Trip #164 Mauritania (Africa) Fish and Vegetable Stew over Rice (Thieboudienne,) North African Mint Green Tea, Millet Crackers

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map-of-mauritania

I love a recipe that results in less waste.  Do all parts get used? Will the leftovers be tasty?  If this is something that you also appreciate, then Mauritania is for you!  This stew was absolutely delicious!  But the best part was the rice, which was cooked with the amazing liquid from the stew, thereby including all of the flavor that the slow cooked vegetables could impart!  None of the deliciousness was wasted.  And the leftover rice and veggies will make an amazing next-day lunch.  The mint tea was very sweet, which is its way, and I enjoyed it in small doses.  For the bread, all I can say is this…I have yet to find a worthwhile use for millet flour.  So, skip the millet crackers but dive headfirst into the fish and vegetable stew.  It was totally worth the trip!    بالعافية (bialeafia – Bon Appetit in Arabic)

GRAAAAAAINS!

When we think of grains or cereals, most Americans think of wheat and corn.  But the world of grain is much larger and much more varies than that.  Every civilization around the globe has its native grains that help to sustain and grow their populations.  Below, we will talk a little about the history of human grain consumption as well as some alternative grains that have become readily available in your local grocery store, as taken from articles posted on https://blogs.scientificamerican.com, http://mentalfloss.com, https://www.history.com, and https://www.bbcgoodfood.com.

Just the Basics

New evidence suggests that, during the Middle Stone Age, at least some humans of that time period were eating starchy, cereal-based snacks as early as 105,000 years ago. The findings were gleaned from grass seed residue found on ancient African stone tools.

Researchers have assumed that humans were foraging for fruits, nuts and roots long before 100,000 years ago, but cereal grains are quite a new addition to the early prehistoric gastronomic picture. “This broadens the timeline for the use of grass seeds by our species,” Julio Mercader, an assistant professor at University of Calgary’s Department of Archeology and author of the paper, said in a prepared statement.

Plant domestication, most scientists think, made its debut some 10,000 years ago, with grain storage cropping up about 11,000 years ago.  However, recent archeological evidence pushed the grain train back even further!  The charred remains of a 14,500-year-old pita-like flatbread, made from grinding together cereals and tubers, were discovered in a stone fireplace in the Black Desert in Jordan, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Though archaeologists and historians have long tied the first baking of bread to the advent of agriculture in the Neolithic era, the new find predates that by more than 5,000 years.

