Step 1. Make a Nigerian friend.
Step 2. Finagle an invitation to dinner at his place (you may have to cook an American breakfast for him first).
Step 3. Give him time to call his mom and get the recipe.
Step 4. Show up at his house.
Step 5. Enjoy!
One of the things I love about West African cuisine (at least what I’ve experienced of it so far), is the variety of dishes that can be created from the exact same handful of ingredients. Take, for instance, Maggi, Red Palm Oil, Beans, Onion, and Plantain. Depending on who is doing the cooking (and which supplemental ingredients they use) you may end up with Ghanaian Red Red or Nigerian Beans & Plantain on your plate.
Even in my own kitchen, I’m continually amazed at the variety I come up with. I can prepare the exact same stew four different times and feel like each time like I’m eating something new. Leave out an ingredient here, add a scrap of something from the fridge here, or try a new spice here and voila! A new creation!
On two separate occasions, I grabbed Red Palm Oil, Smoked Fish, Greens, Tomato Paste and a few other necessities and headed to the gas cylinder. The first result was similar to Kontombre Stew – thick, green, savory. The perfect pairing for chunks of boiled yam. The second time I ended up with an Asian-esque bright red hot and sour sauce that was amazing poured over rice & plantains. The only difference was the amount of time I simmered the base and the amount of greens I added.
But getting back to the star of this post: Beans & Plantain – the quintessential West African, one-pot meal. Super easy to make and superbly delicious. Best of all, if you’re lucky enough to have a decent International section at your local grocery store, you can probably re-create this at home.
Begin by pouring several cups of dried beans (I used black-eyed peas today) into a pot and filling with just enough water to cover the beans by a couple inches.
Put on the stove over high heat, cover, and ignore for the next 30 to 40 minutes.
Fill in the next 20 minutes anyway you want to – shave your legs, sweep up the dead cockroach that’s making a mockery of your housekeeping abilities (I’ll spare you the pictures), take down the laundry from the clothesline, and read another chapter in your latest Kindle download.
That done, head back to the kitchen and back to work.
Fine chop one onion:
Mince one clove garlic:
Slice three or four tomatoes:
De-bone, de-skin, and de-head a smoked fish:
Pull apart into bite sized chunks:
Feed the remnants to the cats:
FYI, my source tells me that you can use fresh fish but you’ll want to toss it in the pot with the beans maybe 20 minutes or so into the boiling process to ensure proper cooking.
Peel, rinse, and slice two or three plantains:
Tip #1 Make sure you purchase ripe, sweet plantains – the skin will be yellow and the plantain will be slightly soft if squeezed. Pass over the green, hard ones altogether.
Tip #2 Use a knife to cut off the stem and then slice the skin lengthwise before peeling – these ain’t no bananas!
Tip #3 Please slice diagonally – it’s really the only way to properly eat a plantain.
Check the beans – they should be almost done, nearly soft enough to eat, but with a bit of chew still left in them. Most of the water should be absorbed by now.
Dump in the onion, tomatoes, fish, and plantains and give it a quick stir.
Mix powdered pepper (1 to 2 tsp), yellow curry powder (1 to 2 tsp), nutmeg (a couple dashes), ground ginger (a couple dashes) and salt (1/2 tsp) in about a cup of water (this will ensure even distribution).
Now . . . for the not-so-secret ingredient: Maggi Cube. TIA (This Is Africa) and most of us are constitutionally incapable of preparing anything without the aid of Maggi or Onga. Crumble into the water-spice mixture and stir.
Now . . . for the secret ingredient: Fried ground shrimp. Or should that be ground fried shrimp? Absolutely essential. I don’t know where you’ll find it but, please, do your best. The flavor it gives is amazing!
Dump about ¼ a cup into the water-spice mixture. Pour the whole thing into the pot with the beans, fish, veggies, and fruit (Is plantain a fruit?). Stir well.
Drizzle generously with Red Palm Oil (Make sure the source is West African. Palm Oil from Indonesia has a pretty horrific back story, which you’ll easily uncover by Googling Slavery & Palm Oil).
Cover and ignore for the next 5 minutes.
Give it another good stir and taste. Add more seasoning if needed.
When the plantains are cooked through,
And the beans are soft,
And everything has thickened,
You’re ready to serve and savor! Enjoy the sweetness of the plantain, the smokiness of the fish and shrimp, the spiciness of the pepper, the nuttiness of the palm oil.
Try a bit of fish, plantain, and tomato.
Then a combo of onion, plantain, and beans.
Then beans, tomato, and onion.
Every bit is different, and every bite is a delight!