Thursday, August 30, 2012

Africa Cookbook Project: From Mandela's kitchen

Yesterday I added a welcome volume to the Africa Cookbook Collection: a book by Nelson Mandela's personal chef.

I first heard about Xoliswa Ndoyiya's cookbook (authored with quietly impressive help from Anna Trapido) Ukutya Kwasekhaya ("home food"): Tastes from Nelson Mandela's Kitchen in February, 2012, when it was featured online in the BBCNews. It's not the kind of "celebrity" cookbook that usually makes the news in North America.

I had already heard that Nelson Mandela prefers to eat traditional dishes from South Africa, and was excited to hear that Ndoyiya's cookbook shared over 5 dozen recipes, many of which feature "homestyle" dishes (such as umphokoqo (crumbed maize meal porridge with sour milk), umnqusho (samp and beans), ulusu (tripe), umsila wenkomo (oxtail stew), and isophu (sugar bean and white maize soup). There are also a number of South African dishes with other influences (e.g., paella, lasagne, and strawberry trifle), but the cover, showing two hands holding white maize kernels, captures the flavor of the book. In addition, the 173-page hardcover book is bursting with homespun wisdom ("When I was young I understood that my mother was stirring love into every pot of hot ulusu and, even if I didn't always like it, . . . that my paternal grandmother, MaSitatu, was feeding me her hopes and dreams along with her umkhuphu"), as well as  anecdotes about, and lovely photos with, the famous family she has served since 1992 (2 years beforeNelson Mandela became president). I haven't tried any of the recipes yet, but am thrilled to have Ukutya Kwasekhaya in the collection.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

End-of-summer drink: Recipe #95 Basic Ginger Beer

Ahhhh. The end of summer. Time for a cool drink in a shady spot before classes begin on Monday. In this photo I've paired it with some humble peanuts and the "choco-twemo" I'm working on, a version of atwemo that incorporates chocolate powder and groundnut paste (peanut butter), (or "choc-atriemo" as my son Yaw DK has christened it.)

Last week, along with the bissap, I prepared several liters of ginger beer for my trip to Hershey. It was with a shock that I realized that I've never posted my simple recipe for this soft drink popular throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Ginger beer is often carbonated, and made with yeast, but this version skips that step. I still like the bubbles, so I simply use seltzer (carbonated) water to dilute the concentrate to taste. It's always fun when folks shake their heads and say with awe: "You made this from scratch?"

Recipe #95: Basic Ginger Beer

4-8 ounces of ginger root (1/4 to 1/2 pound, depending on how strong you want it)
2 cups of boiling water
2 cups of cold water
1/2-3/4 cup sugar, or to taste
2 Tbsp lime or lemon juice
6 cloves
a small piece of cinnamon stick (~1/4 of a short stick) [optional]

  • I usually peel the ginger root (unless it's organic). I just learned how easy it is to use the back of a teaspoon (thank you, Ann) rather than a vegetable peeler. The first time you make this, you should probably start with about 4-5 ounces of ginger until you have a sense of how strong you want it. 
  • Grate the ginger into a stainless steel (or glass or other nonreactive) bowl. I've never tried using a blender or food processor for this step, but it might work and would save a lot of grating if you're making a large batch. Use a potato masher, or bottom of a heavy glass or a wooden spoon to mash the grated ginger, then
  • Pour 2 cups of boiling water over the ginger and let it sit for at least 2 hours.
  • Line a strainer or colander with a cheesecloth that has been folder several times, and set it over a large bowl.
  • Slowly pour the ginger-water mixture through the strainer.
  • Pick up the cheesecloth by the 4 corners, then twist and squeeze it to remove as much of the water from the cheesecloth as possible.
  • Discard the ginger in the cloth.
  • Add about 2 cups of cold water to the liquid in the bowl (more or less depending on if you want to dilute it with seltzer water later or not), and up to 3/4 cup of sugar (or more if you like it really sweet), stirring to dissolve it. 
  • Add the lime (or lemon) juice, cloves, and cinnamon (if using) and let the mixture sit for another hour before removing the spices.
  • Carefully pour the ginger beer into a pitcher or covered container. Store, covered in the refrigerator.
  • Variations: increase or decrease the ginger or sugar or replace it with honey, substitute fresh pineapple chunks (including the peel, if organic) for the cloves and cinnamon, and add it with the original grated ginger.
Serve the ginger beer well chilled (over ice cubes if you're North American and like "ice blocks" as in the photo above), and diluted to taste with water, seltzer water, or even ginger ale. I use about 1/2 cup of ginger beer per serving. It's said you can mix in some rum, vodka, or other alcohol, but I've never actually tried it that way.

Come to think of it, this is just as well a spicy, refreshing drink for the fall. Labor Day picnics, anyone?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

African food at Hershey

Last week I spent several days in Hershey, PA, at The Hershey Company. We had fun cooking and immersing ourselves in West African culture, both in larger groups presentation-style, and in smaller groups in test kitchens. To the right are some of the snacks we prepared one day (beef and chicken chichinga [Nigeria's suya]), akara (aka kose), groundnut [peanut] "cakes,"  etc.
On Monday we explored music, fashion and daily life while we tasted a few West African dishes, from groundnut (peanut) stew
and bissap [aka zobo] to green plantain chips, moinmoin and gari foto. Though my online recipes contain meat and poultry, we  adjusted them and added vegetarian versions as well.

On Tuesday we prepared one of my favorite snacks,  kelewele with peanuts, along with corn and coconut and some atwemo (twisted cakes),  washed down with ginger beer or bissap. The staff were all enthusiastic and helpful, and good sports, and I believe we all had a fun time. I'm still trying to perfect a version of atwemo incorporating cocoa and peanuts, but haven't quite gotten it right yet.

Along the way, I  learned more about Hershey's involvement in Africa and we talked extensively about life in West Africa,  flavor principles, meal formats, cooking techniques, health challenges. It was a hectic time, but quite rewarding.

Betumiblog in Arise Magazine: Just before leaving for Hershey, I received an email from Adhis at Chef Afrik sharing that she was 
". . . featured in the August issue of Arise Magazine which is one of the premier magazines covering African culture. It was a pull-out feature next to an interview article with Marcus Samuelsson about his new book Yes, Chef. I was asked to name the top African food blogs . . ." 
She graciously listed me in her top ten, generously calling me "the godmother of African food blogging." It made my day! Check her August 9 posting out: it lists some of the  best food bloggers writing about African cuisine.

Things continue to heat up here as summer draws to a close. I'm now getting ready for my new class on food culture in sub-Saharan Africa at Penn State, which starts in a week.