Cachupa, Cape Verde’s national dish, is a slow cooked stew of hominy and beans. Preferably, it is cooked over a wood fire so that it gets infused with smoke. Fish or meat, whatever you might have, help it to stick to your ribs. In our town in Benin, cooked hominy and cooked beans are sold seperately as meals in themselves. Combined into one dish with a fried egg on top, each bite takes me back to Santiago. This quick version doesn’t come close to our host mother in Cape Verde’s cachupa, but Guta would be proud nonetheless.
The price of cheese (expensive) combined with frequent power outages (things in fridge spoil) has led us to buy cheese only once in the three months since we’ve had a fridge. Extra garlicky tomato sauce makes a fine pizza topping on its own and reminds me of a cheeseless pizza bread from North Providence’s Italian neighborhood.
Homemade tofu (called soy cheese locally) is made by several women in our community. It is sold in bite sized, deep fried chunks and served with a spicy chile sauce. The fried tofu makes a great addition to cooking. Here I made a teriyaki sauce from miso paste and tossed it with the tofu. Some quick pickled cucumbers and avocado rounded out a very non-Beninese meal.
Jen and I taught a leadership course to high school girls in our community. A small group of the girls recently came over to look at photos from the course. Jen made a delicious apple cake to eat. When she put it on the table, the girls’ faces said what their questions implied. “What is that??!?” Apple cake, Jen explained. “What’s IN it???” said with equal parts disgust and fear. Jen explained that it had flour, eggs, sugar, oil and apples in it. The girls each ate one bite of the cake. “That is too sweet, Madame.” Beninese cuisine features few sweets and people aren’t used to eating sugar the way that Americans do. Instead, they moved onto the almost tasteless packaged cookies we’d bought after anticipating this culinary scenario. I took one for the team and ate most of the cake.
During our group’s bike trip we had one particularly fruitful day of receiving pineapple gifts. These 13 pineapples were given by a variety of friendly people we encountered during the day’s ~60 mile ride. The photo below shows how we got them to our final destination, a friend and fellow Peace Corps volunteer’s house where we made bean tacos with pineapple salsa and pineapple upside-down cake.
Central southern Benin grows a lot of pineapples. Lack of infrastructure and industrial processing plants prevents most of the pineapples from being exported. Instead, pineapples flood the market. I have gotten spoiled by the abundance of cheap, delicious pineapples that are usually sold for 75 – 100 cfa ($0.15 – $0.20) each. This is a field of pineapple plants. Each plant grows one pineapple.