Fox Valley Cooks: Cooking together, the African way
By Judy Buchenot For The Sun July 3, 2013 1:22PM
Fatmata Jalloh stirs a batch of Okra Sauce, a typical dish from Sierra Leone where she grew up. | Judy Buchenot~For The Beacon-News
2 pounds okra
1 pound chicken legs
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1 cup vegetable oil
1 medium onion
1/2 pound eggplant
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1 jalapeno pepper
1 teaspoon tomato paste
Prepare ingredients before starting the sauce. Clean and chop okra in small pieces. Chop green and red pepper into small chunks. Peel and chop eggplant in chunks. Peel onion and chop half of it into small pieces. Place the other half onion in a blender with the jalapeno pepper. For maximum heat, do not remove the seeds from the jalapeno pepper. Blend to finely chop.
Place water, chicken, seasoned salt, bouillon and salt into a pot and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside.
In a second large pot, heat 1 cup vegetable oil. Add chopped red and green pepper, eggplant, half onion and okra. Fry for 15 to 20 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add water from cooking chicken as needed.
Add tomato paste, the chicken and blended onion and jalapeño pepper. Cook an additional 30 minutes, adding chicken cooking liquid as needed. Serve over rice.
Updated: July 4, 2013 10:26AM
Fatmata Jalloh’s kitchen is filled with steam from bubbling pots in her Aurora home. The 52-year-old is working to prepare a dish to serve 50 people for a family gathering the next day. Her two young nieces work silently with her, cutting, dicing and stirring without needing any direction.
“This is how it is in Africa,” says Jalloh, who came to the United States 24 years ago from Sierra Leone. “There are no recipes, and the women all cook together. Even the young children help because that is how they learn.”
Jalloh says girls start helping when they are about six years old, and one of the first tasks they perform is to grind hot peppers with a mortar and pestle for different meals. Children also help by washing dishes.
“There are no dishwashers,” she explains. “We wash all the dishes by hand. As children grow older, they help with more things.”
Most of the time, her extended family ate together.
“Most days in Africa, we ate two meals. But some days, there was only one meal. I ate rice twice a day there, but here, I only eat it once a day. It is a staple part of the diet.”
When Jalloh first arrived in the U.S., she was 28 years old and was not impressed by American food at first.
“Then I found Chinese food, and I liked that,” Jalloh says.
The mix of vegetables, hot spices and meat was more like the African fare. She now likes many American dishes but still cooks traditional meals for family.
Although she had been to a supermarket in Sierra Leone, she says most shopping there is done in open air markets.
“Supermarkets are expensive,” she says. “In Africa, you often pick it and eat it. We call that from God to man.”
When she first came to America, she found it difficult to find some ingredients, but now, she can even buy palm oil, a reddish oil commonly used in African cooking.
Jalloh attended college and was a school teacher in Africa.
“I lived in the city, and I tell people that I see more animals here than I did in Africa,” she explains. “They don’t believe me, but it is true. There is a lack of food there, so any animals are captured. The rabbits that are here in my neighborhood would be trapped very quickly.”
At first Jalloh called the dish she was making “okra soup,” since that is the literal translation from Krio, one of the common languages spoken in the country.
“But (it) is really more of a sauce that is served over rice, like spaghetti sauce. We should call it okra sauce, I think,” she concludes.
The sauce can be made with different meats, including chicken, smoked turkey or fish. It also can be served over fufu or raw boiled bananas.
“Fufu is fermented cassava,” she explains. “We grate the cassava root and then let it ferment a week or more.”
Raw bananas are a green banana that is firmer in texture than a familiar yellow banana. The raw bananas are boiled in their skins, then peeled and cut into chunks to serve.
“They are not sweet,” Jalloh notes.
The easiest way to serve the okra sauce is over rice. Jalloh shares a recipe for a family-sized version of the sauce for others to try.