Banana leaf parcels of spiced roast squash
The flavoursome, protein-packed seeds of Africa’s many species of Cucurbitaceae—the plant family that includes pumpkins, squash, gourds and melons—are put to good use throughout the continent. Dried then ground into flour, they are used as a thickener for soups and stews, and the protein they offer is particularly important if meat is scarce.
In west Africa, the word ‘egusi’ is used to describe these seeds and, quite often, the dishes derived from them. In the Congo River region of central Africa, the seeds are known as ‘mbika’. In this Congolese recipe, mbika flour and roasted pumpkin are cooked in a ‘liboke’—a small parcel made from a banana leaf.
12 x 8cm lengths of banana leaves
1 tsp cumin seeds
30ml carotino oil
1 medium spanish onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 red serrano chillies, diced
30g ginger, grated
180g pumpkin or squash, diced into 1cm cubes
15g fresh thyme
2 tsp ground mace
4 tbsp olive oil
15g parsley, chopped
250g flour of mbika / egushi
250-275ml good quality vegetable stock
Heat the oven to 180C. Prepare your banana leaves by cutting them into 8cm long strips, then warm them in the oven for a few minutes so they bend easily without tearing.
Toast the cumin seeds in a pan for 1-2 mins then set aside. In the same pan, heat the carotino oil then add the onion, garlic, chilli and grated ginger. Saute for 2-3 mins until the onions are soft.
Roast the diced pumpkin with the thyme, toasted cumin, mace and 1½ tbsp salt in the olive oil for 30 mins before adding the cooled onion mix and parsley to the roasted pumpkin and blending together gently.
Gradually add the stock to the mbika flour until you get a thick paste, then add the pumpkin and onion mix, gradually adding a little extra stock if necessary so the texture is firm but malleable.
Place 2-3 tbsp of the mixture into each banana leaf and fold into packets, then place them folded-side down on a baking tray.
Roast in oven for 30 mins until the packages feel firm to the touch.
ALTERNATIVE If you can’t find mbika / egusi flour (try an African or international grocery store), make your own: roast and shell whole pumpkin seeds, then grind them into a powder.
Recipe: Zoe Adjonyoh
Image: John Holdship