Hidden at the back end of Royal Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter is a little Ethiopian restaurant called Bennachin. I am addicted to their black-eyed pea stew kone ni makondo. It’s warm and spicy and hearty and savory. It’s the perfect meal when you’re feeling tired and beat up by life.
Of course, once the Shanti is mobile, we’ll be leaving New Orleans and relying much more on my culinary prowess. That’s made figuring out how to make “something that tastes kind of like that thing I really like” a fun challenge.
I’ve been trying to reconstruct Bennachin’s black-eyed pea stew for a year now, well before we moved aboard. I’ve finally come pretty close using the formula I wrote about earlier, my taste buds, and some online research*. Who would’ve thought the limitations of cooking without a galley would wind up being the inspiration I needed to finally crack the code of this most delicious stew?
Here’s the formula PLUS the unique ingredients (as best I can tell) that make up the flavor base of kone ni makondo.
Step 0: Rice
In the Instant Pot, add equal parts WATER and RICE plus some BUTTER and SALT to make rice in about ten minutes.
I do this ahead of the stew (in our fancy extra inner pot) so that I can gather my ingredients while the rice is cooking. We eat rice (Jasmati, to be exact) with pretty much every meal. Just cover it up and put it to the side when it’s finished.
Step 1: Sauté
Start with the Sauté function to build a flavor base.
Step 2: Oil
Coat the bottom of your Instant Pot with cooking oil.
If you’re looking for authenticity, you might use red palm oil, which is a staple of African cuisine. You could also use olive oil. I, however, use cheap-o vegetable oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pot. Don’t be stingy because the oil helps to give the stew a smooth texture.
Step 2: Powdered Spices
Add RED PEPPER and GINGER to the oil long enough to smell the joint up.
There are a lot more ingredients that go into traditional African cuisine, but I don’t have room for all of them in our small galley. It seems like red pepper (or some powdered pepper variant) and ginger are the main flavors in this dish, though. If there are other spices, my taste buds aren’t refined enough to taste them.
I use a regular old teaspoon – like a spoon for stirring tea – as in, our one and only spoon – to “measure” ingredients, and so I’m not going to give you a specific amount to use. As always, I’d encourage you to figure out which spices you like more and learn about how much of each you like. I tend to use a little more ginger than red pepper, and I’m pretty generous with both.
Step 3: Onions
Add CHOPPED ONIONS (and SALT!!!!!!!!) and sauté long enough for them to soften and absorb all that oily, spicy goodness.
We have a small family and no food storage, so in general, I’m trying to prepare one meal for three people only. I’ve randomly decided that means every recipe has one onion (at least). If you’re feeding more people or fewer, or if you like onions less or more (impossible) than I do, you’ll need to figure out what that looks like for you.
Step 4: Aromatics
Add GARLIC to continue building the flavor base.
I used the minced garlic in a jar, and it is especially susceptible to burning, so I always add it just before I toss in liquid.
Step 5: Liquid
Add VEGETABLE BROTH and WATER.
We’re making a stew here, so you don’t want to have too much of either, but we’re also using dried beans, so you need enough to cover them and then some. I use one of the 8 ounce boxes of vegetable broth and add as much water as I need to make up the difference. If you’re making more or less (or want the stew more or less soupy), you’ll need to experiment.
Step 6: Protein
Add DRIED BLACK-EYED PEAS.
For the three of us, I use half a bag, or about 8 ounces of peas. I prefer using dried beans because they don’t take up as much space as cans, and they’re cheaper.
Step 7: Veggies
Add WHOLE CANNED TOMATOES and TOMATO PASTE.
I use whole canned tomatoes for most dishes. It makes it a lot easier to stock a pantry if I can stick with one type of tomato rather than several varieties, and whole tomatoes offer the greatest amount of flexibility.
As per Alton Brown’s suggestion in the Good Eats episode Seeing Red, I always de-seed the tomatoes before I use them. (Tomato seeds can leave a bitter taste in foods.) I break up the tomatoes (with my hands) as I throw them in the pot.
Adding a spoonful of tomato paste thickens the stew and gives it a richer tomato flavor.
Step 8: Pressure Cook
Seal and set Instant Pot to pressure cook for the desired amount of time.
For the amount of stew I make in the smaller Instant Pot I use, I’ll generally pressure cook for thirty minutes, quick release the steam, stir up the pot, and then pressure cook for another twenty or thirty minutes.
Step 9: Herbs and Additional Seasonings
Add SALT and PEPPER to taste. Spruce up the stew with GREEN ONIONS.
What if you want to mix it up?
First of all, that’s the idea of the formula. Reading the whole formula right now might feel more confusing than reading a recipe. However, once you’ve got it committed to muscle memory, it actually makes it a breeze to experiment with just about any dish you’d like to learn or modify.
This dish happens to be one of my family’s favorites, and there are lots of ways you could change it up. You might add meat of some kind in addition to the black-eyed peas at Step 6. You could try out some additional Ethiopian spices like Berbere spice at Step 2. You could add different aromatics, like fresh red peppers at Step 3. This is just how I happen to be making it right now.
For a little extra whiz bang!
Usually, I make a Southern-style cucumber and onion relish to add on top of the kone ni makondo. The vinegar adds a little bite to every bite, and the cool veggies add some contrast to the hot stew.
Next time, I’ll show you how you can use the same steps with different ingredients to make a delicious ropa vieja.
If you’ve got questions, comments, or even better, DARES, share them in the Comments section below. I wager I can cook just about any savory dish using this formula.
*I love Migrationology as a resource for uncovering the fundamentals of regional cuisine.