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Cassava – Central African Republic National Dish – Day 63/Dish 32

March 13, 2010

Hello foodies and adventurers!  Cape Verde was beautiful and remote and the thunderstorms headed for North America were ominous. Our next destination is also very unique.  The Central African Republic is located in Central Africa.  Surprise!

To get there by ship, we merely have to sail across the channel between Cape Verde and Mauritania.  Then we begin a treacherous cross country trek through the incredibly varied terrain of Saharan and Sub-Saharan Africa.

CAR as I will call it was liberated from the French after a particularly brutal and inhumane period of colonial domination.  The late part of the 19th Century, between 1875 and 1900 is called the “Scramble for Africa” and saw European Colonialists “scrambling” to shore up cash strapped colonial economies on the backs of native Africans, usually with the aid of other Africans. 

This dark period lasted till the middle 20th century when many of these former colonies began to buck the colonial beast and declare independence.  The fighting that occurred during this time involved British, French, Portuguese, Dutch, German and others versus former colonial slaves often armed only with aggression and spears. 

As the years progressed into the middle 20th century, we can see examples of the Communist Bloc exerting direct assistance to these revolutionaries, likely with the hope of utilizing the vast wealth of resources found throughout Africa.  The end result in CAR as well as many other African nations is the poverty and corruption that remains like detritus floating in a political vacuum. 

CAR is ranked 179 out of 182 nations on the Human Development Index.  It is one of the poorest countries in the world and one of the 10 poorest in Africa.  It has seen a massive influx of people since 1960 and independence.  It has grown from just over 1 million to over 4 million people in just that time with nearly 2 million in just the last 3 years.  It seems unlikely that people would move to such a poor place.  However, if you compare the current political environment in CAR to the atrocities committed in Chad, Nigeria and Dem. Republic of Congo, it is not as confusing.  Additionally, CAR was called the “most sustainably developed nation on earth” in a 2001 report from The Ecologist Magazine. 

The national dish of CAR is Cassava.  The challenging thing about Cassava or Manioc, is that it can make you very sick and even dead if you do it wrong.  To work with this ingredient you need to soak the roots in water for 3-4 days then grind and press out the liquid poison (cyanogenic glucosides) found within. Washing, pressing, and extended cooking will reduce the toxicity to a safe level and grinding and fermenting the root produces flour that can be made into many different recipes.  The quote from below discusses the use of Manioc or Cassava in South America where it is also very popular, and its other unusual properties that have been documented for more than a century.

 “The juice of the bitter cassava, mixed with molasses and fermented, has been made into an intoxicating liquor, which is much relished by the Negroes and Indians. The concentrated juice, known in the colony of British Guiana as Cassareep, is an Indian preparation. One of its most remarkable properties is its highly antiseptic power, preserving meat that has been boiled in it for a much longer period than can be done by any other culinary process.”—Chem. and Drug., Nov. 15, 1882.

In CAR, the flour is made into bread like sticks and steamed for hours in Banana leaves to produce a paste similar to a fufu or fungee and is also used in soups, breads and as a rice substitute.

To be perfectly honest, I cheated on this recipe.  I do not have a stream or pond in which to soak the roots as the traditional instructions direct, and I do not have the patience or desire to work 7 hours on producing a “modeling clay”(direct quote) like steamed bread recipe with gluey texture and no dimensions of flavor that could kill me if my African Bush cooking skills are not up to snuff.  And so I cheated and found a recipe for a fresh loaf of Manioc Flour Bread that uses regular whole wheat flour and manioc flour (which I bought) at an 80% flour 20% manioc ratio.  I have been craving a fresh loaf of bread.  The secret ingredient that makes this recipe most interesting is the use of Cayenne pepper in the dough.  This was a refreshing change from the gluttonous balls of bland paste that I have been not too thrilled to consume (although I have in the name of science and progress).  And then I found out that the recipe is actually from Liberia, several hundred miles to the west although at a similar latitude to CAR.  This was discovered after the cooking had begun (I didn’t read the whole article tsk tsk) So basically this was a fail!  But a good fail…

Here is a link to an authentic Cassava Baton recipe: http://www.congocookbook.com/staple_dish_recipes/baton_de_manioc_and_chikwangue.html  I know the link says the Congo, but this recipe has been linked to many central African countries.  Enjoy wading in a stream or pond for three days and grinding crushing and cooking for another day if you are brave…I am not apparently.

