Monday, October 21, 2013


Cameroun / Gabon
Photo courtesy of user pushreset on Flickr
Location: Central Africa, between the Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea
Area: Over 260,000 sq km; 77th largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than Colorado
Noun: Gabonese
Official Language: French
Population: Over 1.6 million; 153rd largest in the world
Capital: Libreville
Economy: Per capita income four times higher than most other sub-Saharan African nations

Source: CIA World Factbook

So, guys, it has been a while.  Since I last cooked we moved 551 miles, took a trip to the other coast, bought a house, and started new jobs.  Mine involves me reading a lot of books to Brendan.  Doesn't pay well but I get to work from home.  :-)

A long long time ago (AKA December) I got an e-mail from the Gabonese embassy. It read:
Good afternoon Ms. Hetzel, My name is Kate and I work for the Ambassador in the Embassy here in Washington; I’m so glad you took the time to email us and I’m thrilled you’re interested in experiencinGabonese cuisine. I’ve attached to the email a Word document with two recipes that you might be interested in trying as you cook your way across the globe. I hope this helps! Have a happy and safe holiday season – best wishes from Washington! v/r,Kate Frier   American Liaison  Embassy of Gabon
You can access this same Word file here.  My favorite part is that it is named Recipes for Students and Inquiries.  They were planning for this, guys.

But this feels a little familiar, doesn't it?  Anyone else remember Angola?  In fact, I tried almost the exact same recipe then.  It didn't work because I couldn't find Nyembwe.  But this time, since I heard about it from an embassy, I decided I was going to make it work.  So I bought all of the ingredients while we were still living in Virginia.  And then...nothing.  Still didn't find it.  Harumph.

So when I got here to Michigan I decided to redouble my efforts and make this dish.  I looked for local African markets, but apparently most of the Google results were actually hair salons.  So then I asked for some help.

Sam, who claims to be a  former "professional googler," found the following: Since fresh palm nuts are not available outside the tropics, canned palm soup base, also called sauce graine or noix de palme may be substituted for homemade.  He also found somewhere to buy it.  Wait a minute.  That seems familiar...

I've done this substitution before.  I think I even found the same site telling me the substitution was okay.  Le Sigh.  I ended up ordering it from a different website with cheaper shipping, but I was feeling a little silly.  Maybe I can blame mom brain?

Anyway, on to cooking!  First, I must introduce you to my new kitchen.

The lighting wasn't great when I took these, but you get the idea.  Welcome to Michigan!  Turns out you can buy things like okra at Meijer (where I do pretty much all of my shopping).

Okra are kinda slimy and gross to cook with, but I got over it.  Luckily I've had to use them before so I was prepared.

This recipe is pretty simple.  You fry the solid ingredients together.
Then you add the rest.  In case you don't remember, here is what the palm soup base looks like:
It is...interesting.  Not really bad smelling, but not great either.  Very grainy.  Anyway, that goes in with water, salt, and pepper and voila.  Let it simmer for an hour.
While that cooks, broil some bread with Za'atar spice and olive oil (trust me on this, it is amazing).  Watch your husband make your son giggle.  A lot.

Then you have a meal!  I'm sorry it is not more exciting.  I guess I could look for more complicated recipes in the future...(not going to happen).

I decided not to serve it over cassava because of previous experiences.  We went with rice.
Brendan LOVES bread.
I did not like this food.  I really wanted to, especially with all of the extra work that went into preparing for it, but I just couldn't get behind it.  It may be the consistency of the palm soup base when I put it in.  It is not appetizing to me at all.  Kevin thought it was fine, and even said he would take some of the leftovers for lunch.  This is why I think it has to do with me preparing it.  It just doesn't work out.

That being said, I think I'm starting to get some of the lessons I was hoping to when I started this.  I was able to link to Angola, Congo, and Central African Republic to talk about what I had previously learned or tried.  I have used okra before.  These are things that would not be true had I not been doing this.

I'm going to try to pick this up, but unfortunately African countries tend to take longer than others because of ingredient sourcing issues.  I have found a few good Middle Eastern markets that make fresh Iraqi bread, but it doesn't really help with all countries.  We have one more African country coming up, then we travel around for a bit.  Bear with me!

Next time: Gambia