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Must-try vegetables available in The Gambia

My Magazine 2022/11
8 min
Veggie lover? Then keep on reading. We prepared a list of vegetables you might not know but must try in The Gambia, even if it is a standard ingredient in your cuisine. Many vegetables in The Gambia are imported from nearby countries. However, they still have the organic taste, mostly missing from the vegetables sold in the western-world supermarkets after being imported from the subtropical regions. Pro tip: try vegetables prepared by the locals, preferably with authentic dishes.

Cassava

Cassava, manioc or yuca (not yucca) are the names in English for this root vegetable widely consumed in Africa. It is an essential source of calories and carbs for people in developing countries. It can be cooked, fried, and used in different recipes. Depending on the process, you can get cassava flour, starch, and pearls.

Cassava grows abundantly in this region and is a relatively undemanding plant. It originates from Ghana but is consumed in all West African countries, with little differences in preparing and serving it.

There are five major cassava food products: fresh roots, dried roots, pasty products, granulated products and cassava leaves.

Cassava root and leaves are commonly used in The Gambia in meals such as ebbeh, plasas (cassava leaves soup), benachin, nyambeh ak nyebbeh (cassava and beans) with fried fish, chew, and pepper soup.  

Additionally, cassava root is well known as the raw material that is used to produce garri, which is the main ingredient for making fufu, eba, achekeh, etc. In the production of garri, casava tubers are peeled, cut if needed and ground into a smooth mash.

Garri is also consumed as a nutritious drink with the same name. You prepare it by first soaking dry garri in some water. Then you can add milk, sugar, coconut shreds and roasted groundnuts.

Individuals with food allergies often benefit from using cassava root in cooking and baking because it is gluten-free, grain-free and nut-free. Cassava root must be cooked before it is eaten.

 

Okra

Okra, also known as lady's fingers or kanja in Wolof, is commonly used in the Gambian cuisine. Especially for a dish called supakanja, a sort of stew, usually cooked with beef and fish.

Three types of okra are known in The Gambia: red, light green, dark green or Chinese okra. The only difference is that Chinese okra is more durable, which means you can store it for up to 3 days, whereas light green okra is best used on the same day. The best way to store it is in a dry and cold area since it becomes slimy once washed with water.

Fresh okra is best used in okra stew or some other vegetable stew, whereas dried one can be ground into powder which can also be used when cooking rice, fufu, cuscus or another dish, where you can make it more viscous and easier to digest.

Kanja can be processed by cooking, stewing, boiling or baking. Some people also eat it raw since it is believed to be a helpful digestif and good for treating medical problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure. It is also rich in fibres, vitamin C and folate.

You can buy okra throughout the year; the only difference is the price you will pay. In the rainy season, the main season of its growth, you can buy three pods for 10 GMD. In the dry season, when okra is being grown just in the areas with a watering system, you can pay 25 GMD for the same three pods. 

 

Bitter Tomato

Jahatu (in Wolof), or bitter tomato, is an African vegetable used particularly in the preparation of West African 'soups' (i.e. stews). It has green or pale-yellow skins with a thin waxy exocarp. The flesh is white, moist but not juicy and contains many seeds that are pale yellow or brown to black; It looks like a tomato (hence the common name of bitter tomato) and is bitter.

In The Gambia, it is most commonly used as a side vegetable for many traditional Gambian dishes, such as benachin, chu, domoda, plasas, etc.

You can buy it on every market. The price starts at GMD 5. In the dry season, markets are full of bitter tomatoes.  

 

Hot Pepper

Hot pepper is used to prepare all main local dishes in The Gambia. A large amount of pepper is used in local dishes like; “kaldu, “pem bem”, and pepper soup. It is also used for seasoning fish, meat and chicken. The “Guyana” is the hottest pepper in The Gambia and the most popular with the locals. 

The hot pepper is widely grown by commercial and subsistent farmers for sale and family use. Some are imported from Guinea and Senegal. Peppers are harvested in October and can be found in large amounts at the markets by November, December, January and February.

