Friday, October 23, 2009

African Gumbo with Squash

I just returned from Ithaca and my thesis defense (I passed!), so hopefully I will be able to get back to cookin' and postin'. While I was there I stayed with my wonderful friend Chris. He spent time in Niger in the Peace Corps, where he learned (among other things) how to cook the various goopy glops of the local cuisine. Here is one such recipe, using okra and squash, which is very hearty and satisfying. The ingredients are flexible, but the okra is important for thickening. Chris also recommends adding a pinch of sand or goat dung for that authentic, gritty touch (optional!).

1 onion, diced
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 c. winter squash, cut into thin slices
2-4 c. okra, chopped (frozen works fine)
2-3 c. boiling water
1 Maggi or other boullion cubes
2-3 fresh hot peppers (jalapenos or hotter), chopped
salt to taste
dash of Maggi sauce or soy sauce
oil for cooking

Use an iron cauldron or dutch oven. Heat the oil and add the onions, cooking until they begin to soften and brown. Add the tomato paste and stir thoroughly so that it is well-distributed and begins to sizzle.

Add the squash pieces and spread them across the bottom of the pan. Add some hot water as they cook to keep them from sticking, and stir occasionally. When they are mostly soft, add the okra and the Maggi boullion, dissolved in 2 c. hot water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer until the squash and okra begin to break down.

Using a potato masher or immersible blender, smash up the vegetables so that they are a slightly chunky puree. Add more water if it becomes too thick. Stir in the fresh peppers and simmer until they begin to soften. Season with salt and Maggi sauce or soy sauce.

One way to serve this is over rice that has been cooked into a semi-soft state and formed into balls. Simply boil all-purpose rice in a little more water than usual and stir it while boiling so that it forms a very thick porridge. Scoop with a spoon into a plate and pour the okra sauce over. We sprinkled it with crushed, roasted peanuts. Feel free to improvise with the recipe, too! I think that black eyed-peas or chicken could be added for more protein, to make it a one-dish meal.

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