Recipes from Marche, Italy

For this entry, I made two recipes. Neither of them were especially good, but I don't blame the people who posted the original recipes or any of the traditions they came from, I blame myself and my propensity for Googling things that might kill me.

Recipes from Marche, Italy: Brodetto

A seafood stew with mussels and clams, minus the Vibrio.

Recipes from Marche, Italy: Filone Casereccio

An Italian bread that will come out much better than mine did if you use fresh brewer's yeast and steam.

Recipes from Malta

This is actually the third time I’ve cooked a meal from Malta. The first time, I cooked the meal and then just did not write the blog post. Years went by.

Recipes from Malta: Imqarrun

Imquarrum (also called Imqarrun il-forn) is descended from a dish served in Sicily, but the Maltese have adopted it as a traditional staple. The key to making this dish is to be patient.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Recipes from Cambodia

Hey look at that. Nearly one year of doing this and I’m finally on the letter “C.”

I have to say, I have been having some great luck this month with TbS meals. I didn’t think I was going to be able to top Burma’s duck and potato curry or those delicious Burmese rolls any time soon, but Cambodia surprised me. They have some good food in Cambodia.

I didn’t expect startlingly good food in Cambodia for reasons that weren’t entirely fair. I am finding through the course of doing my research and cooking these meals that my knowledge of the world is sadly limited to the stuff that makes it into the news, which is why the word “Cambodia” instantly conjured up negative images in my head. The sum total of what I know about Cambodia is that in the 1970s a brutal regime called the “Khmer Rouge” seized control of the country, and set about destroying anything and everything associated with western culture, including libraries, money, western medicine, schools and western-style commerce. Almost everyone in the country who was a part of the intellectual elite was murdered, and everyone else was evacuated from urban areas and forced into agricultural labor camps. The regime, it turns out, thought that an 11th century model of agriculture was in the best interests of the population. The “best interests” of the population apparently also included killing two million people in various colorful ways including but not limited to starvation, overwork, execution and disease. Have you heard the term “Killing Fields?” That’s where it came from.

So I went into this with the unfair subconscious idea that a History of Evil also must mean Bad Food. It doesn’t, and in all fairness Cambodia’s terrible past is behind it now (the country now has a constitutional monarchy not too unlike what they have in the United Kingdom). Which brings me back to the food.

I had a really hard time choosing recipes. They all looked good, and I downloaded and saved a lot more of them than I needed for this entry. Most of them (and all those I actually settled on) came from a site called Khmer Krom Recipes, which is run by Cambodian Mylinh Nakry.

Here’s my menu:

Sach Moan Cari Ang Chomkak
(Grilled Curry Chicken on a Stick)
  • 1 lb chicken breasts, cut into strips
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 green onion, minced
  • 2 tbsp minced lemon grass (I grated mine)
  • 2 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tbsp honey or light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1/2 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil (to prevent drying)
Accompanied by:

Tirk Salouk Swai
(Mango Salsa)

  • 1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and diced
  • 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 green onion,chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 hot chili peppers, chopped 

Bai Krob Chanti
(Cinnamon Cashew Rice)

  • 1 cup uncooked Jasmine rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup roasted cashews
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Dash cinnamon
And finally for dessert:

Num Taloak
(Persimmon Coffee Cake)

  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 4 persimmons, peeled, seeded and mashed
  • 6 oz walnuts
  • 2 tbsp powered sugar
A happy bonus to all this good food is that it was really easy to cook, which is often not true of meals that have complex flavors.

I started with the chicken, since it needs to be marinated for a few hours. Here are the instructions:

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Place the chicken strips on skewers and pour the rest of the marinade over. Cook on a grill over low heat until the chicken is golden brown all over (I just put mine under the broiler. They really do need an open flame.) Serve with mango salsa on the side.

Which brings me to the mango salsa:

Put all the ingredients in a blender and pulse until creamy (alternately, you can also just mix the chopped ingredients together in a bowl for a chunky salsa, but I liked the creamier version).

I said it was easy, right?

Now on to the Num Taloak (and no, the fact that the Khmer word for cake is “num” was not lost on me).

First preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Then oil a cake pan (I used butter) and sprinkle a little bit of flour on the bottom.

