The Whole30 in Africa: Learning (Again) to Cook

When it comes to cooking, everything I know I learned in Somalia. Well, not really. But I like how it sounds and I did learn a lot. Then, I started the Whole30. I had a whole lot more to learn.

relearning to cook

When we moved to Somalia in 2003 I knew how to cook frozen pizza, pizza delivery, and spaghetti with sauce from a jar. What, exactly, did one do with whole tomatoes? Did beef come in any form other than ground? And how could beef be distinguished from goat or camel when hanging from a wooden beam and covered with flies? I’ve written about these early years before, for MultiCultural Kids Blog, A Life Overseas, and Running Times:

When Popcorn and Bananas are for Dinner

What’s For Dinner?

Dining in Djibouti

Relearing (again) how to cookThe point is, my cooking from scratch journey began in Africa and my family, eventually, grew to be quite satisfied with the results.

But, I’ve stagnated. We follow a pretty predictable routine of meals and I’ve grown tired of this. I needed some fresh ideas. Plus, when I started The Whole30, I needed to figure out how to cook with foods I wasn’t familiar with.

Thankfully over the years Djibouti has significantly improved in what is available. Still…

Some people suggested that compared to doing it in Minnesota, the Whole30 would be much harder in Africa. They’re right and they’re wrong.

Here’s how they’re right:

I have to actually, truly, literally make everything from scratch. The Whole30 website has an entire page devoted to Whole30 products you can buy at places like Trader Joe’s or Tessemae’s All Natural Whole30 Pack from Amazon. Yeah. Nope. No bottled anything, no Amazon delivery.

And, while I do have decent variety, I don’t have all the variety, or can’t afford it. $18.00 for six (rotten) raspberries? Yeah, not gonna happen. No kale, no locally grown anything, no fresh spinach (though I just found some last week, so maybe twice a year or so). And sometimes, the country will simply be out of eggs.

Plus, there’s the whole community aspect to food and life. The local diet is roughly 80% dependent on fluffy white baguettes, rice, and pasta. Oh, and beans, Coke, and tea that is more sweetened condensed milk than tea. All off my table for the month and none of my friends would be joining me. How would I deal with food and the people around me on the Whole30? And thinking of community brings up issues of wealth, health, privilege, and money. I’m tackling this topic in its own post. You’ll have to come back for that.

But here’s how they’re wrong:

Far, far less temptation. There aren’t Starbucks on every corner (or any corner), there aren’t heaps of donuts or brownies or even salads with sugar-filled processed dressings at every mom’s meeting (there aren’t mom’s meetings), there isn’t a bowl of candy on co-workers desks, we rarely go out to eat. So unless I purchased something or my kids baked something, it was easy to avoid food I couldn’t eat.

I already make almost everything from scratch. One of the biggest things people on Whole30 forums struggle with is the time involved in preparing things at home, from scratch. I already do that by necessity, easily spending a few hours a day in the kitchen or scrounging around the market or food stalls to gather what we need.

relearning to cook

But, I still had to increase my variety of vegetables and eggs or meat-based meals and I loved it.

Here are some of my favorite Whole30 recipes that worked in Djibouti, with what I had available, and that are rolling over into my post-Whole30 life. I tweaked some recipes, followed others, and just made up some of my own.


Coleslaw. I used canned pineapple instead, can’t afford the fresh ones when they are in stock. The pineapple replaces sugar for sweetness. And I didn’t use Himalayan salt. Salt is salt. I also didn’t use Chinese 5 spice, don’t have it. I also didn’t add rutabaga. Don’t have it. Still, I sorta kinda followed this recipe. Oh – I also added diced up pineapple. This was so good on hot Djibouti days.

Homemade mayo

Cauliflower rice. Toss a bunch of cauliflower in a blender or food processer. Pulse until it is chopped up pretty small. Sauté in a bit of olive oil, add some salt. Voila. Cauliflower rice.

