Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cameroon - Akara with Corn Pap

Cameroon is a West African country and a former colony of Britain and France. Their major staples are corn, yams, rice, and cassava, and the major protein sources are fish, nuts, and beef
For this week's breakfast, I e-mailed my biology lab teaching assistant from my first semester in college. Chris is a native of Cameroon and is one the most genuine and nice people I have ever met. His enthusiasm and encouragement was a major reason I chose to major in biology. Chris and his wife provided us with a very detailed recipe for akara and corn pap. Akara are deep fried bean fritters made from black-eyed peas and flavored with onion and hot peppers. Corn pap is made with fermented corn starch (homemade from whole, dry corn kernels) and is used as a topping for the akara.

  • 1lb black-eyed peas, soaked overnight.
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, finely chopped (optional)
  • 3-4 cups of vegetable oil for frying
  1. Add beans to blender along with 1 cup of water.
  2. Chop beans for 30 seconds, then transfer to a large bowl of water.
  3. Remove the seed coats by agitating the beans with your hands, letting the skins float to the top. Pour off the water and skins. Repeat as necessary.
  4. Soak for the beans for 3 hours.
  5. Blend the beans with onion and jalapeno. You want a very thick paste. Add a small amount of water if needed to get the paste consistency.
  6. Mix in the salt with a fork or mixer. As you do this, keep in mind that you want to add air to the mixture so the akara are fluffy when you fry them.
  7. Heat oil in a deep pan until moderately hot.(350°F).
  8. Spoon paste by tablespoons into the hot oil. Allow enough room for movement, doing several batches if necessary.
  9. Fry, turning frequently until they are golden brown. Ours took about 4 minutes to cook.
  10. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.

Corn Pap
Fermenting the cornstarch
  • 1 lb whole dried corn kernels (we had good results with a package of yellow samp)
  1. Wash and soak corn kernels in water for 2-3 days.
  2. Drain and grind into a very smooth paste.
  3. Add cold water to the paste, then filter through a fine sieve to remove the husk and larger bits.
  4. Let the starch solution settle overnight
  5. The starch can either be used right away or stored in the refrigerator. If you choose to store it in a refrigerator, change the water covering it on a weekly basis.

Making corn pap
  • 5 tbsp fermented cornstarch
  • 1 cup water
  • Sugar to taste
  1. Mix water and corn starch until they are smooth.
  2. Place over medium heat and stir constantly to lumps.
  3. When the mixture starts to boil, add sugar and simmer for 30 seconds.
  4. Serve with akara.

Results and Discussion
The akara have a nice crunchy exterior and we got a fluffy interior with a falafel-like texture. The corn pap makes a great dipping sauce. It is sweet and slightly sour.
In our first attempt at these last week, our mixture was much too wet because I soaked the skinless beans overnight and added too much water. The wet paste fell apart while frying. The key to making the paste is to error on the side of too dry. We also tried to shallow fry them on our first attempt and this led to lots of sticking and crumbling. Deep oil is needed to get a nice even brown, as it completely submerges them.
Making the corn pap and extracting the corn starch was fun. When you blend the corn kernels and filter them, you get a strainer full of stuff and a white liquid. The starch is in the white liquid and it will settle out overnight. We got about half a cup of starch from a pound of dry corn. I understand why people usually make five pounds at a time if they use lots of the stuff. The fermenting gives it a slightly sour taste. I would be curious to see if you start with normal cornstarch and ferment that (as we have done with some other cereals already), if you would get a similar result with less work.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Côte d'Ivoire - Foutou

Côte d'Ivoire is a West African country and a former French colony. After independence, the economy was built on cocoa and coffee. The society is still largely agrarian. Like most West African countries, they have a heavy reliance on grains and tubers.
My research for an Ivorian breakfast when down lots of weird paths, including lots of information on the current election turmoil and a BBC article of a French style breakfast on a military helicopter in the country. I eventually turned to The World Cookbook for Students. This is a five volume cookbook that gives a general overview of every country in the world. It had been given in the search results on many previous searches but I had never used it as resource before now. It described breakfast as a porridge made using either cassava or maize. The best recipe we could find that fits the porridge is foutou, which is a mash of cassava and plantains serves with a peanut sauce.
We have used cassava flour in previous meals but we have never started with a whole cassava. Cassava is a major source of carbohydrate throughout Africa. Its prevalence on the continent would make one assume it is indigenous, but cassava is native to South America and was brought to Africa by the Portuguese.

Peanut Sauce
  • ½ cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup hot chicken stock
  1. Beat peanut butter in a bowl.
  2. Slowly add add the chicken stock until you get a creamy, smooth sauce.

