Meal 27: Burundi

Starting with Burundi, six of the next eight countries alphabetically are African. I suspect I'm going to get to know some of the shop owners up around Franklin and Fulton, which is the best area I've found for the various starches, oils, greens, and other distinctly African ingredients that you just don't find in the supermarket. That said, it's amazing what you can find in supermarkets in Brooklyn, such as goat! But the one thing I couldn't find anywhere was unhulled whole millet or sorghum for making beer, for which the grains have to sprout (a process known as malting) and you can't get grain to sprout if part of it's missing. Oh well.

This was the least expensive meal yet to procure, a reflection of how Burundi's cuisine is based on affordable basics. Yet it was really delicious: the beans and greens and paste all blended so nicely, and plantains are always a tasty treat. All our guests were game for scooping from a communal platter (see photo above!) and eating with their hands: Elly brought Chi, Iva brought Tara, and UChicago alums Jessica, Max, and Sarah. (Please parton the weird facial expression on some of us, we must have been caught on the first half of saying "Burundi!")

Sombé | Cassava leaf stew | Recipe

It looked like finely chopped spinach but was actually cassava leaves, which are apparently super high in lots of vitamins and minerals. The green and leafy taste contrasted nicely with the chunks of goat, while the pounded onions and leeks held it together both in terms of flavor and texture. (Credit to Elly for hand modeling!)

Ibiharage | Sautéed beans | Recipe

Simple and satisfying. I soaked and cooked these kidney beans, sautéed onions and garlic, and put in beans and water and some chili powder. Mentions of this dish, which to many Africans is the most recognizable Burundian dish, call these "fried beans," but it's nothing like the smashed paste we think of from Mexican cuisine — unless I made it wrong! But I hope this is the right way because it was yummy.

Ugali | Cassava flour paste

We're starting to get good at making mush or paste or whatever you want to call it. This time the credit for the lion's share of the stirring goes to Max, and then Chi took on the task of plattering it. Out of the various versions of this dish we've had, including yam and corn, I think I like cassava the best.

Fried plantain

Hard to believe it took 27 meals for us to fry some plantains! Despite the fact that this is cheap and basic food for millions the world over, I still get really excited by this heavenly food, which really seems like dessert but is magically served with the meal. As I was frying them — in corn oil mixed with palm oil, hence the red color — our guests kept nibbling them off the paper towels , so it took many rounds to build up enough plantains to put on the dish. Then after dinner, we fried up more and turned them into dessert, first by squeezing honey on them, then by breading them in flour and sugar and cocoa. Burundian? Nah. But Burundi isn't much of a place for sweets, apparently, and we had a sweet tooth, so we took matters into our own hands.

Jessica found a great YouTube playlist of Burundi hip-hop, which set the mood for a really fun meal. All that was missing was eating outside, since it was just a bit too chilly to sit on the back porch, where we'd just strung up some lights. Can't wait for our first outdoor meal of the year!

Next week we're off to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where at long last we'll finish off the B's with a meal from Burkina Faso.

Photos by Laura Hadden, who was glad there was no silverware for the meal since it made dishes easier.