International Meals – Burundi

Burundi is a country without a lot of recipes on the internet.  Which is unsurprising, given that it is quite small. According to Wikipedia, it is the 142nd smallest country in the world at the time of this writing, coming in just larger than Lesotho, but smaller than Moldova.

In fact, just about every food blog that talks about Burundi refers to the same thing: a stew of plantains and kidney beans. In fact, while I assume this dish HAS a local name, I can’t even find it!  So beans and bananas it is.

The good news is that this dish is both vegan and gluten free, allowing us to invite our good friends Amanda and Christina over to share the meal.

The beans in this case are kidney beans, which I’ve had generally poor luck with in the past – getting them to an edible texture takes a lot of work.  So for this recipe, I soaked them a full day in advance.  Past that, the actual preparation is pretty simple: cook the beans for an hour, fry onions, plantains, and chilies in red palm oil, then toss them in with the beans to boil until thick.
Beans and Plantains Cooking

The recipe said you could use ripe or green plantains, so we used one of each for comparison.

For sides, we made lenga-lenga, which most authentically would use amaranth leaves.  we still don’t have a source of those, so spinach it was.  Lenga-lenga is actually pretty simple as well – just leaves, onions, and tomatoes sauteed in more of the ubiquitous red palm oil with chili pepper.  (I used Piri Piri chilies, since they are African and also delicious.)

Finally, yet another variety of starch paste.  So far we’ve had pastes made from sago palm, taro root, and corn meal.  This one used cassava flour, but the same basic preparation – boiling water, starch, and stir until you think you’re going to break the spoon.

Here’s the full meal:

Burundian meal

On the plate: Ubuswage and Lenga-lenga. In the bowl: Beans and Plantains.

The verdict? Well, if I ever make this again, I will definitely only be using ripe plantains.  The sweetness was really needed to balance the beans.  Also… even though they were soaked for nearly a day and cooked for over an hour – they were still too tough and bland for my taste.  Maybe I just don’t like kidney beans, but I’ll have to try really cooking the daylights out of them at some point to see if they get any better.

On the other hand, the Lenga-lenga was delicious – the piri-piri definitely made for a nice perky vegetable dish.  And this may be my favorite starch paste yet – it definitely had a nice chewy texture to balance the vegetables without being overly rubbery.

Here’s a group shot after the meal:
Group picture.

As you can see, the best part of these meals is always sharing new food with friends.

Next up, we depart Africa briefly for Cambodia, then right back for Cameroon.

Beans and Bananas and Lenga-Lenga

Cassava paste: Put about 1:2 ratio of flour into boiling water.  Stir until thick.  Is this authentic?  No idea – just took our best guess on this one.

New Orleans!

We haven’t done a lot of recreational travel recently, so this blog has been dominated by food. That changes with this entry – where we took a trip which had nothing to do with roller derby.

Which was dominated by…  well, food.

The impetus was that I was just short of Silver Medallion status on Delta, so I needed to drag myself over the line for the year without using up too much PTO.  Or any PTO.  So we flew out Friday afternoon, got back Sunday night, and spent the weekend in NOLA.

On arrival at Louis Armstrong International Airport, we discovered that getting to town was going to take a while – traffic flow at the terminal, which had opened less than a month prior, was incredibly poorly designed.  That, and Cher was playing at Smoothie King Center.

In other news, New Orleans has sold naming rights to a major arena to a business called “Smoothie King.”

Our preliminary research indicated that we were going to need to spend our 4 or so meals in the Big Easy at approximately 37 different restaurants, but we managed to narrow it down.  Our friend Dan insisted that we absolutely had to try Dat Dog. So once we finally reached town, since it was a block from our AirBnB on the eastern edge of the French Quarter, that’s where we started:

Leigh and some sausages overlooking Frenchman Street.

