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, August 30, 2012

Recipes from Central Canada

It's time for a confession. I know, you probably think I'm a bit of a food snob, or am at least trying to be one. I love Indian food, rabbit stew and gourmet cheeses. I turn my nose up at cheap coffee and I almost never buy frozen produce.

But I love French fries. Yes, I will even eat McDonald's French fries (I know, I know). So when I heard about poutine I kind of based my entire Central Canadian recipe around that one dish.

Poutine. It's basically just French fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy. Cheese curds, mmmm. Cheese + French fries = cardiac disease heaven. This dish originated in Quebec and is now a very popular fast food all over Canada, so I had to make it. I just had to.

Anyway you may be wondering just what parts of Canada are considered "Central," so we'll get that out of the way first. Central Canada includes Canada's two largest provinces, Ontario and Quebec. On the map, this region really looks more eastern than central, but there are much smaller regions on the coast that comprise the "East Coast region." Central Canada is a part of French Canada, so most of the food that comes from this region has French influences—hence the rich, cheesiness of the poutine.

It was actually harder to find recipes from Central Canada than it was to find recipes from most tiny African or Caribbean nations. I'll bet that surprises you as much as it does me.

If I had to guess (which is what I'm doing), I'd say that the reason for the difficulty is because Canadian food is a lot like American food: chefs take elements from cuisine that is popular in other parts of the world and combine them to make dishes that are delicious but not really quintessentially anything. So although I found a lot of "Canadian" recipes, I really had no idea how truly Canadian they actually were. Add to that the fact that most people think poutine is a meal all by itself, and I had extra difficulty trying to find a truly Canadian dish to go with this dish that I already had my heart set on.

So I did some Googling, which is my solution for everything, and I eventually found a forum where some Canadians were debating the different dishes that you could potentially serve with poutine. A few posters suggested a classic Quebecois dish called Tourtière, which is a recipe I kept running into during my research but ended up rejecting for two reasons: the first and primary because Tourtière is a winter dish (often served at Christmas time), and it's been 100 degrees here in Gold Country. The second reason was because it's a heavy dish to be paired with another heavy dish.

But you know, I just had to make poutine. And I couldn't find anyone anywhere who was suggesting an alternative dish to serve with it. So Tourtière it was.

Here's the recipe (this version came from Simple Bites):

  • 1 1/4 pounds ground pork
  • 3/4 cups cold water
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp dried savory
  • 1/4 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • Pastry for one 9-inch pie
  • 1 egg, beaten
And of course, the poutine:

For the fries:
  • 2 lbs unpeeled russet potatoes
  • Canola oil for frying
  • Cheddar cheese curds
For the gravy:
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup cup white onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups beef stock, warmed
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
There are many versions of this recipe online, but this one seemed the most complete. It came from Thierry Pepin, a restaurateur who grew up in Quebec and posted his poutine recipe on Of course, you could always do this recipe with a bag of frozen French fries and a can of gravy, but I only like to do things the easy way when I'm not blogging about it and no one will know.

I had to do a dessert, too, you know, to balance out all that super-healthy stuff we'd be eating for the main meal. So I picked this one, which came from Oak Cottage Recipes:

Old Quebec Molasses Cake

  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice, combined with enough milk to make 1/2 cup*
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp powdered ginger
  • 1/2 cup of melted butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
  • 1/2 cup of sultana raisins
* This is a substitute for sour milk. If you have sour milk (which most American cooks probably don't), you can use 1/2 cup of that instead.

I almost always start with the dessert, unless it's something that needs to be served hot. So here's how to do the cake:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Combine the lemon juice and milk and let stand 5 minutes, or until thickened.

Grease and lightly flour a 9-inch round baking pan.

Add the baking soda to the lemon juice/milk mixture and stir until dissolved.

Beat the egg with the sugar, then add the milk mixture and the molasses.

In a large bowl, stir the flour and spices together, then add this to the wet ingredients. Stir until completely mixed. Add the melted butter, walnuts and raisins.

Pour the batter into the baking pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Now for the pie:

In a large pot, mix the ground pork with the cold water and bring to a boil, breaking apart any lumps in the meat. The mixture should be slightly wet, so add more water if necessary.
Now add the vegetables and all the spices except for the salt. Cover the pot and cook on medium low heat for about an hour and 15 minutes. Lift the lid and stir often, adding more water if the meat looks too dry.