Alternative Routes

  • Amaranth
    • Amaranth is a small seed with a fine texture, making it a popular choice to add to baked goods, cereals, or porridge. According to the Whole Grains Council, its protein content is much higher than other grains at 13-14 percent, and amaranth is considered a “complete” protein because it contains the amino acid lysine (something missing in most other grains). It can be cooked by boiling it in water (for 20 minutes) but can also be toasted and sweetened for a dessert. You can also try popping amaranth like corn kernels for a popcorn substitute.
  • Millet
    • A grain with a sweet, nutty flavor, Melanie Sherman (Registered Dietitian and founder of Westside Nutrition and Wellness) recommends cooking millet as a porridge with dried apricots. (Sweeten the porridge with apple juice instead of brown sugar for a healthy twist.) It also works well in a hot pilaf with other grains and vegetables.
    • Sherman says, “Millet is highly nutritious, a good source of phosphorous and magnesium as well as copper and manganese.” She also notes that because millet is a goitrogen, a type of food that can have negative health effects on your thyroid, it is wise to eat it in moderation, especially if you have any autoimmune or thyroid conditions. Millet doesn’t typically serve well cold, as it tends to stick together as it dries, but it’s versatile and quick to cook (10 to 25 minutes).
  • Teff
    • Grown mainly in Ethiopia and Eritrea, teff is a good source of protein, zinc, vitamin B6, and iron, and has a great balance of amino acids (although slightly lacking in lysine). The size of a poppy seed, teff has a notably high amount of calcium — about 123 mg per cup, the same amount found in 1/2 cup of spinach. The fine grains are ground into a flour and then fermented to make the flat crepe-like bread called injera (a traditional Ethiopian dish), on which hot foods like vegetables and meat are served.
  • Wheatberry
    • Wheatberry goes great with green vegetables or in a sweet salad with cranberries, orange, and cheese. It contains all the elements of a whole wheat kernel: the bran, germ, and endosperm, which provide a wider spectrum of nutrients than do processed grains like white rice (which has the bran and germ stripped for a greater shelf life). Wheatberry is also a good source of iron and fiber.
    • Wheatberry takes about 50 minutes to cook, relatively longer than most grains, but if you make a whole batch it will keep throughout the week (it’s also great cold). You can also experiment with the flavor by toasting the wheat berries before cooking; just heat them in the pot before adding water.
  • Quinoa
    • You’ve likely seen quinoa on restaurant menus, but might not have tried cooking it at home—which is a shame, because the fluffy seed only takes about 10 to 15 minutes to cook.
    • “It is exceptionally high in protein, fiber, and is low on the glycemic index,” Sherman says of quinoa. “It is also a great source of many nutrients including manganese, copper, phosphorous and magnesium.” She also notes that quinoa has a protective coating made of chemical compounds called saponins, which can cause a bitter taste. To prevent this, it should be washed under running water while rubbing the grain to remove any remaining bitterness. (Although most quinoa sold today is pre-treated to remove the saponin, many still like washing it just to make sure.)
  • Buckwheat
    • Though it’s a seed, buckwheat is treated like a grain in a culinary sense.  You could cook the buckwheat as a hot cereal for breakfast, or grind it into flour to make pancakes or crepes. The toasted version is used for kasha varnishkes, a traditional Eastern European dish of pasta noodles, kasha (toasted buckwheat), and onions.
    • “Buckwheat has similar health benefits to whole grains in that it’s high in fiber and vitamins and minerals,” Sherman says. “It’s great in terms of cholesterol management, and blood sugar control.” Plus, it’s easy to cook—it takes just 20 minutes.

Reasons to Use Alternative Grains

  1. If You’re a Vegetarian
    • Getting enough protein is important if you avoid meat and fish. Quinoa, a grain-like seed, has a higher protein content than most other grains, and contains all the essential amino acids you need making it equivalent to milk or soya. That’s not all, quinoa is a good source of iron and calcium – so it’s ideal for young adults and children who choose to follow a vegetarian diet. Other grains to include are wild rice which is richer in protein than brown rice and contains more of the immune-friendly mineral zinc. Farro and spelt are both ancient forms of wheat and make good vegetarian choices because they supply more protein as well as fiber than the modern wheat varieties.
  2. If You’ve Got High Cholesterol
    • If your cholesterol levels are high, opt for barley or oats. They contain powerful compounds called beta-glucans which help lower cholesterol in the blood, especially the bad cholesterol known as low density lipoprotein (LDL). Buckwheat is another heart-healthy option, because it contains rutin, a compound that protects against the effects of high cholesterol. It’s rich in magnesium, which relaxes blood vessels and helps keep blood flowing.
  3. If You’re Wanting to Avoid Gluten
    • People with celiac disease react against gluten, a protein found in certain grains, including wheat, rye and barley. The good news is there are a number of options that are naturally gluten-free. One popular choice is rice flour, which can be used to make puddings and biscuits, as well as for thickening sauces. It’s also worth checking out teff. This is a grass seed, and although relatively new to our shelves, it’s been used for centuries in its native North Africa. As a flour, teff can be used as a substitute in bread and other baked goods. Also try millet, amaranth and quinoa – millet is rich in protein and low in starches making it easy to digest. It’s also a great source of silicon which helps promote healthy hair and nails. Amaranth supplies the amino acid lysine, which is absent from most cereal grains – and being a good source of calcium, it helps support strong healthy bones.
  4. If You Have Low Energy
    • Avoid foods made with white refined flour and select whole-grain versions that are rich in the B vitamins your body needs to convert food to energy. Bulghar is a form of whole wheat which has been parboiled and dried, making it a quick and easy option for a filling lunchtime salad. As well as supplying energizing B vitamins, it’s high in fiber, which helps to sustain vitality levels right through the afternoon. Looking for a different grain for that kick-start? Then opt for kamut – the kernels are twice the size of common wheat and the grain supplies more protein which means it keeps you fuller for longer.
  5. If You’re Struggling with Blood Sugar Issues
    • It’s important to supply the body with the key nutrients needed for managing blood sugar levels. Whole-grains are a good source of magnesium, a mineral needed for the release of insulin, the hormone which manages levels of glucose – the sugar we use for energy. Oats, rye and barley are all good options, as well as brown rice and buckwheat. Alternatively, opt for sorghum, not only does it supply magnesium, but it contributes protective compounds which help prevent the damage that leads to some of the health problems associated with poor blood sugar control. Sorghum flour can be substituted for wheat flour in bread and bakes and is used in many gluten-free products.
  6. If You’re Struggling with Weight Loss
    • The popularity of high protein diets has meant many dieters shy away from grains because of their carb content. However, some grains, such as rye, don’t cause the insulin rise associated with wheat, making it easier to avoid the appetite swings and dips that lead to snacking and craving. Studies also suggest that rye keeps you fuller for longer, so swap to rye bread at breakfast or lunch to help fend off those snack attacks between meals.
    • Other useful grains for controlling your appetite and minimizing blood sugar swings include oats and brown rice. Try replacing your mid-morning biscuits with oat cakes and accompany lunch with a portion of brown rice instead of bread or pasta.
  7. If You’re Struggling with Hormones
    • As well as being nutrient-dense, whole-grains contain compounds called lignans which have a weak hormone-like effect – so including whole-grains like rye, oats, wheat or barley may help you achieve a better hormonal balance. These grains are also valuable sources of vitamin B6 which plays a key role in managing hormones and alleviating pre-menstrual symptoms like bloating, mood swings and period pains. Try adding a tablespoon of wheat-germ to your breakfast cereal or smoothie – as well as being rich in B vitamins, including B6, it’s an excellent source of vitamin E, another key vitamin for regulating hormones.

