With Burundi we found ourselves back in Africa. This is number two in our current stretch of six out of nine consecutive countries being in Africa. Considering our mediocre track record with African food, we didn’t think this boded well for the next few weeks…
Researching Burundi did a good job of putting my life in perspective. In additional to political instability, it is one of the poorest and most malnourished countries on our planet. It wasn’t too surprising, then, that there also isn’t a wealth of information about Burundi and their cuisine on the internet, or that the recipes I found were pretty simple. I did read about several homemade alcoholic beverages, such as banana beer, which one of my fellow international cooking bloggers did attempt to make here. I wasn’t that adventurous. The common theme I found in research is that Burundians eat red kidney beans with at least one meal every day. So for one of my recipes I selected a basic vegetarian dish of beans and bananas (plantains). I also decided to make another attempt at the starchy glop I’ve encountered throughout Africa and the Caribbean, known in Burundi as ugali.
Burundian Beans and Bananas (recipe)
We started by soaking the dry red kidney beans. The recipes says to do this for at least three hours, but I think we started soaking them the night before. With our history of unsuccessful African food, I wasn’t taking any chances with not having fully cooked beans. Plus we were making it after work the next day, so starting it the night before was definitely the safest option.
We also got to use more of our red palm oil! We have been keeping it in the refrigerator, since we weren’t sure if refrigeration is required of it. Lesson learned: it solidifies in the refrigerator and is VERY difficult to get out of the bottle in this state. Once we got about two tablespoons out, we fried the chopped onion in the palm oil.
Then the beans, sliced plantains, diced chili pepper, and salt were added.
We didn’t add the full 1 L of water that was recommended… it was probably about 1/2 to 2/3 of that volume.
Tyler was in charge of this recipe, and he said he followed advice in the comments of the recipe I linked to more than the recipe itself. He used the proportions in the recipe (except the salt… we forgot to scale the salt back even though we scaled the rest of the recipe in half…oops.). He gradually added cornmeal to the water, adding more only after he had stirred for several minutes and it was fully dissolved and mixed in the water. Miraculously, when it was done it actually had the proper consistency!!! He formed it into a large ball, and it was thick enough that it could be sliced or scooped into individual servings. Success!!!
This meal was surprisingly delicious!! The beans and plantains were fantastic. The plantains took on the consistency of cooked potatoes, but they added much more flavor that you would get with potatoes. The ugali was actually pretty good when prepared properly and served with a decent main course. It was close enough to the proper consistency that I was able to eat it in what is apparently the traditional method of pulling some out with your fingers and shaping it as a scoop, which is then used to scoop up the rest of the food (in this case the beans and plantains). It was a messy affair, but we enjoyed eating it this way.
I’m definitely making a mental note of this as a quick meal we could easily throw together in the future (you could substitute canned beans to save time). Most importantly, I was SO RELIEVED to have a good meal come out of Africa, and it gave me some hope for our upcoming four African countries!!!