About 40 minutes into the cooking process, add the salt.
When the cooking time is up, add the rolled outs and stir for a minute or two. Now remove the bay leaf and let cool.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Line a pie pan with the pastry (I just used a refrigerated, pre-made dough, though you can do it from scratch too if you don't have four kids who are complaining about how long it's taking you to make dinner).

After the meat has cooled (it doesn't need to be room temperature, just lukewarm), pour it into the pie shell and brush the edge of the pastry with some of the beaten egg.

Now cover the pie with the rest of the pastry, trim, and crimp or roll the edges to seal. Don't forget to cut slits in the top of the pie crust so it can vent while baking.

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 and continue baking for 25 minutes or until the crust is golden.

Now for the poutine.

First slice up your potatoes and submerge them in ice water. It really helps if you have a French fry slicer to do this, that way your fries will cut faster and cook evenly.

Meanwhile, heat 1 1/2 inches of oil in a heavy pot until bubbles rise around the non-stirring end of a wooden spoon.

Remove the potato sticks from the ice water and pat dry. Now fry them in batches for about a minute and a half and drain on paper towels. This will not cook them through—these potatoes are double-fried. Why? I don't know, and neither does anyone else. One theory is that the first fry creates a water-tight seal around the outside of the potato, which will make for a moister French fry. Another theory is that frying them just one time will give you a French fry that is still raw in the middle, though that's not what happens to me when I make French fries, and I don't usually double-fry them. Anyway, that's what this recipe said to do, so that's what I did.

After the first fry return the potatoes to the hot oil and refry for about five minutes, or until golden (mine took more like 7 minutes). Drain again. Lament at how many expensive paper towels you are going through.

Meanwhile, make the gravy. First melt the butter over medium heat, then add the onion and sauté until translucent. Now stir in the flour to make a roux (the mixture should be lightly browned, which will take 3 or 4 minutes). Add the stock, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the gravy is thickened, which should take another 10 or 15 minutes. Add the Worcestershire sauce and the pepper.

Put the French fries on serving plates. Add the cheese curds. Cover with the gravy. YUM.

I don't have to tell you how much I enjoyed to poutine. Because come on, freshly made French fries, cheese curds and gravy … what kind of a crazy person wouldn't like that?

My kids, actually. To be honest I didn't even bother giving Hailey any cheese or gravy because cheese and gravy both deserve to be treated better than that. But even Natalie and Dylan turned their noses up at the poutine. Crazy people.

The pie was good. It really was too heavy a combination with the poutine, but I still liked it. I can see how it would have been a lot nicer on a cold winter's day, served with a chunky green ketchup (which I didn't have). Everyone in my family ate it though. My kids love anything made with pastry.

The cake was very good with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. In flavor it was a lot like a gigantic gingerbread cookie. Again, it would have been great on a cold December evening. I almost feel like I'm going to have to go back and do this meal again around the holidays to really appreciate it.

I made two of the cakes, and one of them went with Martin to work, where it instantly vanished. So it was a hit with more than just my family.

I loved making this meal for many reasons, not the least of which was because it was a nice change from all the African and Asian fare I've been doing for the past few weeks. But mainly because of the cheese and French fries. We all have our weaknesses.

Next week: Central Thailand

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Recipes from the Central African Republic

I get a lot of help with Travel by Stove from other bloggers, most of whom live or once lived in the countries I write about. This has both advantages and disadvantages. One advantage, of course, is that bloggers can give me direct access to authentic recipes without the need for a lot of research on my part. They can also usually point me towards the better recipes and give me suggestions for good main dish/side/dessert combos, which eliminates some of the guesswork.

A disadvantage, of course, is that if I hate one of the recipes that blogger suggested, I then have to worry that I'm going to offend that person when I post my verdict of the meal (this hasn't actually happened yet, fortunately). I know, I know, I shouldn't worry. Restaurant critics sure as hell don't care whether or not they offend someone. But I'm not a restaurant critic, so I do worry—especially if it's a person who has gone out of his way to help me.

Which is why it's good that this week's meal didn't come from a blogger. Because "yawn" and "bleh." And I'll throw in a "blah" for good measure.

It looks pretty good, doesn't it? Haha.

