Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Sovereign State #5: Angola
Arroz Integral com Manteiga de Amendoim e Bananas (Brown Rice with Peanut Butter and Bananas)
Feijoada Angolan (Chicken and Red Palm Oil Stew)
Camaro Grelhado com Mohlo Cru (Grilled Prawns with Raw Sauce)
Angola is kind of a scary place. Even their flag looks scary. Angola was occupied by the Portuguese for four centuries up until 1975. The country is also one of the birth places of the Cold War (team USA, Britain, Portugal vs. team USSR, Cuba in a game of "Who gets Angola's oil & blood diamonds"). After nearly thirty years of civil war with millions massacred and hundreds of thousands left homeless, the gunfire has officially stopped but the abundance of misplaced minefields and humanitarian atrocities continue. That however does not mean there is nothing worth eating. Every place, no matter how scary it is always has something tasty to eat. Angola is no different.
Dura Palms are the vegetation of choice in Angola. The oil from the trees is very popular as is the "hash" or tree pulp. It was pretty damn hard to get over here in the United States. Just recently a company called Ökonatur started to import here. It's a bit pricey but I felt that it was necessary for authentic Angolan dishes. It's pretty crazy. It's not filtered so it has bits of palm pulp floating in it and when you put it to heat it smokes a lot. The bits burn up and then you're ready to fry in it. Red palm oil has a bitter, nutty sort of flavor. I have to say I was slightly wary of using it because it almost has an off sort of smell to it but after cooking with it my concerns were put to rest.
Angolans like their food spicy. While being a Latina I enjoy a little bit of kick in my food myself but I do not have the dead to the world taste buds or iron gut to deal with a dish that has 10 habaneros in it. I can think of better ways to commit suicide so I cut back a little bit on the spiciness in a few of the dishes but still kept them spicy and authentic. The national condiment of Angola is Piri Piri (which I think translates to "burn your face off"). It's basically 4 Tbsp of lemon Juice, 4 Tbsp water, 5 Tbsp of African cayenne pepper, and 1 Tbsp of garlic salt. It does not mess around. The flavor is amazing and it really brightens up a dish but I would just use a tiny bit in my food instead of the recipes that called for chicken or seafood to be lathered in it before being grilled. I'll save that for when I have house-guests that I hate.
It's pretty amazing the amount of culture people will retain from their oppressors after they have gone. Angola has an incredible amount of Portuguese influence in it's cuisine. Feijoada Angolan is one of those dishes that came from Portugal but the Angolans made it their own. Originally it was a black bean stew with salt pork and other meats stewed in a clay pot. The Angolans mix it up and make it with white beans with the addition of bay leaves, cabbage, carrots, and chicken. They also flavor it with quite a bit of red palm oil. I really enjoyed this dish. It has that comfort sort of thing that a lot of stews do. I can imagine that if I had a cold and lived in Angola I would want this dinner. That or an ice bath or an air conditioner. I made my Angolan Feijoada with lima beans (soaked overnight and simmered in water for about one hour). Then I sauteed 1/2 head of cabbage, one onion, three carrots, some garlic, and two habaneros (cut in half and seeded) in a little peanut oil and added that to the pot when the beans were ready. Tomatoes were added and then I pulled out my new jar of red palm oil and sauteed chicken legs and thighs in the red pulpy liquid gold. Lastly I sliced some Portuguese linguiça (sausage) and gave them a quick toss in the oil adding it along with the chicken to the stew. To finish I added some chopped parsley and about 1/2 cup of palm oil. Yes, salt and pepper were added throughout. Overall, after the beans were done I cooked the stew about 1 hour. I made like 2 gallons of the stuff so we'll be eating Angolan for a while. Anybody hungry? I'll give you some.
Now, I'm not a very big fan of brown rice. I grew up eating white rice and I prefer it. No, I'm not racist, I just don't care for the texture of brown rice. However, this rice dish made me appreciate it a little more. I like the tomato flavor in the rice and the bananas adds a sweetness that makes it feel like the rice isn't trying so hard to be healthy. You know, like it's saying "yeah I guess I'm pretty good for you but check it out, I'm hanging out with bananas and peanut butter so I'm sort of a bad-ass." Just like the drama kids that hung out with the super cool rebel smokers in high school. Yeah I see you with the bad kids but I know you're still a musical theater nerd. This dish is basically brown rice cooked in tomato juice and water. Meanwhile the sauce consists of sauteed onion, peppers, curry powder, tomatoes, and peanut butter. I added a little water to thin it out a little bit. Then when the rice is done pan fry up some banana slices in peanut oil and serve over the rice. Arroz Integral com Manteiga de Amendoim e Bananas feels very earthy and African.
The Camaro Grelhado com Mohlo Cru is basically prawns with Portuguese mojo sauce with a few tweaks and I knew it would be delicious. With my mortar and pestle I ground 1 tsp of cumin seed, pinch of salt and peppercorns, a few scallions, a couple cloves of garlic. After grinding it to a paste I added a few Tbsp of sherry vinegar and water. I marinated the shrimp in the sauce for about 15 minutes and then skewered them and tossed them onto an oiled grill pan. 2 minutes each side and they were done. Yum-o. (maybe I should make an idiotic slogan like that rat-faced hack Rachel Ray. I dunno. How about "freaking yumtastic!")
So yes, my first go at Central African food was pretty much spectacular. Sure, some of it had it's similarities to Portuguese food but the spirit of the dishes are one hundred percent African. In fact, I'm still scraping the dead taste buds off of my scalded tongue. I will be sure to have a jar of piri piri in my fridge just in case. You never know who's going to drop by for dinner.
For more info on this project, read this: 203 Sovereign States