Lent began last Wednesday. Lent is a forty day period of reflection and repentance leading up to Easter. In my church, we are expected to abstain from red meat and poultry on Fridays during Lent and to observe a couple of additional fast days. I observe the days of fast and abstinence, but I have always had trouble relating restricting my food intake to drawing closer to God. For me, the notion of restriction of food has many distracting associations with dieting and health. I do not give up food for Lent, but I have been looking for a way to reclaim the required days of fast and abstinence.
Operation Rice Bowl to the rescue. Operation Rice Bowl is a project run by one of my favorite charities: Catholic Relief Services (CRS). The goal of Operation Rice Bowl is to encourage Catholics to spend Lent educating themselves about, praying for, and raising money for countries that are in dire need of aid. Operation Rice Bowl encourages people to think of the fasts as acts of solidarity with those who do not have enough food to eat. They suggest using the meatless Fridays as an opportunity to prepare a simple, inexpensive, vegetarian meal from one of the targeted countries. I like this idea a lot and will be preparing their recipes on Fridays for the rest of Lent. In the spirit of the project, I will also provide a bit of information about the targeted country.
Last week’s targeted country was Lesotho, a small nation surrounded entirely by South Africa. Lesotho has the fourth highest rate of HIV infection in the world: between 1/4 and 1/3 of of the population is infected. HIV disproportionately strikes young adults in Lesotho (18-35), which means that Lesotho is losing its work force (including teachers) at a rapid rate.
The meal was was papa with chakalaka, which is basically polenta with a spicy baked beans and vegetables.
I changed the recipe slightly based on what I had in the house. I halved the recipe and still had lots of leftovers, especially of the papa. Papa keeps well–the leftovers are excellent heated and mashed with a bit of cheddar and scallions for a delicious lunch–so don’t worry if you have extra.
For the papa: they advise a 2-1 ratio of water to cornmeal. I have always used a lot more water than that when I make polenta, so I compromised and used a 3-1 ratio, which seemed to work fine. Salt the water, bring it to a boil, then add the cornmeal and lower the heat. Stir frequently while it cooks. I didn’t have any problems with the cornmeal burning or sticking, but it did tend to bubble up and spatter things if I didn’t stir it every now and then. Gradually, the mixture will become thicker and start to stick together. When it can support a standing spoon and it pulls away easily from the side of the pot, turn off the heat. It will thicken a bit more as it cools. The recipe advises making balls, which I had difficulty with, but a mound worked fine for me.
For the chakalaka:
First, cook some onion and green peppers in oil until soft. If you want to use frozen peppers (which I did), wait until the next step to add them.
Next, add one chopped fresh tomato (or half of a can), 1/2 can baked beans, and a grated carrot to the mix. I like using British style baked beans, which come in a tomato based sauce. (The leftovers are excellent on toast.) Now add flavorings: garlic, ginger, chili (fresh or in paste), and garam masala and/or curry powder. Mix thoroughly and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Serve warm with the papa.