I may have said this before, but it bears repeating, there are a lot of countries in Africa! Republic of the Gambia is our next stop on our culinary adventure around the world. The Gambia (as it’s commonly known – and no, I have no idea why “the” is included) is located the central west coast of Africa. It’s a small country surrounded by Senegal on three sides with a small (50 mile) coastline on the Atlantic on the fourth side. One of the most interesting things about The Gambia is the geography – that’s right, geography is interesting, I was as surprised by this as you
The country’s borders run along the Gambia River (know to the natives simply as “The River”). Literally the borders hug the river with about 10 miles on either side. The widest point of the country is only 30 miles! From what I can tell this oddity of geography basically was created by the colonial powers that really wanted to control the river. Gambia River extends pretty far into the continent and is deep and navigable – that makes/made it strategically pretty important, especially during the height of the slave trade. The river was used to transport millions of slaves from within the continent to the coast for shipment to America and Europe. The mini-series Roots was set in The Gambia, (that’s where Kunta Kinte was from) but was filmed entirely in the US.
The Gambia achieved independence from Britain in 1965. Today the Gambian economy is dominated by agriculture with agriculture accounting for one third of GDP. The largest crop is peanuts and peanut processing is also an important industry for The Gambia. Which is a pretty good segue to the food of The Gambia. Given the geography of the country, there is a lot of movement of people through The Gambia from all around Central Africa (especially Senegal). Because of that, the food is pretty typical of the region. Obviously peanuts are an important staple, so I wanted to lean into peanuts pretty hard for this recipe.
Gambians eat a rice dish that is pretty simple and just involves putting chopped peanuts in with the raw rice and cooking it. I didn’t think that peanuts would make much difference in plain rice but, ever willing to experiment, I gave it a try. The result was more interesting than I thought it would be. There is the obvious addition of a firmer texture to the rice, but also the nuttiness blends really well and gives plain rice a richness that it doesn’t otherwise enjoy. It is better than plain rice and I think it would go with a lot of dishes, African, Asian and maybe even Latin. I think if you added a little bit of red pepper flake, it would be even better – but I like my spice! For The Gambia, I kept it traditional and stuck with peanuts and rice.
For the burger I went with chicken. Gambians eat all different kinds of meat and fish from the river. I chose chicken because this is not a prosperous country, so beef or other meats seemed wrong, and frankly I wasn’t in the mood for a fish burger (I’m still recovering from live worms in the cod from Whole Foods – this is apparently common and harmless, but YUCK). Because agriculture and livestock is relatively plentiful, I splurged on the sauce and added chicken to enhance the richness and flavor of the dish – this also made it great as a leftover, hearty enough to slather on naan and call it lunch (my husband loves the lunches he gets from this project).
This burger is simple to make but rich and complex tasting. You can adjust the heat to your liking, but Africans tend to like their food spicy. What I love most about this food is that it’s rich enough to seem perfect on a cold rainy day, but it isn’t heavy and the flavors and the spice make sense on a warm summer day too. Our family is forever changed by the addition of spicy tomato and peanut sauces. The only detractor is my dad, he is still not a fan of food from this region, I’ll keep trying!
The Gambia Burger
1 pound ground chicken
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
1 Tablespoon peanut oil
Peanut Rice (recipe below)
Baby spinach leaves
Tomato Peanut Sauce (recipe below)
In a large glass bowl combine chicken salt and pepper and mix with your hands until the spices are evenly distributed. Form four patties from the mixture. In a large non-stick skillet, heat the peanut oil and fry the patties until cooked through.
To serve spoon a generous helping of the Peanut Rice on each plate, layer on sliced tomato then the cooked burgers and spinach leaves. Top with a big scoop of Tomato Peanut Sauce and enjoy while it’s hot.
By the way, here is what my burger looked like the night we first tried it. Just to keep it real, I thought you’d like to see the “real” thing. My glamour shots are not retouched, just carefully arranged, but this is how we really eat. I had forgotten to put the tomato on, so I had to put it on top (no one’s perfect)
1 cup unsalted peanuts
2 cups long grain rice
4 cups of water
Pulse the peanuts in a food processor just until roughly chopped. Combine both with water and salt (I usually use about a ¾ teaspoon of salt, but it’s up to you) in a medium saucepan. Bring water to a boil then reduce to low and cook covered for about 15 minutes until rice is tender. You can also do this in a rice cooker (an amazing appliance that has simplified my life dramatically). Just use a 2:1 rice to peanut ratio and you’ll be fine.
Tomato Peanut Sauce
1 cup chopped onions
2 bone-in chicken thighs (with skin)
2 large garlic cloves chopped
2 habanero peppers halved and seeded (substitute jalapenos if you don’t like food too hot)
2 cups chicken stock
½ cup creamy natural peanut butter (you can use crunchy instead, your choice)
6 ounce can of tomato paste
In a large sauce pan, heat peanut oil over high heat until smoking. Generously salt and pepper the chicken thighs then place them in the hot oil skin side down. Turn heat to medium high and brown the chicken for about 3 minutes until skin is crispy and golden. Turn chicken and sear on the other side for about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add onions and stir. Cook for 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add habaneros and chicken stock, bring to a simmer, cover and simmer for 1 hour over low heat. After it has simmered for an hour I remove the habaneros in order to keep the dish from being too spicy for my taste – you can remove them earlier or later, or not at all according to your taste. If you’re going to leave them in, you should chop them smaller; you don’t want anyone to get half a habanero on their burger!
Add the peanut butter and tomato paste and stir until well combined. Uncover the dish and cook over low for about 45 minutes until you get a nice thick sauce. Adjust salt and seasoning to taste.
When the sauce is done, shred the chicken and remove the bones and any large pieces of skin. Serve hot. This can be made ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to use then just heat it up in the microwave or stovetop.
©Copyright 2012 Linda Monach