Fish and Vegetable Stew over Rice (Thieboudienne)

  • 2 Grouper Fillets, cut into chunks and patted dry
  • 1 Tbs All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 4 Sprigs Fresh Parsley, leaves only very finely chopped
  • 1 Pinch Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 Garlic Clove, peeled and finely diced
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, peeled and left whole
  • 1 Small Eggplant, stem removed, peeled, and cut into 1-inch chucks
  • 1 Large Carrot, peeled and cut into rounds
  • 1 Sweet Potato, peeled, quartered, and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 Large Russet Potato, peeled, quartered, and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3 Cups Water
  • 1 Tbs Tomato Paste
  • 1 Large Tomato, stem removed and finely chopped
  • 1 Vegetable Bouillon Cube, crushed
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 1/4 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Cup Basmati Rice
  • 1/2 Large White Onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 Red Chili Pepper, left whole
  • 1 Tbs Butter
  • 2 Tbs Vegetable Oil
  • 1 Tbs Roasted Peanuts, chopped

Step 1:  In a large stock pot, place the cut eggplant, carrot, sweet potato, russet potato, and 2 peeled, whole garlic cloves.  Cover the vegetables with 3 cups of water and set the pot aside to soak.

Step 2:  In a large zip top bag, combine the flour, 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp salt, finely chopped parsley, and pinch of cayenne pepper.  Seal the bag and mix it around to combine.  Once mixed, open the bag back up and place the chunks of grouper into the seasoning flour, close the bag, and gently roll the fish portions around until they are lightly but fully coated.

Step 3:  Place a large skillet with high sides on medium heat.  Once the pan is hot, add the 2 Tbs of vegetable oil.  When the oil starts to shimmer, remove the fish from the seasoning bag and shake off the excess flour.  Gently add the fish to the hot oil in a single layer.  Fry the fish until it is well browned and easily comes up from the hot pan, about 1 minute.  After 1 minute, if the fish is still sticking to the pan don’t force it up, instead allow it to cook some more until the fish easily releases from the pan.  Do this on all four sides of fish cubes.

Step 4:  Once the fish is evenly browned, remove it from the pan and wrap it up in aluminum foil to stay warm and set aside.

Step 5:  Add the 1 Tbs of chopped peanuts to the oil and cook for 30 seconds.

Step 6:  After 30 seconds, add the butter to the pan and allow it to melt.  Once the butter had completely melted, add the chopped 1/2 onion and chopped 1 clove of garlic to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes or until the onions are soft.  Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet while the onions and garlic cook.

