Meal 41: Côte D'Ivoire

Am I getting better at cooking African food, or is Ivorian cuisine just that good? Probably more the latter, but still, this was probably our best sub-Saharan meal yet. The flavors were so well-balanced, the spice delightful and not overwhelming, and the textures pleasant. What's more, with the exception of a few ingredients that you could probably cleverly work your way around, you can find these ingredients in a standard Western supermarket, so if you've been looking to try cooking African food, this is a good start.

Other than the New World staples like cassava and chilies which have become so common over Africa that most people probably don't know they were brought there, this meal shows essentially no European influence. Jessica, who lived in Côte D'Ivoire during high school, notes that although Ivorians are the world leaders in cacao production and also grow a lot of coffee, they consume almost none of either.

In contrast to the day before which was gross and rainy, we were blessed with amazing evening weather. Around the table were Jessica, Anthony, Miriam, Flonia, Natalie, Diana, Anna, and David.

Tilapia braisé | Grilled tilapia | Recipe: French, English translation

The coast is so much a part of the country's identity that it's in the name! So it was only appropriate to cook some fish. I had several options available, including dorado and hogfish, but I went with tilapia because I could buy it live from a tank in Sunset Park. Doesn't get fresher than that!

As with last week's Congolese quail, the marinade was a blend of garlic, ginger, onions, and hot pepper, although this time I used a blender rather than crushing it. And also the same, this grilling style calls for cutting deep slashes in the meat to allow more of the marinade to permeate. But what's different is what comes afterwards: throwing onions and tomatoes marinated in a vinaigrette straight on the grill! As you can see from the photo I used a mesh, otherwise it would have all fallen through. It all made for a delicious mess, and I'm glad I got three fish, because it all got snapped up!

Kedjenou | Chicken and vegetable stew | Recipe

I have to admit I was a bit suspicious of the value of this stew, since it doesn't feature any ingredients you couldn't find at a Walmart with a produce section, but several sources pointed to it being a well-known Ivorian dish so I took the plunge. I did start with the heat too low, because after the prescribed hour and a half with the lid shut, the meat was still pink, but I turned it up to medium for another half hour. How rewarded we were! The flavors blended so delightfully and the chicken was really tender. Maybe the super-slow start helped?

Sauce arachide | Peanut sauce | Recipe

I swear it tasted way better than it looks, what you see here is the red palm oil having separated. This recipe comes by way of my colleague Christiaan! I found this article when I was looking for an Ivorian peanut sauce, and it turns out that he did Peace Corps there. In fact, he's something of a peanut sauce impresario, he's even hosted a cook-off! He also helped make sure that the rest of the meal seemed on-track.

I left out the chicken from this recipe since we had it in another dish, and instead upped the crushed dried shrimp. I also halved the number of peppers and fished them out partway through, in the interest of keeping it less than fiery. But it's a damn good recipe and it would go well on so many things.

Attiéké | Cassava couscous | Preparation

Another African country that doesn't just do fufu, hooray! This one's pretty distinctive, a couscous that's traditionally made by hand out of cassava. Christiaan doubted I'd find it in the states, but my little favorite African market has it in frozen three-pound balls. You could really do fine using regular couscous, but the texture would be a bit different. Also, I like the preparation as (passionately!) described in the link, including a bit of vinegar and bouillon for flavor.

Aloco | Fried plantain

It's hard to make a bad fried plantain, but apparently you can always improve. I biked a little farther than I normally go on my shopping jaunts to Sunset Park, and among dozens of produce shops found Marketa Los Fernandez. This place was narrow and crowded, and was holding its own a block from a supermarket, a very good sign. But the best part was the plantain selection: not only green and yellow, but also black! The stuff of legend! I snapped up every one I could find, cut them up in wedges as shown, fried them in red palm oil, and, well, yum. (There's supposed to be a spicy tomato-onion sauce with them, but with all the other dishes I just skipped that part.)

Mangues | Mango

Apparently dessert isn't much of a thing, so I cut up some ripe mango, and we passed the bowl around as we ate with dainty cocktail forks.

We're taking the next week off to celebrate our third wedding anniversary at the Newport Folk Festival, and when we're back it's Croatia!

Photos by Laura Hadden, who is really enjoying experiencing the wide variety of African cuisine.