Now, I probably was just unlucky. There are no bloggers out there writing about food in Central Africa, or if there are they need to consider taking a course on SEO (so do I, but there you go). There also do not seem to be any books on the subject, unless you count Recipes for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet: The Grain-Free, Lactose-Free, Sugar-Free Solution to IBD, Celiac Disease, Autism, Cystic Fibrosis, and Other Health Conditions, which oddly enough was the very first hit on when I tried to search for "Central African Recipes." So I was stuck with the usual questionable pickins from Celtnet and the like, and even in those places there just weren't a lot of choices.

So before I reveal my enormously unexciting menu, let me just tell you a little bit about the country where these recipes (presumably) came from. The Central African Republic is, as you might have guessed, located in pretty much the exact center of the African continent. With 240,000 square miles and 4.4 million citizens, it is neither small nor large, and unlike many other African nations it has significant mineral resources such as uranium, gold, diamonds, crude oil and lumber. Sadly, the average Centrafrican doesn't really benefit from the sale of these resources, and the country remains the sixth poorest nation in the world, with a Human Development Index that ranks 179th out of 187 nations.

So the absence of Centrafrican bloggers is unsurprising, really, and I'm sure that the recipes I made aren't really representative of what Central Africa has to offer. I would be happy to do this one over if I find some better recipes somewhere down the road. But in the meantime, here's what I did:

Kanda ti Nyma (Meatballs in Peanut Sauce)

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 chilli, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp palm oil or groundnut oil
  • 2 cups frozen cut okra
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened peanut butter
  • 1 cup warm water


  • 1/2 cup fufu flour
  • 1 cup water
and for dessert:

Benne Wafers

  • 1 cup sesame seeds, toasted
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
Now when you read the kanda ti nyma recipe, one thing that probably struck you was the absence of spice of any kind, including salt. Unless you are truly a stickler for authenticity, I strongly suggest adding some berbere spice mix or maybe even, you know, some salt. But anyway, here's what the recipe says to do:

First mix the ground beef with half of one onion, the chili pepper, garlic and eggs. Shape into balls and cover. Put in the fridge for an hour or so, or until they set.

Now heat the oil over a medium flame and fry the onion until it starts to turn brown. Add the okra and continue to fry for five or 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend the peanut butter with the water and add to the pan. Return the pot to a simmer, then add the meatballs.

Cook for 25 minutes, turning the meatballs once. The okra should be tender and the meatballs should be cooked through. Serve over rice.

Now on to the fufu. The first burning question I know you have is this, "why in the hell would you want to make fufu?" Well, here's the reason. I kept seeing it referred to on Caribbean and African food websites. It seems to be very popular, so there must be something to it, right? And also I found a box of fufu flour at Red Star International the last time I was there, so I bought it.

In my defense, when I bought this I didn't yet know quite how much I hated plantains.

What is fufu flour, you ask? Well, as it turns out, this particular variety was a blend of flours made from yep, you guessed it, cassava. And also one of my two arch nemeses, plantains. Yay.

So here's how you make fufu:

Boil the water. Add half of it to the flour and mix. Then slowly add the other half. Knead until you get a big shiny ball of dough. Done.

Finally, the dessert.

Start by heating your oven to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, toast your sesame seeds. Now, the original recipe said to put them in the oven on an ungreased baking sheet for 10 to 12 minutes, but that sounded fraught with peril. I've burned many a pine-nut that way. I found it much easier to control the process by doing it on the stove top—just heat a dry pan and add the sesame seeds, stirring constantly until they start to turn a light shade of brown. Remove them from the heat and transfer to a small bowl.

Now mix all the rest of the ingredients together and add the sesame seeds.

Grease a baking sheet. Drop the dough by half-teaspoons onto the sheet, making sure to keep some distance between each wafer. When baking, the wafers will spread out until they're pretty much flat, so they need a lot of space on the pan.

Bake for 5-6 minutes, or until the edges of each wafer start to brown. Remove from the oven and let sit for 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool (if you wait much longer they will start to stick to the pan).

OK. So as I'm sure you've guessed from previous paragraphs, the kanda ti nyma was bland. Which was shocking, because I don't think I've ever eaten anything made with peanut sauce that I didn't think was delicious. But this really had no flavor, except for the overpowering flavor of unsalted, unsweetened peanuts. It desperately needed some spice or a little salt to liven it up. It was certainly edible, but boring. Really boring. And of course there was the addition of the okra, which I'm really not crazy about. Okra cook up slimy, which I find unpleasant. So overall this dish didn't do it for me at all.

