Cooking around the world: Nigeria

Well, it’s here. A day I have been kind of dreading. The day that I have to cook a recipe from Africa. We’ve actually put it off now a couple of weeks. Nigeria was due back before Russia, and then was bumped by Ireland due to St. Paddy’s (speaking of, I made another loaf of that soda bread today – HEAVEN.) Honestly, I’m not sure why I am so nervous about cooking any African cuisine. Probably because I have watched one too many episodes of Bizarre Eats. I realize that it is not particularly fair to an entire continent, let alone Nigeria, the country we are cooking today, to dismiss their cooking because I watched Andrew Zimmerman eat some truly disgusting traditional foods (not things that I personally thought were were disgusting – though I did-but that he also gave a thumbs down to. Most of things these seemed to be fermented.) but that’s my rationale.

Nigeria was challenging for many reasons, including my own preconceived notions and prejudices. But it was also just damn difficult to find Nigerian recipes. Finally, I checked out a library book, a cookbook called Cooking the West African Way, and was able to pull out a meal. If you are interested in the book, go here. I think that technically this is a book for children, but it worked for me.

For tonight’s meal I chose:

Groundnut Balls/Kulikuli (groundnuts are peanuts). According to the book, the Hausa people of Northern Nigeria make these. These are basically fried peanut balls.

Egusi Soup, with beef and shrimp.

Baked plantains for dessert. I had thought to make grilled plantains using this recipe from Global Table Adventure, but couldn’t find red palm oil anywhere. Another time, perhaps. Plantains are also popular in Ecuador, so I already know that I like them and can’t imagine grilling them would be any less than delicious.

Excepting egusi seeds, which I didn’t even bother to look for (the recipe suggested subbing pepitas, which I did happily), none of the ingredients required a trip to a special market. Whole Foods more than sufficed. Honestly, we could of even gone to QFC, but I wanted fancy skin care products, so Whole Foods it was.

In the interest of saving space and discouraging boredom, I am not going to write out the recipes. But, if anyone is particularly interested in getting a copy, just let me know and I will be happy to provide.

The ingredients for the Kulikula are pretty simple: Peanuts, oil, salt. Wham. Grind, shape, fry in hot oil and, blammo:

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These were incredibly simple and pretty tasty. Having a food processor made it pretty easy to grind. I’m assuming that traditionally the peanuts are ground by repetitive smashing, but I was glad to have a Kitchen-Aid. I think my only complaint was that they would have benefitted from a sauce, but my research indicated that they are often served plain as street food. I think a chocolate dip might be a great way to Americanize them. In fact, I might be combining them with Nutella later …

The soup (really more of a stew) was also pretty painless, work wise. Again, my food processor came in handy, since the recipe instructs you to blend the vegetables into a puree. Additionally, the pepitas (or egusi seeds, if you can find them) had to be ground into a powder.

This is basically a long simmering stew – brown the beef, throw in the pureed veg (a combination of tomatoes, onion, and chiles), and walk away for a couple of hours. Come back at the end to toss in shrimp and spinach and that is about it.

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To be honest, I didn’t like this. But, I also didn’t expect to, seeing as how I don’t like shrimp or cooked spinach. However, half the point of this project is cooking out of my comfort zone, so I’m glad I made it and glad that I tried a bite. I’d happily make it again, sans spinach, because it did smell good and the beef was really tender. My mother-in-law and my husband liked it a lot though; my husband even said it was the one of the best dishes I have made since starting the project.

For dessert, I made baked plantains, which I forgot to take a picture of. In case you aren’t familiar, a plantain is a less sweet, starchier banana. These I baked in their skins, with a brushing of brown sugar and butter. They were tasty – although, slap brown sugar and butter on most anything and it will be good (Quinn slurped down the caramel sauce – didn’t even bother with the plantain). This is an approximation of what it looked like.

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So, I guess all things considered, Nigeria was a success. Everything was well executed and I can appreciate why my husband and mother-in-law liked the entree, even if I didn’t. I can’t say that this has completely allayed my fears about our future African endeavors, but I might approach the next one a bit less apprehensively.

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