Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Liberian Cuisine, Part 2

Weather: High humidity with evening thundershowers becoming more common. Daytime temps in the upper 80sF, nighttime lows in the low 70sF.

We arrived back in Liberia after just under two weeks in Gambia and we were instantly engulfed. Engulfed I say. First of course by the humidity, which smacked into us like a wall the second we exited the plane, but also by our Liberian life waiting for us. By the end of the day, we had 1) attended the graduation ceremonies of LEAD’s 8th business class, 2) hosted an impromptu version of our annual “plum party” for about 15 of our neighbor kids (The mangos are ripe and the kids have a riot trying to harvest the allotted amount before I kick ‘em out.), 3) walked Enoch over to his family’s house and had a long talk with them about the eleven year old’s out of control behavior of late, 4) discovered we had a second deer in our yard, given to us by our friends who are about to go to Canada for a few months, and 5) spent a frantic half hour with the neighborhood kids trying to catch the deer who got out our gate while we were hauling water, (Miraculously, we caught her.) Needless to say, we were dog tired by the end of the day. We are still getting back into it; as I write, Renita is home schooling, and I—well, you can see what I am doing.

So while we are getting up to Liberian speed, I thought I’d introduce you to three more Liberian dishes, all three of which we eat regularly.

Water Greens
Water greens look a little like potato greens when cooked, but have a different texture. To me they are like a slightly slimier (Slimy actually is called “slippery” here, and Liberians seem to like the texture) version of spinach—they definitely have that strong spinach flavor.

To prepare: For four adults Remove stems and wash 4 bunches of greens thoroughly. Cut or tear into fine shreds. Combine with two cups chopped onions, and hot pepper and fry in one half cup of oil for 7-10 minutes, stirring constantly. Place into a pot with water. Add chicken or beef cube, salt, black pepper, seasoning salt to taste. Add pre-cooked meat—we prefer cow meat—but anything (dried fish, fried fish, boiled pig’s feet, chicken turkey) you like is acceptable. Boil away most but not all of the water. Serve over rice.

Dum Boy (with Bene Seed)
Dum Boy is a milder version of its much more famous cousin, fu fu (or foo foo. You get the idea.) Dum boy is not nearly as complicated to make as fu fu, and we prefer it to the strong tang of the fermented fu fu. Every Liberian will tell you “do not chew dum boy, just swallow.” As for me, I gotta chew it a couple times before I can get it down. It is very sticky and gelatinous. Here is what it looks like before the soup goes on top:

To Prepare: You need a large mortar and pestle, and to grab a bunch of cassava—the root not the leaf, and grate it into a bowl. Take the grated cassava, place it into a plastic bag, and put the bag into a pot of boiling water. Boil for a half hour to an hour. When the cassava is cooked and tender, dump into a mortar and begin pounding with your trusty pestle. Pound until the cassava becomes a sticky paste. Form these into balls— and serve with soup.

Bene Seed Soup
You can eat dum boy with anything of course; it does not have much flavor and is very starchy. We prefer peanut soup or bene seed soup. Bene seed is sesame seed. You purchase little bags of bene seed in any market. Here is what it looks like on dum boy:

To prepare: Take about a cup of bene (sesame) seed and toast it in a pan over a coal pot or stove. Make sure all seeds get golden brown or more. Remove the toasted seeds and place them in your mortar and pound them into a pulp. In another pan, fry two chopped onions, peppers to taste, and chicken or beef seasonings, depending on the meat you will add. Add any pre-cooked meat you prefer—we like turkey—and fry a bit more. Put the cooked ingredients into a pot, add water to fill the pot and the bene seed. Boil the mixture for a half hour. Some people add a bit of flour to thicken, others toss in a couple of diced potatoes. Sometimes we add noodles. Serve over the dum boy (or rice).

Jollof Rice
Jollof rice is a favorite all over West Africa, and you can find dishes like this all over the world. Its easy to make, and easy to dress up. We eat it about once a week—usually on Fridays. We make a lot of it and feed a few friends. Trokon does not like it much—too much tomato.

To Prepare: Fry two onions, a minced clove of garlic, and peppers to taste in a half cup of oil. To this add five small tins—about a cup and a half—of tomato paste. Stir it all together and fry it up a bit. Remove and place in a large pot. Add enough water to cook six cups of rice (this depends on how you like your rice. Liberians like their rice soft, I like it “el dente.”) Boil the mixture together. Cook the meats you wish to add—anything but fish. Like many Liberian dishes, it is preferable to serve a dish with two (or more) kinds of meat in the dish. We prefer chicken wings with beef (called cow meat here), but when on a budget, we slice up some hot dogs (here called sausage.) By the way, true sausage would be delicious in jollof rice. We can’t get it here, or else its too expensive. Once cooked, set the meat aside. Add the rice to the boiling pot of tomato paste and seasonings. When the rice is done, add the meat and a can of mixed vegetables. We also chop up some fresh tomatoes and mix in just before serving.