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Ancestral Eats with Deborah Ajaja - Nigerian Culture + a BLW-friendly Jollof Rice Recipe


Hi Mamamates! In our second edition of our brand new foodie series, Ancestral Eats, we’re opening the door to an amazing woman in our community, Deborah Ajaja, to hear more about her Nigerian cultural and familial traditions.

Debs is the founder of Colour Celebrations, a baby gifting brand that prides itself in celebrating colour, culture and heritage, boldly and proudly. When Debs gave birth to her son in 2017, she struggled to find baby milestone cards that were representative of the way he looked or reflected her family’s culture and traditions, so she set to work to create milestone cards specifically for Black and Mixed babies. Now Debs has expanded her range of products empowering parents to celebrate both developmental baby milestones and cultural milestones in a fun and impactful way, and has formed an incredibly engaged community on her @colourcelebrations Instagram page.

Read on to find out more about Debs’ Nigerian heritage, plus a BLW-friendly version of one of her favourite traditional dishes...

A collage picture of Deborah Ajaja and another picture of her son eating some Jollof rice

Hey Debs! Tell us a bit about yourself, your family, and your heritage...
I’m a British-born woman of Nigerian heritage; I was raised in the UK and have lived in London all my whole life. My parents are Nigerian, and so my younger sister and I were brought up to really love, understand, and appreciate our Nigerian culture and background through music, food, the language as well. We were spoken to in our parents’ mother tongue, Yoruba, which is one of the main tribes in Nigeria. That really was woven right through the thread of our childhood, so everything we know has been a nice mix of Anglo-Afro culture.

I’m married to Ayo my husband, and we’ve got two children; my son, Noah, who is 4  years old, and my daughter Kiki who just turned 2.

What Nigerian cultural traditions do you follow in your family home?
I think the easiest way for us to introduce our culture and heritage to our children is through language. So we try to speak to the children in Yoruba as much as we can. I picked it up through eavesdropping on Mum’s conversations and Nollywood movies! And my husband is a native speaker, so he can teach them fluently. We try to introduce different words, concepts, or tonations to the kids, just so they understand some of the keywords, and so they understand that we have a whole other culture that adds even more richness and variety to who they are.

Another way we introduce culture in our home is through food, we are avid Nigerian food lovers! Lots of well-known Nigerian meals such as jollof rice and okra soup, have been introduced into the kids’ diet as well. It’s a really easy way to help them understand, play and experiment with the tastes and textures - as soon as we could introduce our local or native food to them, we did.

Music has a huge presence in our household. They are really into Afrobeats, which is hugely popular in Nigeria. The kids love it and can use some of the colloquial terms in the songs which is another great way to amplify the culture. They listen to Afrobeats as well as all of the Disney classics too, but again, it introduces a nice healthy balance in our home.

Two different pictures of Deborah Ajaja's family

How did you introduce these traditional dishes and flavours to your children once they started weaning?
We of course followed guidelines around what food to introduce when weaning, in terms of textures and the introduction of spice, and we’d just adapt it. I’m quite comfortable with cooking our [indegenous] food and was able to experiment. So, one of the first meals that Kiki was able to eat was jollof rice, but rather than make it super spicy, it was made with a super fluffy, softer texture and a tomato base, removing the spice element completely. This way, she got a feel for the texture and the flavours. It was a really nice way to introduce one of our favourite meals - and we would pair it with our fave Mamamade meals, so she got a nice balance of grains and greens, in a way that was firmly steeped in her culture and heritage.

Are there any Nigerian traditions that take place when your baby first starts weaning?
Not really a specific tradition so to speak, but I think a lot of parents, especially first-time round, can find the weaning process overwhelming. So in addition to the great resources and pre-prepared baby meals that are available on that journey, we tend to lean a lot on our parents. Something culturally that is quite a norm is having the grandparents come and help during the weaning phase; from preparing meals to feeding the baby. And I guess the benefit of them doing it is that they have done it so many times before. It’s not a tradition so to speak, but culturally it’s normal for grandparents to play a prominent role in the weaning stage.

A picture of Deborah Ajaja's family enjoying a meal at Christmas

What recipe has been passed down from generation to generation, that you can’t wait to pass on to your children?
Ohh, that's a good question! I have so many recipes that my Mum passed onto me that I’ve gone on to tweak! So when I pass them on to my children they will be adaptations. But that’s the beauty of passing things on from generation to generation. I would have to say my jollof and fried rice recipes are firm faves and adaptations from my Mama!

Some parents may worry about introducing strong flavours to their little ones, what are your thoughts on this?
I think it’s really important to introduce bold flavours to a child when they are ready. I actually believe that the earlier you introduce them, as soon as it’s safe to do so, the sooner you start to create more curiosity. You may find that the older they get, the more set in their ways they become. My son, who is a bit of a picky eater, wasn’t introduced to some of the bigger, bolder flavours as early on as my daughter, who in comparison, is now a fantastic eater. At the very least she is willing to give things a try, but my son, not so much.

In my own personal experience, the benefit is that it leads to better eaters in the long term. Also, it takes the headache and stress away from you as a parent as you’re creating less versions of the same meal and encouraging togetherness at mealtimes - so long as it’s safe to feed the child, then a little bit is good to try. And if they don’t like it, you can try something else the next day.

A picture of Deborah Ajaja's family outdoors

What Nigerian-inspired dishes would you like to see Mamamade add into the mix?
Ohhhh! I think jollof rice is a really good one - it lends itself to the Mamamade ethos being plant based and using big flavours, and it could be paired quite well with the Greens & Chia Baby Meal. And a plantain-based dish would be amazing, too!

Last question! Can you share your BLW friendly jollof rice recipe?
Yes! Of course!

A collage picture of Deborah Ajaja making BABY-LED WEANING FRIENDLY JOLLOF RICE RECIPE


What you’ll need:
(Can serve up to 8 portions)

  • 1 x red pepper

  • 2 x garlic cloves

  • 1 x red onion

  • 1 x carrot

  • 300g of chopped tomatoes

  • 1 x chicken/vegetable stock cube (no salt or very low salt, suitable for 6months+)

  • Rice (washed)

  • 1 x Bay leaf

How to make:

  • Blitz the red pepper, garlic cloves, red onion and chopped tomatoes in the blender until smooth – if you want to give it a zing, pop in the oven to create a roasted aroma

  • Add a small amount of olive oil to a pan and heat on medium to high

  • Once the oil is hot, pour the blended mix into the pan, add the stock cube, and heat on medium until the mixture reduces and becomes thicker in texture.

  • Add in washed rice, plus a bay leaf, and 100ml water – Note: the water should cover the rice and blended tomato mix. If needed, add more water 50ml at a time until the water levels the mix

  • Cover the pan and keep on a low heat for about 20 mins, or until the rice has cooked and soaked up the majority of the sauce. Stir occasionally to ensure all the tomato goodness is mixed thoroughly with the rice

  • Serve and tuck in! You can always bulk up the meal with some chicken or Mamamade Greens & Chia on the side.

Watch the video HERE.

Thanks so much to Debs for sharing her traditions and this super-delicious jollof rice recipe! And if you’d like to share your Ancestral Eats on the blog, leave us a comment below, or send us a message on Instagram.

Love, Jazz & Team Mamamade

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