Algeria - Couscous
Familiar to many of us, the national dish of Algeria is just the couscous grain. Paired with a stew of chickpeas, lentils and vegetables (tomato, onion,carrots, cabbage, potato, celery, turnip, courgette), the dish really comes alive due to the spice mix. Similar to spices you might find in a tagine, the main flavours of paprika and cinnamon really shine through to create a taste profile both spicy and warming. The dish is also fairly non-intensive, so perfect for a weeknight dinner.
Liberia - Dumboy
Dumboy is the mash-like paste you can see on the right of the plate above. It is essentially boiled and mashed cassava. On its own, it's not particularly flavourful, and a bit of a strange, tacky texture, but very filling. Together with a pepper soup is where it shines though, soaking up the flavours around it. The pepper soup is full of chicken (or other meat) and shrimp, along with the eponymous habanero peppers, onions, okra and bay leaves. I'm not sure I'd make dumboy again, not least for the very time consuming nature of mashing it in a pestle and mortar.
Venezuela - Pabellon Criollo
Venezuela's Pabellon Criollo is a definite contender for my favourite dish so far. I would happily eat any of the four distinct sections (a bit of a logistical challenge on my hobs) on their own. From left to right: Caraotas are black beans sauted with spring onions and red pepper (though I couldn't use one as all the supermarkets near me were completely out) and cooked down in a mix of cumin, garlic powder, stock, orange juice and annatto powder. I didn't find that the annatto lent much flavour other than a slight hint of pepperiness, but it did impart a slightly warmer colour to the beans. Arroz Blanco (white rice) was cooked with garlic and the grains were coated with oil and fried slightly, giving the rice a deeper, garlicky flavour. Carne mechada is beef steak, first marinated in paprika, cumin and turmeric, then seared and cooked down with onion, garlic, tomato and pepper. After cooking for two hours, the beef is pulled and the sauce is reduced slightly.
On the far right are platanos (fried plantains). Nice and easy to cook, and salted to perfection. Served with sliced avocado for a bit of green, and you have yourself a gorgeous dinner.
Senegal - Thiéboudienne
Thieboudienne is a jollof-rice like dish with vegetables laced throughout (green pepper, aubergine, carrot, cassava and turnip) and flavoured with tamarind and fish sauce. The rice is served with fish stuffed with parsley, garlic, spring onion, chilli and onion. I was not a massive fan of this dish, I think the recipe may need a bit of adjusting, as the fish itself was very overcooked, but the stuffing remained practically raw, and I myself am not the biggest fan of raw garlic. The cassava was also definitely undercooked. I think I may revisit this and play around with the cooking times. The flavours were great though!
Chad - Daraba
Chad's Daraba is a (presumably unintentionally) vegan stew with a spicy peanut sauce, and full of vegetables. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this, but the sauce really complimented the mix of aubergine, sweet potato, tomato, kale and okra. This was served along with white rice to bulk out the dish a little. Another quick and easy dish to be revisited.