Cooking for Niger: Getting to Know Millet

At least on-line, Niger seems to get a bit overshadowed, culinary-speaking, by a few of its neighbors (looking at you, Nigeria and Mali), but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. The book I read about Niger focused primarily on the Songhay in the northwestern part of the country, so I narrowed my recipe search to the same.

It does make me realize that as much as I’m learning from all of my reading and cooking, there’s still a whole world out there I’m passing by. Focusing on one group in one corner of a nation doesn’t give me the big picture, and I hope my very kind readers know that I know that. I’m limited by time; if I had the space, I would want to meet everyone and learn everything.

OK. Back to the food…

This was really good, by the way!

Peanut and Greens Stew

Adapted from a recipe at EveryCulture.com

Ingredients:

  • 4 Tablespoons oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped roasted peanuts*
  • 2 Tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 3 cups trimmed and finely chopped spinach
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

Instructions:

  1. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and peanuts. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until onion is soft.
  2. Stir in peanut butter, tomato, tomato paste, spinach, red pepper, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat.
  3. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Serve over millet*** or rice.

* I really deep-roasted the peanuts. I got raw peanuts in the shell, shelled and then roasted them in a 350F oven for about 20 minutes. They were dark brown, but not burnt, and they added a super rich, deep flavor that I highly recommend.

Peanuts and Greens Stew
Peanuts and Greens Stew
(image by The Global Reader)

Sort of cheating with this one, since Niger is not technically North African, but hey – grilled corn is popular here, there, and everywhere, and I thought the spices would go well with the stew…

North African Grilled Corn on the Cob

Adapted from a recipe at Food.com

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 12 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 12 teaspoon salt
  • 14 teaspoon ground cinnamon

    Spices mixed for North African Corn on the Cob
    Spices mixed for North African Corn on the Cob
    (image by The Global Reader)
  • 14 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 dash clove
  • 4 ears corn, with husks
  • 2 teaspoons (or really as much as you want) butter or olive oil**

Instructions:

  1.  Prepare grill.
  2. Combine first 8 ingredients in a small bowl or jar; set aside.
  3. Melt butter in small saucepan on stove or grill, add as much of the spice mix as you want, stir until blended.
  4. Pull husks back from corn, and scrub silks. Brush spiced butter over corn, sprinkle with spice mixture. Place corn on grill rack; grill 12 minutes or until done, turning corn occasionally. You will have some charred spots – you want those!

* *This recipe could easily be made vegan by using olive oil instead of butter.

Niger Dinner
Niger Dinner
(image by T. Farmer)

***How to Cook Millet

Millet is a drought-tolerant crop, and therefore a super important food in arid places where growing conditions can be challenging. It was mentioned quite often in reading about Niger, so it was for sure going to be on the menu for Niger.
First time cooking it, but it won’t be the last. Really good flavor and texture; you should check it out if you aren’t familiar. It’s a popular grain in many parts of the world; I found mine at a Polish grocery store. There are many ways to cook it; I went with the couscous-like style.

Adapted from a recipe at thekitchn.com

Makes about 3 1/2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw millet
    2 cups water (or broth, if you’d prefer)
    ¼ teaspoon salt, optional
    1 tablespoon unsalted butter, optional

Instructions:

1. In a large, dry saucepan or Dutch oven, over medium heat, toast the raw millet for 4-5 minutes. I stirred the whole time: the important thing is not let the grains burn.

2. Add the water and salt to the pan, being aware that the water will sputter and maybe splash since the pan is hot. Stir the millet well, increase the heat, and bring to a boil.

3. Once it boils, decrease the heat to low, drop in the butter (if using) and cover the pot. Simmer until the grains absorb most, but not all, of the water (the millet will continue soaking it up as it sits), about 15 minutes. Don’t lift the lid or stir too often. Too much fussing will cause the grains to break up and change texture.

4. Take the millet off the heat, and let sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Then fluff with a fork and add more salt, if needed.

5. Millet needs to be served warm, and don’t shoot for leftovers. This grain does not seem to reheat well, and really dries out.

Millet in its raw state
Millet in its raw state
(image by The Global Reader)

Some Thoughts on Thoughtful Eating

There’s gonna be some changes around here…

My husband and I have been together for over 20 years. We were certainly not brought together in our bonds of love through food; when we first met, I was a vegetarian with 50 recipes for lentil loaf, and he existed on the All-American Male diet of hamburgers and pizzas. Then, about a decade ago, I woke up one day and wanted BBQ chicken and that was that.

