Last night was full of experiments for me! I’d never eaten okra–not even good ol’ Southern fried okra–let along cooked with it.
I certainly had never steamed anything in banana leaves before either. I like to think that I grew a lot throughout last night’s cooking adventure. My biceps must have anyhow.
Let me back up, before you start thinking I was eating Popeye’s spinach. The country of last night cuisine was Gabon. Gabon is located in west, Sub-Saharan Africa.
Like many other countries nearby, yams, cassava (yucca), bananas, rice, plantains, and tomatoes are staples. The Gabonese tend to make many stews and sauces, with a good deal of spice (the heat-packing spice berbere is common). Often served with these sauces is Baton de Manioc.
Manioc is cassava is yucca. Don’t let it confuse you. That strange, brown, waxed over pickle-shaped thing to left is all three of them. It’s a starchy tuber. It can look quite intimidating.
I tried to conquer it yesterday to make Baton de Manioc. To do so, you make a manioc mash and steam it for a long, long, long time. A long time.
So, to conquer this strange tuber…First, you have to peel it. Don’t be gentle or you’ll barley make it through the wax into a pink layer. You need to reach the all white flesh. And then grate that tough tuber like crazy.
(This is where I got my work out in. Don’t practice your yoga side planks longer than usual before grating this.)
Eventually, you’ll have a funny-looking bowl of manioc pulp.
Using a fork, turn that pulp into a real mash. Take out your aggression on it. Now the real fun begins. Out comes the banana leaves. Something I recently learned–banana leaves are found in the frozen foods section. I guess it makes sense that they wouldn’t keep them out by the spinach leaves, but I was still surprised when I found out.
Roll these leaves up around the manioc, so that all sides are closed (burrito roll style). Bring out your steamer. I’m really making good use of the steamer thus far. A lovely purchase.
These have to be steamed for a good, long while. Recipes I found say that you should steam for six hours. We steamed for four, because I have things to do and did not want to be in the apartment for six hours straight on a beautiful day. (Loved our weekend weather in Knoxville, btw).
Be extra careful when removing the steamer from the stove top. I learned the hard way. And then I thought of my high school science teacher telling me a story about a man who had his arm cut off by steam. Steam is hard core.
These were served as a side to the Dongo-Dongo. I was really nervous that a) I would not enjoy this stew b) Jordan would enjoy it even less. After all, the okra was slimy inside. I actually Googled “okra + slimy” just to make sure this was not out of the ordinary. Yes, you should be wowed with my librarian research skills on that one.
The only Dongo-Dongo recipes I found were meat-based. Obviously, that wasn’t an option, so I thought about what sort of protein substitute I’d like to use. TVP to the culinary rescue! What’s that? Oh, yeah, TVP stands for textured vegetable protein. The texture is chewy and delicious, and it takes on the flavor of whatever dish you are making.
Dongo-Dongo (Vegan) Serves Six
- 1 1/2 cup chopped onions
- 3 cloves garlic
- 25 pieces of okra, sliced into 3/8 inch slices
- 2 hot chiles
- 2 vegan bouillon cubes
- 6 oz tomato paste
- 1/2 cup TVP (beef flavored would have been an extra bonus!)
- 3 1/2 cups water
- 1 T oil
- Heat oil in large pot/pan. Add onions and cook for 3-5 minutes.
- Add garlic and chiles. Cook for 2 more minutes.
- Add okra, bouillon cubes, and tomato paste. Mix well so that the paste covers all of the onions and okra.
- Add the water. Cover and simmer until okra becomes soft.
- Reduce heat. Add TVP. Stir into stew. Let stand for 2 minutes or until TVP is not longer crunchy.
Serve with baton de manioc, naturally.
Honestly, I put in three chiles (though the recipe above says two). This had a lot of heat. Other than the heat index, I really enjoyed this dish. The okra didn’t end up being slimy in the dish, and the TVP thickened it up well.
I received approval from the husband, as the leftovers will be taken for tomorrow’s work lunch. Always a good sign!
The plain starch of the baton de manioc worked nicely to neutralize the heat in each spoonful. It tasted good, or at least not bad, but it will not win any food photography contests…
Happy steaming to anyone who tries these recipes!