Recipes from Cape Verde


We're still in Africa this week, but we're moving just a little bit west of the continent to an island nation called Cape Verde. That means for the second week in a row we're in a land of fish.



Cape Verde is a pretty small country—tiny, in fact—with a population of about 500,000 people and a total land mass of just over 1,500 square miles. To give you an idea of just how small that is, that's about as many people as Fresno, CA and about as much land as Rhode Island.

The Cape Verde islands were actually uninhabited until 1462, when the Portuguese established a settlement there. Thanks in large part to the transatlantic slave trade, Cape Verde was quite prosperous until the 16th century, though it was occasionally attacked by pirates and privateers, including Sir Francis Drake, who sacked then-capital Ribeira Grande in the 1580s. Today the population of Cape Verde is mostly Creole, and it has a stable democratic government with decent economic growth.




Because it's an island nation, Cape Verdean cuisine relies on seafood as a source of protein.
So before I actually got to the grocery store on Monday, this meal was going to be the second of three seafood-based Travel by Stove weeks. But at the last minute I decided to give my poor, long-suffering husband a break (he's not a huge fan of fish), and instead of making Caldo de Peixe (which I actually thought sounded pretty yummy) I chose this dish instead (from CapeVerde-Islands.com):

Carne Gizado
  • 1-2 lbs cubed meat, pork or beef
  • 1/3 cup vinegar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 white potatoes
  • 1 lb mandioca root *
  • 1 medium white yam **
  • 1 green banana ***
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste
This recipe required interpretation, as follows:

* Mandioca is the same thing as cassava, which is the same thing as yuca. Yuca, as it turns out, is sold at our local Safeway. All this time I've been bypassing recipes that call for cassava because I figured that it was too exotic for our little town, and it was sitting there in the produce section all along. Who knew?

The rare and elusive cassava root, otherwise known as yuca.

** White yams, in most of the world, are not what we Americans think of as yams. American yams are really just a variation of the sweet potato, while a white or "tropical" yam is starchier and blander than an American yam. I tried every one of local grocers in search of a true yam but unsurprisingly came up empty-handed. Cook's Thesaurus suggested substituting sweet potatoes, which I figured was acceptable since I saw several other Cape Verdean recipes that call for sweet potatoes, so it's not like that particular tuber is unheard of in that country.

*** "Green bananas" is open to interpretation. It could mean plantains (yuck) or it could mean green bananas. I have often seen recipes that called for bananas when they actually meant plantains, since the two words are interchangeable in some parts of the world. So I looked at other recipes from the region and found a few that called for "green bananas OR plantains," so I figured that in this case a banana really was a banana. Of course that could be as much wishful thinking as anything, since I really don't care for plantains.

This meal doesn't really need a side dish, but I did want to do something besides just the Carne Gizado. So I chose this recipe as number two:

Jagacida

  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, diced
  • 1 tbsp butter or margerine
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp browning sauce
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp paprika 
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups of white rice
  • 1 can red kidney beans or black beans
This particular version comes from a post at Yahoo! Voices, but it is similar to other versions found elsewhere online.

The meat in the carne gizado should be marinaded overnight (though I only did mine for a few hours), so let's start there.

A quick note: the original recipe didn't specify how much vinegar or seasonings I ought to use, so I guessed. I don't know how close I actually got but I did think my results were pretty good.

First mix the vinegar with the salt, pepper, garlic and bay leaf. Trim the fat off the meat and marinade in the vinegar mixture overnight in the refrigerator.




Add the beef and marinade to a pot with the onions and the cooking oil. Cook over low heat until nearly done. Meanwhile, peel the potatoes, yams, yuca and bananas.




Add to the pot, then add enough water to cover. Cook on low until all the vegetables are tender (the yuca will take the longest).




Season to taste with salt, pepper, paprika and some extra garlic (if desired).




That's it! Simple.

Now on to the jagacida:




Melt the butter over low heat, then add all the ingredients except the water, rice and beans. Continue to cook over low heat until the onions and garlic are soft.




Now drain most of the liquid from the beans. Add the beans and the remaining liquid to the pot and simmer for about five minutes, stirring often. Now add the water and bring to a boil.




Add the rice and return to a boil. Let boil for two or three minutes, stirring constantly. Then lower the heat, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is done.




The verdict: This was a good, filling meal. The carne gizado was surprisingly sweet for a dish that had no sugar in it. I think it must have been the yuca, though the green banana probably also had something to do with it (the bananas actually vanished during the cooking process, making me wonder if plantains would have been the right choice after all). The meat to vegetable ratio was quite low, which is typical of African dishes, so if I did this recipe again I might actually cut the pieces up even smaller, just to make them seem like they go a little further. Or, just add more meat I guess.

The jagacida looked like it was going to be really tasty but it fell a little short on flavor. I think a little extra salt would have solved that problem.

I didn't actually try this meal out on my kids because it was literally going to be fish soup right up until the day I cooked it, but I can pretty much guess at what their reaction would have been—too much vegetable, not enough meat. And the jagacida would have frightened them just based on color alone.

I did like the simplicity of the meal, though, and it was good enough to go back for seconds. I just wish I knew how close I came in my assumptions—sometimes that's the biggest challenge in doing these meals.

Next week: The Cayman Islands

For printable versions of this week's recipes:




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