As so often happens when thinking about the next country I'll be cooking in, which tonight is Rwanda, out of the blue comes along something completely unexpected that gives new meaning and context to the meal and the country it represents. Maybe it's because this journey is teaching me to look and listen more deeply, maybe it's karma or perhaps it's just pure coincidence. Whatever the case, this week's New Yorker showed up on my door step featuring a phenomenal piece entitled "Climbers" (Letter from Rwanda), by Philip Gourevitch. The story spotlights several young Hutu and Tutsi athletes from the Team Rwanda cycling team, who literally cycle to escape the past psychological atrocities of Rwanda's genocide as a way to live in the present and hope for the future. Gasore Hategeka, one of the riders Gouorevitch spotlights, is a former street kid (his entire family was killed when he was 10), whose single minded drive to earn money for a bicycle by growing potatoes and hauling them on a wooden bicycle is both inspirational and humbling. So, in honor of the Climbers (they earned the capital "C") and Rwanda, tonight's meal will be Pinto Beans and Potatoes - simple, life-sustaining fare for a small country striving to heal from unimaginable violence and genocide.
Because Rwanda is a small country, it does not support a vast variety of agricultural goods. Bananas, plantains, pulses, sweet potatoes, beans, cassava and potatoes (which were introduced to the country by German and Belgian colonists), as well as porridge are typical staples. Traditionally, the Tutus and Twa were hunters and farmers and had diets high in vegetables, while the Tutsi worked pastures and consumed more milk and dairy. Most Rwandan diets, regardless of their geographical locale, consist of very little meat and protein, although those who live near lakes have access to fish such as tilapia.
Pinto Beans - Rinse and Soak
Yellow Plantains - Slice and fry in peanut oil
Potatoes - Cube and add to beans
Celery - Chop and add to beans
Onions - slice thinly and saute until golden brown
Talapia - Lightly fried
Pinto Beans with Potatoes (Adapted from a recipe by Twinomugisha Charles)
2 cups dried pinto beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
3 large potatoes, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 tsp. salt
1 onion, thinly sliced
peanut oil for frying
Cover pinto beans with enough water to cover and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer until they are just tender.
Add potatoes, celery and salt and more water if necessary. Cook over low heat.
Just before the potatoes and beans are tender, gently fry the onions in a heavy skillet.
Using a slotted spoon, add the beans to the skillet and stir until well mixed and heated through.
Serve over hot rice or porridge or alongside plantains, spinach and talapia.
Final Assessment: This was a filling and surprisingly tasty meal. I love beans of all varieties, and combined with potatoes and onions, the dish can stand alone. I fried up some plantains and talpia for dinner, and meant to add spinach, but I forgot it! This makes an excellent vegetarian dish that we all found satisfying. Oh, and I added peri-peri hot sauce on the side to spice things up :)
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