Mix the eggs with the sugar and melted butter. Keep mixing until creamy. It helps if you have a six-year-old doing it for you.

Now add the salt, baking powder, cinnamon, vanilla extract and flour. Finally add the persimmon.

When it is mixed well, add the walnuts.

Transfer the mixture to your prepared cake pan and back for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool, then sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Now I should note, I had to bake mine a whole lot longer than 25 minutes (it was probably more like an hour) but my oven is weird and unpredictable. And even though the toothpick technically came out clean, the cake did not seem at all cooked. I suspect this was because the persimmons were so wet and just did not incorporate that well into the flour. But I don’t know, I suppose I could have cooked it even longer. I don’t know what the texture is supposed to be like, so I can’t say whether or not I got it right. I will say that it was delicious, though.

Finally the rice. Now the original recipe called for cooking in a rice cooker (which calls for much less water), but I don’t have a rice cooker so I used this method:

Place the water in a pot and bring to a boil. Add the rice, bring back to a boil then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed.

Now add the butter, salt and cinnamon. Stir to combine and set aside.

Put the cashews into a small, dry skillet. Keep stirring until they are hot or browning slightly (depending on your preference). Add the cashews to the rice and stir gently to combine.

Now for the critique: every single thing on my plate was delicious. The curry chicken reminded me of a kebab that Martin and I do sometimes, but the flavor was totally unique. The mango salsa was spicy and fruity, which is a divine combination. And the rice was mild with just a little hint of cinnamon, which made it a perfect side for the intensely flavorful chicken and salsa.

Despite the spiciness of the meal, my kids devoured it. Except for the mango salsa, of course, because “ew it’s greeeeeeeen” (up until recently my kids wouldn’t even eat green frosting). Everyone had seconds of the cake--despite its questionable texture, it was still pretty yummy.

There wasn’t a single dish on this week’s menu that Martin didn’t want me to make again. And instead of deleting all those extra recipes I downloaded (the ones that didn’t make it into this meal), I’m planning to cook them all at some point. Cambodian food is that good.

Next week: Cameroon

For printable versions of this week’s recipes:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Recipes from Burundi

When I put this week’s meal on the table, Martin took one look at it and said, “Let me guess, Africa?”

African food, as we’re discovering, has a few common elements. The first one is peanuts and peanut oil (called “ground nuts”) and the second is beans.

This week’s recipes come from Burundi, one of the smallest African nations, which has the unfortunate distinction of being the fourth poorest country in the world. And that’s not even Burundi’s greatest claim to infamy; It was also the site of two terrible acts of genocide: the first in 1972, when the Tutsi-dominated army killed somewhere between 80,000 and 210,000 Hutus, and the second in 1993 when 25,000 Hutus were killed en masse by the Tutsis.

80% of Burundi lives in poverty, and more than half of Burundian children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition. 3.3% of the adult population is infected by HIV/AIDS, and there are only three doctors for every 100,000 people. Of 178 nations surveyed, Burundi ranked dead last in terms of its citizens’ satisfaction with life. I know, you’re waiting for me to say something positive about Burundi, but there just isn’t a whole lot. Burundi is kind of a bleak place.

Burundian cuisine is, as I’ve already mentioned, very similar to the cuisine in other African nations. There isn’t a lot of meat consumed there, primarily because meat is expensive and most Burundians can’t afford it. Agriculture is spread over about 80% of the total land area, and crops grown include things like beans, sweet potatoes, corn and wheat.

So I don’t have to tell you, there aren’t a whole lot of Burundian food bloggers out there (none that I could find, anyway) and for obvious reason Burundians don’t tend to publish books about Burundian cuisine, or to spend a lot of time on the internet posting recipes. I did find a few typical Burundian dishes in the usual last-resort places (yes, Celtnet). I do have to admit to taking some liberties with one of the recipes, though (I’ll explain in a minute).

