Monday, November 07, 2011

DRC: Central African Mikaté (Donuts)

Left: kokonte and wheat flour Right: only kokonte flour
Last week I wrote about a Brazilian cassava (manioc) cheese bread called pão de queijo. I've also been doing some research  on Central African Cuisine and Culture for a talk I'm giving at the Textile Museum in Washington DC on December 11, in conjunction with an exhibit they have called "Weaving Abstraction: Kuba Textiles and the Woven Art of Central Africa" (details at:

After the afternoon talk, there will be a reception and a chance for guests to sample some Sub-Saharan African dishes. I hope to include some food from the traditional area inhabited by the Kuba (or Bakuba) peoples in the DRC. As I've never had the good fortune of living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among other things, I turned for advice to my graduate school colleague from my Berkeley days, Anne Masamba.  

I told her we're supposed to steer clear of dishes with peanuts (sigh), and she was dismayed because 2 of her favorite dishes are mwamba nsusu (similar to chicken groundnut soup in West Africa), and mfumbwa (a dish of finely chopped "gnetum africanum," aka a type of "wild spinach") cooked in a sauce with onions, tomatoes, palm oil, smoked fish, and peanuts. I also lamented the difficulty of locating a supplier in the Washington DC area of the cherished cassava staple, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, then "sliced like round bread" and eaten with sauce, called kwanga. According to Anne "It is fermented and tastes a little like a sharp cheese . . ." She also recommended makayabu (munsambu), a dry salt fish dish. And mbika, using pounded seeds (like West African agushi or egusi) to coat fried meat and then steaming or grilling it.

She told me, too, about a kind of popular snack food called "mikaté," a fried dough she said was a bit like the togbei, bofrot, or puff puff of West Africa that I've blogged about before.  [NOTE: I'm adding this update on Nov. 9: it turns out these are not actually "cassava" donuts. Rice flour or wheat flour are a part of the equation. I'll post more about this on Nov. 10]
The interesting thing to me was that in the DRC she remembered the mikaté were made with cassava flour, and no wheat flour. I begged for the recipe, which she duly sent me, and today I've tried several versions with little success. While I'm testing the recipe, I've cut down her proportions by 2/3rds (her recipe called for 3 cups of flour, but I used only 1). I'm working on 4 different versions so far.  Anne recommended that I mix half wheat flour and half cassava flour. I decided to try 2 different types of cassava flour (one being Ghana's kokonte aka lafu) and one being Bob Red Mill's tapioca flour. I also tried making a version with only kokonte and only tapioca flour.

My initial 2 fried versions were unsuccessful: the recipe says "add enough water until the consistency of thick pancake mix." To the cup of kokonte I added a cup of warm water to the first batch (too much, so I had to increase the dry ingredients); the second one (a mix of wheat and cassava flours) seemed okay, but it seemed to soak up oil like a sponge when I fried it. Both those batches got tossed out.

I have 2 more batches fermenting (but the yeast seems insufficient to get  the fermentation process going--I'm wondering if cool, dry  fall weather in Central Pennsylvania lacks some of the warmth and humidity necessary to get the yeast properly activated. The batch using only the tapioca flour feels more like a thick glue than a dough. I'm tempted to try using some of the Brazilian mandioca flour I used last week for the cheese bread. . . [NOTE: both of these attempts were also unsuccessful].

At any rate, here's  Anne's recipe:
 (Makes about a dozen) [NOTE: She says to refrigerate this; I'm not sure why]

1 cup all-purpose flour (again, I'm trying half wheat and half cassava; and all cassava versions)
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
about 3/4 t of active yeast
1 little (1/4 t) pure vanilla (for her tripled recipe she also recommends instead substituting 1/4 pkg of dried powdered vanilla pudding--this recipe would be 1/3 of 1/4 or 1/12 of a pkg. I used the vanilla).

  • Mix the flour(s) together with the yeast and let it sit together for 45 seconds (so the yeast can settle with the flour)
  • Add the sugar, salt and vanilla (or dry pudding for an extra tasty result)
  • Add water until the consistency of thick pancake mix [this ended up being about 1/2 cup warm water, a little more for the tapioca flour]
  • Let sit (I covered it) for 2 hours (my house was so cool it took more than 2 hours)
Fill a deep skillet about 3/4 full with 6 - 8 cups oil (she recommended 1/4 olive oil and 3/4 vegetable oil).
Heat the oil and test by dropping in a glob of batter (NOTE: if the batter falls to the bottom and stays there, it's too cool; if it immediately bounces and up browns, it's too hot).
When the oil is hot, take a tablespoon and scoop up batter, then attempt to drop into batter as balls (like US donut holes). I had a LOT of trouble with my kokonte batter--it was too soft and kept wanting to spread (like PA Dutch funel cakes). I needed to add more flour to thicken it, and they still would not hold a round shape.

