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Having another home in West Africa means I have added a whole new repertoire of recipes, West-African style, to my cooking – and I’m really excited to share them on gourm(eh).

Cooking in Gambia is a totally different story than here. Imagine cooking mostly one-pot meals over an open fire, or if you are fortunate enough, an improved cookstove. It a communal experience, and the saying ‘many hands make for lighter work’ is fitting as the work is hard, and most often done in groups.

I found it interesting that my taste buds actually adjusted while living there: a dish I did not like at first became one of my favourites by the end – and this was actually the case with a number of dishes. Domoda, however, was always at the top of my list from the beginning!

Domoda is a rich groundnut (peanut)-based stew, a favourite of mine from Gambia and Senegal.

Ingredients – Dinner for 6
2 purple (spanish) onions, diced
1.5 lb cubed stewing beef or 6 chicken pieces
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp (heaping) tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, germ removed
2 bouillon cubes (I like to use chicken)
1 tsp peppercorns
2 cups just peanut smooth peanutbutter
Juice from one lemon
1 scotch bonnet pepper (very spicy) or 1 jalapeno pepper
3 carrots, peeled and then cut into thirds or quarters
1 eggplant, washed and quartered
1 cup squash cubes (any kind – butternut or acorn for example, peeled)
salt to taste
water
1.5 cups uncooked rice, medium grain

Directions
In a heavy-bottomed pan with a lid, heat oil over medium-medium high heat. Brown the beef, reduce the heat, and add the onions until they are translucent. Then add the tomato paste and stir. Cook for another 3 minutes stirring occasionally. If you have a mortar and pestle, pound the peppercorns and then add the garlic and the bouillon cubes until you get a smooth paste. If you don have a mortar and pestle, just chop everything finely and mix by hand.

Add the seasoning mix to the meat, stir, and then add the vegetables and the whole (washed) hot pepper. Cover with water, stirring well to incorporate all the tomato onion mixture. Increase the heat and bring to a simmer. Once it simmers reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove a cup of hot liquid and pour into a large bowl with the peanutbutter. Stir well with a fork until the peanutbutter is all incorporated. Stir this into the pan with everything else, and stir well so everything is evenly mixed. Add the lemon juice. Let the mixture simmer uncovered until you have a stew-like consistency. If you find the vegetables still need more time but there is little sauce left, just cover the pot.

When it is almost ready, cook rice according to package instructions.

To serve, ladle stew over rice. You can squeeze the hot pepper on your spoon a tiny bit to get spicy juices out thereby tailoring how spicy your own plate is – and then share the hot pepper with the others. Just remember scotch bonnets are VERY spicy!

Alright, bonne appétit.
-Sitelle (Alias Ya Ndey)

Pumpkin

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As this post suggests, I am back! I must admit the fast pace of life throws me off a but here, as do all the choices availe in the super-market, and the orderly queues. Oh yeah, and Toronto feels so cold… apparently it is possible to acclimatize to new environments quite easily.

First of all I want to thank Catherine for all her wonderful contributions to Gourm(eh) while I was out of regular internet range. Catherine is alive and well in Kenya now (we traded continents, and spoke today!), and I am back in Canada. Now, it is my turn to share my west African adventures with you.

Actually, for the next little while I have many, many recipes I want to share: both Central America-inspired and Senegambia-inspired, and I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do. I find it exciting to try new styles of cooking, and each of these recipes has so many stories and memories attached I cannot help but be excited to post them!

Akara, or bean fritters, are very common throughout West Africa. I typically purchased them from women frying them on charcoal stoves along the streets who packaged them up in ripped brown paper from flour bags and doused them in spicy sauce. Resisting the urge to eat them right away, I would carry them home and eat them from the comfort of my mat while sharing them with my friends.

Ingredients

Akara

1.5 cups black-eyed peas, soaked in water overnight
1 large red onion
1 jalapeno or scotch bonnet hot pepper
6 black peppercorns
Salt to taste
Oil for frying
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Dipping sauce

50g tomato paste
1 red onion finely sliced
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
juice of 1-2 lemons
1 tsp black pepper corns
2 Tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup water

Directions

Soak beans overnight in plenty of water. The following day, squeeze or rub the skins off the beans (if a few remain, don’t worry), remove them by dumping the water out of the beans. Keep the beans in a large bowl and pass the water through a strainer to catch the skins. Add more water and continue to remove the skins and wash the beans.