As for the fufu, well, what can I say about the fufu. It was awful. Martin stared at it for about five minutes before he tried it. First he said, "Um, are you sure you made it right?" I told him I followed the package directions exactly. Then he took a bite of it and said "Are you SURE you made it right?" What did it taste like? Well, it was just a big ball of raw dough that tasted pretty much exactly like how you'd expect plantain flour to taste. And the sauce from the main dish of course didn't help at all, because it was equally as bland.

My kids, however (especially Dylan) did find some use for it. Remember that scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind where the guy makes the Devil's Tower out of mashed potatoes? Yeah, it was like that only with fufu.

Now the meal did have a saving grace, and that was the benne wafers. They were wonderfully unique. They turned out crispy and the sesame seeds gave them a great texture and flavor. My kids all loved them, but their biggest fan was 2 1/2 year old Henry. In fact, I'm pretty sure Henry has never met a food he liked as much as he liked those wafers. He liked them so much that he went into the kitchen and positioned himself between the plate full of leftover wafers and anyone who dared challenge him. He was like a dog standing over its dead master. "Mohwee cewkie! Mohwee cewkie!" (Henrese for "more cookie"). And I won't even get into the details on the dickie fit he threw when I wouldn't let him have any more.

The sad truth is, though, that I don't really even know if these wafers are truly a Central African Republic recipe. I've seen them in other places just called "African benne wafers," so I can't say for sure if they even belonged on this week's menu.

Well, what can I say, I made the effort. Not every week can be a winner.

UPDATE: Thank you to Deborah Troester, a reader who lives in the Central African Republic, for suggestions on how to improve the Kanda ti Nyma. Deborah suggests serving this dish with the traditional hot pepper powder, which would be sprinkled over the sauce before eating. She also says that Centrafricans who can afford it will add salt when it is available. Next week: Central Canada

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Recipes from the Cayman Islands

It will probably surprise you to hear that I'm actually glad to be back in the Caribbean this week. Yes, I got inundated with Caribbean meals early on in my Travel by Stove career, just by sheer bad luck of the alphabet (there are a lot of Caribbean nations that begin with the letters "A" or "B"). But for the last few weeks another world region has been dominating my kitchen, and I'm glad to have a short break from sub-Saharan Africa (and by short I mean I'll be going back there next week).

This week though, our meal comes from the Cayman Islands, a British overseas territory located northwest of Jamaica and south of Cuba. The Cayman Islands were named by none other than Sir Francis Drake, who gave them the name "Cayman" after the Neo-Taino word for "alligator." Which is odd, really, because there aren't any alligators on the Cayman Islands (the name was probably used incorrectly to describe the islands' large species of iguana).

The Cayman Islands get coolness points for being a historical settlement site for various interesting characters, including refugees from the Spanish Inquisition (Noooobody expects … sorry), castaways, British army deserters and, yes, pirates (which is good for double coolness points). Today the Caymans are known for their typical Caribbean beauty as well as their status as a tax-exempt travel destination, and you know, who doesn't love a nice tax-free holiday? Caymanian cuisine consists of the usual variety of Caribbean fare, including johnny cakes (remember those from the Bahamas? mmmmm), plantains and cassava. Caymanians also eat turtle meat as well as goat, conch, and of course a pretty broad variety of fish.

Now as is often the case with smaller countries, it took some research to find the three recipes I chose this week. And by that I mean I asked a blogger who lives in the Caymans to recommend some recipes. So really, I'm almost embarrassed to say it was hardly any work at all.

So I want to first thank the blogger who provided this list of recipes: her name is Parsley Sage and she blogs at Her blog has a ton of recipes that sound really tasty, and now that I'm going back there again I kind of want to try the Pineapple Mini Pies. Dang.

Anyway, here's the three recipes she suggested, which I did ultimately end up making:

Cayman Style Fish

  • 1 lb fish fillets, of about 3/4 to 1 inch thickness (mahi mahi, snapper or grouper)
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 1/2 cup sliced green or red bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup diced tomato
  • 1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp ketchup*
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
* Parsley's version calls for Thai garlic pepper sauce, but I used the original-version ketchup because as you know I like my recipes to be as close to original as possible.

