Thursday, November 12, 2009

Burundi - the best date and banana cake

Burundi is a small East African country neighboring Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. Intertribal tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis have devastated the country since it gained independence from Belgium in 1962. It’s a shame. It’s described as a beautiful country with gorgeous mountains and the finest inland beaches on the continent. The capital, Bujumbura, sits on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, the world’s oldest, longest and the second-deepest fresh water lake

For the Burundi meal I prepared Boko Boko Harees, a chicken and bulgur wheat dish served with fried onions and a chicken giblet/turmeric mixture. We also had a beans and bananas dish and a date and banana cake.

In the Boko Boko Harees recipe it said I needed whole or bulgur wheat. What did I get at the grocery store? I got whole wheat flour. When I got home I read in the recipe that I had to soak it for three hours. So what did I do? I put the whole wheat flour in a bowl and covered it with water. The recipe said that I had to drain it and I wondered how in the world I was going to drain dough! I wasn’t feeling well and my dad was flying in to visit us from Washington D.C. the next day and I had no patience for this. I then reread the directions and I finally saw bulgur wheat. There was no mention of flour! I felt like Amelia Bedelia in the kitchen, only she would have done a better job because she follows exact directions and I can’t read, apparently. Thank goodness I didn’t try and cook my chicken in that whole wheat flour crap. But there went dinner. It was already 7:30, I now needed to go to the grocery store, get bulgur and soak it for three hours! I was just going to have to cook the Boko Boko dinner the next night when my father was here. It’s not like I haven’t warned people about dinners at my house.

But there was still the cake. I, somehow, finagled Kevin into making the Burundi dessert. He’s much better at baking than I am. I attribute this to the fact that he’s an engineer. He’s very good with directions. I’m not. He’s precise. I’m not. He does what he’s told. I rebel. I’d rather throw some of this and some of that into a pot. The hell with exact measurements! So Kevin very diligently made the dessert (with Julia’s help). Wouldn’t you know, it came out beautifully. It couldn’t have tasted or looked more perfect if we had bought it at a bakery.

One of Julia’s best friends was over. He’s the sweetest little boy in the world, but the pickiest eater. I once had him over for dinner and I served lasagna and he wouldn’t eat that! But we gave him a piece of Kevin’s African cake and he loved it.

“Wow! This is delicious!” I heard him say while I poured my whole wheat flour slop into the trash. It was cake for dinner and my dad was just going to have to put up with eating Boko Boko Harees the next night.

I suppose there’s something to be said for following directions.

The next night, my dad was a good sport. When we sat down at the table and I placed Boko Boko Harees in front of him he exclaimed how good everything looked. The dish resembled, and tasted like, oatmeal with chicken in it. For sides, to go along with the Boko Boko, I served chicken hearts and livers fried in a turmeric paste and fried onions cooked in ghee. Ghee is a clarified butter primarily used in Indian cuisine. The beans and bananas were cooked with onion and paprika.

John was being crabby, however. He protested over the meal – the kid who gladly ate mopane worms. I don’t know if he was turning his nose up at the food because my dad was there and he was rebelling for the sake of appearances, because he was in a fowl mood or because he honestly didn’t want to eat this crap anymore!

When I questioned him he said, “Mom, as a kid, I’m not supposed to want to eat chicken hearts and livers!”

Good point. I didn’t press the issue and he eventually slopped the Boko Boko Harees onto his plate and ate it. So sweet. His loyalty to the project won over any sense of what he was supposed to like as a kid.

Boko Boko Harees (Chicken with Bulgur wheat)

600g bulgur wheat
3 chicken breasts
3 sets of chicken giblets
1 large onion, grated
1 small onion, sliced
3 TBSP turmeric paste
5 TBSP sugar
6 tsp ghee
2 tsp salt

Place the wheat in water and allow to soak for 3 hours. Drain the wheat, then place in a large pot along with chicken and grated onion. Add enough water to cover the mixture by 3 cm. Add half the salt, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.

Meanwhile, make a turmeric sauce. Cut the chicken giblets into small pieces and simmer with the turmeric paste and 1/2 cup water. Add a pinch of salt and 3 TBSP sugar to the mix. Cook gently for 10 minutes then allow to cool.

Once the wheat is cooked and softened about 30 minutes), remove the chicken breasts and shred finely. Add the chicken back to the wheat and stir to combine. Add 3 tsp ghee and continue stirring until it’s well mixed in.

The wheat paste should be the consistency of a thick dough. If it is too runny cook further to thicken sauce.

Now fry the remaining onion in the remaining ghee. Cook until the onion turns crispy.

Serve in a bowl accompanied by the fried onion and turmeric mixture in separate bowls.

Beans and Bananas

500 ml dried kidney beans
4 green bananas or plantains
2 TBSP palm oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp salt
Paprika to taste

Soak beans at least 3 hours in plenty of water. Drain, place in a pan, cover with water and boil for 40 minutes, or until tender. Drain. Peel and chop bananas then add the oil to the pan and brown the onions. Add the beans and bananas to the oil, season with salt and pepper then stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add 1 cup water and simmer until the beans are completely cooked and the liquid has reduced. Serve hot.

Date and Banana Cake

2 sticks butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 pinch of salt
2 tsp baking powder
4 bananas
250g dates, chopped
15 ml melted butter
1 tsp cinnamon
2 TBSP sugar

cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat eggs into this mixture on at a time then add the flour, salt and baking powder. Mix well and place half the mixture into a well-greased 9x9 inch pan. Cover the dough with sliced bananas and chopped dates and top with the remaining dough.

Place in the center of the oven pre-heated to 350 degrees and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven, brush the top with melted butter then mix the sugar and cinnoman and sprinkle over the top. Serve warm.

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