Country #3: Kenya

Thursday, January 27, 2011

In honor of the anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration, and my continuing desire to pretend it’s warm by cooking food from warm places, I present to you: Kenya week!  President Obama’s father was a member of the Luo tribe, which lives in western Kenya on the shores of Lake Victoria.  There are also Luos that live in Uganda and Tanzania.

Due to their proximity to the second largest freshwater lake in the world, Luos eat fish more frequently than those who live inland.  Their cuisine tends towards simple, hearty meals: some time of protein (fish or chicken if they are wealthy, legumes or goat if they are not); ugali, a cornmeal mush; and some sort of vegetable, often a leafy green like collard greens or kale.  They also eat chapati, which as many of you may know is an Indian food.  There are many Indian interlopers, cuisine-wise, in Kenya -- chapati and samosas were two of the most common “Kenyan” foods I found while searching!  According to one website, chapatis were likely introduced by traders from South East Asia thousands of years ago, but that was the only historical reference I found other than plain old immigration.

This meal was my first cooking marathon.  Luckily I had lots of help!  Each dish was relatively simple, but as each of them took similar amounts of time and was supposed to be hot, it was difficult to get the timing right.
Ugali, or "cornmeal mush," is something commonly eaten all over Africa - it is cheap, easy to make, and very filling.  Unfortunately, the verdict?  I wasn't a huge fan.  It had very little flavor, and seemed to be too solid for my liking.  Perhaps (and totally possibly) I didn't cook it that well, but I can't imagine that cornmeal mixed with water can be that tasty.
I do love collard greens, however, and they are frequently eaten in Kenya!  Plus, any leafy green dish has possibly the best name ever: <i>Sukuma wiki</i>, which translates to "to push the week," meaning that this is a dish used to make food last for the rest of the week.  Ours didn't even last the night!
The tilapia, on the other hand, was some of the best tilapia I've ever had.  Oh my goodness.  I don't tend to like fish with a lot of sauce, but this was something else.  Coconut and tomato can't be bad.  Everyone agreed, and that tilapia (which I thought was going to be waaay too much) was gone almost instantly.
Kenyans tend to eat fresh fruit for dessert; since it's the middle of January in Boston, fresh fruit isn't the easiest thing to come by.  We had a popular dessert, Coupe Mount Kenya, or peach ice cream with pineapple-rum sauce.
So, without further ado, here are the recipes.


Country #2: Egypt

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

This week, 52 Weeks, 52 Meals is on the road in cold, snowy Chicago!  I am here visiting my dear friend Jessa, and since we share a love of food, I figured that there was no point in pausing this blog but rather to consider this a growing experience!

It is possible that Egyptians love food as much as we do.  Everyone has heard about wall paintings that depict grand battles, hunting expeditions, and victories - the Egyptians also painted food.  Lots of it.  And what better way to understand a people’s history than through their food?

Only 2% of Egypt is arable land, and it is concentrated around the Nile.  Much of the Egyptian diet consists of bread, grains, and of course, pulses like lentils and chickpeas.  Cuisine tends to have similarities to food found in North Africa (duhhh), such as the prominence of fava beans, as well as to the Middle East, like the use of pita bread, lentils, and chickpeas.

I chose Egypt this week for two reasons. First, Jessa is a vegetarian, and it is quite easy to find Egyptian entrees that don’t contain meat.  Second, my good friend Adam is visiting Egypt this week, and due to my paralyzing jealousy, I hoped that if I eat the same food, it’s pretty much the same as walking around the pyramids and the Nile River delta.  Totally logical, right?

Envy aside, this week we bring you: Kusherie (Egyptian lentils) and salata baladi (Egyptian green salad).


Country #1: Vietnam

Sunday, January 9, 2011

One thing about me is that I am very prone to food cravings, and will not be satisfied until I have eaten whatever it is I crave in large quantities.  I have some cravings that I have very frequently (sushi, bagels, pickles) and others that come in shifts (burritos, homemade pasta).  When I have one of the "shift" cravings, I basically want that food for every meal, every day, for weeks.

Recently, pho became a "shift" craving.  All I wanted to eat was pho.  Luckily for me, it's a pretty cheap food to get from a restaurant, and I am "pho"-tunate enough to live near no fewer than three Vietnamese restaurants, but after several nights of takeout, I decided I wanted to learn how to make my own.  I looked up a few recipes and was rather daunted.  They required so much time to simmer!  I'm rarely home "pho" more than a couple hours at a time, and don't want to be constantly worrying if my apartment is burning down in a sea of pho, so when I found a recipe for slow-cooker pho, I immediately bought a Crock pot off of Craigslist for $20.

Yesterday I christened that Crock pot with my very first attempt at pho.  The origin of the word "pho" is debated; some people think that it came from the French feu for "fire" (as in pot-au-feu, which uses some similar cooking techniques as Vietnamese pho).  Others think that it came from the Chinese fen, which loosely translates to "rice noodle."  Some believe that it came from the Cantonice rice vermicelli hofan, which is abbreviated fan or ho.  Whatever the linguistic derivation, pho carries gastronomic similarities to French, Chinese, and Cantonese cooking, using roasted onions and ginger as well as cinnamon and star anise in the broth.

All I know is that pho is incredibly delicious.  It cheers me up when I'm down, makes me feel better when I'm sick, and, well, if I'm happy and healthy... I just get happier!  So, without further ado, here is the first installment of 52 Weeks, 52 Meals: Vietnamese pho.

(n.b.: I promised my roommate that in this post I would make heinous use of pho-related puns, so "pho" that, I apologize.)


Blog creation!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

It's been years since I've had a blog.  I don't even believe in blogs.  But I figured that this time, I actually have a reason: my own faulty memory.  For my new years resolution this year, I decided that once a week, every week, I will make a meal from a different country.  In doing so, I hope to encounter new stories, new foods, new ethnic grocery stores, and share all of it with friends.

Since commitment is difficult for everyone, I hope this blog will not only help me keep my resolution but also help me remember it in the future.  I'll try to post the recipes, but as those who have seen me cook know, I am not a measurer.  Perhaps I will change, or perhaps you will have to get used to "handful" of this and a "dash" of that, Amelia Bedelia style.

Tomorrow marks my first recipe, which will be Vietnamese beef pho, after searching three different ethnic groceries for whole star anise.  Happy New Year!