On the side:

Breadfruit Salad

  • 1 full/fit breadfruit, diced (I used two cans)
  • 3 strips of cooked bacon, diced
  • 3 green onions, diced
  • 1/2 orange bell pepper
  • 3 hard boiled eggs, roughly chopped
  • 1 habanero pepper, seeded & diced
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 can sweet green peas
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp season all
  • 1/2 tbsp salt
Now I just happened to have canned breadfruit burning a hole in my pantry shelves, which I picked up at Red Star International in Sacramento because I was pretty sure I'd seen it used in a number of different Caribbean recipes. You can't get fresh breadfruit in our area (at least not that I've seen).

And for dessert:

Cassava Heavy Cake

  • 2 14 oz cans coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 cup light brown sugar
  • 6 cup grated cassava (yucca)
I'm almost embarrassed to admit, I actually also purchased a bag of frozen grated cassava from Red Star specifically for this recipe, which I did not end up using because it was only last week that I discovered that they sell cassava at our local Safeway. So this time I opted for fresh, and that bag of grated cassava is still sitting in my freezer.

The first thing I did was make the cake, because it does have to cool before serving, so it can be made ahead. Here's how it's done:

Put all the ingredients except the cassava into a large pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the mixture starts to separate. At this point there should be foam forming on the surface—skim the foam off the top of the mixture and save it (you'll be using it later).

Now add the cassava. Here's where I fell into that whole grating-vs.-shredding trap, which is actually what happened when I tried to make babka back in Belarus. You are probably not as dense as I am, but just in case you are let me just clear up that whole question: Grating is not the thing you do with the large holes on your cheese grater. That's shredding, not grating. Yes, I know, duh.

Anway I started off by shredding my cassava and then realized when I added it to the pot that it didn't look right, so I put the whole thing in a blender. That seemed to do the trick. But you can avoid this step by not being stupid and grating your cassava instead of shredding it.

So once you've got your cassava mixed with the rest of your ingredients, pour it into an 8 x 15 inch greased baking pan. Bake at 350 or until the cake is no longer jiggly in the center, which should take about 20 minutes in a normal oven but takes about three times that long in mine.

Using a pastry brush, spread about half of the foam you reserved from that earlier step over the top of the cake. Now return it to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes, then remove and repeat. When the top is brown and the edges of the cake start to pull away from the pan, it's ready.

At this point Parsley warns not to put the cake in the fridge, because refrigeration will ruin the texture. So let it sit out for a day without covering (to prevent sweating), then you can keep it at room temperature for about five days.

Now for the salad, another good make-ahead dish:

First bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, peel your breadfruit, remove the core and cut into one-inch cubes. Boil the breadfruit for 15 minutes or until tender. Now drain the breadfruit and let it cool. (Note if you are using canned breadfruit, you can skip this step because the fruit is already soft. Just cut it into one-inch pieces and add to your mixing bowl).

This is canned breadfruit.

Grind the onions and peppers in a food processor. Combine the ground pepper/onion mixture with the sour cream, vinegar, sweet peas, boiled eggs and habanero. Season with salt and pepper and Season All (I just used a seasoned salt).

Add the breadfruit and bacon and toss until well coated.

Finally, the main course:

Mix 1 tbsp of the lime juice with the water and add the fish filets and salt and pepper. Let marinade for 15 minutes, then remove and pat dry.

Heat 2 tbsp of the butter over moderately high heat until it foams and then subsides a little. Add the fish and cook 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Remove and set aside.

Add butter to the pan if needed and cook the onion and bell pepper until soft. Now add the tomato, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup and the rest of the lime juice. Simmer for 2 minutes or so, or until the flavors have blended.

Pour the sauce over the fish and serve.

Now as you know, I don't give my kids fish because I don't like to put it down the garbage disposal. So this was a meal for just me and Martin.

The fish was really, really good. Like tasty enough for Martin to go back for seconds, which is really saying something because he is usually kind of blah about fish. I do think the recipe would have been equally as good with the Thai pepper sauce but it certainly didn't suffer because of the ketchup, in fact, the ketchup gave the sauce a rich flavor without being overwhelmingly ketchupy.

Now the breadfruit salad, well, not being familiar with breadfruit I found it a little strange. I can't think of anything else to compare the breadfruit to except a potato. The texture was very similar to a potato and the flavor was not at all sweet, which is what you would expect from something called a "fruit."

My other problem with the recipe was, of course, the peas. I don't like peas, which makes me either a Freak of Nature or a six year old child. And the recipe called for a lot of peas. I did enjoy the spiciness of the habanero, though, and I actually think I might add one to my potato salad next time I make it.

