Beninese cuisine with Angela N'Dah-Sékou
and her recipe for kuli-kuli

Benin market

Benin

Bensokey Angela N'Dah-Sékou teaches fellow Beninise people how to cook using ingredients native to their land. Born in Senegal, with Beninese and Togolese heritage and married to a Nigerian, Angela is an expert on West African cuisine and cookery. Her favourite ingredient, peanuts, is the main ingredient of the snack that gave its name to this website: kuli-kuli.

What food did you grow up eating?
“I was born in Senegal, but I grew with dishes that are traditional to Benin. Sauces, or pâtes, are really important in our cuisine and come in many different forms. An example is paste made from garri [cassava flour] and you cannot talk about kuli-kuli without talking about garri, so we’ll get to that later!

“I would also eat a lot of different stews: some based on peanuts, sesame, okra, tomatoes and much more. We also have a palm nut stew made from the palm fruit. Palm oil has a bad reputation in countries where it doesn't grow but here in Africa it's called the tree of life, because every single part of the tree is useful and used. For instance, we use the red part of the palm nut which is full of vitamin A.”

Who taught you to cook?
“My mum taught me how to cook. Children are raised mostly by the mothers and my cooking is more influenced by my mother’s heritage. As my mother and father are from different tribes and different parts of the country [and tribe lineage is passed through the paternal side], I didn’t learn to cook my own tribe’s dishes until I got a bit older. I got influenced by different West-African cuisines. I left Senegal when I was seven years old, but still had the time to learn to cook a few dishes. I’m lucky to have travelled a bit myself and to have parents who’ve lived in different places too.

“I also had to learn to cook Nigerian dishes, as my husband is Nigerian and misses the taste of his country!”

Palm tree

"We call palms 'trees of life' here in Africa."

Angela N'Dah-Sékou

It sounds like you love cooking!
“I do! What I love most is the creation of a unique piece of art. The possibilities in cooking are endless. I can cook a tomato stew with tomatoes, onions and fish. But I can also add garlic, peppers, different types of fish, slices of eggplant, turmeric, nutmeg, ginger and anise. It would still be the tomato stew, but with completely different ingredients. It depends on my creativity and what I have on hand.

“The freedom it gives me and the pleasure you give to people who eat your food, that’s what I love most, and I believe that if you eat well and with good people, you’ll become a happier and healthier person.”

What got you into cooking professionally?
“I used to work for the government, but when my contract expired I decided to begin a business of my own. I started as a hairdresser, using nothing but natural products like coconut oil, shea butter and baobab oil. I advised my clients to use natural cosmetics, and then found out that there are so many people with very little knowledge about which foods are good for your health!

“That’s why I decided to get into cooking classes and selling natural foods as well. I have a passion for cooking and love to share the knowledge of traditional food with other people. It’s important to eat what our rich land provides.”

Benin is said to be known for its exotic ingredients.
She laughs: “Well, Beninese cuisine is not exotic for me! It is exotic for you. Everything we eat is normal for me, obviously.”

You’re absolutely right! But can you think of an ingredient that would be difficult to get outside of Benin?
Afitin! It’s a condiment and a flavour enhancer with a very, very strong smell. Some people say afitin has the smell of someone who hasn’t bathed, but I don’t agree. It has a very strong smell but it gives a great taste to food, which is quite common for fermented foods.

Woman preparing afitin

iamdrissben / Shutterstock.com

Woman preparing afitin


“It’s made from fermented seeds of néré [African locust bean]. You boil the seeds for 24 hours and pound them to peel them. You leave it to ferment for two days and you pound it again. It’s native to South Benin, but even there many people don’t like it. It’s a great seasoning, and rich in protein too.”

What else is Benin cuisine known for?
“I think we use many leaves like holy basil, bissap [hibiscus] and vernonia [a very bitter leaf vegetable], otherwise it’s quite difficult to define Beninese cuisine because there are over 60 tribes. Every tribe has their own dishes and recipes.”

Kuli-kuli with garri

© Instagram.com/1qfoodplatter

The Dish

I’m excited we can talk about kuli-kuli! As you know, I named this website after it, so I feel lucky to have found an expert like you. What is kuli-kuli?
Kuli-kuli (or klui-klui as we call it) is a snack based on roasted peanuts. It’s very affordable, which has led some people to believe it’s poor man’s food. Lately however, it has regained popularity as a Beninese company began selling different types of kuli-kuli in supermarkets.”

And you eat it with garri, right?
“Yes! You can eat kuli-kuli as a snack, but you can also have it with garri. Garri is cassava flour that you cook with water to a consistency of porridge. You then eat the garri together with the kuli-kuli.”

Are there regional differences?
“In the south, the kuli-kuli is usually shaped into long, tiny sticks. They also have a snail shape; for which they roll it up to make it look like the snail’s shell. Others make them round, almost like Smarties. In the north, the sticks tend to be a bit bigger.

“There are a few different flavour profiles too. The normal, traditional one has salt and flavourings like ginger, garlic and pepper. There’s also a spicy version that has chilli pepper, but even the sweet-toothed are in for a treat: just cut back on the salt and add sugar. That version is native to the northwestern city of Djougou.”

The Ingredients

250 g
peanuts
100 ml
water
1 tbsp
mixed spices, depending on taste (nutmeg, chili pepper, black pepper, ginger)
1 tsp
salt
2 cups
peanuts
3.5 oz
water
1 tbsp
mixed spices, depending on taste (nutmeg, chili pepper, black pepper, ginger)
1 tsp
salt

The Recipe

Total preparation time: 30 minutes | Yield: 25 snacks | Category: starter

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/360F.
  2. Spread the peanuts in an even layer on a baking sheet. Roast the peanuts for 15 to 25 minutes (shorter for peanuts without shells, longer for those with shells). Stir once or twice while roasting. Let cool completely.
  3. Add the peanuts, water and spices to a mixer and mix into a thick, mallable paste. Make sure there are no big pieces of peanut left in the mix, as that'll inhibit the shaping.
  4. Shape the paste in sticks, circles or whatever shape you like.
  5. Bring a layer of oil to a temperature of around 170°C/340F. 
  6. Deepfry the kuli-kuli for 3-6 minutes until solid. Let them cool and enjoy!
< Thai Nam phrik Zambian Dry fish stew >