The first recipe I chose is a dish called Boko Boko Harees, which is rather astonishingly similar to a recipe I made back in Armenia called Chicken Herriseh. I chose it not because of its similarities (if you remember, I didn’t particularly enjoy the chicken herriseh) but because it was the lesser of all evils. My other options were several soups (and let’s face it in July it’s way too hot for soup), a dish made from tripe and blood (ew), and a stew made from beef and greens in peanut sauce, which seemed problematic on two levels: 1) I’ve been told they don’t really eat beef in Burundi and 2) I don’t usually like greens unless they’re in a salad. So that left Boko Boko Harees, which was at least slightly different from the Armenian version. Here’s the recipe:

  • 3 1/3 cups bulgur wheat*
  • 3 chicken breasts
  • 1 large onion, grated
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 sets chicken giblets
  • 1 small onion, sliced and separated into rings
  • 2 tbsp turmeric powder
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 5 cups water
  • 6 tsp ghee, divided
*Ingredient note: I’ve never seen bulgur wheat in a standard grocery store. I got mine at the natural foods co-op.

The second dish is, at least based on my observations, one of Burundi’s most popular. It is a simple bean dish called Ibiharage and there are quite a few variations of it, which is why I felt compelled to sort of combine two different versions. The first version I had was a little too bland, and the second included plantains, which I don’t really like. So here’s the one I came up with.

  • 12 oz white navy beans
  • Boiling water
  • 1/2 cup cooking oil
  • 3 large onions, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp berberi powder
  • 2 tsp salt
Now the question is, how authentic can I claim this to be based on the liberties I took with it? For the sake of full disclosure, I’ll tell you what I did: I substituted a white navy bean for kidney beans. The reason I felt this was OK is because one other version of the recipe specifically called for white beans, and another was non-specific about the kind of beans that could be used, asking for “lima, pinto, kidney, black-eyed peas, etc.” The second thing I did was add berberi spice mix, as called for in the fried-plantains version. I did this because except for the salt and that one garlic clove, the recipe just seemed like it would be bland.

Finally I did a dessert, simply called Date and Banana Mix. Now dessert isn’t really a part of most African meals so again, I don’t really know how authentic this is given that the recipe came from Celtnet. It could be that the dish is mainly served as a snack or just in wealthier households, where western-style traditions are more likely to be found. Here it is:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/8 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/8 cup flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 bananas, sliced
  • 4 1/2 oz dates, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp melted butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp sugar
I did the boko boko harees first, because it required a lot of cooking. Here’s how it’s done:

Soak the bulgur wheat in water for 3 hours. Note: bulgur wheat absorbs a ton of water, so don’t be stingy.

Now drain the wheat and place in a pot with the chicken breasts and enough water to cover. (The recipe said to cover by 1 inch, but I thought that was too much. It took a really long time for that much water to boil off, so I think it would be better to just add water as needed, rather than starting off with too much.)

Now add 1 tsp salt, bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Let cook for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut up the chicken giblets into very small pieces. (I actually put mine in the food processor, because I hate big chunks of giblets. Of course, that was quite yucky and I don’t think I’d really recommend it.)

In a small pot, mix the turmeric powder with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until you get a thick paste. Remove from heat and set aside.

Transfer the giblets to a small pot and simmer with about a half cup of water and 3 tbsp of the turmeric paste. Add a pinch of salt and the sugar. Simmer for 10 or 15 minutes, or until the giblets are cooked.

Now fry the onions in the remaining ghee until they are crispy.

Take the chicken breasts out of the pot and shred them, then return the to the bulgur wheat. Add 3 tbsp of the ghee and stir until well-incorporated. The dish should be the consistency of a thick dough; if it’s not, keep cooking until it reduces down.

Serve with the turmeric sauce and fried onions.

Now for the beans: you can soak them overnight or you can put them in your 50-year-old exploding pressure cooker (don’t ask) and cook them under 2 inches of water for about 18 minutes. When the beans are done soaking/cooking, drain them and set aside.

In a separate pan, heat the oil and fry the onions until they are transparent. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant.

Add the beans to the pot and cook for five minutes.

Finally, stir in the salt and the berberi spice mix. Serve immediately.

Finally the dates and bananas:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, then the flour, salt and baking powder. Mix well.

Transfer half the mixture to a baking dish (it will be sticky, so you’ll have to mold it into the dish with your fingers). Then put the bananas and dates on top. Cover the mixture with the remaining dough (this will be tricky given the consistency of the dough, but just do your best).

Bake for 30 minutes or until the top turns a golden brown. Meanwhile, mix the sugar and cinnamon together.

