Thursday, May 31, 2007

Nkontomire stew and greetings from Accra

I'm sitting at the busyinternet cafe in Accra, Ghana. I'd hoped to upload some pictures from my camera here, but their wireless service in out of commission (for about a month so far), so my pictures have to remain there for another week or so. I asked John Aryeh, of the staff here to let me put his picture up, since that's the closest I could get to sharing visually the view in Ghana today! Thank you John.

I'm en route to the TEDGLOBAL conference, and will try to keep folks informed of my progress. I just finished a fabulous meal of nkontomire stew with cocoyam and green plantain, and an incomparable fruit salad of sugar loaf pineapple, watermelon, papaya, and mango. I'll show pictures later of some of the treats I've had, from plantain fufu with light soup, banku and okra stew, millet porridge with cloves, sugar, and hwentia (see my blog of May 4). Anyhow, I've only got five minutes left on my account so will upload this now. Talk to you soon.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

More African food videos

Here are links to several more free online videos related to African cuisine (what did we ever do before You Tube?)

Dona D’Cruz interviews Marcus Samuelsson, author of The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa, which features some Senegalese food at the end of the interview (e.g., fried ripe plantain, couscous, yassa, and thiebou dienne.)

In a February 19, 2007 blog posting I shared some photos from Penn State University's Touch of Africa dinner and cultural show (more photos are available at Betumi's flickr account). The students at Oklahoma State University did me one better, and videotaped the food preparation action behind the scenes for their 2007 Africa Night.

In the February 13, 2007 blog posting I mentioned two cooking videos by Nigerian Ngozika on She has another one on preparing jollof rice, fried plantain (dodo), and fish stew. While I find her videos fun to watch, given time constraints she rushes through things. For example, she has already prepared the gravy for the stew and the jollof rice, and even peeled and sliced the plantain ahead of time. Though she mentions ingredients, she does not give quantities or explain preparation techniques enough for newcomers to the cuisine to successfully follow her directions. Still, having said that, I'm very glad she is out there popularizing Nigerian cuisine.

The North African cooking pot with a conical lid is called a tagine, which is also the name of a type of Moroccan stew cooked in it. Traditionally made from clay, modern versions are made with metal bottoms that can be placed directly on a stove top. Tagine: the Movie, illustrates how to use a modern tagine to make a typical Moroccan beef and vegetable stew. As in other YouTube videos, the lack of details frustrates the would-be cook. What WAS in that mysterious broth added to the tagine? Also, did they really eat it without any couscous in sight?

There is an intriguing demonstration of preparing Congolese satori, "a famous dish of the Lokele fishermen of Kisangani," made in the demo from tilapia fillets. Be sure to read the full description of the ingredients before watching the video.

Finally, there are several clips of people eating at African restaurants at the You Tube site. A typical one includes a send-off party for students at
Drelyse African Restaurant in Columbus, Ohio (USA) where the students give a little cultural advice to the Americans.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Zerza: Eating Moroccan in New York

After celebrating a family graduation at NYU last week, our family and friends trooped over to to Zerza's for a festive dinner. The beautiful word "zerza" is equivalent to the Berber term "teazerai," and describes the brooch or clasp women in the Atlas mountains use to attach their garments. Zerza's logo is the lovely example to the right.

It was my second visit to the Moroccan family-style restaurant. The first time last year was on a weekend and there was a crowd there to watch the "belly" dancers, and maybe to smoke the hookah, or simply to savor a romantic dinner for two. I enjoyed the atmosphere, but the draw for me both times was the food, from my harira soup to their tagines (this time I had the lamb tfaya, but others in our party enjoyed the chicken tagine lemon , the kebabs and the baked red snapper). We started our meal with bourekas, savory pastries filled with spinach, pine nuts, feta cheese and raisins. Several of our group members ended the meal with the delicate rose petal ice cream that delighted me on my first trip. My husband opted for the fig ice cream and espresso, while I settled for a simple pot of Moroccan-style mint tea.

The food was delicious, plentiful, and reasonably priced for our group of 8 (especially because some of our group members selected the more economical fixed price menu.) It's a minor point, but I remembered eating my tagines on top of my couscous and with extra sauce on the side in Marrakesh, which as I remember made the couscous moister and more flavorful. We were in no hurry, which was a good thing, because the personable, attentive staff was in no rush, either.

After dinner charming owner Radouane ElJaouhari (at left) shared a bit of his background. He opened Zerza about 4 years ago, after extensive experience: he was at the Plaza Hotel for almost 7 years, and worked at the Moroccan Village at Disney World Epcot for 18 months. His mother, Hajja Taika Ben Omar, is his secret treasure. The executive chef at Zerza's, she was formerly a caterer in Morocco. Ah, where we would all be without our mothers!

I recommend you check Zerza out if you're in downtown New York City. Their website includes menu information and directions.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Kelewele: My favorite Ghanaian Snack

I'm in the midst of packing to spend a year in Brazil and Ghana but just caught sight of a bag of Nina International's "All Natural UDA Hwentia," sitting on my desk. It made me wish for some fresh kelewele, one of my all-time favorite snack foods from Ghana. Western cookbooks generally describe kelewele as something like "spicy fried plantain cubes," but that is like calling a sunset "beautiful." All the recipes I've seen in Western cookbooks are anemic versions of the best kelewele as it's prepared in Ghana. First of all, Western versions only call for salt, ginger, and dried red pepper, but in Ghana in addition to grinding fresh ginger and onion, they also commonly pound and add sekoni (aniseed), hwentia (a kind of long black stick I've yet to name botanically. Can anyone help me out?), and cloves. The plantain should be very ripe and sweet, and nicely coated with the mixture before it is deep-fried. The plantain is generally cut on a diagonal rather than into a straight cube. Kelewele tastes superb accompanied with dry roasted peanuts. The sweet, spicy, and chewy plantain is a perfect counter to the mild crunchy/creamy flavor and texture of the peanuts. Both go well with an ice cold beer or drink like ginger beer or bissap. Nina International distributes many West African foods through its office in Maryland (PO Box 6566, Hyatsville, MD 20789). More information on suppliers is available at African Food Stores
Rest assured, Barbara Baeta and I will include an authentic recipe for gourmet kelewele in our upcoming book.