In keeping with my goal of being more positive in these overviews, I’m trying to find the positives in Guinea-Bissau. They are believed to have oil reserves off shore that could be helpful some day – unfortunately that’s pretty much where the good news ends. Since independence from Portugal in 1974 there have been a series of corrupt governments, coups and general chaos in the political structure. In April 1012 they experienced the most recent military coup and there is currently no official leader – that makes it hard to run the country.
The people are poor and close to half of them speak only a local tribal language. Difficulties in communicating, lack of public facilities and infrastructure and chaos in government make for a hard life for the people of Guinea-Bissau. 82% of the labor force is employed in agriculture. But agriculture isn’t the driver of the economy. Narcotics trafficking is where the real money is. Due to the lack of coordinated government oversight, Guinea-Bissau has become a major player in moving cocaine from South America to Europe.
So let’s all just hope that they can get it together and elect a government that can stay in power long enough and be honest and strong enough to start fixing what is wrong in the country. In the meantime, let’s talk about the food. Food is scarce and refrigeration non-existent. Thanks to the coastline and the many rivers, fish is a popular and inexpensive protein – so we’re back to fish burgers! I used tilapia again because it is inexpensive, easy to cook and common in African cooking.
The other flavors are regionally typical – red palm oil is extremely important as a flavor/ingredient; it is one of the quintessential flavors of African cuisine. They’ve stopped carrying it at my local Whole Foods, but I was able to find it easily online – my only watch out for you is don’t buy it packaged in a bottle (I made this mistake), because at room temperature, red palm oil is a soft solid – impossible to “pour” out of a bottle – go for a jar, make your life easier. I was also able to find Grains of Paradise which is a common ingredient in African cooking. I’ve been looking for these for ages, but haven’t found it before. Now that I have, I’m not sure what the big deal is – it tastes basically like black pepper, just with a little more of a nutty overtone and a little less spicy. If you can’t find it, just use black pepper – it will be fine.
Again I made a flavored rice – I’m beginning to think that white rice is just too boring, the flavored rices are so much better. Add some cashews (yum) and some spicy peppers and life is good. As usual the fish cakes were a pain in the neck in terms of keeping them together – they did have a tendency to fall apart when I flipped them, but even the one that totally fell into pieces still tasted good – so don’t sweat the small stuff. It helps to form the cakes then refrigerate them (on wax paper) for an hour or so.
The final dish felt ironically like something you’d have for lunch in the Hamptons – well, ok, I’ve never been to the Hamptons, but it’s what I imagine lunch might be like there; fresh, beachy, light. The spice level was perfect, not too spicy just a little bite, the acid of the tomatoes was balanced perfectly by the rich creaminess of the nuts and the red palm oil just gave the right undertone of complexity that is both a little surprising and delicious. We served this with a wonderfully bright Sauvignon Blanc and a red pepper relish on the side. Perfect summer fare. Don’t be afraid of the number of ingredients, the recipes are actually pretty easy to make, and you can cook the fish ahead of time to make life simple.
4 fillets of Tilapia (approx 1 pound)
1 teaspoon ground grains of paradise (or ½ teaspoon ground black pepper)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1½ Tablespoon red palm oil
1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts ground in a food processor
1 small onion grated (using the fine grate side of the grater)
2 red Fresno chilies seeded and diced (you can use jalapenos)
2 Tablespoons tapioca flour
½ cup peanut oil
Seasoned Cashew Rice (recipe below)
In a large bowl, combine first four ingredients and let it sit for 30 minutes. In a large non-stick skillet, heat the palm oil over medium high until shimmering. Add the fish to the pan and cook about 3 minutes on each side until just cooked through. Let the fish cool then flake the cooked fish and add the peanuts, onion, chilies and flour. Mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed then form four patties. Refrigerate the patties for about an hour until they are firm.
Heat the peanut oil in a large non-stick skillet and fry the patties until they are browned on each side and heated through.
Serve on top of the Seasoned Cashew Rice.
Seasoned Cashew Rice
1 Tablespoon red palm oil
1 small onion diced
1 jalapeno pepper seeded and diced
1 cup long grained white rice, uncooked
¼ cup of cashews chopped
2 tomatoes diced
1 Tablespoon dried bird eye chilies
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground grains of paradise
2 cups water
In a large saucepan, heat the red palm oil over medium high; add onions and jalapenos and sauté for 3 minutes stirring constantly. Add the rice and stir to coat the rice. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer over low heat covered for 15 minutes until cooked through. Stir and serve hot.
©Copyright 2012 Linda Monach