Saturday, February 20, 2010

Equatorial Guinea

I hope I don't shock or offend anyone by saying this, but this was the first country we pulled that left me scratching my head and running for a map. I knew it was somewhere on the west coast of Africa, but I honestly could not have pointed it out on a blank map. Fortunately this meal provided the perfect opportunity for a much needed geography lesson.

It turns out that Equatorial Guinea is located just beneath the top bulge of Africa and consists of several large offshore islands and a mainland territory about the size of Rhode Island. Also it is the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa. Aside from a few areas of Morocco, Guinea was Spain's only African colony. Historically it was a Portuguese trading port that was active in the slave trade and used as a stopover point for European cargo passing to and from Asia. Spain took over control in the 18th century and retained power over the colony until the declining years of the Franco regime in the late 1960's.

The unique colonial past of this tiny country is apparent in the cuisine which is quite similar to other West African nations, but has also incorporated many elements of Spanish cooking. As I researched recipes I found many to be familiar in concept yet new in ingredients and method. The final product is something that anybody who loves Latino and African cuisines must try.

Papaya Gazpacho

Fresh fruits are often a large part of many West African meals. In this recipe I used papaya instead of tomatoes for a different take on the standard Gazpacho recipe. The slight sweetness of the papaya allowed for a lot of strong flavors to be added to the mix. Feel free to use more habanero if you want a much spicier soup. I toned it down for pleasing the crowd at my table.

1.5 lbs papaya flesh (1/2 big one) cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cup cucumber skinned and cubed
1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cumin
1/2 habanero chile seeded
Salt to tasted
1 avocado thinly sliced
Cilantro chopped
Cucumber sliced

1. Combine everything but the garnish in a blender and process to a smooth consistency with a pint of water.
2. Pour the mix into a bowl and add another liter of water or just enough to give the mixture a soupy consistency. Sitr well and refrigerate for at least one hour.
3. Serve garnished with avocado, cucumber and cilantro.

Creamed Spinach

Traditionally this recipe calls for collared greens, but it snowed a lot that week and I couldn't get to a market that sold collareds for a reasonable price. So we had spinach instead. But that's fine because this recipe could work with any number of greens. I'd love to see how it would work with mustard greens in the future.

2 tbsp corn oil
1 lb spinach washed and chopped
1 large red onion thinly sliced
1 tsp dried ginger
1/2 tsp dried turmeric
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup water
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp salt

1. In a large cast iron skillet heat the oil and cook the onions over medium heat and cook until tender about five minutes.
2. Add the cream, turmeric, and ginger and simmer another 3 minutes.
3. Add the spinach salt and water. Raise to a simmer and cover and continue cooking for five more minutes.
4. Reduce liquid to a thick sauce and serve.

Corn and Avocado Pap

I'd use less water with this in the future. The final product was a bit too runny for my liking. Still it was tasty and the avocado and cooked vegetables give it a more substantial taste than regular corn mush. Still I would definitely be more careful with the water in the future.

2 cups fine ground corn meal
2 liters water
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 jalapeno seeds removed
1 red onion minced
2 cups corn kernels
2 ripe tomatoes
2 avocados chopped
2 scallions chopped
Salt to taste

1. Combine corn meal and water in a saucepan and simmer 40 minutes covered stirring every five minutes. Set aside and allow 30 minutes to cool.
2. In a skillet heat the olive oil and saute the all the vegetables except the avocadoes and scallions for five minutes.
3. Stir in the avocadoes and scallions and remove from the heat.
4. Fold the vegetables into the corn mush and serve.

Peanut Bread

This is some very dense bread. I'd recommend cutting it into small portions when serving with the food so you don't overwhelm anybody.

1 cup coconut milk
3 tbsp honey
3 tsp dried yeast
1.5 tsp chili powder
1.5 cups ground peanuts
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2.5 cups white flour
2.5 cups wheat flour
2 tsp salt
1/4 cup melted butter

1. Heat coconut milk and honey in small saucepan until well mixed. Allow to cool and stir in the yeast. Let sit for ten minutes.
2. Now combine everything in a large bowl or electric mixer and stir well until everything is mixed. Kneed for ten minutes adjusting for flour and water ratios until the dough is smooth and elastic. Allow to sit covered in a warm place for 1.5 hours or until the dough has doubled in size.
3. Gently push dough down and place into a greased loaf pan. Cover again and let rise for another 40 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 and bake dough for 40 minutes. Invert the bread from the pan and allow another 30 minutes to cool. Serve alongside everything.