Clean the onions and half the hot peppers in a food processor or blender with the beans and pulse. Pound the pepper corns and add to the mixture, and add the parsley if you want to add a bit of a unique taste. Pulse well, until a you have a thick bean paste. Add salt to taste and the remaining hot pepper if you want the fritters to be spicy (warning: scotch bonnet peppers are very, very spicy).

Heat up about a centimeter of oil in a pan with a lid over high heat. Once heat-waves show up on the oil reduce heat to medium high. Carefully add spoonfulls of the bean mixture into the hot oil. Test it with one first, and make sure to add more only when the oil is bubbling around the bean paste. Cook for a couple minutes on each side, then remove from the hot oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Make Akara dipping sauce (spicy):

Dice the onions and garlic. Heat up the oil in a frying pan and add the onions and pounded black pepper. When the onions begin to become transparent, add the garlic and cook for another minute. Then stir in the tomato paste and cook for a couple more minutes before adding the chopped hot peppers and 1 cup water. Increase heat to medium-high until mixture boils, after which reduce the heat and simmer until at least half of the water has evaporated, and the sauce thickens. Add lemon juice and season with salt.

Pour sauce over fritters, and serve as an appetiser or main course with a salad.

Hope you enjoy them!

-Sitelle (Alias: Ya Ndey)

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As I write this, mango pollen and flowers are falling from above me and are lodging themselves in my keyboard. And I will begin with a warning that this is a long, long post! I promise, though, that there is a true Gambian recipe waiting for you at the end, and before it, the story of a Canadian who has attempted to cook it.

As I learn the Gambian way of life, I must admit that I have found it difficult to cook. Hence the lack of posts on Gambian food so far. That is not because cooking here is difficult – most dishes are one-pot dishes or two-pot dishes – so they are not too complicated. Cooking here is difficult because the women don’t believe that I can cook. This is aggravated by their love of repetition… and if a dish is not cooked exactly as they do it or they know it – then they don’t like it. After two months living here though, I decided to push all help out of the way and cook a meal all by myself. Oh boy, it was not easy! All throughout my cooking women would come in and tell me different things about how I should be doing it… but I kept on saying ‘today I am cooking, and you will eat’. So I guess before I give you the recipe, I will tell you the story of how this meal was created. The way I made it was a fusion of Gambian Benachin and Senegalese Chebu Gen, because I learned to cook it in Dakar as well as in Gambia.

It started off with a deal with a friend of mine, P., who told me that he didn’t think I could cook because every time I say I cook I end up watching more than anything else because the women take over.

Mid-morning I headed to the market with my friend F. who helped me with the transactions so that I would not be nailed with Toubab prices. My basket was soon filling up with fresh fish, sea snail, salt-dried fish, carrots, tomatoes, bitter tomatoes, garlic, squash, niambi, cabbage, egg plant, onions, rice, preserved tamarind, hot peppers, salt, seasoning, pepper corns, peanut oil, and charcoal.

On my way home, several men told me jokingly, ‘I look forward to you bringing my lunch!’. Every time I go to the market and return with food, the next time I pass, men (who I don’t know) ask me ‘where is my lunch?’. Here, people like to joke jovially a lot.

Back home, I started by cleaning the fish to fry it right away, because even though I was going to cook dinner, I had to cook the fish right away so it didn’t spoil since there is no refrigeration. I lit the charcoal, and began to heat the oil to fry the fish. As the oil heated up, fish scales were flying everywhere as I cleaned it. I hauled buckets of water to the back of my house, and washed the fish three times. Then I drizzled it in lemon and salt.

After frying it, I put it in a bowl and let it stand in the shade all afternoon while I visited a friend.

That evening, I returned to cook around 5pm. First, I started by cleaning all the vegetables, and lighting the charcoal again. That is easier said than done, and took a lot of blowing and fanning in order for the charcoal to be fully lit. The women kept on coming over to watch and tell me what to do (all the time different instructions). I had to shoo them away every time. The kids would then come and ask to help me. That day, there were 5 women at the house, so I got 5 different sets of instructions. It was exhausting!