Remove from the oven and brush with melted butter, then sprinkle with the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Serve warm.

So what can I say about Burundi? It was simple, basic food, which is what I would expect from the fourth poorest nation in the world. I did find it particularly notable that there was a whole lot of wheat (filler) in the boko boko harees, and not very much chicken, which makes sense when you think about it—people who have limited access to meat are going to use it sparingly, and combine it with something that is very filling but relatively cheap to obtain, such as a grain. It actually tasted fine—not great, but fine—though its visual appeal was, um, not so much. Martin took one look at it and said, “well, at least if it makes someone throw up you won’t be able to tell.” Thanks a lot, Martin. My kids, of course, felt pretty much the same way and it was hard to convince them to try any of it. Once they did, they were so-so about it. They ate some of it and left the rest.

I liked the fried onions on top of the boko boko but could have lived without the sauce (giblets: ew). I think actually the sauce would have been quite tasty if made with chicken thigh meat instead of giblets, but again just my opinion.

The beans were the best part of the meal, and I was glad that I’d added the berberi paste because I think I was right, it would have been bland without. The date and banana mix was also really good, and my kids happily finished off the whole dish.

The meal and my research into Burundi was actually kind of a sobering experience, especially knowing that however simple and basic the meal was, we were still eating better than most Burundians do on a daily basis. And it still isn’t a meal I would probably do again. How lucky we are to live in a land of supermarkets and abundant food.

Next week: Cambodia.

For printable versions of this week’s recipes:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Recipes from Burma

This week we're in a land of extra large snakes and yummy food, two facts that are thankfully unrelated. 

Burma is home to the Burmese python, a snake that can grow up to 13 feet in length (the largest known specimen was a captive python just shy of 19 feet). It is also home to Burmese rolls and duck and potato curry. I know I'm a little biased because I don't actually think I've ever met a curry I didn't like, but if these two recipes are anything to go by I'm going to be cooking a whole lot more Burmese food.

Burma is in South East Asia, and though it's actually the second largest country in the region its place in modern world consciousness has been kind of overshadowed by its neighbors. India gets more attention for its call centers and US exports of incredibly smart people, and China gets more attention for being, you know, China.

Burma is wealthy in resources but poor in everything else. Its people are, for the most part, poorly educated. Its resources are mismanaged and its infrastructure is abysmal, which means that the products it does produce are difficult to move around and out of the country. And according to the World Health Organization, Burma's health care system ranks dead last out of 190 countries. Oh yeah and don't forget about all the child labor and human trafficking.

But it does have good food, which is of course very small compensation for all those things. Traditional dishes have a heavy Chinese, Indian and Thai influence and rice is the primary staple. Burma has 1,200 miles of coastline, so fish is a prominent ingredient in many Burmese recipes, even those that don't feature it. In fact I ran into one or two dishes that called for shrimp paste, which of course made me run away screaming. Here are the first two dishes I finally settled on (as already mentioned):

Burmese Rolls
(This recipe comes from

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped onion
  • 8 oz ground lamb
  • 1 tsp ginger garlic paste
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp hot madras curry powder*
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 green chiles, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 cup bean sprouts (I used a lot less)
  • 1 dozen egg roll wrappers
*This is my interpretation, since the recipe just called for "hot spices."

Beh Thar Aloo Sipyan (Duck and Potato Curry)
(This recipe is from Burmese food blogger Tin Cho Chaw. More at hsa*ba.)

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 small-sized duck, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 small waxy potatoes, peeled & cut into halves
  • 1 large onion, quartered
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 whole dried chillies, soaked in hot water
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 cup peanut oil
  • 5/8 cup water
I also chose a fairly simple rice dish as a side:

Pe Htaw Bhut Htamin (Butter and Lentil Rice)
(Another one from Tin Cho Chaw)

  • 1 cup basmati rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup split dried chana dal, soaked for 8 hours
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 2/3 cup water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
And finally, this sour dipping sauce, which I chose at the very last minute based on ingredients I had on hand (I realized as I was cooking the rolls that I needed something to dip them in). I actually do not have the source for this one because I was in such a hurry I forgot to save it (if it's your recipe let me know):

  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 chopped garlic clove
  • 1 chopped green chili
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, minced
The duck is slow-cooked (in fact I ended up just finishing it in my crockpot) so that's where we'll start.

