Location: Central Africa
Population: 5.2 million
Geography: Sub-Saharan with some forest coverage
Signature flavours: Peanut, greens, eggplant, tomato, chicken
When I get an African assignment, my first inclination is to turn to the wonderful Africa Cookbook by Jessica B. Harris. As usual, it didn’t disappoint, featuring Congo’s national dish: Mwambe. Around this, I built a menu from the many talented Congolese chefs of YouTube.
Mwambe Fish: Chunks of juicy fish stewed in peanut oil with onions, tomatoes, and hot peppers. Mwambe can also be prepared with chicken, beef, or lamb.
Prep and cooking time: 40 min
Loso ya Bulayi: A fluffy rice dish flavoured with tomato paste, onion, and bouillon.
Prep and cooking time: 25 min
Pondu: Cassava leaves boiled with eggplant, leeks, onion, garlic, and palm oil, spiced with nutmeg.
Prep and cooking time:
Mikate: Also known as puff puff, mikate is fried dough — made from flour, sugar, and mashed banana — usually served with peanut butter for dipping.
Prep and cooking time: 90 min
The Shopping List
I found everything I needed at my local supermarket except palm oil and cassava leaf. These were shipped from Alowa Foods in Toronto (they offered excellent variety and brilliant customer service).
I was really excited for this assignment…do I say that every time? Well, I just really enjoy cooking, and I really enjoy trying new flavours. Wooden Spoon Wanderer brings these two opportunities together in a way that is fantastically rewarding.
Though mwambe may be the national dish of the Congo, pondu ended up being the heart of my meal, for the simple reason that it was the most time consuming to make and I had to plan my cooking around it. Eric and I have eaten cassava leaf once before, cooked from frozen for Madagascar. The dish then was not a favourite — we both found the dried shrimp in it just too salty — so pondu was a chance for cassava to shine. This time, I used dried cassava leaf, which rehydrated in minutes in cool water. The dish was fairly labour intensive, and required almost two hours of boiling. The result was a very thick green stew which had a complex flavour profile — earthy, onion-y, and a bit salty. We both really enjoyed it.
The mwambe reminded me of oh-so-many fish stews we’ve made for countries the world over. Simple, flavourful, and satisfying, it hit the spot just like its international cousins.
The loso ya bulayi was likewise a relative of jollof/pilaf/biryani, and it was one of my favourite rice dishes made for WSW to date. It was deceptively simple to make, but the result was so tasty.
Our meal ended with peanut butter-dipped mikate. These dough balls are a little denser than a doughnut, mildly banana-y, and really come to life when paired with peanut butter.
It was another country struck off the list, another coloured in on our world map, and incredibly, Eric will be tackling assignment 100 next week! Hard to believe we’ve done so much work in the last three and a half years, and there’s still so much Wooden Spoon Wandering to go.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.