Tuesday, January 26, 2010

West Africa meets Western Europe

I finished my chapter (kind of, revisions will come in due time I’m sure) and sent it off to all the people dying to know about creating social networks before the days of Facebook and Twitter.  I haven’t joined the ranks of Twitter nation, because a) I see it as another way for me to waste time when I’m stressed about getting my work done, and b) I’m a little afraid to be that connected to the world.  Installing chat programs on my computer was a big step for me, leading me to believe that I wouldn't be able to handle too many tweets.  But let’s not fear technology, shall we?  Without, I would never get to talk to Regan.  Regan, who has an internet connection but sometimes no power…and no internet connection.  If my modem’s lights stop blinking at me for more than five minutes, I start to freak out, so perhaps I wouldn’t do so well in Nigeria.  Then again, it’s a lot warmer there right now and the sun stays up for more than five hours a day, so...Perhaps I should rethink my dissertation topic.  Regan, do you know if there were some early-modern, intellectual networks I could research?  Maybe written in languages that are already in my repertoire?
All this to say that I know very, very little about cultures in West Africa.  Most of my knowledge comes from Regan and the one visit I made to the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam (inicidentally with Regan).  Thank goodness for this blog, or I would continue to be woefully ignorant on the subject of living in Nigeria.
While Regan was here, she attempted to infuse my home with a little bit of African cuisine.  I would say that I was a really active participant in this attempt, but the truth is I did very little besides eat.  So on a wintry Amsterdam night we sat down to eat some typical West African food.  At least, I will assume that it is typical, because Regan told me so, and I trust her implicitly.
Here she is, hard at work removing the skins from black eyed peas for the moin moin:


It is much harder than it looks to remove those skins.  Actually, maybe it's easier than you would think, because I don't know how many of you have ever attempted to do this.  I could be showing my ignorance on the many uses of beans here, but it had never crossed my mind to grind beans through my hands until all of the skins peel away.  I've eaten plenty of foods with bean paste before, but I had never really thought about how one would go about making it.  Regan told me that it takes her neighbor and cook, Abigail, about ten minutes to get the job done; it took the two of us half an hour with a lot of effort.
There she is adding some peppers (I think) to the beans.  I really should have written the recipe down, because I cannot remember everything that went into this dish.  There were the beans, peppers and the dried shrimp powder.  I do know one very important ingredient we could never have left out:
Once everything was sufficiently mixed together, Regan set them in a water bath to cook.  In Nigeria, you can cook the moin moin in rolled up leaves, which I'm sure create some amazing flavor.  We didn't have anything other than these little, heart-shaped ramekins in the house that would work.  Thank goodness for bridal shower gifts is all I have to say.

Here you have it, a wonderful West African meal.  The moin moin is the yellow slice on the right.  It was so delicious and has the consistency, but not the taste, of a moist corn bread.  It had such a rich and deep flavor that was so filling in such a protein-rich dish.  At the bottom of the plate is jollof, a rice dish with tomatoes, courtesy of James, which he learned how to make when he and Regan were living in Ghana.  We had a spinach salad with dried cranberries and goat cheese to round out the meal.  I don't know if the cranberries are all that representative of Nigeria, but it satisfied all our cravings for a bit of green. Regan also told me that Nigerians eat a lot of greens in their diet, so the spinach seemed quite fitting.  Although, she did add that they don't really eat their greens raw.  Don't hold it against us, West Africa.  We've lived in L.A. for too long, and we really wanted some salad.

Regan, can you come back to Amsterdam and make me some more Nigerian food?

To make your very own moin moin (I believe it's pronounced moy moy, the same kind of sound you would make to say, "Oy vee, my arms hurt from squishing peas through my hands for half an hour."), here is Regan's handy recipe:

Nigerian Moin Moin
adapted from Regan's observations in Nigeria

1. Soak two handfuls of black-eyed peas for 20-30 minutes.  Then rub them together and rinse until all of the skins have been removed.
2. Blend beans with a quartered red pepper, a hot pepper, half an onion, a few cloves of garlic, a couple of teaspoons of smoked shrimp powder, a little vegetable oil, salt and Maggi (of course!)..  The mixture should have the consistency of split pea soup.  Add a little water if you need to thin it out.
3. Pour mixture into oiled ramekins (or plastic cups or tin cans - we're not worried about the leaching of chemicals around here, people).  And don't be stingy with the oil!
4. At this point, you can add a slice of boiled egg or a piece of meat or fish to each ramekin.  This is up to you - go crazy.
5. Place ramekins in a pan and fill halfway with water.  Bring water to a boil and then simmer until moin moin has hardened.  This takes at least 30 minutes.

This is a very forgiving recipe.  You'll need the beans, but otherwise use what you have.  In Nigeria, it is usually eaten with rice or fried chicken.

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