Finally, when I got to the stage of picking through the rice to clean it and then wash it, I was relieved. I was also worried that the pot was too small for the 7 cups of rice I was about to cook… It just fit. Barely. Now, I will try to estimate quantities for you to make this – but I definitely did not have any measurements as to the amount of water to use with the rice – just a lucky guess!

Anyway, after an exhausting but nonetheless fun cooking session, I had two big bowls of food prepared for the family. When I came to Gambia I was given a Gambian name, Yandé, which means ‘everyone’s mother’ – after the mother of the Director of the Agricultural Centre where I work. So all of her children call me ‘my mother’ and their children call me ‘Grandmother’. I was very happy that I could share this meal with 4 of ‘my children’, their spouses, and many, many grandchildren. Despite the fact that the recipe was not exactly like they usually have it (I made a slightly healthier version than normal… with less oil and no palm oil and lot of vegetables), they all said they loved it and said, Yandé, you can cook!’.

So there you have it, the story of the first truly Gambian dish I have cooked entirely on my own. Sorry for the long story! Bisimilah – that means ‘bon appétit’, among many things.

Ingredients – for a full meal for approximately 6 – 8 people

-3 cups of medium or long-grain (not basmati) rice
-2 onions
-6 cloves garlic
-5 kani chili peppers (scotch bonnet – you can alter the amount based on how spicy you like your food)
-1 Tbsp black pepper corns

-3 firm-fleshed whole fish
-1 piece of sea snail (substitute some smoked oysters or dried fish from an Asian food store)
-1/2 a salted dried fish
-4 lemons
-1 tbsp coarse sea salt

-1 cup peanut oil
-2 cups water (plus more)

-2 cubes vegetable stock

-4 carrots
-2 pieces of squash
-2 bitter tomatoes (not sure if there is any substitute for this in Canada – maybe just add more of something else)
-4 pieces of niambi or cassava root
-1/2 a medium cabbage, cut into two pieces
-1 sweet potato, cut into 4 pieces
-4-6 medium tomatoes
-8 cups water approximately

-Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Clean, gut, and scale the fish. Cut in half, and cut slits onto each side. Drizzle with the juice of two lemons, and salt with the coarse sea salt. Make sure there is plenty of lemon juice in covering the fish and in the slits.

In another bowl, wash the salt-dried fish and snail thoroughly three times.

Pound the pepper corns, and then the garlic. Once it is a smooth paste (you can use a food processor for the garlic with ground pepper instead of pepper corns if you don’t have large enough a mortar and pestle). Add the hot peppers, and pound until smooth. Then chop the onions and add them and continue pounding until it is a relatively uniform paste. Transfer to a bowl and cover until it will be used.

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. Once the oil is very hot, fry the fish pieces one-by-one until it is fully cooked and golden. Remove from oil and let drain on paper towel (I didn’t do this here… but I think it is a good idea if there is paper towel available!).

Set fish aside. While the oil is still hot, fry the snail and the salt-dried fish. Once they are in the pot, they should never leave it until it is time to eat! Fry them until they are golden brown.

After this, crush or crumble one cube of stock and carefully stir into the hot oil. Stir well so no clumps form. Add the pounded garlic, hot pepper, and onion mixture. Traditionally, you would add the tomatoes and pound them with the garlic but I like them separate.

Stir the pounded mixture in well, then fry in the oil for two minutes while stirring often until everything becomes fragrant. Then add two cups of water and the remaining stock cube, and bring to a boil. When it boils, add the hard vegetables. Add more water until the vegetables are fully covered. Boil them until tender, approximately 30 minutes. After 20 minutes, add the whole tomatoes, the two remaining hot peppers, and the egg plant (and any other soft veggies you might want).

Put the preserved tamarind in a bowl with a lid, with the juice of one lemon. When the veggies are cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon and put them in the bowl on top of the tamarind, and cover.

Replace fish in the pot, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and put in with the vegetables.

Add more water until it makes approximately 8 cups of stock and bring to a boil (instead of measuring, I use the following technique to guess the volume necessary: there should be approximately 2-3 fingers-thick of water above the rice in the pot). Taste the broth and add salt accordingly. Pick through the rice and remove any rocks and other seeds. Wash the rice three times until clean. Add rice to boiling stock and cover. Once it boils, reduce the heat (for me, this meant removing charcoal…). Cook for 10 minutes more or so and then stir and remove from heat.

