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Monkey Bread Sorbet

October 28, 2009  |  Ingredients, Recipes  |  No Comments

If you asked me what the most interesting and unique ingredient I got to use in Senegal was, I would be hard pressed to choose between maad and bouye (monkey bread). That says something, because I only ever used bouye in a single recipe, not counting the traditional jus de bouye.

The powdery, fibrous, off-white contents of the baobob fruit, bouye has a flavor that is not easy to describe. Slightly sour, but not in a biting way like citrus; slightly sweet; and somehow slightly dry, even when made into a juice. Like the baobob tree itself, it seems to belong to some other order of things. It’s also very healthy, with as much vitamin C as citrus and as much calcium as milk. I would not be surprised at all if it started showing up in granola bars and fruit smoothies.

I must have walked past bouye for sale in the Yoff market a dozen times before I realized what it was. It looks like some kind freeze-dried root-vegetable, or maybe a type of building material. I only made the connection between the piles in the market and the drink that I loved after one of the neighbor children gave me a piece to suck on. (This was a common event that always resulted in mixed feelings on my part. On the one hand, it was almost always something good, or at least new. On the other, it was usually pre-chewed to some extent.)

Jus de bouye has a thick, creamy consistency that made me think of sorbet very first time I tried it. Like banana, it has a texture that seems to lend itself perfectly to freezing. Unfortunately for my sorbet aspirations, I had neither an ice cream churn nor a freezer, and it took me a while to come up with a plan to overcome those limitations

Ingredients

  • 1/2 kilo bouye
  • 2 cups sugar for sorbet. 1 cup with more to taste for juice
  • 2 litres of water, heated to 180 degrees (80C)

Equipment

  • 1 wire strainer (they sell them at the market)
  • 1/2 kilo salt
  • 1 ice cream maker
  • 1 freezer

Or, without the ice cream maker and freezer:

  • 4 blocks of ice from a neighbor who has a freezer
  • 2 cheap aluminum pots that nest inside each other and 1 pot lid from the market. Bargain hard for these, the quality is terrible and they will leak in a few months.
  • 1 big wooden spoon
  • 1 plastic laundry bucket (preferably imprinted with a tiger or a dragon)
  • 1 large bath towel (ditto)

Also useful

  • 1 kid from the neighborhood to send out for more salt or sugar as necessary.

The first step should be done the day before. Pour the hot water over the bouye in the first pot and add the sugar. Cover and let stand. Come back and give it a stir occasionally until it cools to room temperature, then use your wire strainer to strain out the seeds and fibers. Put the strained mixture in the fridge overnight.

The next day, take the bouye mixture out of the fridge and taste for sweetness and adjust as necessary. If you have an ice cream maker, at this point you can just pour the mixture in and turn it on. But I will continue just in case you too are trying to do this the hard way.

Run over to your neighbor’s to pick up the ice. Plan some time for this trip: it will probably involve thieboudienne, or at the very least a few rounds of tea.  Return home and crush one of the blocks of ice into small pieces. This can be difficult. I did it by smashing it against the concrete wall, which worked wonderfully. Add a bit of water, the crushed ice, and one cup of salt to the second aluminum pot. This will create a slurry that cools down below the freezing point of water. Place the pot containing the bouye inside the pot containing the ice bath, and start to stir.

And stir.

And stir.

Remember to scrape the sides, and add more ice and salt as your slurry melts.

And stir.

It took about 45 minutes of stirring, though I imagine that had something to do with the fact that it was in the mid 90s, both temperature and humidity. You want to the bouye mixture to achieve the texture of soft-serve ice-cream, and hopefully before the muscles in your arm do.

When it has frozen, crush the remaining ice and add most (but not all) of it to the salt slurry. Put the lid on your ice cream and nest the pot back into the slurry to harden. Wrap both pots with the towel and nestle the whole bundle into the laundry bucket. Cover the lid with the remaining ice and pull the towel up over it.

In one to two hours it will be hardened. In two to three it will have melted again. Enjoy!

Bissap

October 19, 2009  |  Ingredients  |  4 comments

One thing that I found very interesting about walking through my local market on Yoff was how much of what was for sale was familiar from little Mexican grocery stores in California. Obviously tomatoes and mangoes and avocados are fairly universal, but manioc and tamarind seemed like coincidences worth noting. And you can imagine my surprise when I tasted the national drink of Senegal for the first time and realized it was also served at my favorite taquería in San Jose*.

Bissap is the dried outer leaves of the hibiscus flower, and when brewed into a tea it has a tart, almost cranberry-like flavor. (And like cranberry juice, a lot of sugar is added to make it palatable!) In both California and Dakar you can find the spidery, dark red flowers in big bins at most local markets, though the ones you get in Dakar are likely to have quite a bit more sand in them**, so be sure to rinse well.

In addition to brewing them into tea with mint and sugar (to be served cold), the Senegalese use fresh bissap flowers in thieboudienne. Other than that, I did not come across very many local preparations. There was a very nice bissap jam at the Shell Station, but it was pretty clearly an item for tourists.

So what do you do with a kilo of bissap? Well for starters, you can do like the Senegalese and most of Latin America and make yourself a great summer drink just by adding hot water and sugar. Experiment to find the proportions you like best. But you can also do almost anything you would do with cranberries: I had very good results mixing the hydrated flowers with cream cheese to make a savory pastry filling. I am sorry I never thought to make a bissap jelly for one of our Yoff thanksgivings.

Perhaps my favorite preparation of bissap was pancake syrup. I think I liked it even better than maple. Just fill a small pot with rinsed flowers and add enough water to fill the pot half way. Bring it all to a boil for about ten minutes, then remove the flowers and add sugar equal to the volume of remaining liquid. Cook again until the sugar is entirely dissolved and let it cool. Or if it is ten am on a Saturday and the pancakes are ready, just pour it on hot.

*Under the name agua de flor de Jamaica
**This is true of almost everything in Dakar.

mad mad maad

September 22, 2009  |  Ingredients  |  6 comments

It looks like a yellowish potato that has lived a very hard life, and as far as I can tell it has no official spelling, but what it lacks in charm it makes up for in flavor. 100 francs will get you one fruit, cut open, with cayenne pepper and sugar sprinkled inside.

The shell is very much like a passion fruit, but more rugged, and the flavor recalls passion fruit as well, but intensely, powerfully sour. The Senegalese in my neighborhood did not seem to use it in any recipes, preferring to eat it out of hand. I found that the flavor went very well with seafood, replacing citrus one for one and adding a nice tropical flavor. It is also excellent in desserts. I wish I’d had the chance to make a sorbet.

To use in cooking, you have to get the juice separated from the large seeds and pulp. I ended up just mashing and stirring in a strainer for what seemed like hours, but if you are making a sweet dish, letting the seeds macerate with some sugar should make it easier.

This is not a fruit you are likely to run across outside of West Africa. A decent approximation is equal parts lime juice and passion fruit pulp (seeded or not, as you like). This is particularly good with pan fried sole. Let the fish sit in the mixture for ten minutes, then fry in butter with some very finely chopped onion. Add the marinade to the pan after removing the fish, bring to a simmer, and pour over top.

I actually bought maad out of season at highly inflated prices just to get a good picture, and then left them in the fridge for two weeks until they were entirely unphotogenic. They still tasted good though! The title photo is by Jonas Roux, under a CC attribution license.