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.
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.
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.
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.
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