We gave you an introduction last week into the production of cowpea (black eyed beans) paste, which is the foundation of so many West African dishes. In Part II of our blog, we are going to continue the education.
Once cleaned and hulled, the cowpeas should be ground in a blender that is capable of providing a smooth product without the addition of an excessive amount of water. The amount of water that you add will depend on the power of the motor in your blender, but the important thing is to add as little water as possible, so that when other ingredients are added, the paste does not become too watery.
The majority of recipes using cowpea paste require the incorporation of air into the paste to give the final product a souffle-like quality. This is not possible in a blender. Therefore, after the cowpeas have been ground, they must be whipped with a wire whisk or a handheld blender. The paste should be whipped well (a minimum of 5 minutes). The addition of other ingredients (such as tomatoes and onions) will prevent the paste from being light, so if these ingredients are added, they should be mixed in quickly just before cooking.
Steamed foods prepared with cowpea paste (the classic one being moin moin) are traditionally wrapped in banana/plantain leaves prior to being cooked. Whichever leaves are used, they should be held over boiling water briefly to wilt them so that they will fold without cracking. These leaves give a special flavour to wrapped steamed foods. However, if they are unavailable then squares of parchment paper can be used. Recycled tins (that have been oiled) can also be used. These should be filled three-quarters full and covered loosely with tinfoil or have waxed paper tied over the top. The prepared packages are then placed in a steamer. Pour water halfway up and remember that it is important for water not to reach the packages, even when boiling, because they are to be cooked by steam. When cooked the food should be firm, but not hard, with no ‘beany’ smell or taste.