Paul Gauguin said “cooking requires a clear head, a generous spirit and an open heart.” OK, I agree but… a clear head? Maybe not for all the recipes!
Nigerien cuisine is the reflection of many traditional African cuisines, and even if a large amount of spices is used in the cuisine, chili pepper is almost nonexistent. Stews consist mainly of mutton or lamb.
When I chose my recipe today, I have to confess that I knew what I was getting into. Indeed, dounguouri soko is a dish made of beans that looks pretty much like a good French cassoulet or a loubia from my native Morocco, or even a Tunisian bsal ou loubia.
Loubia bel kerine from neighboring Algeria is the dish that is the closest to dounguouri soko as it is also cooked with lamb or mutton. Dounguouri soko, however, is cooked without spices.
I learn every day in my kitchen and my discovery of the day was natron which I had no clue existed until now! This is a substance which appears after evaporation in sodium-rich lakes. It is mainly found in Libya, Egypt , Botswana, Chad and USA.
Natron is a naturally occurring mixture of sodium carbonate decahydrate and sodium bicarbonate (also known as baking soda) with small amounts of sodium chloride and sodium sulfate. Yes, some kind of salt!
I had the curiosity to taste it before cooking it and it was actually salty but also very bitter. I found no written explanation about the usefulness of natron in dounguouri soko. It is quite obvious though that the utility is the same as baking soda, mainly to soften the beans and reduce cooking time but also to facilitate digestion.
I could entertain myself with a list all the benefits and uses of natron but I might bore you very quickly as they are numerous.
This universal little known and very cheap product can be used for multiple applications, including to name a few :
– Washing and bleaching clothes
– Softening clothes, accompanied by essential oil
– Getting rid of fat and grease stains
– Replacing all household products
– Soothing heartburn
– Relieving itching after shaving
– Repelling insects
– Purifying breath
– Getting beautiful stiff egg whites
– Tenderizing meats
The list is very long and it is finally a large number of products in one. Grandmothers’s tips are good in most cases, at the minimum because they’re often cheap! Think about it during your next visit to the supermarket!
Now back to my recipe… I was quite skeptical about the lack of spice in the preparation of this dish but I was very pleasantly surprised by the end result. The garlic, onion but also mostly the chopped bell peppers give enough to flavor this dish deliciously.
The whole family loved it!
- 2 lb lamb , cut into chunks
- 1 lb white beans
- 4 onions , chopped
- 2 green bell peppers , ground
- 2 red bell peppers , ground
- 5 tomatoes , peeled, seeded and diced
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 cup vegetable oil (or peanut oil)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ¼ teaspoon natron
- Soak the beans in water overnight and rinse thoroughly.
- Mix natron and white beans and boil 45 minutes in plenty of water in a pressure cooker preferably.
- Rinse with hot water and drain.
- In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil, and brown the meat over medium heat.
- Add the onions and chopped peppers and sauté for 5 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and garlic and sauté for another 5 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and water, then the beans.
- Cook 30 minutes over medium heat, and simmer for 30 minutes over low heat.
- When cooked, increase the heat to reduce the sauce if it is too liquid.
This dish should be served with mayonnaise.