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Kuli Kuli – Benin National Dish – Day 34/Dish 18

February 9, 2010

Benin is our next destination and getting there involves sailing right across Hurricane Alley back into the Atlantic and on to the western shores of Africa.   Inside the Gulf Of Guinea is an area called the Bight of Benin, a sort of wide mouthed bay from which the country gets its name.  The topography of Benin and neighboring Togo is interesting in that the ocean front is very narrow while the country itself pushes deep inward into the continent.  Benin has a bulbous top that is wider than its ocean front and makes it look like an upside down gourd with a long neck.  In the north it borders Burkina Faso and Niger while to the east and west are Nigeria and Togo. 

Known as Dahomey from colonial times till 1975, Benin was at the heart of the Slave Coast.  Benin was involved in the human slave trade for nearly 300 years after forming treaties with the Portuguese in 1472.  The slave ships left from the coast and made the trek to areas in South, Central, and North America as well as the Islands of the Caribbean to work in agricultural sectors.  It was this terrible blood labor that brought great wealth and prosperity to the colonial powers as well as to the Colonial territories throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Dahomey was the land of the infamous Amazon Woman.  This fearsome group of female elite warriors was known as Ahosi or “our Mothers” in local dialects.  In fact Dahomey(Benin) became known as “Black Sparta” for its level of military preparedness, similar to the Greek city state of that name.  Young boys spent years training with older male warriors and the proud military history made Benin a power within the region.

Slavery was banned at the beginning of the 1800’s by Britain and other nations, and Dahomey began to lose its power.  The French took over and ran the nation from 1892 to 1960 when it gained independence. 

What followed was a story of downward spiral, ending in a period of Marxism and economic collapse at the hands of Lt. Col. Mathieu Kérékou.  After declaring the nation Marxist in 1975 he changed it’s name to the Republic of Benin.  During his rule, Benin had an infant mortality rate of 203 out of 1000 live births and the government takeover of businesses caused foreign investment to dry up.  Despite gross mismanagement of his nation and waffling between religions and political stances, he became the first African Black President to step down peacefully from office after his defeat in 1991.  He had a return to power in the 1996 and stayed until 2006 but his age and number of years in power prevented his running again in 2006. Kérékou was hailed for not changing the constitution to allow for his continued stay in power.  In 2006 the first free and fair election was held in Benin without Kerekou. 

Similarities in foods from this region of Africa may be due to several factors.  One is locally available produce.  Another is the effect of the slave trade in muddling the tribal boundaries as people banded together for protection, thus sharing their cultures and recipes.  Another might be the effects of colonial powers on the economies of Western Africa.  History has shown that the sucking of African recources to the benefit of outside influences has damaged the economies of Africa to near devastation.

The national dish of Benin is called Kuli Kuli and is the type of food that provides sustenance and protein for people with limited access to food supplies.  It is a fried Fritter made from mashed ground nuts, generally peanuts that are then fried in their own oils. 

I have seen several reviews of this dish where the end result “wound up in the garbage”.  Let’s see if we can figure out where they went wrong.  I give this dish a 3 for difficulty due to the tedious task of smashing up 1 lb of peanuts into paste and then trying to bind them long enough to fry them.

Postscript:  This is the first dish I would label a near failure.  Although I successfully executed the dish, and the flavors were balanced and tasty, the challenge was, as I expected, in binding the paste during frying.  The flavor was similar to a Girl Scout Peanut Butter Cookie without the sugar.  The texture was loose and grainy.  This is the type of dish where the recipes available were vague enough to require experience with the dish.  It would have been useful to have input from someone versed in cooking Kuli Kuli.  Also, I have not seen many great photos of this dish.  Photos can be very helpful in determining things like size and formation of a properly prepared dish.  Although my photo is not very good, it is possibly the best photo of Kuli Kuli in existence… alright, maybe not.  But I have seen worse.

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION

Rating:

Appearance: 2 out of 5

Aroma: 2 out of 5 (strong lingering odor, cook outdoors if possible)

Flavor:  3 out of 5

Total: 7 out of 15

Ingredients:

1 pound Roasted Peanuts

¼ cup Peanut Oil, or to taste

1 small Onion, finely chopped (minced or very fine dice)

1 teaspoon Cayenne

1 teaspoon Salt

Oil for frying

Preparation:

Grind or pound the nuts adding just enough oil to make a smooth paste. With wet hands, squeeze the mixture to remove any excess oil.  Saute the onions, cayenne & salt in a tablespoon of oil until golden. Knead into the nut paste. Shape into 1″ diameter balls adding a few drops of water if necessary to make them hold together. Drop the balls into hot oil or flatten & fry in a skillet. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the outsides are crisp.

(They seemed to be well bound until they were frying where they would tend to crumble.  Make sure the oil is hot enough to sear the outside quickly but not so hot that it will burn immediately)

Recipe source: “The Africa News Cookbook” Submitted By Mark Satterly

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 1, 2010 9:37 pm

    You might like to check out my post on making kuli-kuli: http://betumiblog.blogspot.com/2010/02/recipes-39-and-40-kuli-kuli-and-tankora.html

    Fran Osseo-Asare, BETUMI: The African Culinary Network

    • March 2, 2010 4:10 pm

      Greatly appreciated Fran! Hopefully people interested in this dish will check out your recipe as it is informative and well written.
      Thanks,
      Eric

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