Chicken and White Bean Paella

This could be served as a one pot meal with maybe a salad to accompany it. We jazzed it up a little bit with the white wine, but for the most part this is a delicious and utilitarian way to feed a large crowd of people. Also it's a brilliant fusion of peasant food styles.

1 chicken cut into serving portions
4 tbsp oil
2 cups medium grain rice
4 cloves garlic minced
1 large red onion thinly sliced
2 tsp oregano
2 tbsp paprika
1/2 habanero seeded and chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp pepper
4 roma tomatoes chopped
1 red pepper thinly sliced
2 cups cooked white beans
1 cup white wine
3 cups chicken stock

1. In a large dutch oven or casserole brown the chickent pieces in the oil in batches and set aside.
2. Add the onion and gently cook over medium heat until browned.
3. Add the garlic and rice and gently cook until the rice becomes translucent
4. Add the tomatoes and saute for five minutes.
5. Add the wine, stock, spices, and pepper, and chicken. Raise to a simmer, cover, and cook over low heat for 30 minutes (add more water and stir if the liquid burns off to quickly)
6. Add the beans, stir well, check for water, cover and cook a further 15 minutes.
7. When rice is tender the paella should be ready.

In Conclusion

It's always a pleasure to cook something new, and yet feel somewhat familiar with it while cooking it. That was the feeling I had while preparing this meal. It's definitely a cuisine that deserves more research and attention because of it's unique mix of very distinct cultural influences. Also it was nice to not have too large a crowd for a change. The meal was small, simple, and fairly quick. The next post will be Germany. That took about a week to prepare and was anything but simple and quick. Until then: salud!

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Oh, Norway. Looks like a picture you would see on a puzzle, doesn't it? With it's fjords and mountains, this Scandinavian country seems like an idyllic dreamland. It is quite the progressive country, as well. Not only was Norway second to recognize same-sex civil unions, but it was also the sixth country to give gay couples full marital rights. It is not a member of the EU, in fact, it has rejected EU status twice.

For our purposes, Norway meant one very important thing: fish. The Norwegians typically enjoy all types of fish including salmon, herring, codfish and trout. Luckily, our neighborhood is chock full of different canned, salted, smoked, dried, and fresh fish. We chose to go with salmon and herring for the first course. Below is a picture of our fish paste platter that greeted our guests:

Herring Spread

Our first fish based dish of the evening was this lovely spread that we ended up eating for days after. We paired it with some dill and garlic baby pickles, crackers and some homemade rye bread. While some may have been hesitant to eat our "fish paste", everyone eventually opened their minds and their palates and enjoyed.

1/2 pound canned salmon bones removed if any
1/2 pound smoked herring meat
1/2 pound farmers cheese
1/2 cup chopped dill
1/2 cup chopped red onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 cup cream
1 tbsp paprika
Cold water for thinning

1. Combine everything except the water in a food processor and begin processing.
2. With the motor running, pour in enough water slowly to thin the mixture to a smooth yet thick consistency.
3. Serve in a bowl with crackers, rye, and pickles.

Pickle Rye Bread

This was the first time we have ever attempted to make a rye bread, and not to toot my own horn, but it came out fantastic! You may be wondering about the word "pickle" in the name, well, there is pickle brine mixed in the dough. It adds a subtle sour note to the bread and pairs wonderfully with the fresh dill and caraway seed.

3.5 cups all purpose flour
1.5 cups rye flour
1.5 tbsp dry yeast
3/4 cup hot water
1 cup pickle brine
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1 egg room temperature
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill or 2 tbsp dried
1 tbsp caraway seed
1 beaten egg mixed with 1 tbsp milk