Leigh had a spicy andouille, and I had a crawfish sausage with crawfish etouffe.  Both were outstanding.  And we got to sit on a balcony overlooking Frenchman street, watching life’s rich paegant.  Not the REM album, although we could hear basically every other type of music from where we were sitting.

After we finished eating, it was time to wander around the French Quarter.  The architecture is just as unique and distinctive as it is always made out to be.  And a single block on Bourbon Street confirmed that we are both, in fact, too old for Bourbon Street.

The other thing you see walking around the French Quarter at night is ghost tours.  LOTS and LOTS of ghost tours.  At one point, we could actually count FIVE visible from where we were standing.  We did not do a ghost tour, because we are not credulous idiots. We did take some nice pictures, though:

Jackson Square at night.

A shadow cast on the back of St. Louis Cathedral

This picture’s not as good, but it shows a street band – one of a number we encountered while walking around.

Street musicians on Frenchman Street

Saturday’s highight was a bicycle food tour given by Confederacy of Cruisers.  If you’re in New Orleans, I cannot recommend this tour highly enough.  They did NOT just go to tourist spots, and the historical information was not even a little bit whitewashed.

We went to four places – Bennachin, an African restaurant in the French Quarter, St. Roche Market, a former fish market which has become an upscale food court, L’il Dizzy’s Cafe, a soul food restaurant in Treme, and Loretta’s bakery.  The food at each location was spectacular, and we learned a lot about the recent history of the city, as well as the origins.  Our tour guide was also a perennial 3rd place finisher in the “Salvador Dali” category in the national beard and mustache competition.  Make of that what you will.

African restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans

The outside of the African restaurant.

Dishes at the St. Roche Market

Shared plates at the St. Roche Market.

Beingets at Lorettas Bakery

Praline Beignets

One small detail from the tour: Earlier in the day, Leigh and I had made the obligatory stop at Cafe Du Monde for breakfast coffee and beignets, but our tour guide informed us that the pastries served there are not truly beignets.  Our final stop on our bike tour was at Loretta’s bakery for some true beignets.  Filled with pralines.  Magical.  (The ones at Cafe Du Monde may not be accurate, but they are ALSO pretty tasty.)

Selfie in front of the aquarium

After the tour was over, we walked around some more, and then met friends for drinks and dinner at Galliano’s, a midpriced seafood place in the warehouse district. And then it was time for taking part in the OTHER thing New Orleans is famous for – Music!  Leigh’s friend who recommended Dat Dog also suggested Tipitina’s as a great music venue, and since we only had one night available, we bought tickets for… well, whatever was playing.

We got lucky.

“Whatever was playing” turned out to be Dragon Smoke – an all star band made of musicians from different local groups who get together to turn up the juice once a year.  One of said leaders is also a Neville brother.  The concert was fantastic, although we didn’t quite make it to the end. (The headliner didn’t even START until midnight, and we’re old.)

Tipitinas stage prior to Dragon Smoke
Sunday was a day with not much planned other than brunch reservations.  We ended up joining a tour of St. Louis Cemetery #1, but had to leave early in order to make brunch.  The first half of the tour was still fascinating, and New Orleans cemetery construction is like nothing else in the country:

St Louis Cemetery #1

Statue used in Easy Rider

This statue, on the Italian Society Mausoleum, was featured in “Easy Rider.”

Amongst the famous tombs we did see were Marie Leveaux, Paul Morphy, Howard Plessy, and Nicolas Cage.

Yes, Nicolas Cage.  We’re aware he’s not actually dead yet:

Brunch was at a Vietnamese Creole fusion restaurant called Maypop.  We didn’t take any pictures, but the small plates were excellent – I especially recommend the Blue Crab and Head Cheese soup dumplings.

Finally, we took a streetcar to the approximate vicinity of Magazine Street, and just spent the afternoon people watching.  All in all, it was a fantastic little trip, and since there was no possible way to do everything in two days, we enjoyed not having the pressure to even try.  A+, would New Orleans again.