Through the years, my husband has developed a much more adventurous palate, and happily joins me on my culinary adventures. And he has recently made his own dietary turn in a different direction: he’s now a pretty-much-all-of-the-time vegetarian. Which I love!

We are both ready to take much more responsibility for everything that we eat; where it comes from, who makes it happen, and what are the real costs of what’s on our plates. Life and death are all part of the cycle of existence, but does some other being really need to suffer so that I can get a cheap cheeseburger? Maybe not so much…

So, while neither of us are staking any permanent claims in  “I-am-this diet” territory, we’re going to flow where this much more humane stream takes us. There will still be periodic posts about chicken soup, and other yummy things that once walked around. Just not anyway near as much.

Highland cow sitting near the road.
Emo Cow
(image by Derek Harper via Wikimedia Commons)

Make This And Your Vegan Friends Will Love You

Good stuff.

And that moment when you realize you already knew something, but just hadn’t inhabited it yet? That was me researching recipes for Guinea-Bissau. I had a solid click of knowledge, as in “hey, I eat West African food all of the time”. If you’ve lived in the American South, or just enjoy Southern food…you do too. Which totally makes sense, right? Also, I’m just 13 countries into this blog, and already on my third Portuguese colony (Macau and Angola being the first two.) So, there’s another layer of familiarity; I’m seeing threads of commonality that I probably wouldn’t have noticed before.

I thought I would get smarter from the books, but it’s really the food that’s showing me the way…We’re all connected. We really are.

Anyway…gettin’ all deep on you…here’s the recipe:

Guinean Peanut Sauce with Butternut Squash

adapted from a recipe at http://allrecipes.com/recipe/guinean-peanut-sauce-with-butternut-squash/

Ingredients:

  • 1 butternut squash (peeled seeded and cut into 2 inch cubes)
  • 12 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1 tomato (chopped)
  • 1 cup warm water (reserved from cooking the squash)
  • 2 tbsps coconut oil
  • 1 yellow onion (thickly sliced lengthwise)
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • black pepper and salt to taste
  • 2 tsps lemon juice

Instructions:

  1. Place the butternut squash in a saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, until the squash is tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid.
  2. Combine the peanut butter, tomato, and a cup of the reserved cooking liquid (or just warm water). (The original recipe mentions that the traditional way to combine the ingredients is to squish everything together by hand, but I used my food processor. A blender would be just fine too.)
  3. Heat the coconut oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the peanut butter mixture, the minced garlic, the bay leaf, black pepper, and about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine, then bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the peanut sauce, adding the reserved cooking liquid as needed, for 15 minutes. The consistency should be similar to a thick soup.
  6. Stir in the butternut squash and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Add the lemon juice, and adjust the seasoning as desired.

Serve with hot, medium-grained rice. Next time, I’ll add some chopped, fresh cilantro and a good hot sauce on the side as well.

NOTE: I way over-cooked the squash. I eat a lot of sweet potatoes, and since butternut squash is orange and of a similar texture while raw, my simple brain was quick to treat it the same. Don’t do that. My dining companions were very kind and said all was well…but it could have been better. Stick to the 20 minute cooking time and you should be just fine.

Butternut Squash – before I overcooked it
(image by The Global Reader)

Speaking of sweet potatoes, the peanut sauce would work great with them. It would be good with just about any veggie. Or chicken or beef, if you are in a meaty kind of mood.

(disclaimer: I KNOW. I KNOW. It’s getting to be the same shot, in the same cast-iron post. Every. Single. Time.
Must work on taking better photos)

Guinean Peanut Sauce with Butternut Squash
(image by The Global Reader)

Koshari. It’s what’s for dinner in Egypt.

People wax poetic about Moroccan and Tunisian food, but not so much Egypt. Why? I don’t know. It turns out that the food is very North African, of course, but perhaps a little more simple.

Cheap and filling is a common theme, reaching perfect form in Koshari, the National Dish of Egypt. At first glance, this is one of those recipes that doesn’t seem like much, but trust me, you want to make it. One negative: it’s a multi-pot meal, so enlist someone to wash the dishes for you. On the bright side, it’s easy, nothing but straight-forward ingredients, makes enough to feed a small army, and it’s vegan. Nice. Make sure you don’t forget the caramelized onions – they are essential.

