As I was researching Guinea, I, like I usually do, drove my husband crazy by quoting various statistics and factoids to see what would be the most interesting. Luckily my husband is interested in just about everything. But we both kind of felt like these stats are starting to all sound the same. So let me see if I can change things up a bit. First we do need to orient ourselves on the geography (I can’t help but need to include a map).
The Republic of Guinea, often called Guinea-Conakry to distinguish it from Guinea Bissau (Conakry is the capital city of Guinea), is located in Western Africa bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Mali, Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
And, yes, Guineans are poor, extremely poor. Forty seven percent of the people (and there are 10million people) live below the poverty line – which in Guinea means that they live on about $1 a day. Rather than go into a long list of depressing statistics, let’s talk about the positives and the opportunities for the future. Guineans held the first “free and fair” (at least according to CIA World Factbook) in 2010. The current government is working on paying off debts of the past and the international community is beginning to engage again in the country.
A big part of why the international community is interested is because Guinea is actually rich in natural resources. They have the largest reserves of bauxite in the world. Bauxite is the main source of aluminum. Guineans also have iron ore, gold and diamonds – it’s a good start. So, let’s raise our glasses in the hopes that they can figure out how to take advantage of these resources for the benefit of all Guineans.
The food of Guinea is pretty typical of the region. The starches are the usual cassava, millet, rice, plantains and yams. They often eat stews/sauces and their food tends to the spicy side. They do raise cattle, so there’s some beef around for those who can afford it. Because there is cattle, there’s also some dairy, given the spotty electricity and therefore refrigeration, buttermilk is the preferred form.
Buttermilk is terrific in cooking; it adds wonderful richness to savory dishes. I used it both to cook the millet and mixed in the meat to give it a kick of flavor. I returned to okra as the vegetable base for the sauce – I know that makes about half of you run in horror, but you really should give it a try, okra is tasty and can really work in a dish like this. You can vary the spiciness by changing the peppers – I used jalapenos because I was in the mood for a medium level of heat. Scotch bonnet or habeneros would be more authentic, but I just wanted something lighter.
The taste of this burger is fresh and somehow salsa like. The tomato perfectly compliments the spicy okra and both combined with the spinach make give a lightness to the dish that you don’t expect from beef burgers. The buttermilk flavor ties the whole dish together and integrates well with the other ingredients adding just a touch of sharpness that enhances the freshness of the vegetables and softens the richness of the meat. I’ve got to say, we were again surprised to find ourselves really liking this burger. I keep underestimating the appeal of African flavors and now I’m becoming a real fan. I hope you try a couple of recipes and learn to enjoy this cuisine too.
1 pound ground beef
4 Tablespoons buttermilk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon red palm oil
Seasoned Millet (recipe below)
1 tomato sliced
Spicy Okra (recipe below)
Combine beef, buttermilk and salt and form mixture into four patties. Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet and fry the patties to desired temperature. To serve start with a big scoop of millet on each plate, then put some spinach leaves, slices of tomato and cooked burgers. Top with a generous scoop of Spicy Okra Sauce.
1 Tablespoon red palm oil
1 Cup millet
2 Cups buttermilk
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan. Add the millet and toast over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. In a large saucepan, heat the buttermilk until just beginning to boil (the buttermilk will separate – it doesn’t look pretty, but don’t worry, it tastes great). Add the toasted millet and simmer covered over low heat until liquid is completely absorbed (about 25 minutes). Add salt to taste.
1 teaspoon red palm oil
1 small onion diced – about ½ cup
2 Tablespoons jalapeno diced
1 Cup frozen okra slices (do not thaw first)
Heat oil in a medium sauté pan. Add onions and jalapeno and cook over medium high until onions are soft. Add the okra and cook until everything is heated through. Pulse lightly in a food processor until evenly chunky. Serve at room temperature.
©Copyright 2012 Linda Monach