Recipes from Liberia


These days, when you think about Liberia, you probably immediately think of ebola. Ever since the latest outbreak started no one seems to talk about Liberia for any other reason. In the past year, just over 3,600 Liberians have died from ebola, though the disease is happily in decline.

Even though the situation was (and still is, in many ways) tragic and terrifying, it is, of course, unfair to talk about Liberia as if ebola was the only thing that defines it. Liberia has, in fact, a really interesting history that you might not even be aware of. First, it's a colonial nation, and (shockingly) the colonists weren't British ... they were American. That's right, Liberia was founded by the US government in 1820 as a home for freed salves, presumably because it was a lot easier to send them there than to send them back to their homelands or, I don't know, give them rights and citizenship in the US. Of course I can't really pretend to understand the thinking behind that move, but it does seem to be at least partially motivated by goodwill. Evidently the American Colonization Society, whose idea this was, believed that blacks in the US would be a permanent racial underclass if they remained here, and would have more opportunity in Liberia. And while it's true that blacks in the US still have to put up with a lot of racist bullshit, I don't know that life in Liberia (even without ebola) is a whole lot better than even the worst poverty over here. 

 Pond in Bomi, Liberia. Photo by jbdodane.

Now Liberian food--it's actually quite good if you don't eat bushmeat, which a lot of Liberians do. Many scientists and doctors actually suspect that that's where ebola comes from--in particular the fruit bat, which is both a Liberian food source and a known carrier of the disease.


So, I avoided fruit bat when I made my Liberian menu. Instead I chose these four recipes (all of them are from LiberianForum.com):

Chicken Gravy
  • 1 to 3 lbs boneless chicken, cut up into chunks
  • 1/3 cup cooking oil
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 2 Maggi cubes
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste     
  • Salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

Dry Rice
  • 1 cup rice, parboiled
  • 1/2 lb salted pork 
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 quarts boiling water 
  • 1/4 tsp pepper (optional)
  • 1 tsp salt, if desired
  • 1 Maggi cube
  • 1 tsp oil/margarine/butter

Rice Bread
  • 2 cups cream of rice cereal
  • 3 cups mashed bananas
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 tbsp sugar 
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg 
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup water 
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Pineapple Nut Bread
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 tbsp baking powder 
  • 1 tsp baking soda 
  • 1 tsp salt 
  • 1 cup wheat bran 
  • 2 eggs, beaten 
  • 3/4 cup crushed pineapple, drained 
  • 1/2 cup chopped roasted peanuts or walnuts

First let's make the rice bread:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.

Pour into a greased 8 x 12 pan ...

... and bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. That's it!

Now the pineapple bread:

First sift the flour together with the baking powder, baking soda and salt. 

Now add the wheat bran, then mix in the eggs, pineapple and 1/4 cup of the nuts.

Mix well, then transfer the batter to a greased loaf pan. Mine was really stiff and had to be kind of molded into the pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Top with the remaining nuts and serve.

Now for the chicken:

First mix the onions with the seasonings.

Then heat the oil and cook the chicken and onions until golden. Remove and set aside, reserving the cooking oil.

Add the peppers, Maggi cubs and tomato paste to the pot and fry for six minutes, stirring constantly. Now return the chicken to the pan and add a little water. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce dries out a bit, then serve.

Finally, the rice:

First rinse the rice in hot water and let drain. Now place the water, rice and oil in a pot. Bring to a boil. 

Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot, then reduce heat to a simmer.

When the rice is al dente, remove from the heat and serve.

I really liked this. It was simple, which is pretty typical for African food, but I thought it had a lot of flavor. The rice bread I was actually a bit iffy about because it seemed more like a dessert or something you'd have with your coffee in the morning (all those bananas) and I really didn't like it served with everything else. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that it's really not the sort of thing you would serve with your chicken gravy and dry rice. The pineapple bread was pretty good too but I don't know, it kind of wanted to be a dessert and it kind of didn't. In the end I think I could have done without it.

I would actually make the chicken and rice again, though I'll probably stick with my own banana bread recipe. I do like simple recipes, and when they're simple and tasty, that's a win-win.

Next week: Libya



Recipes from Lesotho


My first week of 2015 was Not Good. I won't go into any details, but it involved a leaky toilet, a bad blower motor in my furnace, a broken microwave, two ruined pots and a lost camera. Among other things.

