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website, chapatis were likely introduced by traders from South East Asia thousands of years ago, but that was the only historical reference I found other than plain old immigration.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.

Ugali (cornmeal mush)
4 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups finely ground white cornmeal
1. Boil the water and salt in a heavy-bottomed pot.
2. Stir in the cornmeal, letting it fall through your fingers (see photo).
3. Turn burner down to medium-low, and continue stirring.  Make sure there are no lumps.  Keep stirring until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pot.
4. Place the ugali into a serving bowl; form into a ball to serve.
Chapati (whole wheat flatbread)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
Olive oil
1. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl.
2. Add enough water to make a stiff dough.  Shape dough into ball, keeping hands wet to keep from sticking.  Cover the bowl with a damp cloth for at least half an hour.
3. Divide dough into 4 or 5 balls (I divided mine into 7 - that's why they're so small!), and roll each one out until it is thin but not so thin that it breaks.
4. Heat some olive oil (not too much) in a griddle or nonstick pan on medium-high.
5. Cook each chapati until golden; make sure you check each side frequently.
Sukuma Wiki (leafy greens)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion
1 tomato
1 bunch collard greens or kale
Salt and pepper
1. Heat oil in pan on medium hot.  Chop onions and fry in oil until they are fragrant.
2. Dice the tomato and add it to the onion; saute for just a few minutes.
3. Add the collard greens/kale and saute for about 7 minutes or until the greens wilt.

Ngege (Tilapia in tomato coconut sauce)
Tilapia (two filets per person; I used 12 filets)
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 can (14 oz) coconut milk
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
2 teaspoons paprika
Olive oil
1. Heat some oil in a nonstick pan on medium high.  Rub the filets with salt and cook them (a few at a time) in the oil until golden brown on both sides.
2. While the fish is cooking, dice the onions and mince the garlic.  Fry them in some olive oil until the onions are brown.
3. Add the tomato paste to the onions and garlic.  Add three cups of water to the onions/garlic/tomato mixture.  Then add some Cajun seasoning, paprika, and the coconut milk.
4. Place the fish (gently) into the sauce and cover the pan.  Bring to a boil and cook for 25 minutes.
Coupe Mount Kenya (Dessert - ice cream with pineapple rum sauce)
1 cup pineapple juice
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup white rum (I used Puerto Rican rum)
3 cups diced fresh pineapple
1 quart mango or peach ice cream/sorbet
1. In a heavy-bottomed pot, simmer the pineapple juice and the sugar, until the sugar dissolves.  Add the rum and cool.  (We just put it in the fridge while we were cooking the rest of the meal.)
2. Once the sauce is cool, pour the rum over the diced pineapple and marinate for several hours.  (I recommend marinating while you eat dinner!)
3. When the dessert is ready to serve, spoon the ice cream/sorbet into a bowl and top with the pineapple and rum sauce mixture.  Enjoy!


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