This article is brought to you through a partnership between Amjambo Africa and In Her Presence. Enjoy!

Yvonne Elinga was born in DR Congo, where she became a nun, and worked as a nurse. She traveled to Switzerland to pursue further religious studies, but while she was abroad, troubles in DR Congo escalated, and she was unable to return home. She moved to the U.S., hoping to become a nun again, however she was told that age and her immigration status made this impossible. She eventually got her work papers, settled in North Carolina, and worked for 15 years as a registered nurse in a hospital. Unfortunately, she hurt her back, and this combined with other health concerns forced her to take early retirement. At this juncture, she made a friend from Maine, who encouraged her to relocate, praising Maine’s welcoming immigrant community. The pandemic hit right after she moved to Portland. She had no community at first, and was lonely, and afraid of losing her English. But then she heard about In Her Presence. “It feels so good to have a community now. The students and teachers are very nice. I’m new, but getting to know people, and trying to adapt,” she said.

Yvonne is a health-conscious cook who firmly believes that food can help improve health, so she studies nutrition information, and adapts recipes. For example, instead of using a lot of palm oil, which she said is common in Congolese cooking, she substitutes olive oil. In general, she said that African cooking is healthy, based on organic ingredients, some of which grow wild back home. Fish is a major part of the diet in Congo, she said, fish dried in the sun, salted, or smoked. “And back home we use white meat – chicken, goat, monkey, antelope, deer. People hunt what is around.”

Beans are a staple in Yvonne’s kitchen, and she prepares them in different ways. One of her favorite variations is beans and sweet potatoes, a recipe a friend helped her develop.

Soak the beans overnight, then rinse, cook for two or three hours with the lid off, scooping off the foam, until tender. Then drain water. Meanwhile, peel sweet potato, chop, and saute with onions, bay leaves, whole hot red peppers (if you don’t open the peppers they won’t be too hot, and will add nice favor and smell) in olive oil. Then add the potato mixture to the cooked beans, along with green pepper, and continue to cook. Stir to keep the beans from burning, until they begin to fry. Add Himalayan salt (do not add sooner – the salt will lengthen the cooking time for the beans). The beans are tasty with rice or quinoa. Yvonne recommends saving the bean broth to serve as a base for soap or other dishes.