The Gabonese Republic (Gabon) is located on the west coast of central Africa. It’s bordered by Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon and the Republic of Congo. It’s a country about the size of Colorado with only around 1.6 million inhabitants, making one of the least densely inhabited countries in Africa. It’s largely urban with 86% of the population living in cities and 600k living in the capital city of Libreville.
It’s interesting to be back to Africa at a time when Africa is being mentioned in the news more than I can ever remember. I am so glad that someone has managed to break through western media and get them to actually pay attention and really report on something going on in Africa. I think that the problems of Africa are so overwhelming, that we sometimes find it easier to just not think about them, maybe this approach of one issue, one bad guy at a time will start the world moving toward actually engaging in the plight of Africans? Let’s hope. All of that has nothing really to do with Gabon though, so back on track.
Gabon has one of the highest GDPs per capita in this region because they have oil. Everything I read mentioned the poor income distribution and how despite this high GDP so many Gabonese live in poverty. Interestingly the fact that 20% of the population of Gabon has 90% of the income is not that different from the US where the top 20% have over 80% of the income. Ten percent is a decent size difference, but doesn’t it seem like it should be more different for us to be so judgmental? The other difference is at the bottom end, in Gabon about 30% of the population lives in poverty, here it is only 15% – I still kind of question the US feeling of superiority given the closeness of those numbers, but I’m that kind of gal anyway.
So, it isn’t all bad news. According to most of the things I read, the current government is trying to improve conditions for all Gabonese, and is making some progress. They are also working to encourage foreign investment and travel. The government has declared a lot of land as national parks and is working to build an eco-tourist business. And, when you check the US State Department web site, there are no major safety/security issues in Gabon – the only warning they have is to watch for pick pockets and be careful at ATMs (pretty much the same advice they give if you’re travelling to New York). So perhaps the world can make a difference in this country by going there, seeing the amazing country side and enjoying the big city and spending some much needed cash while we’re there (it’s a mainly cash economy, so leave your credit cards at home).
And now you ask, what about the food? The food of Gabon is similar to other countries in the region. In the city you can get many different world cuisines, but the food of the average Gabonese is simple and, of course, spicy. Because Gabon was under French control until 1960, you do see some French influence in the cuisine, but due to limited resources, the traditional food is still pretty basic.
Black-eyed peas are a popular staple providing a relatively inexpensive source of protein that is really versatile and easy to cook. I used the black-eyed peas to create the starch for the burger and just spiced it up a bit with onion and garlic. As a side note, I haven’t found a country yet where they don’t eat onions and garlic – thank goodness! For the meat I stuck with chicken as another abundant and inexpensive protein source that is a staple in this region. Because of the French influence, the one thing I found that was a little different in Gabonese food was the use of mustard. I love mustard with chicken so I added it into the meat and then sautéed some mustard greens for a topping. I hadn’t tried mustard greens before, but I will again, they have a great flavor, spicy and peppery, delicious.
Because the flavors of this burger are pretty clean and simple, it gave the overall effect of being a vegetarian dish, but not in a bad way. It was light and fresh tasting with just the right amount of spicy and starchy balanced with the savory chicken. It’s easy to make and a healthy alternative to a more western style burger. It pairs great with a crisp white wine like a sauvignon blanc. Enjoy!
1 pound ground chicken breast
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon peanut oil
Black-eyed Pea Mash (recipe below)
Spicy Mustard Greens (recipe below)
Combine the chicken, Dijon mustard and salt. Form the chicken into four patties. In a large non-stick skillet, heat peanut oil over medium high heat. Cook the chicken patties until completely cooked through.
To serve, spoon the Black-eyed Pea mash on each plate, then add a slice or two of tomato, the burgers, then top with a spoon full of the sautéed greens. Serve while hot.
Black-eyed Pea Mash
8 ounces of dried black-eyed peas
3 cloves of garlic minced
½ cup diced onion
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 eggs lightly beaten
2 teaspoons peanut oil
Place dried peas in a medium to large sauce pan and cover with cold water to about two inches above the peas. Heat the water to boiling over high heat. Once the water boils, turn off the heat and let the peas sit in the hot water for 2 hours. Cool the beans before proceeding (you can do this step a day or two ahead and just put the peas in a covered container in the refrigerator until ready to use). Put the peas in a food processor along with the onion, garlic and salt. Pulse gently until you get a chunky mixture. Put this mixture in a bowl and add the eggs. In a medium non-stick skillet, heat the peanut oil then add the pea mixture and cook until lightly browned stirring occasionally. The end mixture will resemble a hash and should be loose rather than dense like a patty.
Spicy Mustard Greens
2 cups of mustard greens roughly chopped
1 large jalapeno diced
1 Tablespoon peanut oil
Kosher salt to taste
In a medium sauté pan heat the peanut oil until shimmering. Add the greens and jalapeno and cook for 1 minute stirring continuously. Cover and cook over medium low heat until wilted (just a couple of minutes). Salt to taste.
©Copyright 2012, Linda Monach