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excerpts from Round the World in Eighty Dishes

1956: Lesley Blanch

Lesley Blanch, world traveler and diplomatic wife, has these recipes in the Africa section of her Round the World in Eighty Dishes (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books 1962 (first published John Murray 1956).

Note:

Round the World in Eighty Dishes


The World through the Kitchen Window

Lesley Blanch



AFRICA

Congo Chicken

from Equatorial Africa

In the steamy forests of central Africa, right on the equator, there are all sorts of tropical fruits: pawpaws, mangoes, and bananas. The natives eat these, with chicken, eggs, and rough maize or corn meal biscuits and a porridgy mush. Bananas, cooked many ways, are the principal food. Ostrich eggs are a great treat; they are far too large to eat, except when beaten into a sort of omelet, one making a substantial dish for about 6 people. Sometimes there are feasts with elephant meat. If you were to paddle down one of the yellow swirling rivers, you would see the hippos mudbathing on the banks and the crocodiles basking in the sun, their huge ugly mouths held open so that little birds can hop about and pick their teeth clean of meat. I know this sounds unlikely, but it is true: the birds follow the hippos and crocodiles about and get their food this way, while the crocodiles never snap at the toothpick birds who are so helpful.

If your canoe were to steer up one of the little creeks which lead inland to a village, a great silence would fall; the forest would close in -- thick, steamy, green, silent, with only the rustle of a bird or the slither of some snake in the undergrowth. Perhaps you would hear a faraway crashing and snapping as a herd of elephants stamped through the undergrowth. They sometimes come to the villages, because they like to eat the sort of shrub often used to fence the houses, and they are usually chased off by noise, banging tins, and shouting. On the whole, they are peaceable, but very obstinate, and terrifying if angry.

The African villages are cheerful, busy places, full of life, children darting about, scrawny chickens pecking in the dust, and old crones preparing food in rough clay ovens outside each hut. If you are invited to join them at a feast, they might give you chicken cooked something like this, though I doubt they would have butter, and green peppers are my substitute for purely local vegetables.

  • 1 3 pound chicken [one 3 pound chicken]
  • 1/4 pound butter
  • Salt
  • 6 green peppers
  • Oil
  • Peanut butter
  • 1 cup roasted peanuts, unsalted

Take a 3-pound chicken, cleaned and prepared for roasting: now pack the inside with 1/4 pound butter and a handful of peanuts. Rub the chicken all over with salt and dabs of butter. Put in a medium oven and roast. The length of time depends on its weight: reckon 20 minutes to the pound. Thus a 3-pound chicken needs just about 1 hour. Baste it occasionally.

Meanwhile, take 6 green peppers and cook them whole, very fast, for 10 minutes, in a frying pan with very little oil. Let them get a bit burned, or blackened, outside. Take them off the fire, allow them to cool slightly, cut off the tops, scoop out the centres, cut the rest in strips, and put in the oven around the chicken, spooning a little of the butter the chicken in cooking in over them. Baste again when the chicken is half done. When your chicken is tender (prod the leg with a fork to see), take it out of the oven and spread it all over thinly with peanut butter. Salt it. Now take a cupful of chopped or coarsely ground roasted peanuts and sprinkle them all over your chicken. They will stick to the peanut butter and form a prickly-looking nutty coating. Put back into the oven and cook for another 5 or 6 minutes. Then serve surrounded by the green peppers. Eat plain rice with this, into which at the last moment you have sprinkled finely-chopped fresh green parsley.

As a sweet, mangoes would be classically correct, but difficult to obtain. Try BAKED BANANAS: peeled, split lengthwise, with the juice of a lemon squeezed over them, and a dusting of brown sugar, heated in the oven for 10 minutes. By the way, if you overcook them -- say 25-30 minutes, they puff up into a sort of purée-soufflé, quite an agreeable dish, which, however, tends to be insipid unless accompanied by a tart sauce. I often make one of bitter marmalade, heated, and thinned with a tot of dark rum and a little lemon juice and brown sugar.




The Rare Recipes pages contain African and African-inspired recipes from antique and out-of-print cookbooks.


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