Living Knowledge blog

11 June 2021

Food Means Home

Tikel Gomen 1 - smaller
As part of our new learning programme in Leeds, we’re delivering an exciting project exploring food culture with children and young people who have been separated from their families. Working with Child Friendly Leeds and Leeds Children and Families Social Work Service, the project will create a new recipe collection celebrating the young people’s cultural identity, knowledge and skills.

Over the course of 2021, four cohorts of young people from across the world will take part in the project. Each cohort will plan, cook and present their chosen recipes. They will also take part in food photography workshops to style their dishes, gaining a range of skills along the way.

The first cohort took place in May 2021 with six young women from Eritrea and Ethiopia. As well as learning some new skills and practising their English, the young women found the project a welcome opportunity to spend time with others and make friends after life in lockdown. Millen said: “The best part was eating together, it was nice to all sit around and eat together because in our culture that shows love”, while her friend Winta said she most enjoyed “talking about home, memories, and laughing with the girls”.

Louise Sidibe, Senior Social Worker, talks passionately about how being able to cook, eat and share food from their countries of origin opens up a window into a young person’s life before they arrived into the UK. Louise said: “Food is non-verbal and non-judgemental. Even if your English isn’t fluent, food speaks volumes. Young people feel reassured with the familiarity of fond memories and when they cook it gives them a sense of ‘being at home’ in the City of Leeds. By sharing food, you share part of yourself and it’s often a way young people want to show gratitude to others. Our recipe collection will not only be a useful tool for foster carers when young people are new to Leeds, but will also represent the young people’s presence and value in our city.”  

Elvie Thompson, our Lead Learning Producer for Leeds, said: “Our learning programmes aim to give people the skills initially to access, but ultimately to contribute to, the Library’s collections – so awareness of the Library, reading, writing, critical thinking and the presentation of ideas to others are all really important. I hope the participants in this project will not only learn new skills and enjoy taking part, but also imagine themselves creating other things in their futures that could become part of the nation’s living knowledge.”

We’re working with lead creative facilitator and writer Thahmina Begum, photographer and creative facilitator Nicola Fox, and social worker Olivia Rochelle to deliver the sessions, and the recipes are now freely available, ahead of the publication of the full collection in spring 2022.

Our curators are also providing insights into our food collections to inform how the young people present their creations. For example, Eyob Derillo, Curator for Ethiopic and Ethiopian Collections, joined our first cohort to share stunning manuscript material that explores Lent in the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Christian tradition.    

Millen, Winta and the other young women from Eritrea and Ethiopia chose a complementary set of six of their favourite dishes to be eaten with injera, the iconic East African flatbread. This recipe for Winta’s Tikel Gomen is an exclusive peek to whet your appetite.    

Winta’s Tikel Gomen (white cabbage and potato dish, pictured above)


1 white cabbage (approximately 2kg)
4 carrots
3 white onions
1 green pepper
6 large potatoes
3 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
3 teaspoons of salt
3 green chillies


  1. Peel the potatoes and onions.
  2. Wash and roughly chop the cabbage, carrots, onions, green pepper and potatoes into chunks.
  3. Peel and finely chop the garlic and chillies.
  4. Place cabbage into a large pan with a lid on top, over a medium heat.
  5. After 5 minutes add a dash of water to help prevent the cabbage sticking to the pan.
  6. After 10 minutes when the cabbage is softened a little add the carrots.
  7. Stir in the oil.
  8. After 10 minutes add the onions.
  9. After 5 minutes add the garlic.
  10. Leave on low heat on the hob for 10 minutes until all the vegetables are cooked and soft. Add the chillies and pepper. Mix thoroughly and cook for 5 minutes.
  11. Stir in the salt.
  12. Eat hot with injera or rice.

This project is in partnership with Child Friendly Leeds and Leeds Children and Families Social Work Service who are providing support for the young people and a fantastic venue – Herd Farm, just outside the city of Leeds – for the sessions.