The Internet does not yet know all. In part, I’m adding this post because searches for gozo do not produce recipe wisdom. So far, this manioc-flour specialty of the Central African Republic has failed to catch on among cosmopolitan American foodies.
I’m making gozo for an Africa-themed dinner party. It’s been years since I subsisted on this ball of food that is essentially the national starch of CAR.
And I can see why. In Africa it was a taste that most of us expats acquired after a while. I loved it, as I love almost all starches. But it has a texture that is reminiscent of Play-Doh and combines an odd funky smell with a slightly sour, otherwise perfectly bland flavor. It isn’t very appetizing unless you have a big bowl of peanut stew around. (Although once when we were desperate for dessert I do recall stuffing bits of peanut butter and sugar inside small balls of gozo, as though they were truffles. Another time I mixed gozo with cocoa powder and sculpted it into a gorilla, like marzipan.)
The fellows I lived with pounded gozo with a giant pestle each morning. They would toss it into a vat of boiling water, mix it with a sturdy stick very quickly, and voila: Big communal ball of gozo. They all plucked off bits and dipped them in sauce as quickly as they could, so they would get their fair shares. At our Saturday-night dinner parties each person would instead get his own, which allowed people to slow down some.
Once I tried to make gozo in the States. I bought the wrong flour and it went very wrong. It smelled like feet and it was years until I tried again. Then it came out not only smelly but terribly lumpy.
At the African market in Madison, the West African shop owner showed me to the correct cassava flour. She also told me that it’s dicey to use the method I knew from CAR. She prefers to mix the flour in cold water and slowly heat it while stirring, as though it were polenta. My test batch rolled into a ball but seemed rather uncooked — gozo grows a bit translucent when cooked, whereas this was perfectly opaque. Solution: steam the ball. It works!
The only other gozo recipe I could find on the Internet just says to mix cassava flour and water until you have gozo. Kind of missing the spirit of recipe-writing. So I’m filing this for any other CAR-homesick Westerners who can’t quite figure it out.
Don’t ask me about quantities. You’ll just have to work it out. I’m guessing I used approximately equal parts water and gozo, maybe more gozo.
Also, the cassava flour I have found in the States has always tasted a little stale. I suppose there’s no getting around that.
I welcome suggestions on any of this.
Gozo (traditional method)
Bring water to a boil. Dump in cassava flour all at once. Stir enthusiastically with a very strong utensil; it takes some forearm strength. I have broken spoons this way.
Or try my way:
Gozo (new method)
Mix gozo and cold water. Slowly heat while stirring until it mixes into a ball. Add more gozo if needed. Once you have a ball, put a collapsible steamer into the pot and pour some water down. Flatten the ball into a sort of disk. Steam for a few minutes. Then knead the ball with a fork to expose any uncooked bits and steam some more. Wrap in plastic; it should keep a day or two.
In case you find these disappointing, here’s a surefire recipe for pili-pili, or at least the version I learned in CAR. (I think pili-pili just means hot sauce, generally.) This is a sort of confit of peppers and onions that tastes sweet at first, making you think you should add more, then produces a lasting burn that worsens over time until you grow to regret it. I find it addictive.
Equal parts of these:
Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers, minced
Mash in a mortar and pestle (sometimes I just mince it finely).
Then fry in oil on low heat until the onions are thoroughly caramelized.
Add cumin seeds, or a very good curry powder if you can find it, and fry a few minutes more.