If this is how 2015 is going to be, I think I'm going to spend the whole year in bed.

In keeping with the spirit of the new year, my first blog meal of 2015 was also Not Good, though I won't say it came anywhere near all the other things that were Not Good about the first week of 2015. In fact, Not Good is probably too strong a sentiment, really, and just reflects how bitter I'm feeling at the moment.

The country is Lesotho, which I'm betting you haven't heard of unless you were really, really paying attention in your high school geography class. It's pretty small, like, roughly the size of the state of Maryland small. It's in southern Africa, and as a nation it’s actually very young—younger than the US by almost a half century.


Malealea, Lesotho. Photo by Daniel Weber.

Fifty years after the US emerged as a democracy, Lesotho emerged under a king. His name was Moshoeshoe, which might be the coolest name ever, and he led this small nation until his death in 1870, when the British took over. Because that was what always happened to small, African nations in those days. The British controlled Lesotho until 1966, when it finally gained independence. Today it has a constitutional monarchy not unlike England’s, with a figurehead monarch and a prime minister.

As with all tiny, obscure nations, Lesotho has limited online resources to turn to if you’re looking for traditional recipes. Wikipedia’s entry for “Cuisine of Lesotho” contains a grand total of 101 words of information, and I think the author padded it a little. To sum up this already summarized version: the cuisine of Lesotho is a mix of African and British influences. Staples include potatoes, seafood, rice and vegetables. Here’s the menu I chose (I had to go with—gasp—offline resources):

Curried Meat
(from The World Cookbook for Students)
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 lb stew beef, cubed
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • salt to taste
  • 1⁄2 lb cabbage, shredded roughly
  • 1⁄2 lb squash, cut into chunks
Here's what I did on the side:

Stewed Cabbage and Potatoes
(from The World Cookbook for Students)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 10 oz potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks
  • Water as needed
  • 10 oz white cabbage, shredded roughly
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped roughly
  • salt and pepper to taste
And to mop up the juices:

Mealie-Meal (Cornmeal Cakes)
(from Holidays of the World Cookbook for Students)
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • Salt and pepper to taste
First, the beef:

Heat the oil in a pot and brown the meat on all sides. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Let cook for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the meat is tender. Now add the curry powder, salt and vegetables. Let simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes until the squash is tender.


Here's how to do the mealie-meal:

First heat your oven to 375 degrees. Put the cornmeal into a pot with the sugar and oil. Add the boiling water and stir until blended. Set the flame on low and cover, stirring frequently, until the mixture becomes thick and porridgey (that should take 10 to 12 minutes). Now remove from the heat. Let cool.


Beat the egg yolks and mix in with the cornmeal. Stir to blend. Now beat the egg whites and fold those into the mix.


Drop the batter by tablespoons onto a cookie sheet, just as if you were making cookies. You want your patties to be about two inches wide and ¼ inch thick. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until they puff up and turn golden.


Now for the cabbage and potatoes:

In a large pot, sauté the onion in the oil, then add the curry powder. Stir for a minute or two, then add the potatoes and enough water to cover. Cook 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender but not completely cooked. Now add the cabbage and keep cooking until the potatoes are tender. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.


This was a good, hearty meal, great for winter but let's face it, not really very interesting. I used butternut squash in mine, which is really the only kind of squash I can tolerate. The whole meal was pretty filling, which is what you want if you live in a place where subsistence farming is the norm.
Moving on now, slowly, but really, still moving on ...

Next week: Liberia



My favorite world recipes of 2014


You may have noticed that I've been slowing down a little, especially in the last few months of 2014. This is in part due to this job I have, where I have to write between 7,000 and 9,000 words every week (if I could devote that many words a week to writing a novel, I'd be able to pump one out every 10 weeks), and in part due to my older kids not taking swimming lessons anymore. I know that doesn't seem like it should have anything to do with anything, but I used to spend poolside time working on my blog posts, so without that I haven't really got a regular slot carved out for blogging. I know, I ought to be able to make one, but I just haven't managed.

I could launch into a speech about New Year's resolutions and swear to do better this year, but I don't want to make any promises because I'm mostly bad at keeping them. But regardless of how many weeks pass between posts, I do believe I will eventually get to the end of the alphabet. Eventually.

