I've been wanting to cook some more African dishes while we're still experiencing serious tropical heat here in Miami. I don't often match action to thought on this, but I think cuisines are best experienced in the climate that spawned them. This particular dish is from Cameroon. I found it while looking for alternative sources for African recipes since my latest not-entirely-satisfactory experience working from the Congo Cookbook. I found one version at the Fair Trade Cookbook and another in Celtnet's collection of world recipes. Both call for spinach, but that's probably substituting in for the local green, bitterleaf, so I'm going to use callaloo instead. Unfortunately, I got a small bunch from the CSA this week so I'm using under one pound to replace two pounds of spinach, but callaloo won't wilt away nearly as much, so I think I'm still in fair shape.
2 pounds beef suitable for stew, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
4 Tablespoons cooking oil
1 large onion, thickly sliced
1-2 pounds medium weight greens, coarsely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped or 1 can diced tomatoes, drained
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 Tablespoons natural peanut butter
chili pepper flakes to taste
salt and black pepper to taste
a squeeze of lemon for each serving
1. Season the beef with salt and, using as much of the cooking oil as necessary, brown in batches in a large pan. Remove the beef to a pot (I used my slow cooker), salt a little more and cover with just enough water to cover, approximately four cups. Bring to a boil and simmer for around 1 1/2 hours, until the meat is just starting to get tender. Drain the beef broth you just made. Reserve two cups for this dish and keep the rest to use later (bonus!).
2. Add the remaining oil to the pan you browned the beef in, heat to medium and add the onion. Fry, browning slightly and scraping up the stuck on beefy bits. When the onion is soft, add to the pot (deglazing the pan with the reserved beef broth if necessary), along everything but the lemon. Stir a bit to get the tomato paste and peanut butter dissolving. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until the beef is tender and the tomatoes are falling apart. Adjust seasonings and serve over rice or millet.
And here it is:
I dunno. It's not actively bad but it's not great either. Maybe it's me; I keep getting exciting about trying regional African cuisines but peanut butter and tomatoes are just peanut butter and tomatoes, not some revelatory experience. The flavors just don't blend into anything excitingly synergistic. I can say that the callaloo works well with that combination and stands up to a half hour in the stew pot better than spinach can. That's the best I can say for the dish, though.
I've done a bit more research, and I think, instead of Cameroonian zom, I should have made Tanzanian mchicha. According to a few different sources, amaranth is common in East Africa. A few even say mchicha is the Swahili word for it. The recipes I've found call for spinach, but I'm comfortable saying that they're substituting for callaloo. They also add coconut milk and curry powder to the mix, which I think will help the peanut butter and tomatoes get along better. That certainly sounds much better than how the zom turned out, but then the zom recipe sounded better than how the zom turned out too. Next time I've got some callaloo, I'll just have to try it and see.