Place rice in a big bowl. Spread vegetables on top, with fish. Serve with juice and tamarind from the bowl where veggies were reserved. Slice a lemon and juice it on top of everything, and a dusting of minced parsley if you like.

If you want to eat Gambian-style, use your right hand and make a ball of rice with small amounts of veggies and fish for each mouthful, and everyone eats out of the same bowl!

Bisimilah!

-Sitelle (alias: Yandé)

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Despite sleeping for over 10 hours, I woke up Saturday morning with a stuffed-up head and a mild fever.  Looks like Halifax’s wet winter has finally gotten the best of me.  I decided the thing to do – between naps in bed and watching the West Wing – was to make a large pot of comforting soup.

I turned to Audrey Alsterberg and Wanda Urbanowickz’ Rebar – a collection of delicious, inventive recipes out of Victoria, BC – for inspiration.  I was immediately drawn to their African yam soup.  The recipe looked simple, nutrient-filled, and packed with flavour – just what a girl needed when feeling under the weather.  (I note as an addendum that Monday evening, feeling reenergized sleeping off this cold, leftovers from this soup were superb.)

I leave you with Rebar’s description, which describes this soup beautifully:

“Silky smooth richness in this soup comes courtesy of peanut butter – there’s just enough of it blended in to make this soup luxuriant, rather than cloying.  Pineapple, lime and tomatoes add sweetness and tang, while the spices are lively and warming.  This soup can handle a generous dose of spice and heat, so arm yourself with a good hot sauce for last minute seasoning.”

 

African yam & peanut soup with ginger and pineapple

Serves 8

 

Ingredients:

8 cups vegetable stock

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

2 teaspoons salt

6 tablespoons (3/8 cup) minced ginger

4 large garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon hot paprika

1 red bell pepper, diced

4 medium yams (sweet potato), peeled and roughly chopped

1 x 14 fl oz (398 mL) can water-packed pineapple, juice reserved

3 ripe tomatoes, chopped

5 tablespoons natural smooth peanut butter

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

juice and zest of 2 limes, or more to taste

favourite hot sauce, to taste (I used sambal oelek here and loved it!)

 

Directions:

Heat stock and keep it warm on the back burner while you assemble the soup.  In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, heat oil over medium heat.  Add onion and a pinch of salt; saute for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Next, add garlic, ginger and spices and saute until soft and golden.

Stir in red pepper, yams, and salt and continue cooking until they start to stick to the bottom of the pot.  Add vegetable stock to cover, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer.  Cover partially and simmer until the yams are tender.

Add pineapple with juice, tomatoes, peanut butter and remaining stock and simmer 30 minutes.  Puree the soup until smooth, either directly in the pot with a hand blender or in batches with a food processor.

Return soup to the pot and simmer for a final 10 minutes.  Season to taste with more salt, pineapple juice, and/or hot sauce.  Just before serving, add chopped cilantro and fresh lime juice.

Bon appetit!

– Catherine

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It’s been a very long time. I have been meaning to post some Gambian recipes, but it is not easy to get internet access. I am starting to get used to the african rhythm of life.

Steamed fish is something I have for breakfast here on the Smiling Coast. I think it would be appreciated for lunch or dinner in Canada though!

Here, access to electricity is never guaranteed, and most people don’t have refrigerators. That means instead that food is fresh fresh fresh because it is caught the day it is eaten, or picked the day it is sold. At the market, there are heaps of kani chilis, heaps of fish, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, squash, egg plant, bitter tomato, niambi, cassava, cabbage… and women greeting me everywhere in the hopes that the Toubab will be their customer. I greet them in wolof, and they laugh and say ‘this toubab understands wolof!’ And then the greetings begin.

Although this is a Gambian dish, it is definitely not one of the most common ones. I will post those recipes another time.

