Veggie Burger with Cassava Mash and Spicy Peanut Sauce
We are making progress on our trek across Africa, now moving toward the center, hence Central African Republic is our next stop. Not the most original name, but who are we to judge, at least it isn’t misleading. Central African Republic is a landlocked country in, appropriately, central Africa.
It is bordered by Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon and Republic of the Congo. Living conditions in CAR are not good. The country has been plagued by violence, wars, coups and infectious disease. The US Sate Department has a travel warning that basically says; don’t go here if you can avoid it, warning of armed militia, bandits and poachers. In fact they feel so strongly that this isn’t a safe place to be that the US Embassy has only limited staff and services. For Central Africans life is extremely hard. According to the CIA World Factbook, the median age of Central Africans is 19! Compare this with the world median age of 28.4, US 36.9, UK 40, and Brazil 29.3 – yikes! Malaria is widespread, HIV rates are high, and if those don’t get you there’s always the armed militias. CAR has the 10th highest death rate in the world.
With all that said, there are still almost 5 million people from 80 different ethnic groups living in Central African Republic. And, because they have a tropical climate and a couple of big rivers to provide water, the local economies are food based. They grow corn, cassava, peanuts, millet, yams, bananas and coffee. The food is richly flavored with influences from the many tribal and ethnic traditions represented in the population. Meat is not widely consumed because livestock is affected by the tsetse flies that bring malaria to the countryside. So for this country I decided to do another veggie burger.
I finally conquered my fear of cassava (yuca) and learned how to cook it safely – and I’m extremely glad I did (although as a side note, in my research I found some guy who cooks shirtless on youtube who demoed cooking cassava – it was fascinating, why would someone do this?). Cassava makes a great side dish just mashed, with no extra fats or extreme seasoning. It tastes like a really starchy potato with just a hint of sweetness and that sweetness balances out the spiciness of our sauce perfectly. Note, you don’t want to undercook this or leave any of the skin on, cassava can be somewhat poisonous if not cleaned and cooked correctly – fortunately, it isn’t difficult to do. 🙂
Because I have enjoyed millet so much in other recipes, I used it here for the base of the veggie burger. As for the sauce, it is really a combination of flavors that are typical in CAR. Using fresh tomatoes gives it a very different and sweeter flavor than we had in Benin, but you will definitely detect some regional similarity between these two. This was easily the ugliest burger I’ve made – the cassava and the millet cake are pretty pale, then you end up with a pinkish sauce on top that does nothing to the look of the dish. I even considered adding lettuce or something else green, but the flavors were so good, I didn’t want to mess with it. The sauce is spicy and creamy, the millet cake is nutty and crunchy then the cassava gives the whole thing a creamy lightly sweet base – yummy! We served it with a Zin, cause I like Zin, but it would probably go better with a nice dark beer. Enjoy!
Central African Burger
½ cup dried millet
1 teaspoon plus 2 Tablespoons peanut oil
1 cup corn (fresh from cob is best)
2 eggs lightly beaten
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup tapioca flour
Dash ground pepper
Cassava Mash (recipe below)
Spicy Peanut Sauce (recipe below)
Cook millet to package instruction, put into a large bowl. In a medium sauté pan, heat 1 teaspoon peanut oil over medium heat. Add corn and roast until just beginning to brown. Remove from heat and add corn to millet. Add eggs, salt, tapioca flour and pepper and mix thoroughly. Form mixture into 4 patties. In a large non-stick skillet, heat the remaining peanut oil until shimmering. Add the patties and cook until golden then carefully turn and cook until both sides are golden and done (2-3 minutes per side).
Place a generous portion of the Cassava Mash on each plate. Add cooked millet patties to each plate then top with a generous helping of the Spicy Peanut Sauce. Serve hot.
1 pound cassava root (also known as yuca root)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. With a very sharp knife, peel cassava root cleaning off all of the brown outer skin (the root is really dense and hard, so make sure your knife is sharp and you are careful). Cut cleaned cassava into strips about ½ inch thick. Rinse the cassava in cold water. Add the cassava strips into the boiling water and cook until fork tender (about 30-45 minutes). Warning, cassava soaks up water faster than potatoes do, keep an eye on your water levels lest you burn a pan like I did the first time I attempted this (note, burned cassava smells like burned paper – interesting). Drain the cassava and place the cooked root in a bowl. Mash with a potato masher. If you need extra moisture (you shouldn’t as the root absorbs a ton of water), you can use the cooking water. If you can’t find cassava root, you can use potato – I would use the all purpose potatoes versus Yukon gold or any of the fancy types because the texture and flavor of the all purpose potato is closer to the cassava texture and flavor.
In a medium sauté pan, heat peanut oil over medium heat. Add onions and jalapenos and cook until onions are just turning translucent (2-3 minutes). Add tomatoes and salt and cook for another minute. Add the peanut butter and the water and cook over medium low heat for 5 minutes. Taste and add red pepper if it needs more spice, adjust salt also. Turn heat to low and simmer covered for 5 minutes. Add spinach and cover and cook for 5 minutes or until spinach is wilted. Stir and serve hot.
©Copyright 2011 Linda Monach