Unlike the United States where most of our culinary traditions focus on special holidays, very specific preparation, utensils, process and form are the norm in many, many foreign countries. In Sierra Leone for example, tonight's meal of Corned Beef and Yam cakes, would likely have been prepared by women, using a large pot, supported by three stones over a wood or charcoal fire. In fact, when I first started cooking in African countries back in 2010, I dug such a fire pit so I could try to replicated this process, which I highly recommend no matter what you like to cook - to see it, click here. Families in Sierra Leone generally congregate around a large dish of food, which almost always consists of rice, a small amount of fish or meat and sauce or gravy for dipping. After washing their hands, each person eats from the area directly in front of them or the middle of the platter, using their left hand only. Reaching across the platter is considered bad manners, as is using ones right right hand. Moreover, a lot of conversation is considered disrespectful to the food. The oldest male gets the best piece of meat, followed by younger males. The balance is left for the women and girls.
One cannot talk about Sierra Leone's history without mentioning the 1991-2002 Civil War that killed and/or mutilated more than 75, 000 people. The country's long history of diamond, bauxite and gold mining has long been a source of exploitation by those who mercilessly profit from the country's natural resources and exploit its people. This corruption, mismanagement, economic collapse and the dismantling of the educational system all contributed to one of the bloodiest and most tragic civil wars in the world's history.
Sierra Leone's tropical climate ranges from savannas to rain forests. Cassava, palaver sauce, red palm oil, onions, peppers, fish, meat stews, okra and ground nuts are all grown and consumed in this country. As mentioned above, rice is the staple starch in nearly every family, and large amounts of meat and fish are not common at the dinner table.
Peel the yam, sweet potatoes or potatoes, boil until soft and mash
Prepare the egg-milk mixture and the bread crumbs
The recipes calls for tinned corned beef, but I used fresh and minced it (my son works at a deli!)
Combine ingredients and add 2 Tbsp. of the egg mixture to bind everything
Brush cakes with egg mixture - don't attempt the dip method - I did and they fall apart
Get your oil good and hot and fry four at a time, turning once, until golden brown
Serve alongside hot sauce...I love this Peri-Peri sauce fromt he folks at Rhino
Corned Beef and Yam Cakes (recipe courtesy of Africaupenn.edu)
1 pound potatoes or yams
salt and pepper to taste
1 small onion, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup milk
7 ounce can corned beef (I used 1/2 lb. fresh)
2 cups bread crumbs for coating
Oil for frying
1 tsp. cayenne pepper, optional
1 tsp. finely chopped parsley
Peel potatoes or yams.
Boil in salted water until tender; drain and mash.
Add pepper or cayenne, chopped onions, parsley and corned beef.
Add milk to eggs and whisk.
Add 2 Tbsp. of the egg mixture into the yam mixture and blend well.
Scoop up about 2 Tbsp. yam mixture and form into flat cakes.
Brush with egg mixture, then coat with bread crumbs.
Fry in hot oil until golden brown, turning once as needed.
Drain on paper towels.
Serve with peri-peri or hot sauce of your choice.
Final Assessment: These were absolutely wonderful. They could easily be vegetarian by leaving out the corned beef and I honestly don't think you'd miss it all. I love the sweetness of the yams and the addition of cayenne gives them a great kick. Like any croquet, they're best fried in good hot oil so they don't float around soaking it all up. Once deeply golden brown, all they need is a little sea salt and a good sized dipping dish of peri-peri or hot pepper sauce. Served along side rice and a vegetables, they make a great meal. Except we just ate them as soon as they were cool enough to handle and called it dinner.
© 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World? Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved