Sunday, November 20, 2011

The joy of cooking

When we moved to Congo, we brought only 1 cookbook: More with Less. This cookbook had already become a friend, both for its philosophy and for its recipes with simple, natural ingredients. I did not know exactly what foods would be available in Kananga, and I must admit that I did not expect the complete dearth of familiar spices, which made cooking comfort food a real challenge! Fortunately, Inge Sthreshley bequeathed a copy of The Babula Cookbook to us, which gave hints of how to use local vegetables in familiar ways.


There were many days when I poured over More With Less, looking for the recipes that would work for us. Imagine—excluding all recipes that require an oven or the common American ingredients like cheese, green peppers, cream of mushroom soup, or boneless chicken breasts. Fortunately, More with Less is written by Mennonites living in all kinds of remote areas – perfect for “from-scratch” cooking, with lots of meatless options. So, I worked my way through the cookbook, marking the date and ranking how well we liked it. I imagined myself reenacting the movie Julie & Julia, with the stark contrast of our settings and the resulting meals.

We learned, gradually, that okra is a very flexible vegetable, and substitutes well for other vegetables like green peppers, broccoli, and carrots, that we don’t have in Congo. Gwenda Fletcher introduced me to the vegetable sellers that have “foreign” vegetables, like spinach, eggplant, and occasionally green beans. I also learned, through trial and lots of error, to cook rice on charcoal, where there is no “simmer” option. On our vacation to Morocco last year, we stocked up on several spices and bags of lentils, and some friends brought us some soy sauce from Kinshasa. So—now we really did have options! Some of our favorite recipes have been Egyptian rice and lentils, huevos rancheros, sweet and sour soybeans, and potato soup. We have also come to enjoy homemade macaroni and cheese and corned beef sloppy joes (as long as you are not expecting the same flavor as you would in the U.S.!).


Bob makes pancakes on the babula – a Saturday morning tradition!

We enjoy local cuisine in Kasai, but we come from a culture that practices culinary variety. So, while we appreciate local food and even eat it at home in Kananga, if we tried to eat it every day we would quickly lose our appreciation for it. So, we continue to explore ways to cook healthy, tasty meals that don’t take too many hours to prepare! One new acquisition during this visit to the US has been a very sturdy kerosene stove –hopefully easier to start and regulate the temperature on than charcoal! We got the stove from Lehmans, who is a major supplier for the Amish – perfect match for our environment in Kananga!

During these months in the U.S., I have been thrilled to get the chance to cook with all the ‘modern conveniences’ like an oven, a refrigerator, and an American grocery store down the street. We have perhaps enjoyed cooking and eating a bit too much here, since we have gained back all the weight we lost in our lean Congo lifestyle. Ah well…at least it is one sign of returning health!

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