The cassava cake was really good, and went down well with a scoop of ice-cream. I really liked all the cinnamon and nutmeg in it, though Martin thought it could use less of the latter. Which is something I've heard him say about basic apple pie, too. It did have an odd texture that was closer to a pumpkin pie (though a lot firmer) than an American-style cake, but that didn't put off anyone in my family—my kids ate it as leftovers the next day and finished off the whole cake.

Next week: Central African Republic

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

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

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:


  • 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

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Recipes from Cameroon

Good afternoon, and welcome to another addition of “Things you Shouldn’t do with Shrimp.” That’s right, this week we were visited once again by my arch nemesis, shrimp paste, cleverly reincarnated as dried shrimp.

Yes, I know. I should have guessed that dried shrimp would be equally as disgusting as shrimp paste, but you know, it sounds so much less offensive. Like “dried apricots” or “dried beef strips.” How bad could it be?

Well, I started my little adventure on, where I found a bottle of dried shrimp that was available on Prime, meaning it would arrive in plenty of time for this week’s meal. When it showed up, it was a bottle of fish food.

Now with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I now realize that this was nature and’s way of telling me that dried shrimp are not fit for human consumption. But you know me, in trying to be faithful to the recipe that I was determined to make I decided I would just dry my own shrimp. Please stop laughing.

So I went to Raley’s and picked up a package of salad shrimp, and then I spread them out on a pizza screen and stuck them in the oven at 170 degrees. Within about two hours every corner of my house from the girls’ bedroom to my walk-in closet stank of, guess, what? Shrimp paste.

Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that shrimp is not meant to be prepared in any other way but in a pot or frying pan. Any shrimp product that is supposed to be stored and used at room temperature should only ever be fed to your cat. Or aquarium fish.

Anyway, the country that inspired this smelly incident was Cameroon, which is almost ironic since the name “Cameroon” itself is derived from the Portuguese phrase “Rio dos Camarões,” which means “River of Shrimp” (the Portuguese evidently noted the abundance of prawns in the local waterways when they arrived there in 1472). Cameroon is only the 53rd largest country in the world (which makes it a little bit bigger than the state of California), but because of its diversity in geography and culture it is often called “Africa in Miniature.” It has beaches, savannas, rain forests, deserts and mountains, which pretty much covers most of Africa’s major geographic features. English and French are the two official languages of Cameroon but there are actually more than 200 different linguistic groups living there. It is also home to the world’s largest frog, the “goliath frog,” which can grow to more than a foot in length and can weigh up to 8 pounds. Don’t worry, we won’t be eating any goliath frogs this week (though in some parts of Cameroon they are considered a source of food).

Like many African nations, Cameroon cuisine relies heavily on cassava, plantains, potatoes, peanuts and rice. Most people get their protein from fish, and domestically-raised meat is generally only eaten on special occasions. “Bush meat” like porcupine, giant rat and pangolin (a scaly anteater) are also eaten there, as well as chimpanzee and gorilla (though both latter meats are not legal).

I wouldn’t exactly have been surprised to find porcupine at Exotic Meat Market, but I admit I wasn’t really looking. Fish, since it’s a common source of protein, seemed much more like the way to go.

Here’s the main dish I settled on, which came from the Congo Cookbook:

Fried Fish in Peanut Sauce

  • 1 to 2 tbsp palm oil
  • 1 whole fish*, washed, patted dry, and cut into serving size pieces (save the head)
  • 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg, grated
  • salt (to taste)
  • black pepper (to taste)
  • 1 1/2 tsp smoked or dried shrimp or prawns (or fish), ground into a powder**
  • 1 1/2 tsp smoked or dried shrimp or prawns, whole**
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 1 to 3 chile peppers, cleaned
  • 1 cup unsweetened peanut butter
* Ingredient note: the original recipe calls for daurade, porgy or sea bream (which I actually think are different names for the same fish). I haven’t seen fish with those names here in California (though to be fair I didn’t check the fish monger). Suitable substitutes are sole, snapper or sea bass. I used snapper.

** If you read the first part of this entry, you will know that I don’t recommend dried shrimp. Fortunately, the recipe does say you can also use smoked or dried fish, so I used dried bonito flakes (the primary ingredient in Japanese miso soup) instead of ground dried shrimp, and fresh salad shrimp instead of dried whole shrimp.

