Monday, March 29, 2010

Shrimp Curry, Cape Malay-Style

South Africa is famous, among other things, for its "Old Cape" or "Cape Malay" cooking. In preparation for the southern African cooking class this March, I met with Gabeba Baderoon, a South African poet teaching at Penn State, for advice on how to prepare a curry similar to the wonderful ones I remember from Cape Town. She sat down with me and 3 of her favorite cookbooks and shared some of her knowledge. (She also promised to get me copies of all 3 cookbooks this May when she visits home!) I settled on an adaptation of a crayfish curry (we substituted jumbo wild-caught shrimp) from Faldela Williams' The Cape Malay Cookbook for the class, and it was very popular.  The recipe calls for fish masala, so I purchased a couple of different kinds from our local international and Indian markets--the one we ended up using was "MDH fish curry masala,"  a mixture of coriander, chilli, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek leaves, salt, black pepper, bishop's weed, dry mango, dry ginger, mustard, pulse, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, caraway, cardamom seeds, mace, and asofoetida. This recipe is simple to prepare--the slowest part was cleaning and deveining the shrimp.

Cape Malay-style Shrimp (or crayfish) Curry
2 pounds  large, wild-caught shrimp (or 2 pounds of crayfish tails, in shells, or one large crayfish)
1/4 cup sunflower oil (or other vegetable oil)
2 large onions, thinly sliced (at least 2 cups)
2 ripe tomatoes, skinned and puréed (could probably substitute canned)
1 green bell pepper, seeded and puréed
2 teaspoons crushed garlic
1 tsp crushed dried chili pepper
1 tsp turmeric
      2 tsp fish masala
     1 tsp ground cumin
                              1 Tablespoon lemon juice
                              1 tsp sugar
                              1 tsp salt

If using shrimp, remove shells and devein. Rinse and set aside.  (If using whole crayfish, wash well, wemove legs and tail, and set aside. If using small crayfish, leave shells on). Slice the onions and prepare the tomatoes, green pepper and garlic. Fry the onions on medium heat until golden, about 5-10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, green pepper, garlic and dried crushed chili pepper and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes. Make a paste from the cumin, fish masala, turmeric, lemon juice, sugar and salt (add a little water if necessary) and cook until the gravy thickens, about 10 minutes. Add the shrimp (or crayfish) and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes.

We served this wonderful curry with basmati rice.

The 2 other cookbooks Gabeba recommended are Cass Abrahams Cooks Cape Malay--Food From Africa and Zainab Lagardien's Everyday Cape Malay Cooking. The photos alone in these books will set your mouth watering

Monday, March 22, 2010

Southern African "Rainbow" Cuisine and Online Interview

Last week was the Southern African cooking class. Southern African cooking has so many different influences it's often called a "rainbow cuisine." The class was great fun: we started off making some vegetarian samoosas (reflecting the Indian influences) and ate them while sipping the Cape's famous rooibos tea. After a short presentation, we returned to the kitchen to prepare the main meal (while listening, intermittently, because my cd player didn't cooperate, to: the Soweto Gospel Choir, Miriam Makeba, the Soweto String Quartet, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo). When we sat down to eat we feasted on 2 versions of samp and beans, a classic tomato (and lamb) bredie (stew), grilled periperi chicken (made with roasting chicken, marinated beforehand), chakalaka salad (wildly popular), a fabulous Malaysian shrimp curry (using jumbo wild caught shrimp--yum!),  basmati rice, and several South African wines. The class voted to begin with a sauvignon blanc, followed by S. Africa's signature pinotage, and ended the meal with a rosé paired with a yummy custard dessert called a "melktert" (milk tart).

All my students get an A+!

Also, this week an online interview I did for was posted if you'd like to check it out.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Cooking the West African Way

At my March 3rd cooking class we prepared  a West African dinner in my home. We dined on ginger (and regular) beer, bissap, green plantain chips, chichinga (suya), chicken groundnut stew (and a fish-broth-based version for one non-meat/poultry eater), palaver sauce, omo tuo (rice balls), gari (cassava meal), ampesi (we used white sweet potatoes, green and ripe plantain, cocoyam (taro), and, unfortunately but not surprisingly, the Mexican yam we got was rotten). We had atwemo (like chin-chin) and a fresh coconut and  tropical fruit salad for dessert. 

The participants were great and from the feedback so far, a wonderful time was had by all.  Here are a few pictures taken near the end of class. Kudos to all of my students! I'll share some of the other recipes we prepared, but since we were too busy to take pictures, will probably have to re-cook the groundnut stew, omo tuo and palaver sauce to illustrate for you.

In 2 weeks, it'll be time for a trip to southern Africa. I'll let you know how that class goes (or, if you are in the State College area and want to sign up, I still have a few openings). Here's some information on that class:

March 18: Southern Africa--includes South African wines, shrimp peri peri, samp and beans with tomato bredie, chakalaka salad, curry and rice, melktert, and rooibos tea. Each class includes an illustrated introductory lecture (and snack), followed by preparation and enjoyment of classic beverages and dishes.

Sadly, I was at our local Barnes and Noble bookstore today. There were bookcases and bookcases of international cookbooks: France, Italy, Spain, China, India, Brazil, Japan, Thailand, Mexico, Germany, etc., etc. etc., but the only "African" cookbooks were 3 on Moroccan cooking. This is most unfortunate. Africa has so very much to offer and teach us.

"The one who has not traveled widely thinks his/her mother is the only (best) cook"--African proverb among the Baganda, Akamba, Kikuyu, Memba, Haya, Igbo, Yoruba  

Monday, March 01, 2010

Racism and food color preference: white corn, white wheat, white rice

I wonder about a connection between racism and food color preferences in sub-Saharan Africa, where "white" is always the best (e.g., corn, rice, flour). In James McCann's important Maize and Grace, Africa's Encounter with a New World Crop, 1500-2000, he explains how much of southern Africa's preference for white corn over multi-colored corn evolved from policies of colonial governments  ("What's in a color," pp. 111-118).

Similarly, Ghana produces no wheat of its own, but imports wheat flour heavily from places like the U.S., and white bread has long been considered more prestigious than flour from any locally grown grains or root crops. While recently "brown bread" has begun to appear (also from imported flour), traditional breads from grains and processed cassava and plantains, etc., seem to have no future. I realize this is mixing other things besides simple color issues, but it still gives me pause.

In Nigerian poet Flora Nwapa's poems Cassava Song and Rice Song, cassava is the nurturer and imported rice is the enemy. It seems strange to Westerners to hear rice being denounced that way. Not every African grows up eating rice. Yes, there are rice growing areas, but even in Ghana, the more nutritious native rice from the Northern regions is being supplanted by subsidized imported white rice from places like the U.S. and Thailand (often lower quality, broken rice, too). It is said that Ghana now imports about 80% of its rice from these two countries. The inability of indigenous rice farmers to compete against white wheat flour or white rice has negative consequences for development.

All of this makes me very sad, and I long for people to recognize and change these realities.