International Meals – Central African Republic

On average, we’ve been doing one of these meals every few months because of all the work involved. So the idea of doing a second one four days later to… use up leftovers?? was a bit unusual.

But there you are.  We made WAY too much cassava starch to go with Cabo Verde, and it’s a more or less ubiquitous item in African recipes, so we decided to see if we could get the Central African Republic done quickly enough to use it as a side dish.

Which leads into something I want to be very up front about: We are aware that this blog is somewhat problematic.  We do not pretend to be experts on other cultures or their cuisines, nor are we amplifying the voices of those who are.  We are a middle aged, north American white couple who likes to cook and eat, and are documenting our experiences with one way of systematically trying new things.

But some of those new things are from parts of the world which have been treated so poorly for so long that their local foodways have either been completely undocumented in any sort of authentic way, or worse, have been actively suppressed.  It’s difficult enough for someone in Vancouver to determine what makes Macedonian food different from Croatian, and that’s just because research is hard; neither of those cultures were subject to the sorts of racism or colonialism screening us from a reasonably local description of what separates food in the Republic of the Congo from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

And that’s not even ADDRESSING the fact that most of those country borders were imposed by Europeans in the first place.

So, yeah.

We’re going to keep making meals and writing it up here, but it is what it is – a chronicle of us having a loose rule for determining new things to cook.  We are not presuming to speak for the peoples whose food we are attempting to approximate.

For a much more eloquent and detailed description of the issues this raises for CAR in particular we will, as always, refer you to the fabulous “Cooked Earth” entry for this country.

All that said, here’s some food.  One of the reasons we decided doing a second country on the heels of Cabo Verde would be doable is that the recipes we selected used relatively easily available ingredients.  (Except red palm oil, which we haven’t sourced yet in Vancover, so we let that one go.)  Two stews, one with beef, which would be considered a special occasion luxury in much of CAR, and another with spinach and peanuts.

The beef stew was pretty straightforward.  Simmer beef, onions, and tomato paste for several hours until tender.

Beef being simmered.

Add okra and a habanero (standing in for a Scotch bonnet pepper, which I have never been able to find ANYWHERE, including Vancouver) and cook until thick.

We are very happy the Dutch oven made it with us to Canada – it’s already gotten more than enough use to justify the weight and storage space.

The other recipe called for natural peanut butter, which we didn’t have any of.  What we DID have was raw peanuts, and it turns out you can turn one into the other pretty easily.  Roast peanuts in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes, throw into Cuisinart, done!

That done, the final stew was pretty simple – saute onions, then add spinach, tomatoes, peanut butter, and another habanero.

The finished dishes were delicious!  The beef stew was thick and hearty from the okra, and the spinach stew was spicy and filling.  Both went well with the cassava starch, but didn’t come CLOSE to using it up.  Seriously, we need to start making quarter batches of these cassava starch recipes, because they always make way more than we use.

These dishes were both so tasty, and used such easily acquired ingredients, that they’ll probably both make it into regular use in the future.  Regardless of the issues with how we got here, we acknowledge that this is some pretty good food, and appreciate all the folks who brought it to us.

Recipes here. Next up, Chad! (And then the unthinkable happens – we’ll pass “Cooked Earth” guy and have to go back to ripping off less meticulously researched sources.)

International Meals – Cabo Verde

We’ve moved!  After over a month of living out of a suitcase, a cross country drive, two weeks of quarantine, and a LOT of eating out, we are finally moved into our new place in Vancouver, with the kitchen set up and ready to roll.  And that means it’s time to continue our sojurn with the next country in the alphabet after Canada – Cabo Verde!

OK fine, so we didn’t notice Cape Verde changed its name.  Cabo Verde is a small country off the coast of west Africa that didn’t have an indigenous population before the Portuguese showed up, so the colonialism is a LITTLE easier to stomach with this one. (But wait until our NEXT entry.)  The national dish is a bonkers complicated stew called cachupa.  Now, we aren’t above attempting complicated stews with Portuguese names, but for our first time out of the gate in a new kitchen, we decided to start with something slightly easier.

We decided to have a go at a dish called Pastel com diabo dentro, or “pastry with the devil inside.”  I mean – how could you resist?

Turns out these are deep fried sweet potato and cornmeal pockets with a spicy tuna mixture inside them.  What’s not to like?

We started by chopping up raw tuna and marinating it with chiles, garlic, and vinegar:

Tuna marinating

Next, a quick fry with onions and tomato paste:

The blogger from whom we stole this recipe suggested that if he made it again, he might leave the tuna raw, which would be less authentic, but tasty.  I would tend to agree.  However, it was still tasty, and we only just seared it on the outside.

Next up, time to make the wrapper.  A few sweet potatoes were peeled, boiled, and tossed into the Kitchen-Aid (which seems to have survived the move intact, huzzah!) with enough cornmeal to make a dough.

Reading the recipe after the fact, it appears we were supposed to refrigerate the dough to make it easier to work with.  I wish we had done that, because it wasn’t very easy to work with.  Eventually, however, we got our little tuna and sweet potato pockets assembled.

And that meant it was time for another bout of trying to deep fry stuff without burning the house down.  But this time in an apartment building! In the meantime, we also rendered some pork and onions as a base for yet another cassava starch side dish.  This one, sadly, was no more exciting than any of the others.

But who cares about the starch paste?  We have TUNA SWEET POTATO CORN DOGS!  And they were AWESOME.  This recipe may very well get made again, even though it is a lot of work, because it is SUPER tasty.

As we often do, we let the nice author of “Cooked Earth” do all the research work for us.  Sadly, we’re only two countries behind him now, so it looks like we’re back to less exhaustive sources soon.  But here’s the recipes if you want to try:

Cooked Earth – Republic of Cape Verde

Next up, the Central African Republic.  And hoo boy, remember that colonialism we dodged this time?  Yeah…