Congolese burger recipe

Spicy Veggie Burger with Millet Pancake and Sautéed Greens

Republic of the Congo caused me problems, lots of problems.  First – when researching Republic of Congo, you quickly realize that many sights on the Internet don’t differentiate between Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of the Congo.  There ought to be a law about naming countries – no duplicating key words, it just confuses the masses.  (By the way, a little note, I’m using the alphabetization of the United Nations, they ignore things like “Republic of”, which is why Congo comes next – however in the case of Democratic Republic of the Congo, they kept the “Democratic” for purposes of alphabetization – it all gets confusing, but there is some logic here…I think).  So, Republic of Congo (here after referred to as Congo) is a country in Central Africa along the west coast.  It’s bordered by Gabon, Cameroon, Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

So, when you search Congo, you get entries for both Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Republic of Congo.  Even if you can sort out that, many entries don’t specify which country they’re talking about…especially recipe sites, so many just aren’t clear.  So this one took some time to work out, put me behind schedule.

In terms of the political situation, let’s just say this part of the world is sad.  Poverty, human trafficking, infectious disease and refugees from places that are even worse, the problems just get worse and worse.  The more you read about central Africa, the more you wonder why the mainstream media isn’t talking about this.  Instead of reports about the latest Republican candidate, how about we start making Americans aware of massive poverty, disease, violence and people living on the edge?  I don’t have any solutions, but I’m pretty sure that no solutions will be worked out unless people start talking about it.

Everywhere we “travel” though, we’ve found good food and Congo is no exception.  Typical of the region, the Congolese like their food spicy, very spicy – works for me!  There isn’t a lot of meat consumed in the country, so I decided to stick with a veggie burger.  Black-eyed peas are a pretty common protein, inexpensive and delicious, so that’s where I focused my efforts.  I tried a bean cake with dried beans and with canned so that I could really figure out the difference in texture and flavor.  My analysis is that the dried beans aren’t worth the time and effort.  As long as you don’t over mash the canned beans, they maintain enough texture to make the burger work.  Used dried beans if you want (about 8 ounces of dried beans works), but if you don’t have the time, you can feel good about the canned beans.

Sorrel leaves are a common ingredient in Congolese cooking, but I couldn’t find sorrel leaves in any of my local shops – thank goodness for the Internet.  Research online indicates that chard leaves are very similar to sorrel leaves – and chard is easy to find.  Simple preparation as appropriate to the country and life is good.

So then I needed a starch to accompany the bean patty.  This is where it all went wrong.  I really didn’t want to do another mash or polenta type of starch – even though that’s really the most appropriate to the region.  Instead, I decided that I’d like to use millet in a new way.  So, I bought some millet flour and started experimenting, and failing.  I failed to take into account that millet is gluten free, so, much like corn meal, it’s pretty dry and inelastic and difficult to get anything really bread-like out of it.  My first attempt at making a flatbread resulted in something akin to cardboard, just not as tasty.  I then abandoned the idea of a flatbread and decided to add a lot of moisture and go for a pancake instead – good choice.  The moistness of the pancake helps keep the overall dish from being too dry and the sweetness added by the honey gives a nice counterpoint to the spicy bean cake.  Success!  The end result was a surprisingly delicious veggie burger that lands decidedly on the spicy side of yummy.  I found that a little mayonnaise with lemon juice was a nice add on to balance out the spiciness even better – it’s not in the recipe because it’s strictly optional and I don’t have specific measurements – I tend to like mine tart, but it’s really a to-taste type of condiment.  Just use store bought mayo and whisk in some lemon juice until it tastes good to you.

Congo Burger
1 can black eyed peas (15.5 oz), drained and rinsed
1 large jalapeno diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 Tablespoons natural peanut butter
1 egg (lightly beaten)
¼ cup tapioca flour
1 Tablespoon peanut oil
4 Millet Pancakes (recipe below)
1 tomato sliced
Sautéed Greens (recipe below)

Lightly mash the peas in a large bowl with a hand masher.

Add the other ingredients and mix until evenly blended.  Divide into four portions.  Place a piece of wax paper on a platter, flatten the four portions onto the wax paper and form into patty shapes.  Lightly cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least a half hour to set the shape and flavors.  In a large non-stick skillet, heat the peanut oil until shimmering.  Invert the wax paper and gently drop the bean patties into the oil (but do it fast as the oil will spit).  Cook the patties until heated all the way though and lightly browned on each side.  Place each cooked patty on a pancake and top with sliced tomato and Sautéed Greens.

Millet Pancakes
¾ cup millet flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 Tablespoons 2% Greek yogurt
¼ cup water
1 Tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon baking soda

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl until just combined (no lumps).  Let the mixture sit for 5-10 minutes.  Heat a large nonstick skillet over med-low heat.  Brush lightly with peanut oil (use a basting brush so that you don’t get a lot of oil, just enough to make sure your pancakes don’t stick).  Scoop batter onto hot pan to form disks the size of a burger.  Grill lightly until pancakes have cooked enough to turn easily (you’ll get a nice brown color before these are ready to turn – note, you won’t get the bubbles that you get with regular pancakes, so don’t wait for them or you’ll burn everything!).  Turn and cook until pancakes are cooked through.

