The Wakanda Cookbook brings Black Panther’s food story to life

Braised kale and tomatoes

Active time:25 minutes

Total time:35 minutes

Servings:4

Active time:25 minutes

Total time:35 minutes

Servings:4

The fictional worlds weaved into many television shows, films, and video games can feel as real and meaningful to fans as places with real zip codes. Think of Hogwarts, the magical, honey-colored boarding school in the world of Harry Potter books and films; the distant galaxy of “Star Wars”; or even the endearingly quirky small town of Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls.

But Wakanda, the affluent, technologically advanced, mountain-ringed land of the Black Panther comics and 2018 blockbuster film, has an even rarer role to play. It’s not just the setting for the action in a popular franchise; It has become a symbol of African greatness, a mythical place that feels like real home to many people, and not just comic freaks with posters of King T’Challa on their bedroom walls.

This week, the mythical land sees an expansion of its culture with The Official Wakanda Cookbook, a collection of recipes approved by Black Panther publishers Marvel.

“I definitely felt a combination of pressure and pride,” says Nyanyika Banda, the freelance writer and chef who created the cookbook. “The story of Black Panther and what Wakanda means to society today is so important, not just to black Americans, but to people of African descent around the world.”

Banda, who has long been involved with the foodways of the African diaspora, developed both the 70+ recipes and the cookbook’s story-in-the-story: it is written from the perspective of a young woman, sprung from her mother’s stand in the capital’s marketplace to become the royal cook to King T’Challa, a woman who – like Banda – was influenced by the older women in her family.

Aside from the challenges of satisfying an avid fan base and respecting a cultural touchstone, Banda faced another, more practical task. A cookbook author writing about a region of the world often strives to be true to the dishes, the ingredients, the people, and the history of the country. But what does it mean to be faithful to something that doesn’t actually exist?

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Banda says that before signing on to the project, they had seen the film but hadn’t read many of the comics. And so they dived in and also explored the deep well of fan-run websites to understand the characters and landscape of Wakanda. Food doesn’t feature prominently in either the comics or the film, so some creativity was called for.

Some ideas came easier. Wakanda has a lake, Banda notes, so fish recipes would work. Produce and ingredients available in sub-Saharan Africa (where Wakanda is located according to the comics), like cassava, mangoes and goat (you can substitute lamb, Banda instructs), feature prominently. Vegetable dishes are also featured – in a recipe for eggplant and herbs, the narrator notes that “many Wakandans have a predominantly vegetarian diet”, perhaps a reference to the filmed moment when tribal leader M’Baku threatens to feed a CIA- Agent to his kids before revealing threat is just a joke. “I’m joking,” he says. “We are vegetarians.”

An important part of the kingdom’s history is that it’s incredibly technologically advanced, so Banda wanted some recipes that included gadgets like a sous vide machine or food dehydrator to represent that.

One such dish, a smoked mushroom jerky, was inspired by the Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s elite team of female warriors. “I imagined it would be something that drives but wears well,” says Banda.

Jennifer Simms, Banda’s editor at Insight Editions, the publisher of the Wakanda cookbooks as well as dozens of other pop-culture spinoff cookbooks, says she didn’t want to create a generically “African” cookbook from the start. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t trying to portray Africa as a food culture,” she says.

To create a fictional cuisine that still feels specific, Banda drew not only on studies of African eating habits but also on family recipes. One dish, braised kale with tomatoes, was straight from the last meal Banda cooked with her aunt, who like Banda’s father was born in Malawi. “We talked and laughed, and it was a special moment,” says Banda, whose aunt died in 2020. “I thought about her a lot while writing this.”

One of the trickier stipulations imposed by the Black Panther narrative was that unlike many other African nations, Wakanda was never colonized – according to its lore, it had long remained hidden from the rest of the world to protect itself and the to protect valuable metal contained from outsiders. And so Banda had to find storylines to explain Western influences.

Visits to Wakanda by Captain America explained a simple trout dish and a cocoa-infused iced coffee. Traveling to New York the narrator, the fictional palace cook, explains a pasta dish. And the current king, T’Challa, was raised under an assumed name in America and Europe, and some dishes are described as foods he discovered abroad.

Banda and Simms worked closely with the Marvel team as they developed the dishes and the stories around them. “We talked about whether they felt like it would be a part of Wakanda,” Banda says. “I wanted integrity in court, but also integrity in storytelling.”

Banda developed the recipes while staying with her 90-year-old grandmother in Amherst, Massachusetts during the pandemic. And all the time they thought about how important the Black Panther story was to their most devoted admirers. “I never thought of Black Panther fans and hoped they would see the time and thought that went into this,” says Banda.

Black Panther fans aren’t the only chefs publishers are thinking about these days. The Wakanda Cookbook is part of a growing trend of pop culture cookbooks based on popular franchises with loyal fan bases. Insight Editions CEO Raoul Goff said he first saw the potential of the genre after the success of a 2016 World of Warcraft cookbook based on the popular online RPG.

Since then, the publisher has produced dozens of titles associated with games like The Elder Scrolls and Street Fighter, as well as films and TV shows, including Star Wars, Friends, Downton Abbey, and upcoming cookbooks Seinfeld. and Emily in Paris.

Goff sees these books as more than just that gift you give your gaming-obsessed nephew or Crawley fangirl friend for Christmas. Cooking, he says, helps fans connect to the stories and characters they love in a way no t-shirt could. “It’s another aspect of being immersed in that world, whatever it is,” he says.

Are there any series for which he couldn’t imagine a cookbook spinoff? Maybe “The Walking Dead,” this reporter suggests? There’s certainly nothing appetizing about struggling to survive after a zombie apocalypse.

He laughs. “We’ve already done that,” he says. “It was a cookbook and a survival guide. Fans loved it.”

“‘Okay, what about ‘Dexter?’ I challenge him and throw out the name of the show whose serial killer title character spends his evenings dismembering human flesh.

There’s a pause, but Goff doesn’t want to give up completely. “Dexter,” he says, “would be difficult.”

Braised kale and tomatoes

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Notes on storage: Refrigerate for up to 3 days.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion (about 5 ounces), halved and sliced
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped or grated
  • 2 vine tomatoes, diced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon of peppers
  • fine salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 8 cups kale, stemmed and chopped
  • 1 cup low-salt vegetable broth

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and garlic and stir-fry, until onions are translucent and garlic is just beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, cumin and paprika and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Add the kale a handful at a time, stirring occasionally and waiting for it to wilt before adding more. Once all the kale has been added, pour in the broth.

Bring to a simmer, cover and heat for 15 minutes, adjusting heat as needed to keep it simmering. Taste and add more salt or pepper as needed.

Remove from heat and serve family style or divide between bowls.

Calories: 163; total fat: 8 g; Saturated fat: 1 g; cholesterol: 0 mg; sodium: 172 mg; carbohydrates: 22 g; dietary fiber: 7 g; sugar: 6 g; Protein: 6 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not replace the advice of a nutritionist or nutritionist.

Adapted from “Marvel’s Black Panther: The Official Wakanda Cookbook” by Nyanyika Banda (2022, Insight Editions).

Tested by Alexis Sargent; email questions insatiable@washpost.com.

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