Monday, January 19, 2015

Beans in Burundi

Burundi is a landlocked country in Southeastern Africa. A civil war, AIDS, and famine have stricken the country in the recent past, and they are slowly recovering. A former colony of Belgium, the official language of Burundi is French along with Kirundi. Swahili is also commonly spoken amongst the 10.3 million Hutus, Tutsis, Twas, and other minorities who call Burundi their home.

Beans, beans, and more beans. That's what defines the diet of your average Burundian. Meat is a rare treat, especially red meat. Other than their practically daily staple of beans, Burundians eat a lot of porridge, plantains, peas, sweet potatoes, cassava, and corn. Over 80% of the land is devoted to agriculture, and a lot of people also own livestock. The occasional red meat dish is served, but this is mainly from lamb or goat meat. Cattle are almost sacred and more of a status symbol than a source of food. I chose two bean dishes and an Arabic inspired Swahili dish using chicken and bulgur. I couldn't have made a Burundian meal without any beans!


Ibiharage is a dish of fried white beans. It is given a bit of a kick with chili pepper and dressed up with some fried onions. What’s not to like?
1 small onion, chopped
2 tbsp oil
2 cups cooked white beans
¾ tsp chili pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, and cook for 5 minutes, or until translucent. Stir in the chili pepper to completely incorporate it. Add the beans and continue to cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot. Season to taste.


The favorite beans of Burundi are red kidney beans, so I had to include these in one of my recipes. I’m not really sure what the name of this dish is, but it combines the two popular Burundian items of plantains and red kidney beans, so I decided to go with it. This was my least favorite dish of the three, but it was not horrible. Plantains are strange fruits. If you have never had one, they look like bananas but taste like potatoes. I discovered doing my breakfasts around the world that they are served fried, baked, mashed, and in porridges all over the world. I am still not a fan after quite a few experiences, so I don’t think they are growing on me. Don’t take my word for it though. Probably billions (or at least millions) of people eat them regularly, so they can’t be too horrid. The dish was similar to the ibiharage, but boils the beans and plantains instead of cooking them.


Beans and Plantains
1 small onion, chopped
1 tbsp oil
2 cups cooked red kidney beans
1 plantain, sliced into ¼” slices
¾ tsp chili pepper
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes, or until translucent. Stir in the chili pepper and plantains. Cook for another 5 minutes and then cover with water. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 20 minutes. Add the beans and continue to cook uncovered for 10 minute until most of the water evaporates. Serve hot.

Boko boko is a dish similar to the Arabic harees. It is common amongst the Swahili peoples who adapted it from Arabic settlers hundreds of years ago. The African version of the dish is slightly sweetened and adds in chicken gizzards to give it an extra oomph. The bulgur is boiled down until it forms a kind of thick paste. It was a little bland, but adding a bit of seasoning did the trick. I was a little freaked out about the chicken gizzards, but thankfully they were only used in the sauce. I tried a bit with the bulgur and then pushed the rest to the side of my plate. Chicken tummies are not for me. Who knows what that chicken had been eating?

Boko Boko
¾ cup bulgur
1 large chicken breast
½ an onion, grated
salt and pepper, to taste

For the turmeric sauce:
2 chicken gizzards, chopped
1 tbsp turmeric
½ cup water, plus more as needed
1 tbsp sugar

To top:
1 tbsp oil
½ a cup onion, sliced
ghee, to taste

To make the turmeric sauce, whisk the water, sugar, and turmeric together and bring it to a boil in a small pot. Add the gizzards, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 10-15 minutes, adding water as needed to form a thick paste-like sauce. Set aside.

To make the topping, heat the oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add the onion and fry for 6-8 minutes until golden brown.

Cover the bulgur, chicken, and grated onion with water in a pot. Bring it to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about an hour, or until all the water has been absorbed. Remove the chicken breast and shred it up. Add the chicken back to the bulgur and mash everything together. Top with ghee and the fried onions, and serve alongside the turmeric sauce.


I was kind of dreading/ looking forward to cooking Burundi. On one hand, I wanted to try the gizzards, and on the other hand, they really freaked me out. My roommates added to my discomfort by telling me exactly how nasty eating a chicken gizzard was. (The funny thing is, none of them knew what part of the body the gizzard came from. I guess gizzard is just a gross sounding name that fits the stomach well.) Also, I'm not really a bean or plantain person. I know, I know. I'm little Miss Picky, but I can't help it. In the end, I really liked the ibiharage. The boko boko was good too (without the sauce). It kind of reminded me of oatmeal which I adore. Overall, Burundi was not horrible, but I have definitely enjoyed the other African nations a little more. I guess my expectations were a little too high. I should have just told myself it was part of Southeast Asia, and I would have loved it.

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