Sautéed Greens
2 cups Swiss chard greens chopped
1 Tablespoon peanut oil

Heat oil in a non-stick pan.  Add greens and sauté for 1-2 minutes until just wilted.  Remove from heat and serve.


©Copyright 2011 Linda Monach


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10 Responses to Congolese burger recipe

  1. I am learning a lot about the world from you! I love to try out different veggie burger recipes at home – this one looks great!

    • linda says:

      Thanks Ranjani – I’m enjoying learning about the world as I go along – and hoping that most of what I’m learning is real (the Internet is fraught with misinformation!). The veggie burgers are challenging – I’m not sure that I’ve made them all different enough from each other, but this one stood out as a memorable spicy addition to the veggie burger list! Keep me posted if you get a chance to try the recipe, I always love to hear cooking results.

  2. Carl H says:

    The cuisines of Congo-Brazzaville (Republic) and Congo-Kinshasa (Democratic Republic) are quite similar, so I can understand that there’s no real differentiation in cookbooks. At least the western part of DRC has basically the same cuisine as it’s neighbour, and connections between the congos are quite close since the capitals Brazzaville/Kinshasa is only separated by the congo river.

    “Poulet Moambe” is considered the national dish of both countries. It’s basically a stew with chicken pieces (sometimes fish, but that wouldn’t be called “poulet”) fried in palm nut oil, then cooked in puréed palm nut pulp, hot “pili-pili” chilies and maybe other ingredients.

    Other parts of the DRC has considerable different cuisine as this is a huge country (the most populous with French as a main language)- as big as western Europe, being a gateway between central and southern, east and western africa. Eastern DRC is probably one of the worst areas in the world to be in. Being struck in the 90’s to early 00’s by some of the worst wars of the modern age, definitely comparable with world war 2, and still it’s not a safe and sound place.

    • linda says:

      Thanks Carl – you are a great resource for this project! I love hearing your input, always learning more from you. DRC is bound to be another difficult country to tackle – I always find it hard to focus on the food when so many people in the country are suffering and can’t really enjoy their own cuisine. On the other hand, I think it’s also important for the rest of the world to remember that these are people who have a rich cultural heritage and that there is complexity in the traditions and food of the country (when people can afford it).

      • Carl H says:

        Agreed and thank you!

        Even if people are suffering and starving I think it’s always a good cause to make people aware of their existence, and acknowledging any cultural expression of theirs is a always a start.

        Actually I think you can eat rather well in the DRC. It’s a huge country with 70 million people so in some regions you’ll definitely have food. If not there you can taste good congolese food at restaurants in Brussels or Paris or other places where there’s an exile community.

        A tip on DRC cooking is that they use pistachios along in their cooking – sometimes ground to paste like peanuts. Fat nuts seems very popular in Africa overall.

        Many African countries in the region around the Congos now have a huge oil production which get big incomes. A strange testament to this is that Luanda, Angola now is the most expensive city in the world (for expats). So now people from these countries are buying more luxurious things, which also means food. See this restaurant review from the Republic of Congo for example:

        • linda says:

          There are definitely pockets of prosperity all over Africa, the larger problem is the incredible inequalities in the distribution of income. Luanda is a great example. I also worry that in so many countries when prosperity does arrive, it also arrives with European culture and specifically, food. Why is it that the great restaurants of Republic of Congo are serving the same food I can get in great restaurants in New York? We all lament about the ubiquity of McDonald’s but we’re ok with fancy food all being the same around the world? what’s the difference? I know, we now get ethnic restaurants serving Congolese food in Paris and that’s good, I just wish we could all embrace our own food traditions in our own best restaurants.

          I’m looking forward to DRC now, I love pistachios! I’m a huge fan of all of the fat nuts. My daughter won’t eat meat or eggs, so nuts are her primary source of protein, we eat a lot of nuts in our house.

  3. Cindy Fricke says:

    Your repices are great, love the CR burger as that is where I live. Try using the millet to make something similar to the corn meal patties we make here. For binding we use a cheese. Corn meal, cheese, jalapenos, warm water mix well, make flat cakes and fry in oil. They get a little crispy on the outside and cake like with melted cheese on the inside. You can add any ingredient really, I just like mine with jalapenos. I can send you a photo if you like.

    • linda says:

      thanks for writing in Cindy – I couldn’t find any references to cheese, so good to know that you do use cheese. I’m a fan of jalapenos also, so good choice! 🙂

      • Cindy Fricke says:

        You are most welcome, I am actually trying to open a hamburger joint here and, if I may, would like to use your recipe for a CR version of burger. Where I live, there are NO good burgers, I intend to fix that…

        • linda says:

          I’ve just realized that you’re in Costa Rica, not the Congo! Ooops! I got confused because your comment was on the Congo burger – now I understand. I couldn’t find references to Congo cheese, of course there are plenty of references to Costa Rican cheese 🙂

          As for using my recipe on your menu, I’d be honored – it would be very cool to have so many people enjoying my recipes. I would love a picture when you open. Best of luck with your restaurant.

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