1. Mix 2 cups all purpose flour with yeast, pickle brine, and hot water. Stir well until a batter is formed. (I'd recommend a mixer with a flat beater for the initial mixing, but with a lot of work all this mixing can be done with your hands and a wooden spoon.)
2. Add the butter, sugar, 1 egg, salt, dill, and caraway. Mix either 4 minutes by flat beater or 6 minutes by hand.
3. Add the rye flour to the mixture and mix to incorporate and add the white flour to the mixture gradually 1/2 cup at a time. This makes a crumbly dough so don't be too worried at this point.
4. Kneed the dough by hand or mixer for 10 minutes making sure to add a bit more water if it is to dry or a bit more flour if it is too sticky. The dough should be a fairly smooth and non-sticky ball at the end of this.
5. Roll the dough into a ball and let rest in the mixing bowl near a warm place for 30 minutes.
6. Gently press air from the dough and divide the mixture into two equal portions. Shape these portions into balls. Cover and let rest for a further hour in a warm place.
7. Preheat the oven to 375. Score the top of the dough with a sharp knife to give it an x shape on top. Brush the dough with the bread and milk mixture. Sprinkle extra caraway seeds onto the dough.
8. Cook for 35-40 minutes or until nicely browned. The bottom of the loaf should make a hollow sound when tapped to let you know it's done.
9. Let rest at least 30 minutes before serving.

Cauliflower Soup

This plain and simple soup is one of the better things you can do with an old head of cauliflower, in my opinion. However, if you do not like cauliflower you should probably avoid this dish, for obvious reasons.

1 large head cauliflower cut into florets.
2 quarts stock
1.5 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Boil the cauliflower in the stock for 40 minutes or until completely mushy. Remove and drain reserving the stock. Mash the cauliflower into a clumply consistency.
2. Melt the butter and flour in the sauce pan to make a smooth paste. Add the stock a little at a time and whisk to make a smooth sauce. When all stock is incorporated simmer this mixture for 15 minutes.
3. Allow the soup to cool for 20 minutes and mix in the egg and cream. Gently reheat being careful not to boil. Adjust the seasoning and serve.

Herring Salad

I've got to be honest about this dish, I didn't care for it. I could not wrap my brain around biting into an apple, beet and piece of herring at the same time. It is something to try though, because if you end up liking this combination, it does end up being quite surprising. If I do recall, this was the dish that became the debate of the table. Some enjoyed it enough to have seconds and others were just as confused by all the different textures as I was.

5 fillets salt herring
2 cups diced pickled beets
2 cups boiled potatoes cubed
1 cup chopped apple
1 cup chopped red onion
1 tbsp mustard
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp white vinegar
1 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped parsley for garnish.

1. Soak the herring fillets in water for 48 hours changing the water at least 3 times. Do this in a fridge (or in our case a very cold guest room)
2. Combine the herring with all the other ingredients making sure to drain everything thoroughly before mixing.
3. Garnish with parsley and serve.

Brine Cured Pork Loin


Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you the first time we've had the pleasure of curing ham for this blog. This has long been a passion of Tom's and we are pleased to finally share this with you. I know this picture does not do it justice, but it was quite the tasty piggy.

5 lbs pork loin in one piece
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sea salt
2 tsp cardamon seeds
2 tsp carraway seeds
2 tsp pepper
Handful of fresh sage leaves or
2 tbsp pink salt (curing salt)
1 gallon water

1. Mix the water with everything but the pork and place over medium heat. Stir until all ingredients are incorporated. Allow to cool.
2. In a large non-metallic container add the brine and submerge the pork. Place in the fridge or other cool place for two days.
3. Soak the pork in fresh water for 30 minutes to remove excess salt and dry thoroughly.
4. Cook with a bit of beer for braising at 350 for 1 hour or until the meat is 150 degrees. Raise heat to 450 at the end with fatty side up to crisp the fat.
5. Serve with lingonberry sauce.

Lingonberry Sauce

1 lb lingonberries (we used frozen ones)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 tsp salt

1. Allow the berries to thaw and combine with everything in a small saucepan over medium heat.
2. Reduce the mixture to a thick syrup and taste for sugar.
3. Serve on top of the ham.

FAIL: Almond Cookies

Okay, I know that they don't look like it, but thanks to some crappy directions on how to make almond paste for these cookies, they did not turn out quite right. After having added cup after cup of flour and anything else that would bind this watery goo I had created, I neglected to put in the one thing that would actually make these cookies taste good: butter. I've told Tom this before but I feel like I need a tattoo on my arm to remind me that butter exists. The times that I've forgotten to grease a pan or put butter out to soften or add it for taste is immeasurable at this point. If you look back at this blog alone, you will see all my fails are due to lack of butter. Therefore, I refuse to even dignify my mistake this time with a recipe. I'm sorry for the failure.


