The Proven Platter: Tomato and White Bean Stew (Niger)

This month’s Proven Platter recipe is a Tomato and White Bean Stew, called Togola in Niger. Try it with bread baked in a Dutch oven! 

By Linda McElroy

Serves: 8
Approximate time – 2 hours
Difficulty rating – Easy

Each month Dining for Women receives recipes from the sponsored program that are typical or unique to their region. I am then free to use the information they send, or to search for recipes from my own cookbooks and on-line websites and blogs. I do try to incorporate the recipes provided if possible.

So, imagine my surprise when the RAIN program sent a recipe for “bread baked in the desert sand!” The recipe called for your favorite bread dough, shaped and ready to bake, followed by instructions on how to bake the loaf in a wood fire buried in fine beach sand. I immediately thought of the bread that I make all the time, Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread, but instead of baking it in the desert sand we’ll bake it in a cast iron Dutch oven!

Also stated was, “This bread is served as an accompaniment to Togolaa meal for occasions and company in the bush!”

The recipe provided for Togola was simply a list of ingredients: fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil, basil, lamb or goat cubes. Instructions were to “combine all ingredients over medium heat, stirring occasionally, season with salt and pepper and add basil if desired. Break up fresh bread and place pieces in the sauce. Voila!”

Intrigued, I took this as a challenge to make some sense out of this dish, Togola, which I could not find anywhere on the Internet. I eliminated the idea of meat cubes and added white beans instead. And since I already had the oven on to bake the loaf of bread I thought why not roast this dish in the oven as well. It worked out beautifully, baking largely unattended in the oven and couldn’t have been easier to make.

Given the scarcity of recipes for Nigerien cuisine in both cookbooks and the Internet I’ve taken some creative license with these recipes. I am delighted to present you with my “Niger-fusion” menu.

Tomato and White Bean Stew (Togola)

I was inspired to create my version of “Togola” based on the ingredient list offered by the RAIN program this month. While I never came across a recipe referred to as “Togola” I did come across other Nigerien stew recipes, and I borrowed an idea from one that included white beans and bell peppers, a dish called Dounguouri Soku.

This dish is to be accompanied by crusty white bread torn into pieces and stirred into the finished dish.

1 large onion
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper
1 medium green bell pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 ½-3 pounds tomatoes
2 teaspoons salt
1 15-oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
large handful fresh basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Start by cutting the onion in half, slicing through from root to stem, and then cut vertically into thin slices. Dice the bell peppers into one-inch squares. Place into a 9” x 13” baking dish and coat with the olive oil and one teaspoon of salt. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring once halfway through.

Core the tomatoes and cut them in half, then slice the halves into thin wedges. Remove the baking pan from the oven and add the tomatoes, one cup of water, and another teaspoon of salt; continue roasting the mixture for another 30 minutes. Halfway through this cooking time remove pan again and press on the tomatoes to help break them up a bit. If they are not looking really juicy, add some more water. Remember, you want this to be a very saucy dish so that there is ample liquid for the bread to absorb.

Now add the white beans and large handful of basil leaves and continue to roast for 15 more minutes, just until the beans warm up and the mixture is hot. Taste and adjust seasoning. You may need more salt – tomatoes and beans can absorb a lot of salt.

Garnish the top with extra basil leaves.

Serve with crusty white bread, either torn into bits and stirred into the sauce, or serve the bread on the side for mopping up the delicious juices. If you serve the bread in the sauce (which I highly recommend) make sure you don’t add too much bread, as it will double or triple in volume once it absorbs the juices.

LindaMcElroyAbout the author

Linda and her husband opened Ristorante Machiavelli in Seattle in 1988. After 25 years of cooking in and running a wildly successful neighborhood restaurant they sold the business and retired. Linda loves browsing through cookbooks, and the position of recipe curator provides her with a great excuse to indulge her passion.  Linda hopes the dishes she tests and recommends will create a great experience for those who replicate her work in their kitchens.