Roast chicken thighs. This is the best chicken and so easy. While it is roasting, I prepare a pan of cut up red potatoes by drizzling olive oil and salt and pepper, then add to the oven. When there are twenty minutes left, I had another tray of sliced leeks, thinly sliced carrots, and mushrooms – also with just a little olive oil and salt – to roast.

Chicken, leek, potato, carrot soup. Yet another modified recipe – no parsnips, no kale. But still, this was fantastic. My family ate it with fresh bread, I just slurped down the soup.

Egg vegetable pizza thing. That great name is what I call this one. Chop up a bunch of veggies. I use sweet peppers, mushrooms, onion, spinach (I only have frozen), tomatoes. Beat about 8 eggs (our eggs are really tiny, I use 8 small ones and that fills my pan). Sauté veggies in a little olive oil in a flat-bottom pan like a crepe pan. Spread veggies out evenly and pour beaten eggs over the top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and let it sit until the eggs are cooked through. Optional: add bacon or sausage. When it is done, I cut it with a pizza cutter and it makes 4-6 days worth of breakfast. Just reheat the leftovers in the morning.

Cocoa date balls. As a runner, I needed something to fuel the longish runs I hoped to still tackle during the Whole30. Measurements don’t really matter for this. A handful or two of pitted dates, ¼ cup or more of craisins or dried cherries or apricots or whatever dried fruit you like, handful of almonds or walnuts, and a couple scoops of cocoa powder. Blend it all up good in a food processor and then squish into little balls. Optional: add coconut flakes.

Banana and nuts. This has become my favorite breakfast, snack, or pre/post run food. Just grab a banana – I love to use frozen ones. Slice it up into a bowl. Sprinkle chopped pecans or walnuts over the top, add a dash of cinnamon.

Balsamic garlic butternut squash. Cut squash into ¼ inch-thick slices. In a bowl combine diced garlic with a couple Tbsp olive oil and a couple Tbsp balsamic vinegar. Toss with squash. Grill or broil until caramelized and crispy.

No bun avocado burger. The family had buns and burgers and ketchup. I had a Jones Original Burger topped with avocado slices, mushrooms sautéed with onions and a little balsamic vinegar, thinly sliced tomatoes, and lettuce. Delicious – without all that bread and ketchup, I could really taste all the other flavors and have started eating all my burgers with a fork, no bun necessary.

Grilled fish with avocado topping. This was amazing. Here’s the original recipe but we can’t afford salmon so I used whatever fish the guys who sit outside grocery stores with coolers full of fresh-caught local fish had that day.

Swiss chard and walnuts. I’m addicted to swiss chard. I didn’t even know what it was before but now the man who sells it out of plastic bags near one of my grocery-run stops knows I’m coming for it every week and that I’ll buy whatever he has. Chop it up, sauté in olive oil with diced onions. Add a handful of chopped walnuts or pecans, salt and pepper. Chow. Optional: add diced grilled chicken or drizzle with a combo of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and salt

I ate a lot of other salads, often with hardboiled eggs, avocado, tuna, arugula (which I also just found, with the chard guy). Mixed up dressings but discovered that the best was usually just a simple balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt combination. Nuts added the crunch I missed from croutons.

These recipes were all quick and easy. I didn’t get much fancier on the Whole30 but all of these are dishes I’m still eating.

Didn’t like

While people in online forums raved about zoodles – noodles made from zucchini, I wasn’t a fan. I don’t have a spiralizer to make the zucchini noodle shaped, but by shaving it thin I could get a decent approximation. But nope, didn’t like it. Also no good? The chocolate chili that people can’t seem to stop devouring. Too rich. Couldn’t stomach it. And still can’t eat eggplant – the texture is just too much like vomit for my mouth. Ah well, there was plenty of other things to eat and play with, no need to waste my time on eggplant.


So, there’s a flavor of what I ate and what I loved. Turns out there is plenty to cook with what I can find. About that Whole30 in Africa cookbook idea…

If you’ve done the Whole30, what are some of your favorite recipes?


The Whole30 in Africa, a Reluctant Food Post

What is the Whole30?

The Whole30 book: It Starts With Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways