chicken to marinate for at least 3 hours in the refrigerator.

Preheat the broiler. Remove the chicken pieces, reserving the marinade and onions, and place the chicken in a shallow pan. Broil the the chicken until it is lightly browned on both sides. Remove the onions from the marinade. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a flameproof 5-quart casserole or Dutch oven and cook the onions slowly until tender and translucent. Add the reserved marinade. When the liquid is thoroughly heated, add the chicken pieces, pricked chile, olives, carrots, mustard, and water. When the dish has reached the desired degree of hotness, remove the chile and reserve. Stir to mix well, then bring the yassa slowly to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Serve hot over white rice.

In Senegalese households, the food is served from one communal plate and there is no cutlery except maybe spoons. Rice is scooped up with the hands and everyone has his or her own place around the platter of food. Also, seating is usually arranged on the courtesy of

We have a beautiful dining room table, but most nights, spread out on newspaper or an old bedsheet, we sit on the floor to enjoy our food. We don't eat African food every night either. My husband loves American food, so I'm off the hook about 300 nights a year or so.

Well, we all know I'm off the hook every night, but you know... :)

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About the author

Nikki Miller-Ka

Nikki Miller-Ka

Ms. Miller-Ka is a classically trained chef with a BA in English from East Carolina University and a Culinary Arts Associate Degree from Le Cordon Bleu-Miami.

Formerly, she’s worked as a researcher, an editorial assistant, reporter and guest blogger for various publications and outlets in the Southeast. She has also worked as a catering chef, a pastry chef, a butcher, a baker, and a biscuit-maker. Presently, she is a food editor, freelance food writer, and a tour guide for Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours.

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  1. You and Heather make me feel so bad. My father was Nigerian and I never appreciated or got into the food because we had the same things(with slight variations ) all the time. When he moved in before he died he craved it, but it was a no no for the diet. Some kind friends brought some over at times. I had to have the funeral reception catered from a Nigerian restaurant here(and I dont find the few Nigerian restaurants that good here in Chicago). So all this to say I need to start exploring and rediscovering this my cultural cusisne . That chicken looks so elegant. I'm seeing a new foodie trend here!

  2. Hey there Nikki. How's it going? Sorry I haven't blogged too much lately or checked out my foodie friends. Just had our roof replaced and I was a nervous wreck. 17 guys on my roof. Had it done in one day.
    I love this recipe. Stuffed Chicken Yassa. Does African cooking use alot of hot chiles? I noticed you used habaneros. Sounds delicious.

  3. Courtney: No, no, don't feel bad! You are being multicultural and experiencing your world away from your roots right now, that's all. I'm trying to discover and realize my roots and my blended family to truly understand where I fit in this world. Thank you for your sweet comment about my chicken.

    Teresa: Hey there! You're a busy lady. I know you'll get here when you can :) I'm glad your roof got done. We had ours done about 4 years ago and it took three agonizing days.

    I'm glad you like this recipe! African cooking, well Senegalese anyway, uses lots of hot chilies, peppers, and spice.

  4. Just came from Heather's blog, where I was impressed.

    This dish sounds excellent. Now I'm a Creole boy but I do love the peanuty spicy African dishes.

    I've made a few and actually got the thumbs up from my Nigerian coworker.

    A log of prep, but pretty easy execution.

  5. Don: My husband and I both were impressed with Heather, too.

    My mom's Creole too! Small world, this one is. Yeah, the prep is a lot of work but prep work calms me down before a crazy night at work.

  6. Nikki, I have never tried African cuisine before (except for North African: Egypt, Lebanon, Syria) and this is a great recipe to start with. Eating on the floor is like going for a picnic in your house. Sounds like fun.

  7. How wonderful that you have someone you can learn such an adventurous cooking style from in your life. These dishes look beautiful. Really fascinating.

    I've always bemoaned the fact that my mother in law doesn't have the cooking gene. My Jewish husband doesn't get too many of the traditional foods from my kitchen because I'm kind of clueless. The cooking gene died with his grandmother, so I missed out on learning a culinary tradition.

  8. Oh I just learned so much about you in this post.

    And why didn't I know Glamah16 lives like 5 minutes from me. I just put her in my bloglines and will be hitting her up!

  9. I almost missed this! I got hung up on the ice cream and didn't see this until I went back. :P

    That chicken yassa was a recipe I was looking at, too. I should try some Senegalese recipes next time. Courtney's right, that looks so elegant!

  10. Wow, that looks great Nikki! I love the story behind it too. Your food looks delicious and how fortunate you are to have this wonderful man and his native cuisine to challenge you in the kitchen! :)

    I still have Roberto's notes from when he became a citizen - so lemme know if you need some study materials! LOL! ;)

  11. Ivy: Before I met my husband, the only African fod I'd eaten was Morroccan. To be honest, West African cuisine, it's all pretty much the same, just different names for the same dishes.

    CC: Thanks ;)

    Rachel: My husband can make a can of beans taste good, but that's about it. He tried to show me a few things, but alwas ended up burning something. I've been on my own since then.

    Heather: Yeah, you should. And thanks. Perhaps I'll make it for some "ladies who lunch" and see what they say LOL

    Jenn: Yes! I am challenged when I make African food. I feel like I have to make it as authentic as possible. My husband's alwas brining me products he gre up eating from ethnic stores. I've got loads of Orangina, Nido, and Maggi in the cupboard.

    I might hae to take you up on your offer! In September we have to go for another interview for permanent resident status. The citizenship is still a ways off (I think).


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