If you're lucky enough to find boneless duck meat at the grocery store, you can skip the first part, which is actually more time consuming than anything else I did for this meal. Of course I've never so much as cut up a chicken, so maybe you won't find the process of cutting the meat off of a whole duck as godawful as I did.

I should mention that this was the first time I've ever cooked duck, so I was a little surprised by how little meat is actually on one. I kept wondering if I was missing something. And of course there's the part where I have to get out a microscope and remove every piece of fat I can find at the subatomic level, for fear my husband will throw his meal in the trash, which is not easy under the best of circumstances and duck has a lot of fat. When I was done I had a pretty small bowl full of meat, probably about the equivalent of two small chicken breasts.

So after you've cut your duck up into small pieces, mix the turmeric with the salt and fish sauce and toss it with the duck. Put it in the fridge and let it marinade for 30 minutes.

Now put the onion, garlic and dried chilies in a food processor. Pulse until you have a smooth paste.

Heat the oil over a hot flame and fry the potatoes until they are lightly browned on all sides. Now take them out of the oil and set them aside. Put the duck pieces into the same oil and lightly brown that, too. With a slotted spoon, take the duck out of the pan and set it aside.

Now put the onion paste into the oil and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it turns a rich reddish brown color, which should take 15 to 20 minutes. Now, the recipe was very explicit here about how much oil to use (not enough and the onions will burn, making a bitter sauce). Frankly, I thought it probably didn’t need quite as much oil and if I did it again I would probably cut back just to see what happens. I might even strain the onions when I was done cooking them. Don’t misunderstand me, the curry was delicious, but I don’t think it needed to be that oily.

Add the paprika and cook until fragrant.

Now put the duck and potatoes into the pan and add the water. Cover the pot and simmer for 45 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally. The meat should be tender. (Note: this is where I just moved the whole thing to my crockpot).

Now for the Burmese rolls, which were easy except for the part where I had to translate the recipe.

The ingredients were in English (mostly), but the instructions were in Burmese. Now, if you’ve ever tried to translate, say, a Spanish or French recipe, you already know how hilarious Google Translator can be. Now try doing something in Burmese. Haha. Fortunately, it’s not too hard to figure out how to make these, even without explicit instructions such as “Then the flame light-inch should fry and frying pan golden brown. Flavored rule are ready.”

Lucky for you, I’m going to give you the instructions in English, amusing though the Google Translated version is.

First brown the onions in the oil. Now add the ginger-garlic paste and the ground lamb. (Note: the original recipe only said “mince,” but since beef is not widely eaten in Burma I chose to use lamb. You could probably use beef as well, if authenticity isn’t too important to you.)

Add the curry powder, pepper and salt to taste. Continue to cook over a medium flame until the meat is cooked through (about 10 minutes).

Add the cilantro, chili peppers and vinegar. Stir until the peppers begin to soften up a little. Remove from heat and let cool.

Lay out one egg roll wrapper so that it is oriented as a diamond shape. Put a line of about 1 tsp of filling on the wrapper and top that with a few bean sprouts.

Roll the bottom point of the diamond over the filling, then fold over the two middle points of the diamond.

Then roll up completely, keeping the seam side down. Continue until you’ve run out of filling.

You can deep fry these to make them a little more even, but I pan fried mine. They were slightly doughy as a result (which Martin actually liked). To pan fry, just add about a half inch of oil to your frying pan and keep turning until golden brown on all sides. Serve hot with sour dipping sauce.

And since you’re now wondering how to make the sour dipping sauce:

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. Serve.

Now finally the rice.

Thank goodness for 50 year old pressure cookers, because I’m always forgetting to soak beans and lentils, which is what happened this time.

This recipe calls for chana dal, which is essentially a split garbanzo bean. They do need to be soaked for about 8 hours, though 12 minutes in a pressure cooker under about two inches of water will work just as well.

After you’ve soaked or pressure cooked the dal, rinse the basmati rice until the water runs clear. Now put the rice in a pot and layer the dal on top. Add the remaining ingredients and the water.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. Let rest for five minutes before serving.

