Monday, November 1, 2010

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Democratic Republic of Congo

My next stop on my culinary adventure is truly a challenge.  I find myself with the goal of making a main dish from the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The DRC is very large country in the heart of Sub-Saharan Africa, with a lot of resources.  Yet, very little of the land is farmed and whatever farming there may be is little more than subsistence farming.  I had a hard time finding recipes for main dishes in the Congo and the recipes that I could find differ with respect to how to make dishes.

The main dish is Chicken Moambe, which has been called the "National Dish of the Congo."  A Moambe is a stew that is generally made from the pericarp of palm nuts, which is the fruit of the African palm.  Recipes call for the use of palm butter or canned palm soup base; however, I was not able to find either ingredient.  Most recipes assume that you cannot find the pericarp of palm nuts, palm butter or canned palm soup base.  So, as an alternative, those recipes suggest peanut butter.  Yes, smooth and creamy peanut butter.

The challenge in making Chicken Moambe is that I could not find many recipes and those that I did find had completely different ways of making it.  One recipe called for boiling the chicken in water and tomato, while another called for browning the chicken and then adding water and tomato.  Moreover, none of the recipes have any pictures, so I'm cooking in the dark. So this recipe is definitely a work in progress.  It needs needs refinement, but it is a good try at a cuisine that I never knew anything about before this challenge. 

Serves 4

1 chicken (I used a package of chicken broken into 8 pieces)
1 large yellow onion, minced
10 tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil
8 ounces of tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper (or ground red pepper)
1 cup of peanut butter
Water, to cover
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste


1. Brown the chicken.  Heat about six tablespoons on high heat.  Brown the chicken, a couple of pieces at a time.  I bought a  chicken broken down into eight pieces -- 2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 legs and 2 wings.  I browned all of the chicken, beginning with the larger pieces (breasts) down to the smallest pieces (wings).  Set the chicken aside.

2.  Prepare the sauce.  In a large pot, add the remaining oil and heat on medium or medium high.  Saute the onions until translucent.  Add the chicken and the tomato sauce.  Also add the tomato sauce, crushed red pepper, and nutmeg.  Add enough water to cover the chicken. Reduce the heat and simmer for about ten minutes. 

3.  Add the peanut butter.  After the stew has simmered for about ten minutes, add the peanut butter and mix until it is dissolved into the stew.  The peanut butter gives the Chicken Moambe a unique flavor and it serves to thicken the stew.  Let the stew simmer for about twenty to twenty-five minutes.  The dish is finished when the chicken is done and tender.

4.  Plate the dish.  Serve over rice.  Put a couple of pieces of chicken and pour some of the broth over the chicken.

*     *     *

Overall, this dish was good, although I think I would cook it for a little longer to thicken the stew a little more.  This dish represents a few firsts, most notably, the first time that I have ever cooked with peanut butter.  The peanut butter did give the the dish an interesting taste.  I want to try this dish again using palm butter, assuming that I can find it.  Although this dish was good, I think I need to make it a few times before I can really say that I can make the "National Dish of the Congo."  Well, till next time....


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