Ingredients – Serves 4
-4 lemons
-4 whole fish, fresh, gutted, scales removed, sides slit
-3 hot chili peppers (or more or less depending on your taste – here they use kani peppers)
-4 onions
-medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
-salt to taste
-2 Tbsp mustard
-2 tsp – black pepper
-1/2 cube vegetable stock
-1 head of lettuce, washed
-4 tomatoes, sliced
-1 1/2 cups water

Directions
Bring water to a boil. Add potatoes and boil until cooked through, 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, clean the fish and wash.

Pound the hot chili peppers in a mortar and pestle. Add to the fish in a bowl. Add the juice 3 of the lemons, the mustard, and black pepper to the fish as well as the cube of broth.

Slice the onions and add to the fish. Stir well to coat everything in seasoning.

Remove the potatoes from the water, and remove a few tablespoonfuls of water so there is less than one inch of water at the bottom of the pan. Add fish and cover. Cook for 10 or so minutes or until fish is fully cooked. Add potatoes at the end and stir to season.

Wash the lettuce, and add the juice of the remaining lemon and some salt to the lettuce. Arrange lettuce on a large platter. Place fish and everything from the pot on top of the lettuce. Serve with slices of tomatoes and fresh crusty bread!

-Sitelle (Alias Yandé Saar)

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You might have noticed I’ve been away (thanks for the great posts, Catherine). I needed a break, some perspective. I was itching to see the world.

And in a way, I had been hoping that I could capture the essence of my adventure in Central America in a few words.  At least, the essence of what food is, in those tropical latitudes.  Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador (fleetingly), and Nicaragua. Perhaps I can.

Frijoles.  Huevos.  Sal.  Mas frijoles, mas huevos, mas sal.  Todos fritos.

Well, it appears that was easy.  I ate a tremendous amount of beans, eggs, and more salt than I thought I could deal with.  I thought there was a salt problem in Canada.  Perhaps the climate of constant sweating allows salt intakes to be higher, but I can’t imagine that much salt is ever a good idea.

And yet, as I think about all those beans and eggs I ate, I can remember many other exciting meals and snacks.  In fact, simplifying it to beans, eggs, and salt is not really fair at all, because although I probably did eat those every day, there were many, many other treats I discovered along the way, in homes, restaurants, chaotic buses, and markets.

Perhaps it will take me to the end of the summer, but I hope to share some of those meals and snacks I discovered along the way.  From the new ways to eat mangoes I learned in Belize, tamales of the Maya people thoughout, plantain tostones, absolutely delicious beef baho, to heavenly fruit throughout, I hope you will enjoy these recipes and treats as much as I did.

The first recipe I want to share with you is Caribbean Fish. Appropriately, it is the absolute first thing I ate upon landing in Belize City, and it was a common meal for the remainder of my time in Belize.  Soon, after I discovered I had chosen to go to Belize at the absolute hottest time of the year, I began to crave spicy food. This flavourful fish, combined with Marie Sharp’s famous hot hot hot sauce (unique in that it is carrot-based) and a Belikin Stout – was the perfect thing for the hot weather. And very soon, as I travelled southward to Hopkins, I discovered I could even watch the fishermen in the morning who would catch dinner for the village later that night.

Caribbean Fish

Serves 4

Ingredients

-2 whole large snappers, cleaned and gutted (or 4 small ones)
-8 sprigs fresh coriander, washed
-2 cloves garlic, germs removed, and sliced
-1-2 jalapenos, washed and sliced
-1 Tbsp ground black pepper
-2 tsp salt
-1 lime
-1-2 Tbsp cooking oil of your choice (canola, for example)

-Hotsauce, such as Marie Sharp’s if you are lucky enough to have some, or whatever is your favourite

Directions

Rince the fish and make 3 angled slashes on each side to stuff seasonings into the flesh. In a small bowl, mix the salt and pepper. Slice the garlic and jalapeno. Using your fingers, rub the salt and pepper mix into the slashes and the fish cavities, and sprinkle a bit over the skin. Then place a slice of jalapeno and a bit of garlic into each slash of all the fish. Stuff the remainder of the garlic and jalapeno, as well as the coriander sprigs, into the stomach cavity of the fish. Add a squirt of lime juice to each fish.

Leave the fish to marinate shortly (10-15 min) in the fridge before cooking.

Serve the fish with fried plantain, rice and beans, or whatever you like to accompany your fish with, as well as some hot-sauce if you feel like it.

-Sitelle

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