Ida Daniels — or “Ma-Musu,” as she is affectionately called — hails from Monrovia, Liberia, in West Africa. She has a stately way about her. Her movements are fluid and she speaks with an understated eloquence. Her head tilts slightly as she recalls the beauty of her homeland and reminisces about her grandmother’s profound influence on her cooking. Familiar, aromatic herbs waft from the kitchen — curry, ginger, rosemary and cayenne. Fluffy, sweet African cornbread rests on the table next to a steaming bowl of collard greens as she shares her grandmother’s philosophies on stew-making: “You have to know your pot; you have to sense what stage your food is in by the smell.”
Liberian girls learn to cook early in life, often by the time they turn 10, because domesticity, discipline, self-reliance and determination are considered fundamentals to womanhood. Dishes such as spicy jollof rice, palm butter stew and Liberian pepper soup (a sort of gumbo served with pounded cassava dough) are staple dishes taught in the West African kitchen. Collards, okra and cornbread pay homage to African-Americans who journeyed to Liberia as part of the American Colonization Society led by black Quaker Paul Cuffee in 1815.
Ma-Musu describes her cooking as Southern with African spices. Everything is made from scratch with cassava leaf, palm oil, jerk spices and plantains making frequent appearances in her signature dishes. And Ma-Musu plans to keep her style of African delicacies even more interesting by offering enhanced vegetarian options. “The menu will be 70 percent vegetarian by the first of the year,” she notes, with plenty of natural fruit drinks, brown rice, fresh greens and tofu. “We want vegetarians to have their own menu,” she says.
There is a coziness at Ma-Musu’s, from the warmth of the kitchen to the sign on the wall proclaiming, “It’s okay to lick your fingers here!” Daniels has created a delightful combination of the exotic and the familiar in an paradoxical union between the food born of slaveholders and the ancestral cuisine of West African queens. Her foods are homey, appealing, and jam-packed with flavor. She describes the “rhythms of Africa” as “the never ending spirit of Africa, the never ending mystery of Africa. … bringing families together and strengthening the awareness of African culture and spiritual renewal.”Ma-Musu’s West African Cuisine: Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Friday. Dinner Saturday. 2043 W. Broad St. 355-8063.
Vegetable Jollof Rice
2 cups brown rice
2 cups mixed vegetables
1 cup tomato paste
1 cup diced onion
3 bell peppers — red, yellow and green
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon parsley
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
Wash rice in hot water until it’s clean. Take tomato paste and add one cup of water to dilute it then add it to the rice. Next add seasonings, oil, diced onions and vegetables.
Pour into a small baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Stir every 15 minutes, adding a half cup of water each time to tenderize the rice.
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