There was a time, not so very long ago, when ‘making plans for the weekend’ consisted of looking for a great new band playing in my favorite grubby bar, or finding a house party. These days, my weekend plans seem to consist of:
* more laundry
* drying and folding laundry
* catching up on Grey’s Anatomy
And so we are pulled, slowly but inexorably, into our twilight years.
This weekend, extra! added! bonus! excitement! arrived in the opportunity to move a couch. Sean’s dad needs one, and we just happen to have an almost brand new, only slightly dog and cat hair encrusted sofa sitting under a drop cloth in our garage. Sean is off to borrow a truck to move it with, and I’m planning our weekend menu until he returns.
Have I mentioned before that we live in the middle of no where? I’m not kidding when I say this, and never is it more apparent than when I get a craving for ethnic food. In my part of the country, fish and chips is about as ‘ethnic’ as it gets, and mushy peas are regarded as dangerously exotic. For sushi, or Indian, or a good bowl of pho, I need to drive an hour, at least. I admit I’ve gotten into a bad rut of basic meat n’ veg cooking since we moved here, a fact I can blame on a shocking lack of available ingredients, but since moving the couch means a drive into Kitchener (yes, the bustling metropolis of Kitchener, home to the world’s second largest Oktoberfest), I have the chance to hit an ethnic grocer and stock up on spices and ingredients (like dried prawns, and frozen edamame).
With available ingredients not an option for being a slacking shirker (note to self: good future puppy name), I’ve decided to do Senegalese food tomorrow night, which really isn’t half as exciting as it sounds, since it’s basically a rice/fish/veg based cuisine.
I’m going to prepare fried plantains, black eyed pea fritters and Ceebu Jën. I’ve made this loads of time, and it really is dead simple (not to mention tasty). By the way, if you’re not a fish fan, you can make this dish with lamb or beef, in which case it’s known as ‘Ceebu Yapp’.
I use the recipes from Congo Cookbook:
What you need
- stuffing mixture (roof or roff):
- one or two sweet peppers (or bell peppers) (green, yellow, or red); chopped
- one onion or two leeks or several scallions, chopped
- garlic, minced (optional)
- a small bunch of parsley or a bay leaf (or some similar fresh herb)
- hot chile pepper, cleaned and chopped (optional)
- one cup peanut oil, or for an authentic red color: red palm oil
- two onions, chopped
- a piece of dried, salted, or smoked fish, such as cod or herring, (stockfish is often used); the piece should be about half the size of your hand
- two to three pounds of fish: whole, filets, or steaks; cleaned (sea bass, hake, haddock, sea bream, halibut, or any similar firm-fleshed fish). Note: I am a coward, and I remove the heads from whole fish, as I don’t like to eat food that’s looking at me.
- tomato paste
- three or four tomatoes (peeled if desired), whole
- one or more of the following root vegetables and tubers:
- carrots, chopped
- sweet cassava (also called manioc, yuca, or yucca) tuber; or potatoes, chopped
- yams (sweet potatoes are not the same, but may be substituted), chopped
- hot chile pepper, such as habanero or serrano chile, whole, but pricked with a fork
- one or more of the following leaf and fruit vegetables:
- cabbage, chopped
- one or two sweet peppers (or bell peppers) (green, yellow, or red); left whole
- one squash (any kind will do) or zucchini, cleaned and chopped
- eggplant (aubergine, or guinea squash), peeled and chopped
- okra, whole, but with ends removed
- several cups of rice
What you do
- Prepare the roof (or roff) by combining the stuffing mixture ingredients and grinding them into a paste, adding a little oil or water if needed. Many cooks include what seems to be an essential in Africa: a Maggi cube. Cut deep slits into the fish (but not all the way through) and stuff them with the roof mixture.
- Heat the oil in a large pot. Fry the onions and dried/salted/smoked fish for a few minutes. Then fry the fresh fish for a few minutes on each side. Remove the fish and set aside.
- Stir the tomato paste and a cup of water into the oil in the pot. Add the root vegetables and tubers and the hot chile pepper. Add water to partially cover them. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or more.
- Add the leaf and fruit vegetables, place the fried fish on top of them, and continue to simmer for an additional twenty minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
- The fish and all the vegetables and set them aside, keeping them warm. Remove a cup or two of the vegetable broth and set it aside. Add the rice to the vegetable broth. Add water or remove liquid as necessary to obtain two parts liquid to one part rice. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer on very low heat until the rice is cooked–about twenty minutes. It should stick a little to the bottom of the pot.
- Find the hot chile among the vegetables. Combine it to the reserved vegetable broth in a small saucepan and bring to a slow boil. Remove and discard the pepper and put the sauce into a dish or gravy boat.
- When the rice is done turn the pot over onto a large serving platter. Scrape the crust (the xooñ) from the bottom of the pot over the rice. Arrange the fish and vegetables over and around the rice. Garnish with parsley and sliced limes (to squeeze over fish) as desired.
Akara (Black Eyed Pea Fritters)
What you need
- two to three cups dried cowpeas (black-eyed peas) or similar
- one onion, finely chopped
- one-half teaspoon salt
- half cup dried shrimp or prawns
- hot chile pepper, and/or sweet green pepper or sweet red pepper, finely chopped (to taste)
- cayenne pepper or red pepper (to taste)
- one-half teaspoon fresh ginger root, peeled and minced (or a few pinches of powdered ginger) (optional)
- peanut oil, palm oil, or vegetable oil for frying
What you do
- Clean the black-eyed peas in running water. Soak them in water for at least a few hours or overnight. After soaking them, rub them together between your hands to remove the skins. Rinse to wash away the skins and any other debris. Drain them in a colander.
- Crush, grind, or mash the black-eyed peas into a thick paste. Add enough water to form a smooth, thick paste of a batter that will cling to a spoon. Add all other ingredients (except oil). Some people allow the batter to stand for a few hours (overnight in the refrigerator); doing so improves the flavor.
- Heat oil in a deep skillet. Beat the batter with a wire whisk or wooden spoon for a few minutes. Make fritters by scooping up a spoon full of batter and using another spoon to quickly push it into the hot oil. Deep fry the fritters until they are golden brown. Turn them frequently while frying. (If the fritters fall apart in the oil, stir in a beaten egg, some cornmeal or crushed breadcrumbs.)
- Serve with an African Hot Sauce or salt, as a snack, an appetizer, or a side dish.