Streetcar in New Orleans

International Meals – Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso begins a run of a lot of African countries coming up – six of the next eight, including this one.  The variety of foods from the continent is stunning, but are we good enough researchers to make meaningful differentiations?  Probably not.

Fortunately, we’ll likely keep doing what we did for THIS meal, and just steal all the recipes from Cooked Earth. No shame in that, right?  We’re not pretending to be an amazing source of recipes for OTHER people, just documenting our own attempts for the three people that actually care.  (Hi mom!)

To be fair, I DID attempt to do some research on this one.  I discovered that Michigan State University has a cookbook collection, so I went to check out their one and only Burkinabe cookbook:

For starters – it’s in French.  This was a bit of a problem, as I don’t remember my two years of French from Ms. Carr’s class in 1988.  Second problem – as far as I can tell, this book is a SUPER colonialist attempt by a Canadian NGO to tell Burkinabe folks how to prepare their own traditional dishes in a way that’s more nutritional.  While that may or may not be a laudable goal, the whole thing comes across as horrifyingly patronizing.

And the third problem is the following:

Go ahead and Google translate “Chenilles” – I’ll wait.  Or you can just look at the picture.

*pause for Googling*

Even if I thought I could convince Leigh to eat caterpillars, I’m really not sure I can find a good local source of the edible kind.  And I’m not brave enough to just go out and scoop up wollybears and toss them into a pot.  You’d probably need to peel them or something.

So, back to Cooked Earth it was.  Fortunately, they had a set of very tasty looking recipes made with things we CAN find or order.

Starting with Zoom Koom, which is great fun to say.  Zoom Koom literally means “flour water” and is an extremely… hearty beverage served to start a meal.  It contains pineapple, ginger, tamarind extract, a pinch of hot pepper, and… (checks notes) a cup and a half of millet flour?  That’s pretty hearty, all right.

Zoom Koom ingredients. Not pictured – tamarind liquid.

We started by boiling whole tamarinds for a while to make tamarind liquid. We’ve used the paste before, but never the original fruits. They’re sticky and kind of a pain to work with, but the results are delicious. You strain out the solids, and then just mix all this stuff together. The final drink was very, very thick, but quite refreshing and tasty.

Our main course consisted of two dishes – a fried black eyed pea fritter called “boussan touba”, and a goat and rice stew.  For the fritters, we soaked and then boiled black eyed peas, mixed them with carrot and onion, and then fried them in peanut oil.  The recipe only called for one egg and no water as a binder, but they pretty much disintegrated like that, so we added some more water to get them to hold their shape.  Next time I might try another egg instead.

The main course was a basic stew – goat, carrot, cabbage, and onion simmered together for a long time, with the rice added at the end to cook in the liquid.  The new ingredient to us for this one was Carolina Gold rice, which is apparently significantly closer to the varietal found in West Africa than your basic supermarket long grain.  We ordered that on the internet, and it was definitely different – chewier and more flavorful, for sure.

Here’s some “in process” photos:

Upper right: black eyed peas. Upper left: goat stew. Lower right: tamarinds.

Fritters Cooking

The fritters also allowed us to use up the peanut oil we had purchased for Belgium, which was (checks notes)… even longer than last time ago.

With everything cooked up, it was time to eat!

Overall, a very tasty meal!  The goat stew was flavorful and delicious, the pea fritters were crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle, and the Zoom Koom was probably the highlight – what’s not to like about pineapple, ginger, and tamarind? It was, however, so thick that we actually had trouble drinking it around the ice cubes.

The next day, I made a peanut lime sauce to eat with the rest of the fritters.  Not authentic, but very tasty.

So Burkina Faso – we appreciate you!  Three dishes all suitable for preparation on a weeknight, and tasty leftovers for several days.  Next up, another African country – we finish up the “B”s with Burundi, and our first attempt at a meal that is both vegan and gluten free.  And not only free of vegans, but also safe for them to eat!

Recipes here:
Cooked Earth blog – Burkina Faso