So, we finally made it to my cooking day. It was a long week, but I survived it, and I’m definitely hungry for some good food. I thought it was moderately funny in an allegorical sort of sense that when I told people I was cooking food from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, people sort of made a face like I was just invited to my own funeral. However, when I described what I was making, all of a sudden, they thought it sounded pretty good. Maybe that’s what I’m here for, maybe this is the point of this blog: dispelling culinary stereotypes.
|Gooey, vanilla-y fried goodness. There is definitely room for tweaking the recipe.|
I started out with my “bread” – a type of vanilla-flavored doughnut hole, more or less. I found this recipe from a blog of a woman who visited the DRC and was introduced to what was called makité. She was given the recipe, but she had a lot of trouble recreating it. It just never turned out the way she had it when she was there. Sometimes I think your environment has a lot to do with whether bread and bread products turn out: the humidity in the air, temperature, quality of ingredients, etc. I’m sure my store-bought commercially packaged products and Indiana-in-November weather is the prime environment to recreate a recipe from tropical Africa. But I’m hell-bent on trying it as well. I mixed half whole wheat white flour and half cassava flour (also called tapioca or yuca flour – I still had some from making Costa Rican yuca bread) and yeast. Then I added in the sugar, salt, and I added a half-package of French vanilla pudding powder. I have a feeling I used too much pudding, and I accidentally picked French vanilla instead of regular vanilla. But we’ll see how this turns out, and because of this, I left out the vanilla extract. Then I added enough warm water to bring it to the consistency of a “thick pancake batter,” then I covered it and let it sit for two hours. It was still too runny to form into balls; I kept adding a bit of flour on top of it, patting it with the back of the spoon and then stirring. I had to do that several times – like I was kneading bread dough. I did manage to thicken it up a bit, enough to form a ball. However, I think my oil was too high and I used too much pudding mix. If the outsides burned, the insides were done. If it looks perfect on the outside, the insides were still a little runny, like pudding. So, I don’t know. It tasted good though. Like vanilla pudding balls. Maybe I should try coffee creamer next time?
|Who doesn't love sweet potatoes this time of year? Especially marinated in brandy and beer battered.|
The next thing I did was the side dish: Sweet Potatoes Congolese. First I put the sweet potatoes in boiling water for about five minutes (which is called blanching). I took them out, peeled them, and sliced them. Then I made a marinade of honey, brandy, and some lemon zest, and let it marinate for about 30-40 minutes (the recipe calls for 60 minutes). Afterwards, I made a batter of flour and light beer (I chose one of my favorite Belgian beers, Stella Artois). I tried to save time and mess by dumping the batter over the potatoes in the bowl (draining the marinade first of course) and then frying them. Some were fried way more than others, and some probably needed to be left in a bit longer (the trials and tribulations of a multitasker), but otherwise I thought they were pretty good.
|The best part of the meal. And for my first time using sorrel, I really liked it.|
The main entrée is called Mboto à l’oseille, or fish with sorrel. I went with tilapia since I know my family likes it – it doesn’t have quite so much a “fishy” taste to it. I fried the fish on both sides and then took it out and set it aside. It doesn’t normally take that long to cook fish anyway. Then in the same skillet, I fried the onion and garlic and added the chili pepper (I’m actually using a jalapeño), diced tomatoes and some tomato paste with a little water to smooth the sauce out. After this started to boil, I put the fish back in and added in the sorrel leaves. I actually thought sorrel was a leafy green, like kale or chard or something, but it’s more of an herb. But to be fair, it is a leaf similar to basil. So, I wasn’t completely out there. I also added in a bay leaf and a little salt and pepper and nutmeg, allowing everything to simmer for about 15 minutes or so. This was absolutely wonderful. I served this on a bed of couscous instead of rice, because I sort of forgot about the rice until the end, and it only takes 5 minutes to make some instant couscous. I loved this so much. Too bad it’s sort of socially unacceptable to heat up fish in the office lunchroom, but I may do it anyway. If I have to deal with people constantly burning popcorn, then they can deal with my Congolese fish.
|Perfect meal for a cool day, perfect as a comfort food.|
I learned so much about this country. In fact, it made the news just in the past couple of days, although you probably wouldn’t know about it in mainstream American news. (I saw it on a Wikipedia News blurb and got the details on BBC.) The M23 rebel forces finally “surrendered,” giving a relief to the Congolese Army and the Congolese people, especially in the Kiva region. Hopefully, they can renegotiate peace deals, and the people can enjoy some relative peace for a while as they try to rebuild their communities. Even if the civil war ended with this move, families have been shattered and any semblance of normal lives will take a long time to bring back. It’s a complicated and complex situation essentially going back a couple hundred years. But it’s not impossible to implement changes. Perhaps in my lifetime, perhaps in my children’s, it’ll happen one day. I’m sure of it.
Up next: Denmark