I know I’ve already gushed about this meal, so I will bore you some more with some additional gushing. As you know, not every Travel by Stove meal really wows me, but this one did.

The rolls were crispy and delicious (Martin’s favorite part of the meal), and the sour dipping sauce went surprisingly well with them since it was literally something I threw together at the last minute. Everyone in my family ate and enjoyed them, which is really saying something.

When Hailey learned what the main course was, she exclaimed with a great amount of shock, “You mean you can eat duck??” Which I thought was funny coming from a girl who has eaten kangaroo.

Now I personally haven’t eaten a lot of duck, in fact, the sum total of my experience with duck is the one or two times I’ve had crispy duck in a Chinese restaurant. So this was practically my first experience with duck as an actual meat (vs. a potato-chip like substance). I actually thought it tasted more like beef than it did like chicken, which surprised me a little. It was very good, though as I said I found the whole curry to be excessively oily. It didn’t detract from the flavor or anything, I just thought all that oil was kind of unnecessary. Next time I will also cut the potatoes up into smaller pieces, since I found the large occasional chunks a bit strange.

The rice had just a little hint of cinnamon and the dal just gave it that extra textural interest. It was a perfect side for the intensely flavorful duck.

I reserve only my favorite Travel by Stove recipes for the Robins Family Cookbook, and all four of these dishes got enough stars to become family favorites (with a tweak or two). I might try the duck curry with chicken next time, just for simplicity sake, but other than that I have to say I probably won’t make a whole lot of major changes. Burma is definitely in the top 10 of my favorite countries so far.

Next week: Burundi

For printable versions of this week’s recipes:

Friday, July 6, 2012

Recipes from Burkina Faso

OK, yeah, so I said I would post on Thursday and now it's Friday. I completely forgot about the whole 4th of July thing, so I didn't have any time to write on Wednesday and my husband had all of Thursday off work so I chose not to write that day, either. But technically, I'm only a day later than I said I would be so hopefully you'll forgive me.

After a couple of weeks of snails and shrimp paste, Burkina Faso, I have to say, was refreshing. It was nice, simple food that didn't contain any scary ingredients and came together pretty quickly. The main dish wasn't overly heavy and greasy like a lot of what we've been eating on these weekly journeys, though the side I could have done without.

Burkina Faso, as you know, is a country in Africa. Or maybe you don't know that because I sure didn't. Before I did this entry I'd never even heard of Burkina Faso. Neither had Martin. Funnily enough, though, I had actually heard of Upper Volta, which is what the country was called until 1984. Don't ask me how, but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with my mom's stamp collecting hobby, which should also let you know about how old I am and about how geeky my parents are.

Anyway there are several reasons why you probably haven't heard of Burkina Faso: 1) It's pretty small, just a little bit bigger than Colorado in terms of land mass though it has about three times as many people and 2) It's poor. About 90% of Burkina Faso's citizens survive on what they can grow or raise themselves, and the country is prone to drought, which makes famine a very real threat.

Burkinabe cuisine reflects this dependence on subsistence agriculture; the Burkinabe eat a lot of staple foods such as rice, potatoes, beans, maize and peanuts. But they do eat meat, too, particularly goat and mutton (neither of which I personally had ready access to, at least not this week), though it is considered a luxury in the villages and poor(er) parts of the country.

So for my main dish I chose something that reflects the simplicity of the cuisine, and I went with the national dish of Burkina Faso: "Riz Gras," which literally translated means "fat rice." The name is not a reference to the type of rice used but a comment on how much oil is in the dish, which is a lot. The recipe I chose also called for either chicken or beef, though I gather it can also be (and often is) eaten without meat. Here's the version I used (from Celtnet):

Riz Gras (Fat Rice)
  • 2 habanero peppers
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 lb beef or chicken, cubed
  • 4 tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 1/4 cup water
  • 1 Maggi cube* (or chicken bouillon cube)
  • 2 1/2 cups long grain white rice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
*Ingredient note: African recipes often call for a "Maggi" cube, which is a brand of chicken bouillon. I do have some, which I bought from, but I'm pretty sure any brand would be an acceptable substitute.

