Thursday, August 28, 2014

What's for Dinner?

Living in America I learned to cook using a stove with four burners and an oven, as do most people I know.  When we moved to Guinea Bissau cooking was a whole new world.  I was lost, stumped for ideas of what to cook, and everything I tried turned out badly. My family started losing weight as you can read about in a previous blog, and I became desperate to learn to cook so that my family would eat as they normally did. A missionary we served with suggested I watch women here cook, so I spent hours watching different women cook and observing their techniques.  I tried imitating what they did, but that was a failure. I tried cooking like the other people we were serving with, but that was a failure as well.  I needed to cook with my own style; how I learned in America from an amazing cook and patient person that has continued to help me here. Out of  desperation, I emailed a couple of my friends, one whom I sent a list of basically every ingredient possible here and I received lots of recipes in turn.  After living here for a whole year, I feel more confident in my cooking and when I look at my five healthy children I can see that I am doing something right.  It does help that, with the suggestion of a former missionary that we served with, we have a local woman cook our lunch three times a week.  

My mom has asked me a lot of questions about how I cook here and what do I cook.  I finally feel like I have figured it out enough that I can blog about this.  However, before I talk about what I cook, I want to tell all of you that the women here are amazing.  I whined and cried about how difficult it is to cook on my gas countertop stove with limited ingredients, when the women here have even more limited ingredients (because of the cost of these ingredients, they often can’t afford some of the foods we have) and they mostly cook over fire and some coal. I have met one woman that makes breakfast on a little gas burner, but only breakfast as she can’t afford to use it for other meals that take longer to cook.  The women here make delicious bianda (rice) dishes with a variety of sauces.  One of our favorites is Yassa, or onion sauce over rice.  I learned how to cook this a few months ago with the gracious help of the woman that cooks for us.  Here is the recipe in case you would want to give it a try. This is the amount of ingredients I used for our family of seven (five of those are children). 

Yassa (Onion Sauce)

3 large onions and 1 medium sized onion
2 1/2 carrots
1 green pepper
Chop onions, dice carrots and green peppers

1 Tbsp dijon mustard (approximately)
1 Tbsp vinegar (approximately)
1 beef bouillon  (what we have here is a cube similar to beef bouillon, the brand is Maggai, I think you can find this in the states)
1-2 Tbsp of Adja (approximately) this again is a seasoning that is brown.  I’m not sure if you can buy it in the states, but it contains salt, MSG (please no criticisms we know this is not healthy for a person) corn starch, wheat flour, and sugar

Mix this all together with the chopped onions, carrots and green pepper and let marinate.  

Cut 3-4 potatoes into little chunks to fry. 
  1. Fry potatoes until they are dry like french fries and remove.
  2. Fry fish or chicken until done and remove
  3. Fry onion mixture until soft, it takes a while
  4. After onion mixture is fried, add potatoes and mix together, then add fish or chicken back in to heat it all up, cover and turn off stove when heated.  
  5. Let it sit until rice is done.
  6. Serve over rice in one dish…that’s if you want to eat it the way we do here.

Make the amount of rice you will eat as a family.  We make between 2 1/2 and 3 cups of uncooked rice. 

This is a very delicious dish if you are not afraid of onions.  Here is a picture of what it looks like all served up, sorry it's not a closer view.  This is a picture from a party we had here to celebrate and say goodbye to two missionaries.

Alright, so how exactly do I cook with my two (technically three, but the middle one is teeny tiny and worthless if the other two are being used) burner countertop stove?  First, in case anyone reading this is thinking that I am a bit whiny, I challenge you to one month of cooking without your oven or other two burners and to make you feel a little bit like we do here, no cheese or meat and only powdered milk.  Okay, maybe that is too much to challenge, I just challenge you to cook as long as you can with no oven and only two burners.  Microwaves, crockpots and other help is not allowed.  If you decide to do this, even if it is just for a couple of days, please tell me. It would bring a smile to my face to know how it went for you or that you are trying this challenge.  

There is another burner that is just out of the picture. 

I would like to say that the More-with-Less cookbook has been a great cookbook to have here in GB. There are a lot of recipes that we can use from this cookbook.  Our main recipes that we use are rice or pasta dishes and soups.  Here is a list of some of our favorites.  

Pumpkin Soup
Potato Soup
French Onion Soup
Kusherie (Egyptian Rice and Lentils)
Middle Eastern Lentil Soup
Tuna Noodle Casserole
Lentil Tacos - thank you to our co-worker who shared her recipe with me.  Now I just need to get a tortilla press, which I just recently found out exist! 
Lentil Burgers
Skillet Cabbage
Stir-Fry (we use any veggies we can find)

Spam is an ingredient that is readily available for us here in the village.  Here is a recipe we use with spam.

Cabbage A La Rowena

1 large head of cabbage
3 or 4 good sized potatoes
salt and pepper
1 or 2 cans of spam

Cook potatoes until nearly done. Add cabbage, when tender add spam, salt and pepper. When cooked to doneness, add catsup to give slight tinge or to taste.  We don’t always have catsup, so we eat it without.  Here’s a favorite from the More-with-Less cookbook. 

Vegetable Chowder

Combine in kettle:
1/2 c. rice, uncooked
3 chicken bouillon cubes
5 c. water
1/2 c. diced carrots
1 c. diced potatoes
1 minced onion
1/2 c. finely cut celery (we don’t have celery so we eat it without)
1 c. canned tomatoes (I use one or two fresh tomatoes, chopped)
2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper

Bring to boil and simmer 45 minutes.
Add when ready to serve:
1 c. milk (I use powdered milk)

Heat to almost boiling and serve immediately.

Another favorite is Chicken Corn Soup that I found online.  We only make that when we have the special treat of chicken and Michael buys corn in a town about 30 minutes away which is also where he finds chicken. 

I hope this gives you a glimpse into cooking as a missionary in a third world country.  Thanks to my mom for suggesting this blog idea!