Central Africa has long been considered the 'Dark Heart' of the African continent and because of its distance from the sea and inaccessibility it is the most 'African' region of the entire continent. The foods are more traditional and authentic because there has been little contact with colonies and settlers (only maize, tomatoes and chillies have made any significant impact from the outside). As a result the foods of Central Africa are less affected by the outside world.
Indeed, few people know anything about the cuisines of this region of Africa and what they entail. In truth, the basis of the food is very similar to that of neighboring East Africa and staples are a carbohydrate source (rice or yam or cassava, in the main) which is accompanied by a stew that generally incorporates greens and fish. The Congo river dominates this part of Africa and fish represents an important part of the diet. These fish are supplemented by wild greens (known as bush greens) and wild meat (bush meat) is also an important part of the diet.
The following recipe is common to much of Central Africa and you will find versions of this dish everywhere:
Fish and Greens
1 fish, filleted into serving-sized pieces
80ml palm oil (or peanut oil with 1 tsp paprika)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 onion, chopped
450g spinach (or collard greens, kale, savoy cage etc.)
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp salt
African hot sauce (or the hottest chilli sauce you can find) to taste
In a deep pan fry the fish in the oil then add the onions and garlic. Reduce the heat and continue cooking until the onions become translucent. Add water, bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and spinach and simmer until done. Season to taste and serve with Baton de Manioc, FuFu or rice.
The traditional and staple accompaniment to most Central African meals is Bâton de Manioc (literally 'cassava sticks'), made from prepared cassava flesh. The recipe below gives the traditional method for making this staple. These are made from bitter cassava which has a high content of cyanide compounds and is toxic unless prepared properly. This is one of the few ways of making this staple starch safe to eat.
Bâton de Manioc
Several kilos of bitter cassava tubers
leaves of Megaphrynium macrostachyum , or banana leaves
Soak the whole tubers in a tub, pond or stream for at least three days. At the end of this time peel the tubers and wash them in a large tub, changing the water multiple times.
Using a large pestle and mortar pound the tubers into a thick, smooth, paste. Put this paste into the leaves using two leaves per packet. Fold these lengthways into packets and tie closed (typically these packs are either 4cm in diameter and 30cm long or 10cm in diameter and 30cm long).
Place sticks or an upturned wire basket in the bottom of a large pot. Stack the packs on the bottom of the pot then add water (the water level should be benefit the packs). Cover tightly and steam for about 6 hours.
The finished bâton de manioc should be very thick and solid, approximating the consistency of modeling clay. It is typically either served warm or at room temperature. Cooked bâton de manioc will keep for several days as long as not removed from its leaf wrapper. (Discard the leaves and do not eat).
The foods of Central Africa are not capable of making the most of what lies around, and as someone with an interest in the wild editable plants of Europe I draw constant inspiration from the recipes of this part of Africa. I hope that, in my small part, I have motivated you to begin an exploration of Central African foods and cooking.