Culture Tuesday: an Exploration of Congolese Cuisine

Culture Tuesday is a weekly column in which Best of Vegan Editor Samantha Onyemenam explores different cultures’ cuisines across the globe through a plant-based and vegan lens. In today’s column, she is taking a closer look at vegan Congolese cuisine. 

Culture Tuesday: an Exploration of Congolese Cuisine

Culture Tuesday – Vegan Congolese Cuisine

Congolese cuisine is the cuisine of the Democratic Republic of Congo (also known as ‘Congo’). The term is also used in reference to the cuisine of the Republic of Congo. However, the research for this article focuses on DRC. 

Congolese cuisine is influenced by the cuisines of South Africa, West African countries, Central African countries, France, Belgium, Lebanon, China, Arabia, Italy, and India. These influences present themselves in cooking techniques and specific recipes adopted from French and Belgian colonizers, some ingredients from China, Arabia, Italy, India, and the Native Americans, a general cooking style of South Africa and countries in West and Central Africa.

As over 65% of the population of Congo lives beneath the poverty line, farming is usually carried out in the subsistence form (to support oneself and household) with a reliance on starchy foods to make meals more filling. The staple food, which is most cultivated is cassava. Other cultivated crops include plantain, cocoyam, yam, sweet potato, beans, groundnuts, tomatoes, and okra.

Cassava – The Staple

Cassava, also known as, ‘manioc,’ and, ‘yuca,’ is a tuber root vegetable that originated in South America and was brought to Congo by the Belgians. Congolese people use the roots and leaves of the cassava plant to make dishes such as fufu, kwanga, and pondu.

Fufu is made by cutting, peeling, and chopping the cassava root (tuber) then cooking it in boiling water prior to pounding it using a mortar and pestle till it reaches a thick, smooth, slightly stretchy mouldable form. It accompanies soups and stews.

Vegan Congolese Cuisine: Vegan Kwanga
Vegan Kwanga. Image credit: @manya_co. Click on the photo to see the full post on Instagram.

Kwanga, or chikwanga, is a fermented cassava bread. The cassava is washed, peeled, chopped, and soaked in water for about three days then washed again and mashed using a mortar and pestle until a smooth paste is formed. This paste is transfer to banana leaves which are used to wrap them creating a parcel for the cassava paste then they’re transferred to a steamer basket and steamed for four to eight hours. It is usually served as a side to soups and stews too.

Vegan Saka Saka (Pondu)
Vegan Saka Saka (Pondu). Image credit: @muriellebanackissa. Click on the photo to see the full post on Instagram.

Pondu is both the lingala name for cassava leaves as well as the name of the most popular dish made with it. The dish, pondu, predominantly consists of cassava leaves, they are washed and crushed or pulverized until they form really done small pieces with a paste-like consistency. These leaves are cook with palm oil, onions, garlic, bell peppers, aubergines (eggplant), and spices over moderate-low heat for several hours or until all the liquid has evaporated and the vegetables have cooked down to a thick stew. The pondu is then served with rice (to make loso na pondu) or kwanga.

It should be noted that, more often than not, pondu is traditionally non-vegan. However salty fish substitutes or complete exclusion of the fish component of the dish will result in a vegan-friendly version of pondu.

Sweet Fried Plantains
Sweet Fried Plantains. Image credit: @zuriellescongolesecuisine. Click on the photo to see the full post on Instagram.

Plantains

Likewise to several West African countries, plantains are a common accompaniment to meals, especially those including rice. They are sweet and salty due to the natural sweetness of the plantain accompanied by the salt sprinkled on them prior to frying or shortly after deep frying. 

Although they are often sound in their fried form, the plantains can also be boiled, steamed, or roasted over an open flame as sides or main dishes.

Plantains are also often cooked in their sweet ripe form. However, when unripe, they can still be cooked to make completely savory, or very subtlety sweet, dishes that are starchier and more filling.

Vegan Congolese Cuisine: Vegan Épinard na Ngombe
Vegan Épinard na Ngombe. Image credit: @noja.jazzmine. Click on the photo to see the full post on Instagram.

Épinard

Épinard (spinach) is used to make soups, stews, and sauces such as épinard na ngombe.

Épinard na ngombe translates to, ‘spinach with beef.’ However, plant-based home cooks and chefs have been able to veganize the traditional dish using mushrooms (the most common meat substitute in Congo), seitan, and store-bought meat substitutes.

To make épinard na ngombe, the spinach is cooked with sautéed diced peeled tomatoes, onions, garlic, garden eggs (or aubergines/eggplant), green bell peppers, spring onions (green onions/scallions), herbs, spices, and other vegetables of choice (and water is stock if a looser/soupier consistency is desired). The meat substitute can be cooked along with the other ingredients or separately and stirred into the épinard sauce towards the end of its cooking stage. This dish is usually served with rice or fufu.

Vegan Congolese Cuisine:
Vegan Feijoada. Image credit: @congolinaria. Click on the photo to see the full post on Instagram.

Beans 

Beans are rather common ingredients in Congolese Cuisine. They are key parts to dishes such as feijão (similar to the Brazilian feijoada) and madesu.

Madesu is a red bean stew that is made by cooking parboiled red beans in a sauce made from sautéed onions, garlic, green pepper, herbs, spices, and tomato paste loosened with some water. The beans are cooked for over an hour in total resulting in soft, velvety beans which still hold their shape.

Madesu is served with rice and sometimes with the addition of slices of boiled bananas.

Vegan Congolese Cuisine:
Vegan Madesu Stew. Image credit: @ritaalphonsine. Click on the photo to see the full post on Instagram.

Les Brochettes de Buanga

Les Brochettes de Buanga, also known as, ‘Buanga skewers,’ are skewered meat (and vegetable, at times) dishes seasoned with spices that can be locally sourced in Congo. Its name comes from the French word for skewers – brochettes.

Plant-based home cooks and chefs have been able to make brochettes using seitan (a meat substitute made from wheat gluten) to create vegan-friendly dishes that are very similar in taste and texture, to traditional street food.

Vegan Congolese Cuisine: Les brochettes de Buanga, the vegan way
Les brochettes de Buanga, the vegan way. Image credit: @elubuveg. Click on the photo to see the full post on Instagram.

Recipe from Vegan Congolese Cuisine – Pondu (Congolese Cassava Leaf & Spinach Stew) by Murielle Banackissa

Here is a delicious pondu recipe developed by Murielle Banackissa (@muriellebanackissa on Instagram). This dish, as seen in the recipe, is also referred to as, ‘saka saka.’

Vegan Congolese Cuisine:

Click here for the full recipe.

Author: Samantha Onyemenam.

If you loved this article on vegan Congolese cuisine, you might also like…

Culture Tuesday: an Exploration of Ivorian Cuisine

Culture Tuesday: An Exploration of Kenyan Cuisine

Culture Tuesday: An Exploration of Ghanaian Cuisine

Comments

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recipe of the Day.

Get the latest vegan recipes sent directly to your inbox.

No spam ever. Unsubscribe anytime.

Latest Articles

Vegan Soul Bowl

Food Stories is a column in which Best of...

BIPOC Portraits: Turnip Vegan (An Interview with Todd Anderson)

BIPOC Portraits is a series in which Best of...

Vegan Unagi Don (Grilled Eggplant “Eel” Rice Bowl)

Food Stories is a column in which Best of...

Click here to view all of our latest recipes and articles.