Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Recipes from Guinea

OK, I've got family coming for Thanksgiving and my house looks like a Target store got hit by a tornado. A sentient tornado that is also capable of scribbling on walls and getting fingerprints all over the windows. I really love my kids, but they create so much extra work.

If you have kids too you probably wish I'd shut up. I know, we're all scrambling this time of year. So I'll get on with this post.

This week we're in Guinea, which is a medium-sized nation on the coast of western Africa. Guinea is one of those places that looks like it should have a pretty thriving economy and a fairly well-off population but doesn't. It is the world's second largest producer of bauxite, which is the main source of aluminum. It also has rich deposits of diamonds and gold. And yet, because it was governed by a series of autocratic rulers up until fairly recently, it is one of the poorest nations in the world.

Rice fields in Benty, Forécariah, Guinea. Photo by Marta P.

Guinean cuisine is pretty typically west African, with lots of stews and sauces made from vegetables such as cassava, plantains, eggplant, okra and leafy greens. You know, stuff I don't usually like in stews. Yeah I know, my feelings about chunky stews full of a million different kinds of vegetables are in line with most small children's feelings about chunky stews full of a million different kinds of vegetables. What can I say, I just like a basic stew with meat and potatoes, and maybe some mushrooms and onions.

But I had to choose one of those chunky stews instead, because of those limited resources I'm always complaining about. So with that in mind, here's this week's menu:

Mangoé Rafalari (Spicy Mango Stew)

  • 12 medium ripe mangoes, peeled and sliced
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 1 cup palm oil
  • 6 smoked carp*
  • 2 large stock cubes
  • 2 chili peppers, chopped
  • Salt to taste
*You really can't get carp in this country, let alone smoked carp. Well maybe you can in a specialty market, but I've never seen it. I used sardines, which were the closest I could find to smoked anything. I honestly don't know if my solution really even compares to the authentic version of this stew. So there's my disclaimer.

Soupou Gertö (Chicken sauce with sweet potatoes)

  • One 3 lb chicken, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 bunch spring onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 large onions, roughly chopped
  • 3 to 4 fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 Maggi cubes
  • 6 gloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp tomatoes paste
  • 1 lb sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 2 eggplants, cubed
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 scotch bonnet pepper (optional)
  • Salt, black pepper and chili powder to taste
  • 1 cup peanut oil
Now, this is really two main courses but I served the mangoes as a side. I thought it worked just fine that way. Anyway it really doesn't matter what order you make these in. I think the chicken takes a bit longer, so I'll start there.

Place the chicken pieces in a bowl with the lemon juice, salt, pepper and chili powder. Let marinate for 15 minutes or more.

Heat the oil and cook the chicken pieces until browned on both sides.

Meanwhile, place the green onions, onions and garlic in a food processor with the tomatoes, Maggi cubes and some additional salt and pepper.

When the chicken is brown, pour this mixture over the pieces and simmer over a medium flame for 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the water and the bay leaf, and a little more salt and pepper and chili powder. Here's where you would also add the scotch bonnet pepper (habanero) if you don't mind watching your kids cry. I left that out, though I would have personally enjoyed it. The habanero, I mean, not watching my kids cry.
Once the eggplant and sweet potatoes are soft, serve with white rice.

Put the mangoes in a pot and add water until just covered. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, remove the bones from the fish and flake. In a large bowl, mix the fish and onions with the chili peppers.

Heat the palm oil. You can test readiness by adding a small piece of onion to the pan with the oil. When it starts to sizzle, add the fish and onion mix to the pan with a stock cube. Let cook over a low flame for 10 minutes or so.

Now add the mangoes and a little bit of water. Bring back to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Cook for an additional 30 minutes.

So this meal was fine, which is how I feel about most west African meals. It had flavor but not a ton of it, and then there was those pesky eggplant pieces which I'm really not that fond of.

I liked the idea of the mango stew but I thought the palm oil flavor (which is really very distinct) didn't mesh that well with the mangoes. I would certainly try this again as it was a strange phenomenon: a savory stew containing a sweet ingredient that didn't actually impact the savoriness of the stew in any way. At least that's what I thought. But next time I'll probably use a less overwhelming oil when I make it.

So here we are on the eve of another Thanksgiving and now it's on to that distinctly non-exotic meal: roast turkey with cranberries! Happy Thanksgiving!

Next week: Guinea Bissau

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


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