Last weekend, I had the chance to attend a fantastic cooking class that also served as a fundraiser for a great organization, Women’s Empowerment International, a San Diego-based nonprofit whose STAR center in City Heights provides microfinance loans and business services to refugee women.
One of their clients, Olivia Laryea, taught the class and shared recipes from her native Ghana. A local chef with a catering company called Olivia’s Kitchen, Olivia prepares food for special events and has a booth at the Oceanside farmers' market.
Hosted at Solana Beach’s Center for a Healthy Lifestyle, which boasts its own organic garden (pictured above) and offers a series of cooking classes for adults and kids, Sunday’s special class focused on Olivia’s expertise in West African cuisine, which she started cooking as a child with her family in Ghana.
She demonstrated four recipes, including snack of fried plantains spiced with cayenne, a side dish of black-eyed peas and rice topped with curried tomato sauce and a traditional peanut soup, which she poured over chicken and balls of rice. Each dish also got a dose of her homemade flavor base, a blend of ginger, garlic, onion and warm spices.
As we enjoyed the food, Olivia regaled us with funny stories and shared her desire to open San Diego’s first West African restaurant. Her pick for best Ethiopian is Harar Restaurant in North Park. It’s one of my favorites too, though I also like Asmara in City Heights.
Next Sunday, July 17, Women’s Empowerment is hosting two classes featuring food from East Africa. Another local small business owner, Hasno Ali, of Somalia will be demonstrating an all-vegetarian meal that includes homemade injera bread. Sign up here to reserve a space; suggested donation is $50. The Center also plans to repeat the classes later this year, on October 2 and 9.