Hot pepper is called “kani” in Wollof, “Kano” in Mandinka and “Nyamaku” in Fula language. The most common shapes of pepper in the Gambian markets and shops are conical, circular, and thin in the colour palette ranging from creamy white, yellow, green, red and even orange. Depending on its colour and spiciness, each gained a unique name from the locals. The Green pepper, which is not spicy, is called “Sweet pepper”. The yellow and orange pepper is called "Guyana", while the thin red is called “kani bu seywu”.

You can find pepper at any local market in The Gambia; Serekunda market, Latrikunda market, Banjul market etc. You can also find them for sale in some supermarkets. Sometimes the pepper is dried, pounded by the producers, and sold to consumers for easier use while retaining its spiciness.

 

Taro root

Brown hairy-looking tuberous root vegetable, locally known as “Jabérée”, is known as the yummy sister of the potato. Taro root originates from Southern India and Southeast Asia but has been widely spread worldwide in tropical and subtropical regions. It is said to be one of the oldest cultivated plants and one of the most widely grown species in the group of tropical perennial plants.

The Jabérée is not used as a staple food in The Gambia. It's more of a street food sold already boiled and prepared to eat on the sides of the streets. The vendors sell the Jabérée with “Netetou” (locust bean), which is dried and pounded. Dry pepper is added to it to make it tasty. Some will make a tamarind sauce locally called “dahaar” to go with it. The tamarind sauce is prepared with a small amount of water, hot pepper, lemon and a little salt.

Locals love the Jabérée because it is tasty and very easy to prepare. All you do is wash the Jabérée, peel it, put it in a cooking pot, add water and boil for half an hour, then make the side sauce to go with it.

If you want to try the Jabérée, you can see it at many compound gates, outside small shops, on the streets, and in the Serekunda market. It costs from D5 to D10 for one. If you want to prepare it yourself, you can buy the raw one at Serekunda market “Sandika” for D100 per kilo.

 

Kren Kren or Jute leaf

Kren kren is a local phrase referring to the Corchorus olitorius of Tossa jute, mostly called jute leaf. This plant has many names; it is also called the molokhiya, Egyptian spinach or saluyot. In The Gambia, the Jute leaf is loved by locals and prepared almost once a week in many homes.

It is cultivated by women in the gardens and harvested in large amounts for sale and home use. The highest season for the jute leaves is the rainy season, when it is harvested on farms and sold at the market. Nevertheless, the jute leaf can be bought at the market all year round in the Gambia. When the jute leaves are harvested, they are tied into tiny buns and sold at D5 or D10 per bun.

The Jute leaves are used to prepare many dishes in The Gambia, and the most famous are Supaa and fufu. It is also sometimes added to the plasas and other local dishes.

 

Sweet Potato

Sweet potato, or patat in Wollof, patato in Mandinka and pute in the Fula language, is a root vegetable originating in South America which is common in tropical areas. In The Gambia, the climate is suitable because of the green season, which brings enough water in the growing season of sweet potato, and high temperatures (above 25), which are almost necessary for this vegetable to grow.

In The Gambia, you can find different variations of this vegetable, which can be distinguished especially because of the colour of the plant's edible root. You can find white, yellow, orange or even violet sweet potatoes. Another attribute changing with the colour is sweetness.

The plant is not closely related to the regular potato since also the green part of the plant is edible. In The Gambia, they often use it to prepare the dish named plasas. Also, in some parts of the world, one of the types of sweet potato is called yam, but it should not be confused with the vegetable yam, which is different from the sweet potato. 

You will find plenty of sweet potatoes on the market in a month or two after the rainy season. This is usually also the best time to buy it cheaply. For one potato, you can pay GMD 10 or 15, yet out of the main sweet potato season, you can even pay up to GMD 40 for one piece.

Because of its sweetness, Gambians only use it in a few dishes. You can put it in a chu or prepare it as a side dish. Most commonly is only boiled with a pinch of salt or, even better, fried as french fries. They even sell that at the market as street food, usually served with a sauce made of hot pepper, onion, salt and oil.

Christian society often prepares it as a side dish at charities in memory of the deceased. They serve boiled sweet potato with beans.

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