Fill the pan with batter, let brown on one side and then turn them over to brown on the other side.
Drain on paper towels and serve.
As I mentioned, I've not yet mastered the art of making mikaté, and may need to find someone to help me perfect the technique. Any of you readers have any advice?
P.S. Tuesday, Nov. 8: After 4 attempts at making these with cassava flour/starch, I can say that I failed. Mine were essentially inedible.  I'm guessing it has to do with the cassava flour I used. Certainly the starch became like glue, and did not form the spongy dough that I expected. However, I can see that using wheat flour would likely be totally fine.


Anne said...

Hi Fran.
All this food looks so good. Sorry, however, that the Mikate recipe didn't come out as we hoped.
I am posting the recipe as it was provided to me by Congo family members and as I provided it to you. I am not sure whether or not these larger proportions have anything to do with the outcome of the recipe (I shouldn't think so), but you might want to try the full recipe and see. When my relatives make this dish the Mikate look a lot like the round donuts we see in the bakery. As I emailed you, I will see if I can have one of our Congo relatives experiment with the recipe using manioc flour here in the states and see what we can pass on.

Recipe (Makes 25 – 35) Refrigerate
Mikate (Me ka’ tay)
3 cups all purpose flour (not self-rising) 1 cup sugar 1 ½ t of salt 1 pkg of dry active yeast 3 drops of pure vanilla or ¼ Pkg of dry powdered vanilla pudding
Mix flour and yeast together and set aside about 45 seconds so yeast can settle with flour.
Then add sugar, salt, and vanilla or dry pudding (dry pudding makes dish especially tasty)
Add water until the consistency of thick pancake mix, let set for two hours.
Use a deep skillet and fill ¾ full with 6-8 cups of oil (¼ olive oil and ¾ vegetable oil).
Heat oil and test if ready by dropping in a glob of batter.
Take a tablespoon and scoop up batter, attempt to drop into batter as balls (like American donut holes).
Cover entire pan with the batter and turn when done on one side.
When done, drain on paper towels and serve.

Fran said...

Please don't feel bad, Anne. I imagine the problem has to do with my "cassava flour" not being the same as what you used in the DRC. Perhaps someone reading this can advise me on where to find the proper flour.

Anne said...

Well, after three pleasant calls, I think I have the scoop. My daughter just said not to use the manioc flour. One of my Congo friends in Texas (our age), said that if you want to use manioc flour, just use a little for flavor. She says the person who prepared them for us in Congo probably used a mixture of manioc flour and other flours, including rice flour! I only remember her using manioc flour and the mikate having a slightly sour taste from the manioc flour that I loved.

In any case, she too suggested that you not use manioc (cassava) flour. She said she didn't even use manioc flour in Congo, so your recipe will still be authentic with or without the manioc flour. I asked her how much manioc flour should be used if it is used. She didn't give an amount other than to say just enough to get the taste. So,you might want to try 1/4 a cup of manioc flour to 2 3/4 cups of all purpose flour if you want to use manioc flour. Does the manioc flour you use have a slight sour taste? I think that taste is much better in the Mikate than just regular flour. If the manioc flour doesn't have that unique slightly sour taste, personally I wouldn't bother to add it.

Well, I hope this helps a little. Anne

Fran said...

Thanks again, Anne. I've been gathering more data, too, and will post some additional information tomorrow. Such as, the word for "bread" in Swahili is "mikate." More later.

MrsNdem said...

Hello! Although I am a follower of your blog and a fellow food blogger myself I am commenting for the first time. I'm from the DR Congo and have never eaten mikate made with kassava flour. What they commonly call mikate, fried on street corners, and served with peanut paste and/or a hot pepper sauce are fried doughnuts made from wheat flour and taste just the same as the nigerian and cameroonian puff puff. Thats what I grew up eating. I do have to admit that I have always been a city girl and have never been in the country side where a more "authentic" version might exist (which most urban congolese might not know about). Butin general when a congolese refers to "beignets" they really mean the regular wheat doughnuts. Good job though on all the research! REally interesting connections that you make between you travels, your culinary international experiences and african food. Keep up!!

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