Anyway, I want to start the new year by remembering last year. I made some great food last year, and here's a list of my favorite 10 recipes:

Emilia Romagna, Italy: Tagliatelle with Porcini Mushrooms

Simple dishes are sometimes the best tasting. This whole meal was brilliant, but my favorite part was the mushroom pasta. It had a simple, earthy flavor and was one of the best things I ate all year.

Honduras: Carneada

I had a hard time deciding which dish from Honduras was my favorite, because I loved all of them. So I chose the main course, because it was definitely the star of what was a really amazing show. It was juicy, full of flavor, and it went beautifully with the other items on the menu.

Hong Kong: Soy Sauce Chicken

It's rare that I make a dish that all six of us like, because my kids have very different tastes. But this soy sauce chicken was loved by all, so much so that I really wish I'd made a lot more of it. And it was really easy to make, too.

Israel: Bourekas

My Isreal meal was definitely one of the most time-consuming blog meals of the year, but it was worth it. I chose a lot of different dishes and these cheese-filled bourekas were one of my favorite things on a very full table. I ate way too many of them and almost couldn't make room for the rest of the food. Almost.

Jamaica: Coco Bread

I am pretty sure that coconut-flavored bread has made my list of favorites in past years, so this may be a bit of a repeat. It wouldn't be fair to leave it off the list, though, because my whole family adored this bread. In fact, it actually inspired tears in my older daughter, who could not believe I had the audacity to eat the leftovers while she was at school.

Kazakhstan: Kazakh Lemon Chicken

This chicken dish had very complex flavors and I thought it was really delicious. It's actually the only dish that made the top 10 list that wasn't loved by both me and my husband, though, because he really doesn't like olives. I didn't think his personal preferences should exclude an otherwise fabulous meal from the top 10, though, so here it is. Delicious, lemony and tender, mmmm.

South Korea: Korean fried chicken

My American fried chicken recipe is pretty yummy, but I don't make it very often because of that whole most-unhealthy-thing-ever problem. I don't think this fried chicken recipe was really much better in terms of health but oh my, it was delicious. In fact my chicken-on-the-bone hating husband declared that these were the best drumsticks he'd ever had. High praise!

Kurdistan: Xorsht Fesenjan (chicken with pomegranate molasses and walnut)

OK, so the photo really looks awful. Like, if you had to go by pictures you would probably put this chicken in the bottom 10 of the year. Flavor-wise, though, it was amazing. It had a really deep, rich flavor that was reminiscent of sun dried tomatoes, but only a little. Be prepared for big, bold flavors if you make this dish.

Kuwait: Kuwaiti Honey Cake

My eight year old liked this honey cake so much that she actually said she wants me to make it on her birthday instead of getting her a store-bought cake. What? She loves those sickly-sweet, butter cream frosted cakes so it was a shock to hear her say that. I loved this dessert too, it was very middle-eastern in flavor and had a great texture.

Lebanon: Djej w Batata Bil Sayniyyeh (Baked Garlic Chicken and Potatoes)

I love one-pot meals for their ease, but this one was really delicious, too. You really gotta love anything with a garlic sauce, and this was one well-executed garlic sauce. With the potatoes it made for a really delicious and complete meal.

Runners Up


Honduras: Corn Tortillas

OK I know it's just corn tortillas, and nothing could be simpler to make. But the difference between these tortillas and something you'd buy at the grocery store is like night and day. These tortillas have an amazing, smooth texture and they don't fall apart when you try to fold them up. Stuff them with whatever you want and they'll hold together, and they taste delicious, too.

Hong Kong: Soy Sauce Noodles

My whole Hong Kong meal was delicious and I thought these noodles deserved a mention for one very important reason: they were the first Asian noodles I've personally made that did not turn out sort of slimy. Because of this dish, I finally have conquered chow mien, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Kashmir, India: Saunf Aloo

These were beautiful, simple and creamy potatoes--an easy dish to throw together and serve with Indian curry. I love making curry on or off my blog, so this recipe is going into my book and will for sure be accompanying some of this year's Indian dishes.

That's my list! I hope you tried some of these dishes too, and if not that you will have a chance to do so in 2015. They're totally worth the effort (and some were hardly any effort at all!)

Happy new year and I really do hope to have more posts up in 2015!




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