In 2015, when Hawa Hassan, a Somali-born home chef in Brooklyn, began drawing up plans for Basbaas, her line of locally sourced, gluten-free, and vegan hot sauces and chutneys, she knew she’d also want to write a complementary cookbook. “In order for me to have a conversation about food from my part of the world, it was going to be really important to spell it out for the audience I was trying to attract and introduce to these foods,” she says. Five years later, Ten Speed is releasing her debut cookbook, In Bibi’s Kitchen (Oct.), coauthored by Julia Turshen. It tells the stories and shares the recipes of grandmothers (bibi in Swahili) from Somalia and six other coastal East African countries plus South Africa.
How did In Bibi’s Kitchen come together?
Everyone passed on the book except for Ten Speed. To publishers, Africa seems far and not interesting; the lens through which our stories are seen is that of white editors and white publishers. Ten Speed bought this book based on the cornerstones of an African girl’s story. They trusted that it could be done. It was important for me to demystify African foods in the West. African cuisine feels very far from [the Western] palate, but that’s not true.
Which recipe are you most excited to share?
We have a fish with coconut sauce that has tomatoes and cloves and yellow onions and curry from Mozambique. My intention was to show that these foods are not hard to come by and they’re not hard to make. Most of these ingredients are in your pantry and your refrigerator, and you’ll find nothing in this book that takes 20 to 30 steps to make or has ingredients that are hard to find.
What do you want readers to take away from the book?
My number one goal in all the work I do is preserving community through stories. No one was talking to older women about food; no one was keeping those stories. One thing white people ask is how I found all these people. I think that they don’t understand the depth of community, and what it means to share. This book honors these women and their stories through their recipes. These stories don’t get told at this level if there is no personal connection. I hope that people walk away from the book and not only cook for each other but are also inspired by what took place in this book.
What does it mean to have a book out now, at this moment of reckoning in food media?
It’s not a fleeting moment. I hope that it’s everlasting. I hope that this book becomes a blueprint of what can be done, and I also hope that it opens up the doors for other people [to write similar books]. I ultimately did this book so that people who look like me can have opportunities.