During the dinner, we listened to some Norwegian hip-hop and country music that added to our herring and pickle eating experience. Despite my cookie blunder and the interesting flavor mix of the herring salad, I would say Norway was a success. I had the enjoyment of making my first rye bread and Tom, to his immense pleasure, got to prepare a ham for the meal.

Things we may have done differently:
-added butter to cookies
-made herring salad less sweet
-listened to the band Europe during the dinner (turns out 2 members were from Norway, not 1 like we thought--something to save for Sweden I suppose)

Next up is Equatorial Guinea! Until then, skal!

Monday, February 1, 2010


Guyana is a country that many people mistakenly think is located in Africa. If you happen to be one of those people, let me assure you it is not an African country. It just so happens that it's geographic location is at the northern end of South America. Culturally speaking, however, Guyana is a Caribbean nation composed of a wonderful mess of world cultures that has resulted from a very complicated colonial past involving multiple European powers; the most recent being the British Empire. Today Guyana's population is split between East Indians and Black Africans with significant native Arawak, White European, and East Asian minorities. The food is a perfect fusion of these cultures. Strong flavors and lots of spices are the dominant characteristics of the cuisine.

Today Guyana is not well known for very much. That shouldn't be too surprising. After all, their national population is smaller than the total population of Indianapolis. But I did manage to uncover a few fascinating tidbits from Wikipedia. Apparently British actor, Michael Caine, has been happily married for nearly forty years to Shakira Caine: the former runner up for Miss Guyana 1967. She continues to be a foxy old lady. And Eddy Grant (better known as that guy who did the song 'Electric Avenue' in 1983) is a native of Guyana although he was raised in England. We played a whole album of his during the meal.

Fortunately for us, Northwestern University (the place I work at) has an obscure Guyanese cookbook in their library that I have used off and on for the past few years. Also, the Guyanese take great pride in their food and have peppered the internet with many of their favorite recipes. The most thorough listing I came across was at this web forum. Amy and I were pleasantly shocked to find there was such a wealth of recipes for this tiny nation.

Roti Guyana

Roti is among the more famous flat breads of India, although it's still not as popular here in the states as na'an. In Guyana it reigns supreme due to the large East Indian population and is apparently served with just about everything. It is super easy to make and involves the most basic of pantry ingredients. Even my sister could make this from what she keeps around the house! It's similar in texture to a flour tortilla and is great for wrapping up whatever it's served with. For this meal we served the roti with garlic pork.

4 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp lard or butter brought to room temperature
1.75 cups water

1. Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt together and add enough water to form a stiff dough.
2. Knead the mixture on a floured surface or in a mixer for about 8 minutes or until the dough forms a very smooth and elastic ball. Make sure it is not sticky at the end of this.
3. Cover and let the dough rest for 30 minutes in a warm spot of the kitchen.
4. Roll the dough out into a 9-10 inch circle less than a centimeter thick and smear the top with lard.
5. Make a cut from the edge of the circle to the center and starting from this point tightly roll the dough into a cone shape.
6. Punch the top of the cone into the center of the dough and form into a smooth ball and flatten.
7. Divide this ball into twelve separate portions. Roll each portion into a ball with your hands and set aside another 10 minutes.
8. With a rolling pin roll each ball of dough into an extremely thin circle and cook on a hot cast iron skillet or griddle less than a minute each side.
9. The final product should look similar to a flour tortilla. Serve immediately or gently reheat in the oven before serving.

Cilantro Chutney

I've loved this green and spicy sauce ever since my first trip to an Indian restaurant as a child. Sour, spicy, and savory notes make it go great with anything starchy or fried. I used it with the roti and fritters. Feel free to use mint and yogurt in the recipe as well. I'm sure this will turn up in some other form on the blog later on.

1 bunch cilantro
1 chile serrano
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup lime juice
1 clove garlic
1/2 medium onion
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper ground
1/2 cup water or more for thinning sauce

1. Combine everything except the water in a food processor or blender and grind to a smooth paste.
2. Add enough water to thin the mixture into a pourable but still somewhat thick sauce.
3. Serve with roti and pork.

Curry Mayonnaise

1 egg plus one egg yolk
1 cup corn oil
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp salt
2 tsp curry powder

1. In a food processor mix everything except the oil.
2. With the motor running slowly pour in the cup of oil in a thin stream until the mixture thickens into a stiff consistency.
3. Serve with roti and pork or whatever you like.

