Today after our District Meeting then French conversation lessons with the Elders, John spent a few hours working on the branch membership records with Bro Mbaya. I smelled something good coming from the Elders’ apartment up the stairs from the church and I went to investigate.
For the next hour or more I had a fine lesson in West African cuisine! These Elders are really good cooks! They taught me step-by-step how to make 2 different dishes–what they call spaghetti with egg served with plantain, and fish and sauce to serve over rice.
I told them I was a journalist and these pictures were for a cooking article I’d write about them! So here we go–let’s make some delicious African food!!
I first asked where these dishes originated. These Elders come from The DR Congo, the Ivory Coast and Nigeria. They laughed and said, “it is all the same! We all use the same ingredients to cook our food!” There are variations from place to place, but not big ones.
We’ll begin with the fish stew, which they were preparing for tonight’s dinner. The Elders buy frozen fish at the market. They bring it home, cut the fish in half, and then freeze it in bags with 4 pieces–enough for one meal. A kilo of fish costs 1,200 cfa or about $2. The fish is fried first in hot oil (that’s what I was smelling). Then chopped tomatoes, onions and red peppers are added until the vegetables are also cooked.
Tomatoes cost 1000 cfa / kilo (1.60). Onion cost 600 cfa / kilo ($1.00).
Next they added a bowl full of cut vegetables I could not identify. Aubergine, they called it. I had to look it up. Eggplant. 600 cfa / kilo ($1.00).
Water was added to cover the ingredients while they cooked.
Next Elder Kouakou showed me a bag of paste he called arrachide. Ground peanuts. Many of the sauces we’ve had here have a peanut sauce base. I small bag of peanut paste (about 1 cup) costs 500 cfa ($.80). They used about half of the bag, and stirred it into some water.
The peanut sauce was added to the pot, and the lid was put on for it to simmer.
I should mention here that there is a propane gas strike going on right now in Bamako. The Elders’ gas tank ran out, so they had to go buy traditional stoves called Brazeno. I could tell they were comfortable cooking on these stoves, they are used everywhere. Electric stoves are the exception. A Brazeno costs 1,500 cfa ($2.50). They had two. They also had to purchase a large bag of coal to burn in their stoves. The large bag was 4,500 cfa ($7.50)
After the eggplant was cooked and soft, Elder Kouakou took it and the vegetables out with a slotted spoon and put them a smaller pot where he mashed them up.
Then he returned the mashed vegetables to the big pot with the fish and sauce.
Elder Kouakou and Elder Usoh said it was their turn to cook today, so they are the main chefs in the kitchen. They Elders take turns preparing the food, and they always eat together.
While the fish stew cooked, they put a pot of water on to boil for spaghetti noodles. They cooked an entire 500 g. package costing 400 cfa ($.65) with some salt.
After the noodles were cooked, Elder Usoh fried some onions in oil then he added tomatoes,red peppers and some salt.
To this he added some seasoning– a large Maggi cube (bullion), a packet of chili peppers, and one small bag of curry.
That cooked and simmered, then he mashed it all up into a smooth sauce.
Next, a few plantain were peeled and cut, and these were fried in about 1/2″ of oil.
It all smells so good!!
Next Elder Usoh beat 5 eggs in a cup and poured them into the hot skillet with the vegetables, stirring until the eggs were cooked. He added a bit of water to this, maybe 1/2 cup. It made a runny sauce.
Then the spaghetti noodles were added to the egg and curried vegetable sauce and it was all mixed together. He added another cup or so of water, then put the lid on to let it steam and re-heat the noodles that had been waiting on the side.
Voila! Lunch is ready! Oh, it smelled so good. And it was really delicious! The Elders told me this is a dish they make often for lunch. They tend to have a big breakfast, a smaller lunch, and a big dinner. There was enough here for 2 meals.
The fish stew will be served until dinner tonight and served over rice, and the leftovers will be eaten for breakfast. These Elders were impressive and efficient cooks. And when I told them I was going to wash the dishes, all four of them jumped up to stop me. “Oh no, Soeur Lewis, that would be an insult! We will do the dishes!”
I just love these Elders. They were fun to watch and learn from this afternoon. I’m grateful to them for embracing the work and the challenges and for their happy spirits and today, for their delicious food!