Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Democratic Republic of Congo: Bland isn't always bad

The lovely J of SoberSingleDC joined me for this one. She's vegetarian and I hadn't cooked anything African in a while, so I decided to make the Catholic Relief Services recipe for Saka-Madesu, or Greens and Beans, from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I'd planned on making some mashed sweet potatoes I'd had in my recipe file for a while to go with it, but the Congo Cookbook site wasn't working so I settled on Akara, or black eyed pea fritters. Congolese cuisine also seems to include a fair bit of grilled meat and meat stews, but those were obviously out.

The thing that struck me first about the recipes was that they didn't contain salt, pepper, or spices. Then it occurred to me that those things probably aren't readily available if you're poor in the DRC. Still, I told J many times over the evening that really, there was excellent pizza a mere few blocks away if this was as terrible as I thought it was going to be. I took a couple of shortcuts with the recipes - frozen spinach and canned beans - and I think the food came out fine despite that. Unfortunately, the fritters were not quite as functional as some I've made before. I think pulverizing the peas in the food processor was a bad idea (mashing coarsely with a wooden spoon probably would have worked better), as was not adding flour or eggs. J was flipping like a champ, but a lot of the paste melted away. They stayed together a bit better after I added some flour to the second batch, but I still wasn't happy with the texture. The stew was a pleasant surprise, though. Despite its only seasoning being a cube of vegetable bouillon, it was remarkably tasty. It probably helped that I salted the rice a fair bit.

Congolese Saka-Madesu (Greens and Beans)
2 cans white beans
1 onion and/or 1 leek, chopped
2 tablespoons oil
1 package frozen kale, spinach, or collard greens
Pinch of baking soda
1 vegetable bouillon cube
Green bell pepper, chopped
4–6 cups rice, cooked

Drain and rinse beans. Fry onion and/or leek in oil until soft. Combine all ingredients except rice in a large pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 to 2 hours, until all is tender. Serve with rice. This recipe serves 4 to 6 people.

Akara (Black-Eyed Pea Fritters)

two to three cups dried cowpeas (black-eyed peas) or similar
one onion, finely chopped
one-half teaspoon salt
hot chile pepper, and/or sweet green pepper or sweet red pepper, finely chopped (to taste)
cayenne pepper or red pepper (to taste)
one-half teaspoon fresh ginger root, peeled and minced (or a few pinches of powdered ginger) (optional)
peanut oil, palm oil, or vegetable oil for frying

Clean the black-eyed peas in running water. Soak them in water for at least a few hours or overnight. After soaking them, rub them together between your hands to remove the skins. Rinse to wash away the skins and any other debris. Drain them in a colander.
Crush, grind, or mash the black-eyed peas into a thick paste. Add enough water to form a smooth, thick paste of a batter that will cling to a spoon. Add all other ingredients (except oil). Some people allow the batter to stand for a few hours (overnight in the refrigerator); doing so improves the flavor.
Heat oil in a deep skillet. Beat the batter with a wire whisk or wooden spoon for a few minutes. Make fritters by scooping up a spoon full of batter and using another spoon to quickly push it into the hot oil. Deep fry the fritters until they are golden brown. Turn them frequently while frying. (If the fritters fall apart in the oil, stir in a beaten egg, some cornmeal or crushed breadcrumbs.)
Serve with an African Hot Sauce or salt, as a snack, an appetizer, or a side dish.

the lovely but anonymous J flipping fritters

lots of fritter debris

1 comment:

  1. SO GOOD! Thanks for having me over and not mentioning my lack of onion-chopping skills :)