Step 7:  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the tomato paste, finely chopped tomato, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper, and the crushed vegetable bouillon cube.  Once the onions have softened, add this tomato mixture to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes.

Step 8:  Once the tomato paste starts to turn a darker, brick red, add the vegetables and the soaking water to the pan.  Stir to thoroughly combine.  Add the whole chili pepper to the pan and increase the heat to high.  Once the water starts to boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 30 minutes.

Step 9:  After 30 minutes, add the cooked fish to the pot, cover, and cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Step 10:  After 5 minutes, use a slotted spoon to remove all of the vegetables and fish from the pan and place them in a large bowl.  Discard the whole chili pepper.  Cover the bowl to keep warm and set aside.

Step 11:  Pour the liquid from the pan into another container.  Measure out 2 1/3 cups of the cooking liquid from that container (add some additional water if there is not enough liquid) and add that back to the pan the vegetables and fish were cooked in.  Place the pan back on medium-high heat and bring the liquid to a boil.

Step 12:  Once boiling, add the 1 cup of rice to the pan, stir, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.

Step 13:  Once the rice has cooked and absorbed all of the liquid, fluff the rice with a fork.

Step 14:  To serve, make a bed of the rice on a plate and place the warm fish and vegetables on top.

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North African Mint Green Tea

  • 3 Cups Water
  • 1 Tbs Loose Green Tea Leaves
  • 5 Mint Leaves, torn
  • 1/3 Cup Sugar

Step 1:  Place the tea leaves and mint leaves in a small sauce pan or tea kettle.  Add the water and place on high heat.

Step 2:  Once the water boils, cook for 2 minutes.

Step 3:  Then, remove the pan from the heat and pour it into another pan or vessel (I used a large glass measuring cup.)  When pouring the tea into the second vessel, pour it slowly and from as high above the second vessel as possible.  This process will help make the tea foamy upon final pour.

Step 4:  Pour the tea and leaves back into the pan or kettle and place back on high heat.  Boil for 2 more minutes.

Step 5:  Once again, take the pan and pour the tea and leaves into another vessel, from as high up as possible.  Then, pour the tea and leaves back into the pan and boil for a 3rd time for 2 minutes.

Step 6:  After the 3rd boil, add the sugar to the tea and stir to dissolve.  Again, pour the tea and leaves into the second vessel from as high up as possible.  Then, pour the tea and leaves back into the pan/kettle and boil for a final time for 2 minutes.

Step 7:  Once the final boil is complete, turn the burner off but allow the pan to remain on the heat for 10 minutes.

Step 8:  Place a fine mesh strainer over your second vessel and pour the tea through it.  Remove and discard the tea and mint leaves.

Step 9:  Take the warm tea and pour it into 2 small glasses, slowly and from as far above the glasses as possible to create a foamy top to the tea.

Step 10: Serve.

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Millet Crackers

  • 1 Cup Millet Flour
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/8 tsp Salt
  • 2 Tbs Olive Oil
  • 1/3 Cup Water

Step 1:  In a large bowl, whisk together the millet flour, baking powder, and salt.

Step 2:  Add the olive oil and water to the dry ingredients and mix together into a pliable dough.

Step 3:  Divide the dough into 3 equal portions.

Step 4:  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Step 5:  Grease a large baking sheet.  Place 1 dough portion on to the baking sheet and gently press it down with your hands until the dough is formed into a circle about 6 inches across.  Repeat this process with the other two dough portions.

Step 6:  Once the oven is hot, place the baking sheet into the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Step 7:  Once the crackers are well browned, remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.

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mauritania flag

Fun Fact(s) about Mauritania:  1)  If you look at Mauritania from space, you can see a clear bull’s-eye-like image called “The Eye of Africa.” It is a Richat structure with a diameter of about 30 miles and believed to be the result of the simultaneous lifting of the underlying geology.  2)  In 1981, Mauritania became the last country in the world to abolish slavery, when a presidential decree abolished the practice.  A law making slavery a punishable criminal act was not passed until 2007.  3)  Mauritania’s Bay of Nouadhibou is the biggest ship cemetery in the world. There are more than 300 wrecks from all nations beached permanently on its shores. 

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