Liboké is an emblematic cooking method of the Congolese culinary culture. Today, I chose to prepare liboké ya malangwa, or fish liboké.
A liboké (plural: maboke), is the traditional mode of dish preparation in the basin of the Congo river, in particular in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo. It consists in wrapping ingredients in banana leaves, and cooking the dish in an oven, steamed, or directly on a grill.
The most popular preparation and the one I chose to prepare today, is the fish liboké, usually made with catfish such as pangasisus, or emperor that is ubiquitous in African waters. This dish is mainly cooked with tomatoes and onions.
Let’s first talk about the Democratic Republic of Congo, a Central African country and the fourth most populous country in Africa behind Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt. It is also the second largest country in Africa after Algeria.
The country is also called simply Congo, or more often DRC, Congo-Kinshasa or DR Congo to differentiate it from the neighboring Republic of Congo, itself called Congo-Brazzaville for the same reason. From 1908 to 1960, this former colony was called Belgian Congo but also Congo-Leopoldville until 1966, date of the change of name of the capital to Kinshasa. The country was also called Zaire from 1971 to 1997.
The Congolese national dish is moambe, a specialty of chicken cooked in palm oil that also happens to be the same recipe as the emblematic dish of Gabon known as nyembwe, that our reckless Mike had prepared, with his homemade smoked chicken!
So back to today’s liboké. Liboké means “pocket” or “package”. It is a Congolese word, in the lingala dialect, which means wrapped in banana leaf.
Before discovering the joys of modern refrigeration, people in tropical countries cooked and preserved food in banana leaves to prevent them from spoiling and rotting. The primary benefit of cooking in a banana leaf is that the leaf film protects the food from the flames. The fact that the food is wrapped also keeps the heat inside and cooks the food in its juice. These fresh green leaves give an aromatic and sweet flavor to the final dish, even a green tea taste.
Banana leaf is not the only natural food wrapper in the world. Indeed, many cultures cook in tree leaves around the world. Such examples include a variety of bamboo leaves, grapes, as in dolmas, and lotus to wrap, cook, and / or serve food.
But there is one thing about banana leaves that makes them stand out: the plant features many natural antioxidants, which are also found in green tea, and, even if we can not eat banana leaf, these antioxidants are absorbed in the food during cooking.
In some cultures, banana leaves occupy a prominent place as a ceremonial object. Hindus make food offerings to their gods and goddesses on these leaves. South India retains its age-old custom of serving festive and wedding meals on banana leaves, as our friend Nisha explained to us in her article about Diwali and semiya payasam.
Traditional foods in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia are usually served on banana leaves or plates that are lined with these leaves. Some cooked foods are wrapped in banana leaves just before they are served. Indonesians turn these cone-shaped waterproof sheets into snacks, glutinous rice dishes and satay. In Puerto Rico, sweet cassava arepas and tortillas are kept in banana leaves for a period of time before cooking.
In many Asian cuisines such as Cambodian cuisine, banana leaves serve many purposes in addition to adding flavor to foods cooked inside, as featured in amok trey. For example, even simply used as a colorful and exotic element to serve all the festive dishes.
This fish liboké is very simple to prepare.The fish stays juicy and tasty! That was delicious !
- 6 filets pangasus (or other white firm flesh fish)
- 1 cube chicken bouillon , crumbled
- 5 cloves garlic , chopped
- 4 scallions , chopped
- 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger , chopped
- 4 tablespoons peeled and crushed tomatoes
- 3 teaspoons ground nutmeg
- 2 hot peppers
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 banana leaves
In a large dish, place the fish and rub the flesh with the crumbled bouillon cube.
Add the tomatoes, garlic, ginger, onions, nutmeg. Season with salt, pepper and mix well so the fish absorbs all the flavors.
Cover the dish with plastic wrap and set aside in the refrigerator for 4 hours
Preheat oven to 400F/200C.
Wash and dry the banana leaves. To easily make the large wraps, use a large salad bowl.
Line the salad bowl with banana leaves. Overlapping so that there is no empty space. Allow the leaves to overflow on all sides of the bowl.
Place the marinated fish in the center, add the whole hot pepper, the bay leaf and close the banana leaf wrap by making a knot with food thread or toothpicks.
Place the wrapped fish in a large oven baking dish with the bottom filled with water so that the banana leaves do not dry out.
Bake for about 30 minutes in oven. Serve with white rice.