So What's This All About?

My family is traveling the world one forkful, or kuĂ izi ful, or handful at a time. Follow our blog to see what interesting facts we learn, which country's food becomes our favorite, and which cuisine makes us feel healthiest. There will also be postings of some projects/arts and crafts/activities for preschoolers that we do in our home preschool. Grab your appetite and let's go!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Irio and Githeri - Simple, Supple, and Satisfying

So now that you have perfected ugali - Ha! Don't worry. I've read on some sites that it can takes months to do such, so don't fret. You will need a Kenyan dish or two to accompany it! What I've found about these few Kenyan/East African recipes I've been trying is that they are usually quick to make and quite filling.

(My unabashed side note: With poverty levels high in many of these countries,"filling" would be of great importance. Here's an idea: with the money saved making these inexpensive dishes, make a donation to help an impoverished East African family. Some sites to check out: World Vision Gift Catalog or Special Hope Network. Share below in the comments an organization or missionary you support!)

A truly simple, protein dish you can make up in just a few minutes is Githeri. Here's how:

Place 2 cups corn (fresh off cob or frozen) and 2 cups canned or cooked beans (kidney, pinto, black, etc) into a saute dish with enough water just to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 5 - 10 minutes or till warmed through. Toss in salt and pepper.

That's it! Serve it with Ugali.

But... if you are like me and can't resist adding more flavors, you can toss in some chopped fresh herbs (like cilantro or basil), a tablespoon of curry powder or paste, and a handful of chopped greens (like spinach or chard). Another idea is to saute a small, chopped onion before adding the corn and beans into the pan.

A sister to Githeri is Irio. The concept is very similar. Here's how:

Boil 4 potatoes (peeled and quartered) in salted water until soft. Drain (reserve water, though) and set aside.

In a saute pan, add 2 cups fresh or frozen corn, 2 cups cooked beans (kidney, pinto, cranberry, etc), 2 cups chopped spinach or other green. Cook on low for about 10 minutes or till the vegetables are very soft. Add potatoes and salt and pepper to taste to the vegetables, continuing to simmer and smashing the mixture with back of fork. You may need to add some of the potato water if it gets too thick. It doesn't have to be pureed, just mashed enough to create thickness while preserving chunks of vegetables.

This can be served alone, with rice, or with Ugali.

goodnight nobody, goodnight mush

ugali, mealie pap, pap, nshima, nsima, sadza - all different words for a similar concept throughout east and south africa. this (typically) cornmeal mush serves a unique purpose beyond filling your tummy: it is also your spoon. a technique, which is NOT as easy as it may seem, perfected certainly through much time spent living in east africa, is taking a small handful of this very thick mush and kneading it into a mini ladle of sorts. you then skillfully dip it into the accompanying stew or vegetable dish, bringing a nice portion of food with you to your mouth - without spilling or streaming the juices down your arm. And of course, there is the skill of making the ugali thick enough not to fall apart as it handles the liquidy food.

try it, really. it's a fun experience, especially if you have toddlers who would prefer to ditch the spoon anyway.

there are numerous variations on ugali, but here's a good base for you:

Pour 1 cup milk into a bowl and slowly whisk in 3/4 cup cornmeal. (I have found recommendations for both using stone ground or coarse and fine ground, and both from reliable "been there, done it" sources. You will have to experiment with both; I started with finer ground assuming it would hold together better.)

Heat 1 cup of water in medium saucepan to boiling, then slowly add the milk/cornmeal paste to it till smooth, reducing the heat to low. Add an additional 1/2 cup cornmeal, stirring frequently. When the mixture begins to pull away from the sides (just a few minutes), remove it from the heat and allow to cool. Roll it into a smooth ball into a serving dish, and serve at room temperature.

Allow guests to "tear off" small pieces, form their ladle, and dip in stew dish. Good stew dishes are Sukuma Wiki, Irio, or Githeri. (Blogs about these to follow...)

...and goodnight to the old lady whispering "hush".

