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)

Diner en Blanc

Diner en Blanc. An event that started with a group of friends in Paris 20-plus years ago has turned into a global gathering, and I was lucky enough to attend Cincinnati’s first pass at it.

A very glamorous flash mob…wearing all white and taken to a secret location, you bring the party with you. Literally.

White table, chairs, linens, china, glasses; everything you need to set a lovely table. And the food, and wine, of course. It was really fun to see all of the creativity and effort people put into their settings; I went a bit sparse and modern, but was totally comfortable with that. I didn’t know what to expect, and it was a lot of work to get things together, so it was all about being super simple. Next year…the sky is the limit.

Our Humble Little Table
(image by The Global Reader)

The Menu

First Course – L’Apéritif

Some light bites, served with Champagne

Provencal Rosemary Almonds

adapted from a recipe at http://frenchfood.about.com/od/appetizershorsdoeuvres/r/rosemaryalmonds.htm

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups raw almonds

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Put almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet
  3. In a small saucepan, melt butter
  4. Mix seasoning into the butter, and then pour over  almonds. Make sure all almonds are coated
  5. Bake for about 10-12 minutes, stirring once, until toasted and fragrant
  6. Remove from heat and serve warm or at room temperature

Prosciutto Wrapped Melon

No real recipe needed here. Wrap the melon of your choice and shape (slices, wedges, cubes) in prosciutto.

The First Course
(image by Todd F)

Second Course: L’Entrée

Cold White Bean Soup
Velouté de haricot

adapted from a recipe at http://www.easy-french-food.com/cold-soup-recipes.html#.UHwiRMWHL-8

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup chopped white or yellow onion (as mild as possible)
  • 2 – 15 ounce cans white beans
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Place onions in a food processor (or blender)
  2. Drain and rinse the beans completely;  add them along with the vinegar and olive oil to the onion.
  3. Blend until you have a smooth puree.
  4. Add the milk, cayenne pepper and cumin and blend again until you have a smooth liquid. If you think it is too thick, add a little water (or chicken stock)
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Chill for at least 30 minutes, but also good at room temperature
The Second Course
(image by Todd F)

Third Course – Le Plat Principal

Served with a lovely French white wine.

I had big plans for this but to be honest, with all of the other preparations…I ran out of time. So I served store-bought roasted vegetable souffles (baked at home, in individual servings, and wrapped in tin foil a few minutes after coming out of the oven) with an arugula salad, lightly dressed. I will be going all out for this course next year…

The Third Course
(image by Todd F)

Fourth Course – Le Fromage

Had just a few selections – mostly Spanish. By this point, I no longer knew what wine I was drinking…but it was good.

We were having too much fun to remember to document the food…our neighbors were awesome. We were super lucky to be sitting next to them.

Our Awesome Neighbors
(image by Todd F)

Fifth Course – Le Dessert

Cardamom Madeleines

adapted from http://www.marthastewart.com/333936/orange-cardamom-madeleines

The original recipe is for cardamom cookies with an orange glaze, which I skipped for the evening. So good, even without it.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • 1 tablespoon good-quality honey
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs

Directions

  1. Brush molds of a madeleine pan with butter; set aside. Make the batter: Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat, and stir in honey and vanilla. Let cool 10 minutes.
  2. Whisk flour, baking powder, cardamom, and salt in a small bowl; set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 325, with rack in center. Stir together sugar and eggs in a medium bowl. Gently fold in flour mixture until combined. Add butter mixture, and fold until combined. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 minutes.
  4. Spoon batter into prepared pan, filling each mold halfway. Tap pan on work surface to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until cookies are puffed and edges are golden, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack; let cool slightly. Unmold cookies onto rack, and let cool completely.

Balloons! Sparklers! Wine! Dancing! A truly memorable evening; I cannot wait until next year.

Diner en Blanc
(image by The Global Reader)