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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