The second recipe also came from the ubiquitous Celtnet, which as you know is not my very favorite place to find recipes. But small, unknown nation equals limited informational resources, so I decided to go with the bean cake recipe posted there as a side dish. Here it is:

Boussan Touba (Savory Beancakes)

  • 14 oz dried black-eyed peas
  • half a small onion, chopped
  • 2 small carrots, chopped
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • flour for coating
  • peanut oil for frying
And finally for dessert I chose "Banfora Welsh Cakes," which came from a site called "Elite life," which I can honestly say I know nothing about other than they had a selection of Burkinabe recipes listed there. Their credibility, however, I cannot vouch for. But here is the recipe:

Banfora Welshcakes

  • 2 cups self raising flour
  • 1/2 cup margarine
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 3/4 oz dried diced pineapple
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • Pinch of salt
I made the Welsh Cakes first, which were really more like mildly sweet cookies so I'll start this entry there, too.

First sift the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Now, I forgot to use self-raising flour (though I did actually have some) so my cakes came out a bit flat. If your store doesn't carry self raising flour, just add 2 2/3 tsp baking powder to this recipe. Although the flat cakes were actually still pretty good.

Now cut the margarine into cubes and work it into the flour with your fingers, until you get that "fine breadcrumb" texture everyone is always talking about.

 Add the sugar and pineapple, then the beaten egg. Mix until you get a stiff dough, adding milk as necessary (you may not need all 3 tbsp).

Flour your work surface and roll the dough out. Cut into rounds with whatever cutting tool you have on hand (mine were probably two or three inches in diameter).

Lightly grease a frying pan with some margarine and fry the cakes for a few minutes on each side, or until golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Now the recipe didn't say to, but the accompanying photo showed these cakes topped with powdered sugar, so I sprinkled a little over mine before serving.

Now for the riz gras:

First put the habaneros, garlic, tomatoes and onion into a food processor and pulse until you get a nice paste. Then heat the oil over medium heat and add the paste to the pan. Cook for 8 minutes, then remove from the fire and set aside.

Here's a new one: use a little bit of water (about 1/2 to 1 cup) to rinse out your food processor, then put the water in a separate pot along with the meat. Bring the meat and water to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Now add the meat to the pan containing the paste. Add the tomato paste, water and Maggi (or stock) cube. Stir.

Wash the rice until the water runs clear. Then add it to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer for 15 minutes. Check it, then cook for another 10 minutes or until the water has been absorbed.

Garnish with thin slices of onion.

OK finally the bean cakes. Now if you follow this blog you will remember how much trouble I had with bean cakes back in Antigua and Barbuda. This time, though, I have a new pan. So fingers crossed.

First soak the black-eyed peas overnight. Drain, and place in a large pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes or until tender. Drain.

Now put the beans in a blender with the onion, carrots and egg (add a little water if you need to, but not too much). Season with salt and pepper and blend into a smooth paste.

Heat the oil until bubbles rise around the non-stirring end of a wooden spoon. Meanwhile, shape the paste into round balls (about an inch or so in diameter).

Then with the palm of your hand, flatten each ball. Dip in flour, then fry in the hot oil until browned, turning once. Hint: don't fiddle with them. It should take about five minutes per side to cook, but if you lift them too often they'll start to disintegrate.

The verdict: despite the name "fat rice," the riz gras did not seem very heavy and was tasty though basic. The tomatoes were the dominant flavor and the texture was actually a little wetter than I usually like my rice (no doubt because of all that oil). I enjoyed it, though, and so did Martin and most of my kids. I don't think I have to tell you which one didn't like it (Hailey).

The beancakes were way too oily for me so I only ate one. I guess I'm having a tough time understanding the whole beancake thing, and I'm still not sure if I'm doing them right. Mine did fall apart a little though they maintained enough of a shape to be moved from pan to plate, but I really didn't like the way they absorbed all that oil.

Finally the Welsh Cakes. They were so good that my family fell on them like a pack of starving hyenas, leaving nothing but a few meager crumbs behind which Natalie then proceeded to lick off the plate. So yes, we liked the dessert. It was fun to do cookies in a pan, and it made them taste different—a little biscuity as well as a little cookiey.

I was thankful for the ease that this meal came together though I wish that my blog post had come together with as much ease. Now that our little mini-vacation and subsequent family events are behind us, I should be able to get back on track.

Next week: Burma.

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

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