I start browning the onions early in the process. I don’t know if there’s something wrong with me, but I can never cook up onions in the 5 minutes most recipes call for. If there is some trick I’m missing, please let me know.

In other areas, I definitely took some short-cuts like 10-minute rice and canned chickpeas; there are plenty of recipes out there that are more traditional, including the one I used for inspiration. Also, the size of pasta seems to be a personal preference; I just like having everything about the same size, but feel free to use what you’ve got in the pantry.

Koshari

(adapted from EgyptianRecipes.net) 

Ingredients:

  •          2 large chopped onions
  •         4 cloves of minced garlic
  •          ¾  cup vegetable oil
  •          1 bag of 10 minute brown rice
  •          ¼ tsp red pepper
  •          1 tsp cumin
  •          1 can of tomato sauce
  •         ¾ cup brown lentils
  •          4 cups water
  •          1  cup small pasta
  •           ½ cup white vinegar
  •           1 15oz can chickpeas

Instructions:

  1. In a large saucepan, put the lentils in water and bring it to a boil.
  2. Simmer over medium heat for 25 minutes (or until soft) then drain and set aside to cool.
  3. In another skillet, heat oil and add onions, cooking on med-low heat until brown.
  4. While the onions are cooking, refill the pot used for the lentils and cook rice.
  5. Fill a separate saucepan with water, add a little bit of salt and bring to a boil.
  6. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until it gets tender, then drain.
  7. In a skillet or saucepan, heat some oil then add the garlic and cook until softened and golden.
  8. Add the vinegar to garlic and bring it to boil.
  9. After the vinegar boils with garlic, add the tomato sauce and some salt and pepper to taste, then add the cumin. Bring the mix to boil on high heat, then lower heat after it boils. Let simmer.
  10. Take a little bit of the oil used with the onions and stir it into the pasta.

Serving:

You can mix everything together, or go the more traditional route…

  1. Put a layer of rice and lentils.
  2. A layer of macaroni.
  3. A layer of the special sauce.
  4. A layer of the boiled chickpeas.
  5. A layer of fried onions.

Koshari
(image by The Global Reader)

Kept it simple with ice water with lots of lemon to drink, and a cucumber feta salad on the side.

Cucumber Feta Salad

(adapted from Food.com)

Ingredients:

      • 2 large cucumbers, peeled
      • salt
      • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Dressing:

    • 6 ounces feta
    • 1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
    • 2 tablespoons lemon juice or 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
    • 1 teaspoon olive oil
    • fresh ground black pepper

Instructions:

  1. Score the cucumbers with the tines of a fork, and cut them in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds – a grapefruit spoon or melon baller works well. Sprinkle the cucumbers with salt, and let them stand for about 1/2 hour.
  2. Rinse, pat dry, and slice the cucumbers into 1/2 inch chunks.
  3. In a medium serving bowl, crush the feta with a fork and mix it with the scallions, lemon juice, oil, and pepper.
  4. Combine the cucumber chunks with the cheese mixture.
  5. Sprinkle the salad with the mint.
  6. It can sit in the refrigerator before serving, but try not to hold it more than an hour or it will get watery.

For dessert, I made Zabadee el Mishmish, a traditional Egyptian dessert, finishing up with mint tea. The dessert was a big hit with my husband, so that means that the entire meal will be going into the normal dinner rotation. Thanks Egypt!

Zabadee el Mishmish

(Apricot Mousse)

(adapted from Touregypt.com)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2   cup dried apricots
  • 2        tablespoons honey
  • 1/2    cup cottage cheese (non or low fat works fine)
  • 1/2    cup nonfat plain yogurt
  • 1/2    packet unflavored gelatin

Instructions:

  1. Put apricots in bowl and cover with boiling water.
  2. Set aside for 1 hour to soften.
  3. Place drained apricots in blender, add honey and blend until smooth.
  4. In a small saucepan, dissolve gelatin in 2 tbls of water.
  5. Place on low heat and stir until all gelatin is dissolved.
  6. Combine cottage cheese and yogurt in a food processor and whip until smooth.
  7. Pour yogurt mixture into a bowl and slowly stir in the gelatin, the fold in the apricot puree.
  8. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.