Monday, May 24, 2010

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo may be the most devastated country on the planet right now. In a long list of 'worsts', Congo takes quite a few titles. Its long history of colonialism, political turmoil, and civil war makes Congo the site of the most violent conflict since the second World War. Over five million are said to have died in the fighting since 1998. Human rights groups have consistently named it as the worst place in the world to be a woman. Until Zimbabwe overtook it recently, Congo had the lowest GDP per capita in the world at just under 300 dollars. In short, Congo is pretty close to the bottom of my list of places I need to visit (although I'll still put it above Florida).

With its crippling economic and political realities, Congo has not had the chance to create a distinct cuisine for itself. Like much of Central Africa, the food of Congo is more about necessity than taste. Most of the food tends to be cheaply made and quickly prepared with minimal adornment. We tried to stick to this tradition as best we could and cooked the entire meal (except the dessert; which is in no ways authentic) over the open flame of our cheap gas grill. Nothing involved much cooking time, and all the seasonings were from raw ingredients that involved no cooking of their own. Even with these limitations it's still possible to turn out a great meal from a semi-functional grill. We're happy to say that Congo was nowhere close to being our worst meal.

Grilled Okra Salad

It just wouldn't feel right to not include okra in a fully grilled meal. Luckily okra is also amongst the most popular vegetables in the D.R. Congo. It also happens to be one of my favorite vegetables to grill whole. The skin crisps up beautifully and the slimy inside of the okra doesn't cover the rest of the food in goo. I'm really not sure why chopped okra is so popular. It was only recently I discovered that frozen okra is way cheaper than the fresh stuff, and I've been happily buying it in large bags for the past several months.

1 lb whole okra (frozen is fine and often cheaper)
2 medium white onions peeled and cut in half
2 red peppers seeded and cut in half
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Toss the vegetables with a bit of olive oil and salt and set aside in a bowl.
2. Heat your grill to about 450-500 degrees and grill the vegetables until they are nicely crisped and browned on all sides.
3. Scrape any burnt bits off the peppers and cut them into long slices. Thinly chop the grilled onion. Combine everything in a large bowl dressing with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.

Mustard Chicken

While researching Congolese food, I was happy to find that mustard became quite popular throughout Central and West Africa during the colonial era due to the heavy French and Belgian presence in the region. Here it makes a great marinade for the simplest of grilled chicken dishes.

1 whole chicken cut in half with spine removed.
1 cup whole grain prepared mustard
Salt to taste

1. Marinate the chicken halves in mustard for at least two hours or overnight. Be sure to rub it in well with your hands!
2. Sear the halves over high heat on the grill to crisp the skin. Reduce the heat to medium low. Cover and cook for 30 minutes flipping halfway through.
3. When chicken is fully cooked remove and cut them into serving portions. Salt to taste. Our guests also loved the ginger, coconut sauce on them.

Grilled Fufu (corn mush)

As we have demonstrated in other posts, corn mush is popular in pretty much every corner of the globe. And it is especially popular in Central Africa. We decided to go with the whole grilling theme of the meal and cooked these over the open flame as well. They tasted fine, but began to break apart when left over the flame for too long. Perhaps if we use some eggs in the mixture in the future this might hold together better during the actual grilling.

1 cup corn meal
2.5 cups water
1 tsp salt

1. Boil the corn meal, water and salt over a medium low flame for about twenty minutes; adding more water if it begins to stick.
2. Allow the mixture to cool for at least two hours. Form the corn mush into golf ball sized balls, press them somewhat flat to the thickness of about 1 cm, and lay them aside on a greased tray.
3. Grill over a medium flame about five minutes per side. Serve.

Grilled Trout

In many areas of Congo, rivers are still the only means of transporting goods long distances. It should then come as no surprise that river fish are quite popular with the Congolese. We found trout was the cheapest freshwater fish we could find whole at the time we made this dinner. But really, this method of cooking should work with just about any freshwater fish. Just be sure to adjust your cooking times for larger or smaller fish.

Trout: gutted and cleaned (we grilled one for every two people)
Lemon sliced
Salt and pepper

1. Place slices of lemon into the stomach cavities of the fish.
2. Using a fish basket, bake the fish over a high flame for about five minutes per side and remove them.
3. Cut into serving portions and serve with generous portions of parsley, coconut, ginger sauce.

Parsley, coconut, and ginger sauce

I pulled this sauce out of thin air and made it up out of items in my pantry. It's certainly not an authentic recipe, but the spiciness and creaminess of the sauce go well with this style of cooking. No cooking is involved, and nothing here would be too hard find in a Central African market.

1 handful of parsley or cilantro or both
1 can coconut milk
2 inches fresh ginger roughly chopped
1 clove garlic
1 serrano chili or more to taste
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp salt

Just grind everything together in a blender or processor and set aside until ready to use.

Congo Bars

Despite the name, these cookie bars have absolutely nothing to do with Congo. I'm pretty sure there's some old-timey racism behind the name since they originated in the American South at least a century ago. By the time we realized this, they were halfway made. So we'll include them anyways. We Northerners have always known these as blondies. I'm sorry, Congo. On the plus side they were delicious.

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick butter cut into squares and brought to room temp
2 and 1/4 cups brown sugar
2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips
3 eggs
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Mix the butter, eggs, and brown sugar together in a large bowl.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir into a thick batter.
3. Grease a large cake pan and pour in the batter smoothing it out with a spatula.
4. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until a toothpick may be inserted into the center and be removed cleanly.
5. Allow to cool for one hour and serve.


This meal fell on one of the warmest days of the year. So we were happy to celebrate a return of decent weather and a chance to grill outside without looking like crazy people. This was also one of the easier dinners we've thrown together. In short it was a perfect start to a long session of summer cooking. You can expect to see the grill in more of our shots for the next several months. And in other news, we signed the lease for a new apartment starting July 1! Soon we'll actually have a dining room in which we can feed our many guests without making them sit on one another! Up next is Singapore, until then: santé!


  1. i was born in Aba to me it isnt big town and i think ure not right to include it in the list of towns in drc.what criteria did u use to say this?

  2. Your website is amazing!