Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter in West Africa {with Recipe for Traditional Nigerian Meal on Good Friday: Frejon with Fish Stew}

Easter is the Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is celebrated among the Christians throughout West Africa, where the Christian population ranges from less than 5% (Niger) to 85% (Liberia). Easter day is celebrated by church services and family gatherings. There are a few traditions throughout Holy Week - the week preceding Easter.

In many West African countries, Palm Sunday is celebrated with processions, where participants hold palm fronds that have been blessed, some shaped like crosses, or decorated with flowers. The processions include singing, drumming, waving the palm branches, with repeated cries of Hosanna! Hosanna! You can watch a festive procession in Ghana here.

On Good Friday, there are processions re-enacting the crucifixion of Jesus. Also on this day, in The Gambia there's a special dessert eaten made of pounded rice formed into balls, sweetened with juice from baobab. In Nigeria, there is a traditional luncheon meal of bean puree and fish stew (recipe below).

On Holy Saturday, in Ivory Coast, congregants stay up all night dancing, singing, and praying until dawn. In many areas, celebrants are dressed in black in mourning on Holy Saturday, and dressed in white on Easter Sunday to celebrate Jesus' resurrection.

To add a bit of West African flair to our Easter weekend, I decided we would try the Nigerian dish of Frejon (coconut bean puree) with Obe Eja (fish stew) on Good Friday. 

Hubby awoke to the smell of boiling beans, and looked up from his pillow to ask me what was that smell?? When I responded, our African lunch, he groaned and fell back into bed. The girls came into the kitchen for breakfast, and making faces to an unfamiliar morning scent, also groaned when I told them. Honestly, it didn't smell any different than when boiling beans for baked beans, but everyone was wary. Pea especially when she found out that, though I would assist, she would be making this meal. In the end, Pea enjoyed her time in the kitchen, and three of us enjoyed this dish - Hubby nearly licked his plate clean, and went for seconds. Elle however, after a few bites, pushed her plate aside, insisting she couldn't eat it. It's an interesting combination, sweet puree, topped with savory, tomato based fish stew.

Frejon - Beans pureed with coconut milk and sugar
Frejon, a coconut bean puree, is traditionally made for Good Friday. It's a recipe that has its origins in Brazil, and was brought to Nigeria after the abolition of the slave trade. In Nigeria, it's typically served with garri and fish stew. It's made from specific black beans, eba ibeji, that are often substituted with black eyed beans. Black eyed beans don't need to soak over night, but do need to cook for approximately 1 1/2 hours (hence, the morning scent that filled our house).

  • 2 1/2 cups dried black eyed beans
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 cup sugar
1. In a large pot, add dried black eyed beans and 10 cups of water. Cover the pot, and bring to a boil. Once it boils, lower the heat and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, until tender.

2. Drain the beans well. In two batches, blend the beans and coconut milk. Pea thought we could do in one batch, but shortly after starting, we could smell the motor from the blender burning. She then grabbed a bowl, and did half at a time.

3. Put the bean and coconut milk puree back into your pot, and bring to a boil on medium heat. Boil while stirring occasionally for 5 minutes, then add the sugar. Stir well, and continue cooking, uncovered for 20 - 25 minutes, until it has thickened. Stir regularly, as it can easily burn on the bottom. In fact after about 15 minutes, stir constantly. Let it rest 10 minutes before serving.

Obe Eja - Nigerian fish stew
The fish stew gets ladled over the frejon. Most countries in West Africa have a similar version of this fish stew, especially near the coastal regions. We'll be making this again, though with less oil next time. And with a serving of rice.

Though the original recipe calls for 4 habanero peppers (the spiciest peppers), I always err on the side of caution when it comes to spiciness in order to appease the girls. And put a bottle of hot sauce on the table to appease Hubby. 

Recipe adapted from Avartsy Cooking. Makes enough sauce for 6 servings, though we only bought enough fish for 4

  • 4 tilapia filets
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 2 red peppers
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 beef knorr cube
  • 1 cup canola oil*
  • 1/2 cup palm oil**

* I followed the original recipe and used 1 cup of canola oil, but next time we try this, I'll be cutting it back by at least half
** As with the yam porridge, I had to put the bottle of palm oil in hot water as it solidifies in less than hot temperatures

1. Roughly chop tomatoes, peppers, and onion. Add those, as well as the garlic and ginger to a blender. Pour in 1 cup of water, and puree until liquefied.

2. Heat canola and palm oil until smoking hot. Slowly and carefully pour the liquefied tomato mixture into the hot oil. Cover and let cook for 45 minutes. After 15 minutes, add 1/2 cup of water. At the 30 minute mark, add an additional 1/2 cup of water.

3. When the mixture has cooked for 45 minutes, add the fish fillets. Cook 8-10 minutes, until fish is cooked through. Remove from heat and let sit for five minutes. 

4. Ladle fish and sauce over frejon. Enjoy!
Do you have any traditional dishes eaten on Good Friday?


  1. I do chuckle imagining your family members' reactions to the news of the next exotic dish they're going to be eating/cooking! You are doing such a wonderful job of broadening everyone's horizons. I didn't know about the variation in Christian populations in the different countries, though it makes sense. I hope you're enjoying the rest of your Easter weekend :-)

    1. Thanks Lucinda! I like to think someday they will look back and appreciate having their horizons broadened :)

  2. This was so interesting. I really enjoyed learning about the different traditions and the fish stew sounds really good, though I think I would want it with the rice and less oil, too. Thank you for posting.

    1. Thanks Phyllis. We lack imagination in eating fish, so this was a nice change.

  3. I always enjoy your food posts, although you are definitely more adventurous than we are!


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