Cooking aside, if there’s one thing this project has taught me it’s some basic world geography. Turns out that my knowledge of some parts of the world is pretty poor and Benin was another country which I couldn’t have placed on the map prior to this weekend. Following a little research I located Benin, sandwiched between Togo, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Niger, in West Africa. Benin was a French colony until 1960 and consequently the official language of Benin is French. I noticed a lot of the recipes I researched had French names.
My research tells me the Beninese like their foot hot hot hot, so some of my recipes had to be toned down to reduce the copious amount of chili in them. Traditional staples include corn, peanut and tomato. Carbohydrates are eaten with most meals including rice, pâté made from corn meal and pounded yams. Fresh fruits are abundant in Benin.
Meat is quite expensive as so it isn’t eaten as frequently as we might. The more common meats include fish (as the majority of the population live close to the coast), and chicken. Meats are fried in peanut oil or palm oil. I have yet to get my hands on some palm oil but am intrigued as it’s supposed to have a very unusual flavour. Having said that from reading the back of a jar of peanut butter I see that is made from palm oil and wonder if it can be tasted over the peanuts.
For our Beninese feast this evening I have made chicken and peanut meatballs in Beninese red sauce, served with a Beninese peanut sauce, pâté rouge and rice
The chicken meat balls were made from 6 chicken thighs, 1 habanero chili, 1 bunch of spring onions, 2 onions, 3 tomatoes and a 1/3 of a jar of peanut butter.
The chicken, spring onions and chili were blended in the food processor along with half the peanut butter and then formed into meat balls. Blanched, skinned and deseeded tomatoes were mixed with the chopped onion and remaining peanut butter (slightly watered down to make a thick paste). The meat balls were then fried in peanut oil until brown then the onion, tomato and peanut butter mixture was added to the pan and simmered for around 15 minutes.
Beninese pâté is nothing like the pâté we know in Europe. Pâté is literally translated as dough. Pâté blanche is basically corn meal (the same stuff used to make tortillas) and water boiled together. I opted for the more flavoursome pâté rouge which is the same thing but with the addition of chili, tomato puree and onion. The onion, chili and tomato are blended together into a paste and then fried. 600ml of water is added and brought to the boil. 320g of corn meal is then added which quickly forms a thick…substance! The pâté is then left to cool. It doesn’t look much but actually tastes quite nice. It’s eaten using fingers (of the right hand) and is dipped in sauce.
The Beninese peanut sauce was a winner. It’s made from onion, chilli, tomato puree and a stock cube fried in peanut oil then peanut butter and water are added. The mixture is reduced to form a thick, spicy sauce, delicious with the meatballs, rice and pâté.
With our Beninese meal we drank some Coca Cola imported from Africa which we picked up at an African food store in Chester. It’s made to a different recipe, but we couldn’t tell the difference! All in all a lovely meal; I wasn’t convinced about the cold pâté with the hot food but the meatballs and peanut sauce were delicious. Not dissimilar to satay but more robust and spicy.