A Minute With Mike - Your turn

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 10/1/97.

May 8, 1997
From comments I've heard, starting even before I left a year ago, this Peace Corps experience is one many wish they could have had. Here's your chance. You can have your turn in the comfort of your own home this weekend.

Yes, now you can eat like a real Peace Corps volunteer. You may not even need to make a trip to the store. A full bag of rice has probably been sitting on your shelf for a year already.

The first rule in Peace Corps cooking is that you can substitute freely. If you use half of the listed ingredients, then it should taste approximately like it should. You're in luck here, because none of my bush recipes call for exotic things, like Worcestershire Sauce, mushrooms, or coriander seeds. The only substitution you'll need for sure is English potatoes for sweet potatoes. Kaukau, in pidgin, aren't a bit like those mushy orange things I wouldn't touch as a kid at Thanksgiving. Kaukau look like large English potatoes, only with yellow or red tint to their skin. I'm told they have more starch and they fry well. But they go bad in 10 days or so and one variety will turn funky purple.

Rice is my mainstay. I eat this basic dish twice a week. I cook at night and then have leftovers for lunch the next day. So that's four times a week.

Curried Rice
1 cup fresh vegetables**
1 onion
1 cup rice
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
** I use green beans, green (tree leaves), and corn when I can get it at the market. Go with what you've got. Boil the vegetables. Drain water into a measuring cup to conserve water. Heat oil in saucepan. Saute vegetables and add onion. Add curry, cumin, pepper, and garlic. When veggies are done, add rice. Saute for two minutes. Add about 2 cups of water from the measuring cup. Boil until water disappears. Serve with soy sauce.

I think you'll enjoy it. I still do. I can cook it in a little more than a half an hour, so it qualifies as a fast meal. You can have saltine crackers with it, or bread or tortillas, but you need to make those from scratch. I pay about $1 for a kilogram of rice, and I can buy massive kaukau for 10 cents. I've learned several recipes for potatoes. All my recipes serve two.

Cream of Kaukau Soup
2 large potatoes
1 onion
3 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon flour
2 teaspoons pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 cup powdered milk
3 cups water
Peel and dice potatoes. Heat oil in large saucepan. Saute and steam potatoes in saucepan. Add garlic. When potatoes are tender, add onion. Add flour. Reduce heat and add milk. Add pepper. Bring to boil. thicken as desired.

Scalloped Kaukau with Ham
Same as previous recipe except
1/3 cup milk powder
1 cup milk
1 can pork luncheon meat
Slice the potatoes instead of dicing and add the meat with the onions.

For variety sake, these two shouldn't be done back-to-back. If you add parmesan cheese a few minutes before you take it off the stove, you'll improve either dish ten-fold. I have found no substitute for cheese. I'll be going to Port Moresby in June, and I plan on buying a two-year's supply of parmesan cheese.

Here's a rare recipe that wouldn't be improved with cheese.

Pasta in Spicy Peanut Sauce
10 ounces pasta
1/2 onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder (to taste)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/4 cup peanut butter
Bring about 2-3 cups of water and 1 tablespoon oil to boil. Add pasta. Cook until tender. Drain in colander. Add 2 tablespoons of oil. Saute onions. Add vinegar, garlic, pepper, and chili powder. Reduce heat. Add soy sauce and peanut butter. Stir well. Add pasta and mix well. Serve hot.

My peanut butter is precious so I go light with it. I assume the more you add the creamier it gets. You can also use fresh peanuts. Chop them finely and fry them for 10 minutes or so, before adding the onion.

Last recipe. I actually have a dozen more, but I use them less frequently. If you just rotate these for a week, you'll begin to appreciate part of the Peace Corps experience. In truth, others eat a more varied diet than I , either due to their proximity to a store or out of personal taste. On weekends, I usually make bigger meals like tuna casserole, potato pancakes, split pea soup, bean burritos, and chili, when I have tomatoes.

Recently, I arranged to get a dozen eggs every other week through the Catholic Mission. A real egg makes a tremendous difference, but you can substitute 2 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and a little water for each egg.

Bush Banana Pancakes
1 banana
1/2 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon milk powder
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon oil
1/4 cup water (or more)
Mash bananas with a fork. Add other ingredients and mix well. Fry in a skillet with a drop of oil. Makes three pancakes.

You're all set. Just keep rotating these meals. Remember, no snacking. You'll know you've captured the essence of my experience when you start having dreams where you wake up, roll over, and try to rejoin the fantasy. In mine the other day, I was standing in the cold cereal section of a vast supermarket. Very exciting. But I woke up before I bought anything.

(Michael Jacobson was a reporter for the Paynesville Press before joining the Peace Corps.)

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