Jamaica - Ackee and Saltfish
I was very excited to try Jamaica's ackee and saltfish, not least because I had no idea what either of those were before starting to cook it. For those who are also unaware, ackee is a fruit, with edible yellow flesh inside three large seeds. Its flavour is hard to exactly place, but it is very mild, with a slight nutiness. Texture wise, ackee is very delicate, with a consistency not too dissimilar from well-made scrambled eggs. Saltfish, or bacalao, is salt cured and dried fish, usually fresh meaty white fish like cod, which is what I used here. Both saltfish and ackee were available in my local supermarket in Southampton. To rehydrate and desalinate the fish before cooking, the saltfish is first soaked for at least two hours in cold water, then cooked in boiling water for 15 minutes and washed off. The ackee and saltfish are added last minute to a fried mixture of onion, tomato, pepper, spring onions, thyme, chilli and black pepper. This is to avoid breaking down the ackee due to its very soft texture. I personally struggled with eating this dish, and am not entirely sure why. I found the dish to be quite one dimensional, and even after soaking for 3 hours, I still found the fish overly salty. I feel that I do need to revisit the dish, because clearly it's well loved - the reviews on jamaicanfoodsandrecipes.com are glowing, but I clearly didn't do it justice.
Palestine - Musakhan
Recipe from https://www.cheftariq.com/recipe/musakhan/
Taboon recipe from https://www.cheftariq.com/recipe/taboon-bread/
Palestine's Musakhan was absolutely delicious. The chicken legs are covered in olive oil, sumac, salt and seven spices (a fragrant spice mix also known as Baharat, consisting of cumin, coriander, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, black pepper and nutmeg), before baking for 40 minutes. The chicken is placed on top of a spiced bed of sweated onions on taboon bread, and topped with a sprinkling of pine nuts. Taboon bread is a yeasted, pitta like bread, easy enough to make from scratch. Traditionally, this would be cooked on hot stones, but worked just as well in my oven.
Burundi - Mealie Meal Pap
Another dish, another name for pap. Burundi's national dish is "Mealie meal pap". As per a few countries now, the dish itself is just the maize-based porridge, so I paired it with a stew of chicken and tomato. flavoured with coriander, turmeric and garlic. As was the case with a few of the previously cooked countries, the cornmeal that I use should be significantly whiter (and less yellow). The dish was very tasty (with the addition of some not very traditional extra veggies), but nothing amazingly new.
Gabon - Poulet Nyembwe
Poulet Nyembwe (Chicken Palm oil) is a dish local to Gabon, Angola, Congo and the DRC (though under different names - Moamba de Galinha and Poulet Moambe). I looked around quite a bit to find a recipe that seemed authentic for Gabon, but came to the conclusion that most recipes for any of the countries seemed fairly interchangeable, the main difference being the addition of peanut butter in some recipes. I decided to add peanut butter to mine as I did not have access to palm butter or palm nut puree, which were not in all recipes, and peanut butter felt like it would replace what was lost. Unlike some oils we are more used to in Western cuisine, the strikingly red palm oil adds a distinct flavour to the dish, a very moorish one. Combined with tomato, chilli, onion and garlic, the sauce is cooked down, and to it fried marinated chicken (in olive oil, pepper, cayenne, cumin and mustard) is added. Served along with long grain rice, cucumber and a fried egg, this dish left me craving a whole lot more.
Ecuador - Encebollado
Ecuador's encebollado de pescado is a tuna soup, with cassava root, coriander, tomato and onion. The tuna is boiled with a refrito (tomato, onion, cumin, chili, salt) and coriander, then removed and replaced with cassava (yuca). This creates an incredibly deeply flavoured broth with intense fish flavours, which pairs perfectly with the acidity and natural sweetness of a quick-pickled red onion and tomato salsa. I also decided to serve alongside plantain chips, which I just made by frying thinly sliced plantain and sprinkling a little salt on top. This was my first time trying cassava, and I was pleasantly surprised. I had been told before that it could be quite an overly-starchy ingredient to cook with, but the long time cooking in the broth led to a pleasant, sweet potato-like, fluffy consistency.