Tastes of Africa

by Sarah on May 27, 2011 · 16 comments

My stepmom and her two sisters have this really great tradition of celebrating their “fives” and “tens” with trips that they take together. When one of them turns a “five” (35, 45, 55) that birthday is celebrated with a smaller trip [Disney World, biking through Napa Valley], and when one of them turns a “ten” [40, 50, (not yet) 60] they take a BIG trip. Last year, the big trip was to Africa.

And this was my, “Hey, Dad, did-ya bring me home anything?” present:

I know what you’re probably thinking, “They went to freakin’ AFRICA and all you got was this lousy T-shirt?–er…I mean..–cookbook?!”

Actually, you’re probably NOT thinking that. You probably are (rightly) thinking, “Girl, I bet you were SO FREAKIN’ EXCITED about that present!”

Not only can I sit and look through any cookbook for an irrational amount of time, simply enthralled by whatever cuisine it may be, absorbing and stocking flavor pairings and ingredient possibilities in the ever-evolving recipe index that is my brain…this particular cookbook had me hooked from the minute I opened it.To be honest, I’d never really thought much about African cuisine. I know that probably sounds bad, but it’s the truth.

At least I thought it was the truth. See, what I discovered upon opening up this book was that African cuisine is WORLD cuisine. There are Indian-influenced curries and Moroccan-flavored tagines; foods like moussaka and hummus that you would associate with Greece or Turkey; shepherd’s pie-esque casseroles whose meat-and-potatoes nature implicate Britain and its long history of tyrannical rule*; tropical fruit-infused fish and chicken dishes, along with plantains galore, that put you in the mind of the Caribbean or Central American nations; and the prevalence of sweet potatoes and cornmeal that reminds us all of what should be very obvious: that the food we associate with the American South is rooted in the culture of slavery.
*Sorry. I studied a lot about this. I can get all riled up if I need to.

I was enraptured and wanted to make everything immediately, from Fish Frikkadels (cakes) with Wasabi (yes, as in Japanese) Tartare Sauce to the Rice Balls Stuffed with Brie & Basil to the Chicken and Prawn Curry (with pineapple!) to the Carrot Pudding.

There’s more to African food than Peanut Soup.

I decided to start with something that looked relatively familar and relatively simple. There’s no way to find this cookbook unless you get a whole lot of shots and take a plane ride over to Africa, but I’ve adapted it to fit our customary measurements, and for the ingredients I had and wanted to use. The recipe I’ve based mine upon was the Chickpea, Brinjal, and Mushroom Tagine.
Did you know that a brinjal is an eggplant? I didn’t either.
I also didn’t know that they called zucchini baby marrow, and I found that so lovely that I decided I should probably just go ahead and add a baby marrow into the tagine as well…

…along with the requisite sweet onion and the 7 oz. of mushrooms that the title of the recipe implied I’d need.
And the chickpeas. Let’s not forget about the chickpeas. [There’s more to chickpeas than hummus!*]
*Not much more. But more.An assortment of Moroccan spices, a couple of cups of chicken or vegetable stock, and a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes (with garlic, if you can) later….
…and you’ve got yourself a tagine!
I love my food heavily spiced, so although I put the original measurements in the recipe below, I must admit that I ended up doubling most of them.
I would recommend you start with a little…and increase as you taste.

But remember, as with wine and hard cheese…this only gets better with time. [Translation: After an extended amount of time in the fridge, those flavors will be singing.]I chose to serve the piping hot tagine over a bed of fresh spinach, which caused it to wilt a little and added nice texture, a slight crunch, and some extra color to the whole dish.If we were in Africa, it’s possible they’d make mealiepap, which is made with mealie meal (obviously). Looks like grits, right? That’s because it kind of is. Mealie meal translates loosely to cornmeal, and mealie pap is cooked corn-or-maize meal porridge. For many African communities, the cooked mealiepap is either eaten directly from the cooking pot, or allowed to cool, and served as a still-pliable “dipper” or conduit for sauces.[I would like to point out that the photo of the ‘crisped’ mealipap looks a WHOLE lot prettier than mine.
Reason #456 why I will never cook for books.]

I say, serve the tagine on spinach and eat your mealiepap on the side. :)

Baby Marrow, Mushroom, and Brinjal
[Zucchini, Mushroom, and Eggplant]

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
3/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. turmeric
1 medium eggplant, ‘cubed’
1 large zucchini, sliced and quartered
1 7 oz. package of button or cremini mushrooms
1 15-0z. can diced tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted with garlic)
1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Saute onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until softened.
2. Add spices, stirring well. Allow to cook for about 2-3 minutes.
3. Add vegetables (including tomatoes), beans, and stock to the pot, stir well.
4. Simmer until the vegetables are cooked through.

[Note: You may add more stock, if necessary, especially when re-heating.]