Cooking on an international level Cuisines: Liberian flavor served up with western dishes in the Givens home.

Kitchen Encounter

September 10, 1997|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

When her husband, Willie, was Liberia's ambassador to Britain from 1985 to 1990, Marion Givens would prepare a dish like jollaf rice to serve alongside western fare at elaborate dinner parties "just to give them some Liberian flavor," she said.

After civil war broke out in their West African homeland, the couple sought political asylum in this country, returning to Baltimore, where Willie had graduated from Morgan State University in the early '70s. Willie became an editor with the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper.

Here, their dinner guests enjoy many of the same dishes Marion prepared for their embassy guests, though some are surprised to find a Liberian favorite like potato greens on the menu.

"They will say, 'Is this spinach?' and I say, 'No, it's the vine off the sweet potato plant; you can eat it. It's delicious.' "

Growing up in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, the Hamilton resident and mother of four says she learned to appreciate the wide variety of foods her country has to offer. In Liberian cooking, beef and chicken are often married with seafood to form complex, savory dishes.

In a pinch, she'll eat a Big Mac, but Marion prefers her home cooking. Cooking daily is a labor of love, not a chore.

But the former bookkeeper is budget-conscious: "We eat rice almost everyday, so I buy it by the 25-pound bag. It's cheaper that way."

Here is one of Givens' recipes.

Peanut soup

Serves 4 to 6 as a main course

2 smoked turkey legs

2 pounds skinless chicken breasts

1 medium onion, chopped

2 chicken bouillon cubes

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon seasoning salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1/3 cup tomato paste

1 cup creamy peanut butter

1 green pepper

Rinse smoked turkey, then chop into cubes along with the chicken. Place in at least a quart of water in a 3-quart stockpot. Add onion, bouillon cubes, salt, seasoning salt and pepper. Slowly bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for 30 minutes or so. Remove a cup of the hot broth and mix in a bowl with tomato paste and peanut butter until well blended, then pour back into pot. Add chopped green pepper. Cook for 15 minutes on low heat, stirring every five minutes or so. More water may be added, depending on desired consistency.

Beef, shrimp or crab may be used in place of or in addition to turkey and chicken. Other vegetables may be added, too.

Serve hot over rice or simply accompanied by crackers and a salad.

Pub Date: 9/10/97

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