Sunday, November 24, 2013

Gambia (The)

Sunrise in The Gambia
Photo courtesy user H2O Alchemist on Flickr
Location: Western Africa
Geography: Surrounded by Senegal on three sides with a small ocean border.  The map is quite interesting.
Area: Over 11,000 sq km; 167th largest in the world
         Slightly less than twice the size of Delaware
         Smallest country on the continent of Africa
High Point (Elevation): Unnamed elevation, 53 m
Official Language: English
Population: Over 1.8 million; 149th largest in the world
Capital: Banjul
Airports: 1

Source: CIA Factbook

Apparently small African nations like to answer their embassy e-mail addresses to help people!  I got responses from first Gabon and now Gambia with regards to recipe suggestions.  I really appreciate that they have people that take the time to do this.

The Cultural Attache attached three recipes in two documents.  The first starts with the ingredient "2 cups of peanut butter."  We've seen how that goes in the past, so I went right to the other document.  This one had two versions of the same recipe - one with fish and one with beef and chicken.  Perfect!

I did a lot of research on bitter tomatoes.  At first it was pretty fruitless - a description of how they are used in Africa but not much else.  But searching for the other names given (jaxatu / jahatu) was much more useful.  Those two don't seem to actually refer to the same thing, actually.  But, it seems as though the first refers to something called an African eggplant.  It isn't actually related to the eggplant, but it was thought to be for a long time.  In my opinion, if they thought it was an eggplant for a while then they must at least be similar.  And that is my roundabout reasoning for why I increased the eggplant in the recipe in place of the bitter tomato.

We have some typical beginnings.
I've decided it is usually worth paying for the pre-cut-up chicken.  So much less work/grossness.

Meat, vinegar, and some seasonings.
Then things, as per normal with African recipes, got a little confusing.  I noticed that the recipe instructions mentioned both tomato puree and skinned and scalded tomatoes, but they aren't separate in the ingredients list.  Also, the instructions mention pounded peppers and sliced peppers.  Where is the difference?

I showed this to my interpreter, Kevin, and he said that I should probably just do half and half.  Seemed reasonable enough to me!  I dealt with the vegetables while the meat sat.

For the tomato puree I used my immersion blender.
Hopefully this is what they meant!
And what are pounded peppers?  No idea!  So I literally pounded them.  This is about learning as I go, right?
Meat tenderizer!
Now, a note about Maggi cubes, which aren't listed in the ingredients but are in the instructions.  I remember needing them before but deciding that they were the same as chicken boullion.  And then I heard this podcast.  It is all about how so many different cultures around the world think it is a native flavoring because it is so ubiquitous in their cooking.  It is actually from Austria.  I decided I would use the real thing next time I got a chance.

 Anyway, at this point you cook things in waves (chicken, then beef, then add the onions and tomatoes...).  Actually that is what takes up most of the time in this recipe.  Lots of time.
After it is all cooked to specifications you take out the solids and add some rice and sliced peppers (not pounded).  You are basically making flavored rice in the juices from everything you cooked.  I ended up having to add quite a bit of water because there just wasn't enough for all of the rice they wanted.
This part also took quite a bit of time, but then we were done.  Yay!  Finally!

It was kinda a ridiculous amount of rice.
Kevin's response, in a somewhat shocked voice, was "I would eat this."

It was good.  Not oh-my-goodness amazing, but good.  If it hadn't taken me hours I would consider making this again.  If you think about it, it is basically meat and vegetables cooked in some chicken stock, then rice cooked in the leftover juices.  This seems very doable in a much shorter amount of time.  It probably wouldn't be quite as Gambian, but more American housewifian.

Very excited for an African win.

Next time: Georgia