I give this dish a 3 for difficulty.  Breads are trickier than proteins.  Science enters the picture and it can get blurry quickly.  I recommend following the directions EXACTLY.  If you do, you will produce a tasty oven fresh loaf of sweet (honey) and spicy (cayenne) bread that is unique and still recognizable as a homemade loaf of goodness.

CLICK HERE FOR A PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION

Rating:

Appearance: 3 out of 5

Aroma: 5 out of 5 (nothing like fresh bread hot from the oven)

Flavor: 4 out of 5

Total: 12 out of 15

Ingredients:

(Please note the interesting measurements and then read the story below the recipe and picture) My measurement conversions are approximate and should work just fine.  If you can decipher metric, or happen to be a truly advanced human (everyone using metric) compared to us ignorant Americans J please follow the exact recipe using metric and send me some feedback.  I lack the proper scales and spoons to measure some of these ingredients…

136g Casava flour (1/2 cup rounded)

544g or 2.5 cups Strong Bread Flour (Unbleached Wheat Flour)

24g yeast or 1 packet

30g or 2 tbsp White Sugar

4 tbsp Honey

60ml lukewarm Water (for yeast) (2 ounces)

340ml Water (for dough) (12 ounces)

13g or 1tbsp Salt

2 tsp Cayenne Pepper

12g or 1 tbsp Butter

Preparation:

Mix the yeast and white sugar into the 60ml water and leave in a warm place for 10 minutes to activate.

Combine the cassava flour, wheat flour, cayenne pepper and salt together and combine with the butter, honey and the yeast mixture. Add the remaining water a little at a time until you have a smooth dough. Remove this from the bowl and tip onto a floured surface and knead thoroughly (for at least 5 minutes).

Roll the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover with a damp cloth, place in a warm spot and allow it to rise for at least 75 minutes, or until doubled in size. Knock the dough back and knead for a further 5 minutes then return to the bowl, cover and allow to prove for a further 45 minutes.

Knock back once more and divide the dough into 2 equal parts. Knead each dough piece well to remove any trapped air then press the two dough pieces into greased half-loaf tins. Press down well into the tin then cover the tins and allow the dough to raise for at least 45 minutes in a warm place (or until the dough has risen some 2cm over the top of the tins).

Place in an oven pre-heated to 210°C (410F) and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped. Allow to cool a little before tipping onto a wire rack to cool completely.

This recipe is from Celtnet Recipes a wonderful resource for African Recipes.  Please check them out for more great recipes.  The original author found the recipe in her grandmother’s journal.  Her grandmother was a professional baker in Liberia. She had this recipe down pat I’ll bet…

http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/miscellaneous/fetch-recipe.php?rid=misc-cassava-flour-bread

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2010 2:48 pm

    Spicy bread. Very good…but dangerous I have the whole loaf and I’m the only one eating it.

  2. March 14, 2010 12:37 pm

    Dear Eric –
    I adore what you’re doing – bringing world cuisines to whoever will listen!

    You are a man after my own heart. Its very nice to meet a fellow foodie & fellow blogger who is on a similar mission though we’re going about it in our own unique ways.

    Thanks for stopping by and comment on the article on my blog.

    Much appreciated!

    Ciao, Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  3. February 15, 2012 2:21 pm

    It’s great you are promoting the foods of lesser-known places! We included cassava from Central African Republic in a recent tour of the continent for Valentine’s Day! http://www.africa.com/blog/blog,54_ways_to_say_i_love_you_in_africa,539.html

Trackbacks

  1. Yassa A La Poulet – Republic of Congo National Dish – Day 76/Dish 41 « MyHungryTum

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