Thursday, January 29, 2015

Recipes from Liberia

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

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

 Pond in Bomi, Liberia. Photo by jbdodane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

First let's make the rice bread:

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

Pour into a greased 8 x 12 pan ...

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

Now the pineapple bread:

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

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

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

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

Now for the chicken:

First mix the onions with the seasonings.

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

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

Finally, the rice:

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

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

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

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

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

Next week: Libya


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