This recipe is supposed to be served with rice and boiled plantains, which makes it a meal all by itself. However, you probably know how I feel about boiled plantains (the same way I feel about fried plantains, blech). I thought I’d give them another chance, though, because I hoped maybe cooking them with seasonings might make them more interesting. Ha ha.

Anyway here’s the second recipe:

Sese Plantains

  • 2 large green plantains
  • 10 1/2 cups water
  • 2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • hot pepper, to taste
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cube vegetable stock (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon palm oil
  • salt, to taste
  • roasted cashew nuts, to garnish
This recipe came from CD Kitchen, which is one of those sites I don’t usually like to use because you can’t really verify the authenticity of the recipes posted there. This one is all over the internet, though, and it includes a description that seems to lend it some credibility: “A tasty Cameroonian dish, usually cooked with meat or fish … At a certain stage during its preparation, the people who own the dish generally toss the cooked plantains in a bowl with some palm oil. It is this action of mixing the two together by tossing them up which is known as sese - hence the name Sese Plantain. Although this method is not commonly used now, the dish still bears the name.”

Finally, I chose this dish as a side, though I don’t think it was really needed to complete the meal:

Fresh Corn Muffins

  • 4 ears fresh corn
  • 2  1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
Now this recipe is interesting because it came from a missionary’s wife and teacher who was living in French Cameroon in 1949. So it is probably not authentic in the sense of being a wholly African dish, but I think it can still be considered a Cameroonian recipe just based on its origins.

Now for the cooking part. I started with the corn muffins, because they were easy and
seemed like they could bear making ahead.

First grate the corn off the cobs. (The original recipe said you could use frozen corn, but I doubt it would be anywhere near as delicious).

Add the baking powder and salt. Yes, it seems a bit weird that there is no flour, but trust me, flour isn’t needed.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Grease muffin cups (I used butter) and fill up about halfway with the corn mixture.

Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

(Note: for me this recipe only made four muffins. With larger ears of corn you could probably get about a half dozen).

On to the fish:

Heat the palm oil on a skillet and fry the fish with half the garlic, turning once. When the fish is cooked through, remove from heat and drain on paper towels.

Who needs turmeric? Palm oil gives the fish this bright yellow color.

Mix the coriander with the ginger, nutmeg, salt, pepper and fish flakes (or ground dried shrimp if you are insane).

Now bring four cups of water to a boil. Add the fish head and the spice/dried fish mixture. Note: I used fish stock instead of water, because I didn’t have the head.

In another skillet, heat the peanut oil and fry the onion with the remaining garlic. When the onion is brown, reduce the heat and add the chili pepper.

Now add the fish.

Remove the fish head from the broth and add the peanut butter. Stir until smooth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the sauce thickens.

Add the sauce to the fish and onions and garnish with the remaining dried shrimp, if using (I just used fresh salad shrimp). Cook until heated through.

Serve over boiled white rice with sese plantains.

Now for the plantains:

Cut the plantains up into 6 pieces each. Bring the water to a boil and add the plantains. Cook for 10 minutes, then add the tomatoes, pepper and onion.

Simmer for 10 more minutes, then add the stock cube. Cover the pot and give the cube about five minutes to dissolve, then add the palm oil.

Cook for an additional 10 minutes and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with cashews and serve.

I did this meal just for myself and Martin, because as you know I don’t like to waste good money trying to make my kids eat expensive pieces of fish.

Martin was less impressed than I was, because as a general rule he’s not that crazy about fish. I thought the sauce was pretty amazing, personally. It would have tasted good on anything, not just fish. In fact I would probably be happy just eating it by itself over white rice.

The plantains were, what can I say, just as bland and boring as plantains always are, even with the addition of all those extra flavors. I guess I just don’t like plantains. Is that a broken record you hear? Yes it is. I’m sure I’ll do them again at some point, since they seem to be so prolific in world cuisine, but I don’t expect I’ll ever particularly like them.

The corn muffins were tasty, which was surprising for such a simple dish. Who needs flour? They were light and sweet and went really nicely with the fish and peanut sauce.

The verdict: I like Cameroonian food. It didn’t wow me the way Burma and Cambodia did, but at the very least I’d probably make the sauce again. Now of course there’s the big question: how did the liberties I took with this recipe affect its authenticity? That’s a good question. I think I’d prefer not to know the answer, at least not until I’m ready for a do-over.

Next week: Cape Verde

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