Friday, November 6, 2009

Burkina Faso - peanuts and Fu Fu

The West African country Burkina Faso, formally known as the Republic of Upper Volta, has one of the lowest GDP per capita in the world. Yet it is a place that appreciates the arts. It hosts the International Arts and Crafts Fair in the capital, Ouagadougou. It’s a cultural and artistic festival that attracts artists from all over Africa, as well as international visitors. The capital also hosts the Pan African Film and Television Festival, the largest African film festival focusing on African films and filmmakers.

In August of this year, the country had the biggest flood in recent history. It left 150,000 people homeless. Many have fled their homes, some have died, roads have been washed away and electricity has been cut off. The main hospital was badly flooded. President Blaise Compaore has appealed to the international community to help aid the victims and rebuild the country.

I feel terribly sorry for the people in Burkina Faso and I hope they get the aid they need from countries around the world, including the United States. Yet, I must admit this crisis in West Africa reminded me of when we lived in Lagos, Nigeria and the dock workers, banks, doctors, water and electricity company all went on strike.

Of course, our situation wasn’t nearly as serious as the flooding in Burkina Faso but Lagos was in a state of emergency. We filled our bathtubs with water when we heard the water was going off, and every day we had to wash ourselves by dipping cloths and soap into a cold and increasingly dirty tub of water. My father missed most of the excitement since he was on business trip in Chad – one of the poorest nations on earth – and my mother and the other Americans considered him lucky to be out of Lagos.

On top of it all, everyone from the American Embassy had just received their meat orders. In our home, we had over $300 worth of meat in our freezer. Afraid everyone’s meat would spoil, the embassy organized a freezer pick-up and went to all the homes of the Americans, collected the freezers and took them over to the Ambassador’s residence to hook them up to his generator. But, of course, just as they got all the freezers loaded up, the electricity came back on and they had to return them all.

In the meantime, my mother helped a friend transport meat from all the freezers in an apartment building that housed Americans. They loaded up the meat in my mother’s car and then they drove the meat to the American Embassy where they had generated powered freezers. They made several trips, back and forth, in the notoriously awful Lagos traffic. It was hard, hot work hauling boxes. My mother was in a terrible mood, and when they made their final trip of the day my mother led the way passing the traffic-jammed line of cars on the highway by sailing down through the middle line, honking her horn, much like what Nigerians often did. My mother’s friend, who was on his motorcycle and trailing behind her, applauded her all the way.

For our Burkina Faso meal I cooked Peanut Stew and Fu Fu (mashed yams). The peanut stew was healthy and delicious. It had onions, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, ginger, chicken broth and peanut butter. We kept going back for more and I reheated the soup the next day for my lunch.

Fu Fu is like mashed potatoes only made with white yams (I made mine with orange yams since that’s all I could find). Fu Fu is served with stews and it is eaten with your fingers to help scoop up the contents of the soup. We’ve all seen photographs of African women pounding something in large mortars and pestles. It’s very likely these women were making Fu Fu.

I have a fond memory of watching my African nanny out back behind our house in Lagos when I was six. She was next to the servant’s quarters pounding away at something in a mortar. When she was finished she scooped up a bit of the mixture with her hands, dipped it in some sauce and offered it to me. I cautiously took the goo from her fingers and tasted the strange mixture. I remember thinking it tasted neither good nor bad, just different. I wonder now if that mush she’d given me was Fu Fu.

Peanut Stew

1 large onion, diced
cooking spray
1 large green bell pepper, diced
28 ounce can tomatoes, diced, undrained
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
5 cups chicken broth
2 TBSP brown sugar
1 TBSP fresh minced ginger
1/2 tsp red ground pepper
1/4 cup peanuts, chopped

Heat large pan over med-high heat and coat with cooking spray. Add onion and bell pepper; coat with cooking spray. Sauté 3 minutes. Stir in sweet potatoes and the rest of the ingredients, except for the chopped peanuts. Cover and bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer, covered, 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle soup into individual bowls; sprinkle with chopped peanuts.

Fu Fu

2 lbs white yams
2 TBSP butter
salt and pepper to taste

Place unpeeled yams in a large pot, cover with cold water and bring to boil over med-high heat. Boil for 15-30 minutes, or until yams are cooked through and tender. Drain and cool.

Peel the yams, chop them and place them into a large bowl with butter, salt and pepper. Mash with a potato masher until very smooth. Place Fu Fu into a large serving bowl. Wet your hands with water, form onto a large ball and serve.

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