And, here is another country that I learned of under a totally different name! I’m beginning to really despair at the quality of my early education. I learned of The Republic of Benin as French Dahomey, but that’s about par for the course at this point. Benin is a Western African country bordered by Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria.
The primary language of the country is French and the population is a melting pot of Africans. The cuisine varies a little in the south vs. the central and northern area. Yams are really popular in the south and make up one of the main starches. I really don’t like yams, so I decided to look north for inspiration. As I move along this journey I’m realizing that the starches are far more individual country by country than the meats. Reading through foods commonly eaten in Benin, I found millet listed as one of the main grains in the central and northern regions. Having never tasted or worked with millet I though, no time like the present! Hence our millet cake.
It turns out that millet is tastes a nutty and is one of the more interesting grains I’ve worked with so far. It has a tendency to pop a bit when it gets too hot (like corn), so I did end up with millet all over the place, you’ve been warned! 🙂 I read somewhere that beans are used mashed up in dishes and I incorporated that into the cake. The spices were the tricky part because I couldn’t find any of the specific spice mixtures that I found referenced in Benin cooking. There is something called West African Curry Powder with a bunch of ingredients that I couldn’t find, even online. So I adapted and used some of the spices I know and love. The flavor may not be authentic, but we thought the cakes were so good they could be used as a side dish to a number of tasty dinners. The recipe makes about twice as much as you need, but when I tried to cut the recipe, I couldn’t get the flavor quite right. So, I make extra and used the leftover the next morning with a poached egg, roasted Brussels sprouts and a little hollandaise and the family was in heaven.
An now we come to the sauce, oh, the sauce…I’m getting hungry again just writing about it. I originally made two versions, one more complicated and authentic, including more vegetables in the sauce, but the extra ingredients and effort didn’t really pay off, the simple version was fantastic. This is a spicy sauce, but you can moderate it by using less spicy peppers. My husband thinks that the combination of peanut butter and tomato is the savory equivalent of raspberries and chocolate. He practically licked his plate. The sauce is pretty easy, but does take some time. It can be made ahead, but should be warmed up before serving.
The burgers were great with a nice crisp Sauvignon Blanc or a good pale ale. We tried Duckhorn SB and Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA – both were excellent choices. The sauce is great with veggie burgers, but I’d skip the millet cake for the veggie version – too similar to a veggie burger, just go with a standard bun. The sauce also works with ground chicken burgers, but the beef was better (the opposite result from what I expected).
Overall, the spicy richness was amazing and the millet cake was a nice nutty balance – another favorite burger for my family. I hope you enjoy it too!
1 pound ground beef
salt and pepper
4 Millet Cakes (recipe below)
Spicy Peanut Sauce (recipe below)
Season ground beef with salt and pepper. Grill to desired temperature. Put 1-2 leave of lettuce on each Millet Cake then place burger patties on top. Add a generous portion of Spicy Peanut Sauce to each burger.
Spicy Peanut Sauce
2 teaspoons peanut oil
1 small onion diced
1 habenero pepper quartered
2 Maggi beef bullion cubes crushed*
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 cup tomato puree
½ cup natural, unsweetened, unsalted peanut butter
½ cup water
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Heat oil in small saucepan and sauté onions over medium heat until golden stirring occasionally (about 5 minutes). Add habenero, bullion and ginger. Stir until evenly combined. Add tomato puree, peanut butter and water. Stir until the mixture gets to an even consistency. Taste and add cayenne if you want more spice. Turn heat to low and cook for 30 minutes stirring regularly (note: you don’t want the sauce to spit at you, keep the heat low enough so that it doesn’t keep venting and spitting). Taste periodically and when you have a spice level you like, fish out the habenero pieces to keep from making the sauce too spicy. Serve warm (but it doesn’t need to be hot).
*I found in the Latin section of my local super market, if you can’t find it, just use another brand
¾ cup canned black eyed peas, rinsed and drained
1 cup millet cooked to package directions
1 jalapeno minced
¾ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
2 eggs lightly beaten
2 Tablespoons cornstarch.
1-2 Tablespoons peanut oil
In a large bowl, roughly mash black eyed peas, then add millet and all spices and mix thoroughly. Add 1-2 eggs and cornstarch as needed to get the mixture to a thick and sticky consistency. Form 4 cakes from about half of the mixture and place the cakes on plastic wrap in refrigerator for 20-30 minutes (if you can’t wait, you can cook these right away, it’s just sometimes easier to get them to work if you refrigerate for a while before cooking).
Heat peanut oil in a large non-stick pan until shimmering. Using a spatula, place the millet cakes in the oil and fry over medium heat until golden (about 3 minutes). Turn the cakes over and cook the other side for another 2-3 minutes until both sides are golden and cake is heated through.
© Copyright 2011 Linda Monach