Monday, August 04, 2008

Liberian Cuisine, Part Three

Weather: For the most part a dry and mostly sunny week until Friday. From Friday to Sunday, heavy overcast, windy and rainy. Temps in the low 70’sF all day, prompting us to dig out our sweats and socks and close the windows.

Renita and I are heading for Nigeria on Friday to meet up with some of my CRWRC friends there, so we’ll have some interesting images from Africa’s largest nation. However, we would not be good hosts if we didn’t leave you with a couple of dishes to try before we left. First though—some food related news:

Item—In Lofa County, to the Northeast, the cassava farmers are complaining about a new threat to their crops—elephants! The forest elephants are returning to Liberia, and as they find new stomping grounds, they are stomping all over some of the farmers’ livelihood. The elephants are protected, but as in other African countries, there is no love lost between the people and the pachyderms.

Item—The government of Liberia is cracking down on retailers of the nation’s most important commodity—rice. The price of rice is regulated, and is currently set at $31.00 USD for a 100 lb. bag. Many retailers have been raising the price in their shops, making life very difficult for the average citizen. This week, the Johnson-Sirleaf administration announced stiff penalties for price gouging and that inspectors would be out in force, closing down violators and auctioning off their goods on the spot. We’ll see.
Now on to the recipes:

Cassava Leaf with Cow Meat
Cassava is a staple throughout the region, both the potato-like tuber and the fibrous leaves. The leaves are not edible without pounding or grinding. Cassava leaf is prepared with a fair amount of oil, to soften its natural bitterness. The oil of choices for most people is red palm oil, which adds a musky flavor, but we’ve stopped using palm oil due to its high saturated fat content (more on palm oils in a future post). Regular vegetable oil works just fine.

To Prepare: Cassava leaf is easy to prepare. First select the meat you want. The most common is dried fish, or fresh fish, or both. However chicken, turkey, pig or cow meat work just fine. Today, we are going with the beef. Purchase a pound or two, depending on how many you’re feeding. Bones are ok. Sear the chunks of beef, then place beef in a pot of water with two chopped medium sized onions, hot peppers to taste, some seasoning (your choice) and beef stock or cubes. Boil until tender. Add three cups ground cassava leaf and one half cups of oil. (Liberians love oil and would likely add one and a half cups or more of palm oil) Bring to boil, then simmer for one hour. Serve over rice.

Bitter Ball Torpagee with Snails and Dried Fish
Torpagee (pronounced Tō’-pah-gee) gets its name from the oil that flavors it. Essentially, torpagee oil is “aged” – some say fermented—red palm oil. The taste took us some getting used to, but Hannah loves it with beans and hot dogs. (It’s called Beans Torpagee then.) You can use different vegetables or meat with torpagee (Dried meat is a favorite), but today we are going to stretch you a bit. First, the veggie of choice. Bitter balls are light green or yellowish berries about an inch in diameter. And as their name implies, they are bitter in taste. For the meat—and I’m using the term loosely--we’ve selected snails and dried fish. Dried fish you already know something about—we have some picture in our June archives of our Calvin/Kuyper College guests observing fish being dried. Snails are something else. They are large, about the size of a child’s fist. They are purchased alive from wheel barrows filled with hundreds of them. Escargot it ain’t. The texture is rubbery and the taste reminds me of, well, mud. But it’s Liberian Cuisine.

To Prepare: Select five or six large snails and three medium sized dried fish. Drop the live snails in a large pot of boiling water. Boil for a half hour- forty five minutes. After boiling, remove the snails from the shells and chop. Set aside. Chop the dried fish. Set aside. Wash and clean the bitter balls and boil for forty-five minutes, then remove and mash. Place in a fresh pot with two medium chopped onions, hot peppers to taste, one to one and a half cups of torpagee oil, the chopped snails and fish. Boil for an hour. Serve over rice.