Spinach Fritters

In case you haven't noticed, we use spinach a lot. Fortunately a lot of countries love Popeye's source of strength. This method of frying spinach is very similar to the Indian fried vegetable dish pakora. Serve it with a chutney alongside everything else.

1 10 oz bag fresh spinach blanched
1/2 onion sliced thinly
1 roma tomato diced
1 tbsp butter1 cup flour
1 tsp salt or more taste
1 tbsp baking powder
1 egg
Oil for frying

1. In a skillet melt the butter and cook the onion and tomato for five minutes over medium heat.
2. Add the blanched spinach and salt and cook over low heat for a further five minutes. Set aside to cool and drain well.
3. When the mixture is room temperature add the egg, flour, and baking powder and mix well.
4. Shortly before serving heat the oil in a wok over high heat and drop 1 tbsp portions of the mixture into the oil and fry them until browned on each side. I found it best to cook in batches of four fritters.
5. Drain fritters on wire racks and serve.

West African Rice

I'm pretty sure they don't cook rice this way in West Africa, but the influence seems clear especially with all the okra that is incorporated into the dish. The top layer of cheese should make it a favorite at any Mid Western table in the states.

2 cups long grain rice (we used Jasmine)
1/2 stick butter
4 cups chicken stock
2 tsp salt
2 large red onions chopped
1 serrano chile minced
1 bunch scallions thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic
1 lb okra cut into 1 cm rings
1 red pepper cut into strips
3 large tomatoes thinly sliced
1 cup grated white cheddar

1. In a large pot melt butter and add onions, garlic, and rice and gently cook for five minutes.
2. Add the stock and salt and simmer covered for 30 minutes over low flame.
3. Add the serrano, okra, soy sauce, and pepper and cook a further ten minutes over medium heat. Add extra liquid to the pot if the mixture begins sticking.
4. Pour the rice mixture into a casserole dish large enough to hold it. Arrange tomato slices over the top and cover it all with grated cheese.
5. Bake under the oven broiler from 5-10 minutes or until the cheese has browned.
6. Serve.

Garlic Pork

Supposedly this dish has its roots in the Portuguese population of Guyana. Generally its served during the Christmas season. The original recipe I read called for 1 lb of mashed garlic but I scaled it back for the more tender palates at my table to something less overwhelming. Still this pork is really garlicky. Don't eat this before going to work.

3 pounds pork shoulder cut into 1 inch cubes
1.5 cups vinegar
1 cup water
Cloves from 2 heads of garlic pealed
1 tsp ground pepper
1 tbsp salt
Oil for frying

1. 3 days before cooking grind the garlic, vinegar, water, and pepper into a smooth mixture. Cover the pork with the mixture and let it pickle in the fridge for the next three days.
2. Take the pork and 1 cup of the pickling fluid and simmer in a deep pot for 40 minutes covered. Set aside until 10 minutes before serving.
3. When you are nearly ready to serve heat a wok with enough oil for deep frying and fry the pork in batches for about a minute each or just enough to brown the meat.
4. Serve on fresh rotis with lettuce and the two sauces described above.

Pumpkin Pone

These came out completely dry. I'm guessing they needed more eggs, sugar, and butter. Still a good start to something that I'm sure if made right can be delicious. Below I give the original recipe and my theories in parentheses for making it better. Let me know if anybody has any success.

1 lb grated pumpkin flesh
1/2 lb grated coconut flakes
1 cup cornmeal (maybe 1/2 cup all purpose flour and 1/2 cup corn meal)
1/2 stick butter (perhaps 1 stick softened)(2 eggs maybe)
1/4 cup sugar (I'd go for 2/3)
1 cup water
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

1. Mix everything and pour into a greased baking pan or make individual muffins in a tin.
2. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until crisp and brown on top.
3. Serve and hopefully yours won't be dry.


Despite being a small country, Guyana was a big hit. The garlic pork was a bit strong for some, but most of the crowd savored the meaty goodness. We intended the meal to be small, but it snowballed into a larger feast as Friday approached. Amy's favorite part of the meal was the spinach fritters, and I tend to agree for ease and tastiness. All around the meal went very well. Norway is next! Cheers!