  • 1 ½ cups peeled and chopped cassava
  • 3 plantains, peeled and sliced
  • Salt to taste
  1. Cover the cassava and plantains in water.
  2. Boil for 20-25 minutes until the cassava is very soft. (Add more water if necessary.)
  3. Drain and reserve some cooking liquid.
  4. Beat the mixture using an electric mixer. Add more cooking liquid as needed. You want a consistency similar to mashed potatoes.
  5. Roll mixture into small balls and serve with peanut sauce.

Results and Discussion
The hardest part of this dish was making the peanut sauce. Getting the stock mixed in with the peanut butter took much longer than I anticipated and required quite a bit of work. Next time we will use the electric beaters. The foutou would benefit from the electric mixer as well; our original recipe suggested a blender, which we used only to get a rather sticky, gummy result. We expect the good old Kitchen-Aid will give this the same fluffy texture it lends to your mashed potatoes.
The foutou has a slightly sweet, banana-y flavor from the plantains. The slightly lumpy, very sticky texture made it easy to eat by hand (though the fluffier texture we expect from the electric beater method would make it neater). The peanut sauce is much smoother is a delicious, savory counter point.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Madagascar - Mofo Gasy

It is very appropriate that we follow Australia with Madagascar. Both islands are famous for having broken off from major landmasses and developing very unique fauna. Madagascar broke off from India around 80 million years ago, and did not see humans until around 2500 years ago. The first human settlers came from Borneo, which is not where one would suspect. Starting around 1000 years ago they were joined by African migrants, and even later by a wide variety of Asians and Europeans. The greatest of the European influencers were the French, who made it part of their empire in the late 19th century.
My first knowledge of Malagasy cuisine came from colleagues who had worked there collecting ants. The heart of the cuisine is rice. My sources tell me it didn't matter good a meal was, no one they worked with felt right until they had eaten rice. It then comes as no surprise the Malagasy eat the most rice per capita in the world.
I was unable to obtain a book on Malagasy cuisine, but the internet has some good resources, and searching in French gave even better results. The first option was a dish made of dried beef, cut into strips, broiled over coals, and served with a corn meal mush called kitoza. I also found the blog of an Iraqi going to school on the island, which mentioned a fritter called bemiraymofo. I could find no other mention of this dish anywhere. We decided to make a rice fritter called mofo gasy (pronounced muf gas). We got our recipe from lemurbaby on YouTube who demonstrates many Malagasy recipes.
The next challenge came in locating the correct pan. On Madagascar they have special aluminum molds. The recipe recommends using a Danish pan meant for cooking æbleskiver. These pans are very expensive and specialized, so we asked around for friends who might have one. A friend's Danish neighbor came through and we were in business.

Mofo Gasy (around 15 mofo gasy)
Yeast Starter Mix
  • ½ tsp yeast
  • ¼ cup hot water (100°C-110°C)
  • ½ tsp sugar
  1. Mix the above in a small bowl.
  2. Let it rest for around 5 minutes as the yeast activates.

Batter Mixture
  • ½ cup flour
  • ¼ cup + 2 tbsp rice semolina (Cream of Rice)
  • 4 tsp sugar
  • 9 tbsp (130 ml) hot water (100°C-110°C)
  • 1/8 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
  • 1½ tsp sweetened condensed milk (optional)
  • 1½ tsp honey (optional)
  1. Mix the ingredients above in bowl.
  2. Mix in the yeast starter and place in a warm place for 4-8 hours.
  3. Heat your æbleskiver pan over medium heat and put a small quantity of oil in each well. Coat the sides of the wells with the oil, unless using a nonstick pan.
  4. Stir the batter.
  5. Quickly fill each well of the pan with the batter to just below the lip of each well.
  6. Let the batter cook for about a minute.
  7. Flip the cakes using thin implements such as chopsticks. (See the video at the end of this section for a visual of the technique.)
  8. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover and steam for 2 minutes.
  9. Remove mofo gasy from the pan.
  10. Eat with sweet chai tea or sweet coffee.

Results and Discussion
It will definitely take several more attempts before I get the hang of making these. I would also buy a non-stick pan if I were starting from scratch. The cast iron pan we had worked great but we a little bit of sticking. I made the mistake of filling a couple too high on the second batch and ruined a great photo of golden brown ones. I will err on the side of under-filling the wells in the future. When you flip them, any liquid batter will run, so you need to find a balance of temperature that solidifies the batter at the top of the well without burning the mofo gasy.
The outsides of the mofo gasy are slightly crisp and the insides are like thick hot cereal. They have a slightly sweet taste and a little bit of a sour smell. The texture is puffy and slightly chewy. We think you could pretty easily adapt this recipe to make it work for a wide variety of grains instead of just rice.