Getting out the door with a healthy breakfast can be quite the trick, unless you have a pre-packaged, loaded-with-calories, microwaveable pouch in your possession. If you’re willing to scan the recipe books of our global neighbors, however, gourmet-sized inspiration awaits. In the central African country Niger, as well as all over West Africa, dusty roadside stands sell the equivalent of the precious pouch with no microwaves in sight.
Entire feasts emerge from these ramshackle stands, but it is the breakfast that interests me. As light fills the sky, men, women and children line up to grab crusty baguette sandwiches wrapped tightly in old newspaper. Practiced hands fill each sandwich in one quick movement. A tight knot secures the bundle with twine, ribbon, string – whatever the friendly vendor can get their hands on. These sandwiches contain anything from grilled meats to noodles to beans, but we’re looking at the most breakfast-y of fillings – scrambled eggs.
In Niger, people often scramble their eggs with a leafy vegetable called malahiya – indigenous throughout the region (and as far east as Japan). The plant goes by many, many names, including corchorus, mulukhiyah and mallow-leaves. Malahiya grows easily and abundantly, and so it is a natural meal booster in Niger (and as an added bonus, the fibers can be used to make jute).
In Oklahoma, there is no malahiya to be found, although spinach makes a nice addition. With a few green onions and a dash of paprika, breakfast is served.
I suggest enjoying this bite of Africa while pondering this Nigerien proverb: “A man who lives on the banks of the Niger should not wash his hands with spittle.” How many times do we make do with something that barely gets the job done, when there’s something just a few feet away that can do the job even better? That is made to do the job?
This reminds me of my tendency to strain my eyes to read in the ever-darkening night sky, instead of getting up to switch the light on. This proverb seems to say that, by all means, read by moonlight if you don’t have light. But if you do? Flip on the light for goodness sake.
These words reveal an underlying appreciation for that which we are fortunate enough to have – a gentle reminder to use what we are given, to appreciate our blessings. At its most basic, if you have eggs, use them. Don’t rely on prepackaged pouches.
Sasha Martin is cooking one meal for every country in the world. Her picky husband and baby girl are along for the ride. Join the adventure for recipes, reviews and more at www.globaltableadventure.com.
Nigerien Breakfast Sandwich
1 c. loosely packed baby spinach, chopped
1 heaping tbsp chopped green onion
1/8 tsp. paprika, or, for heat, cayenne
Salt and pepper
Butter or oil, for cooking
Whisk the eggs together with chopped baby spinach, green onion, salt and pepper. Don’t forget to sprinkle on the paprika. Split the baguette and cut into desired sandwich lengths. Toast under a broiler until golden brown and perfectly crunchy. Meanwhile, scramble the eggs. Load the eggs inside the bread and wrap with parchment paper or newspaper. Tie the sandwiches up tight and serve immediately. Makes enough eggs to fill one standard baguette, which can be cut into four portions.