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Groundnut Stew with Chicken

Good friends of ours are off the Zambia soon to work with children with special needs. They have developed and will begin incorporating an amazing ministry, as I believe they are flying to Zambia this week. Please check out their website: At a farewell luncheon for them, I wanted to make a dish that was Zambian. Being an impoverished country, where survival is key, googling "Zambian cuisine" was an oxymoron, really. I was able to find this dish, but it may actually be more of a common West African food than Zambian. Nonetheless, it was very good!

Peanuts and sweet potatoes are quite prevalent in many parts of Africa, as well as inexpensive. What I have been discovering about foods of different African countries is the ability to take simple, cheap foods and, with help of a few key spices, creating a tasty dish - a great lesson for us Americans immersed with such plenty and with a certain haughtiness or sense of deservedness of all sorts of gourmet and expensive foods. Another characteristic is food that is filling, as it may be the only meal for the day, and it also needs to fuel them for the hard labor that awaits them in their day.

I made this once overnight in a crockpot and another time in a dutch oven for about an hour. Both were delicious.

Remove the skin from 8-10 chicken pieces (bone-in for best flavor). Wipe dry with a paper towel, and season with a little salt, pepper, and sugar. (The sugar is a little trick from my friend's Laotian mother-in-law!)

Melt 2 or 3 tablespoons oil or butter in a large skillet, browning the chicken on all sides. This will take 5-10 minutes. Remove chicken to dutch oven or crockpot.

While chicken is browning, chop 2 or 3 butternut squash, acorn squash, or sweet potatoes (whichever you prefer), chop 2-3 onions, mince a couple cloves of garlic, and chop an inch or two of fresh ginger.

Saute onions in the pan that you browned the chicken. Add squash or sweet potatoes, adding some water so that it is slightly immmersed, deglazing the pan with a wooden spoon. Add spices: cinnamon, ginger (if not using fresh), garlic powder (if not using fresh), garam masala, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, cumin. If you need measurements, start with 1 teaspoon of each (except the cayenne, of which you should start with 1/4 teaspoon) and add more to taste of the ones you like best!

Mix together till it starts to boil, covering it with lid and simmer 5-10 minutes to soften vegetables. Add cinnamon stick as well.

Pour entire mixture over the chicken (adding stewed tomatoes, if you'd like) and cook in covered dutch oven on medium-low heat for one or two hours or in crockpot on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4 hours.

Serve with cooked rice to soak up the juices!
Silly me, I forgot to take a picture of the final product, but it was very good! You'll just have to trust me on that.

West With the Night

So there are many Africas. There are as many Africas as there are books about Africa... Whoever writes a new one can afford a certain complacency in the knowledge that his is a new picture agreeing with no one else's, but likely to be haughtily disagreed with by all those who believe in some other Africa.

I just dusted off a crisp book that has been sitting on our shelf for several years now, cracking open the cover and creating the first creases that accompany a first read of a paperback. The book: West With the Night by Beryl Markham. The inspiration: my husband was recommended this book after asking for a good read on Africa several years ago.

Only on page eight, and I found the above quote and much comfort (not to mention a vortex of consumption that takes over when you find a book of such excellent calibar!) Though I don't intend on writing a book about Africa, I have felt apprehension in trying to share its food and people, as it will only be "my Africa", my interpretation, my impressions. I cannot try to claim new insight, or even completely accurate ones, but I now feel at liberty to share despite those obstacles.

I'm on page 67 now, and I'm hooked. Get this book! There may be an underlying bias or European haughtiness to the author, but it must be noted that the book was written in 1942, still seeped in the general acceptance of such things as colonialism, hunting, taking Africa's resources, etc. I haven't figured out the author's take on these things yet, but it is clear her life mingles within them.

One more quote to share that I liked: Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer's paradise, a hunter's Valhalla, an escapist's Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just 'home.' It is all these things but one thing - it is never dull.

Well, there's just one more Africa sumation she makes that I was intrigued with: It is still the host of all my darkest fears, the cradle of mysteries always intriguing, but never wholly solved. It is the remembrance of sunlight and green hills, cool water and the yellow warmth of bright mornings. It is as ruthless as any sea, more uncompromising than its own deserts. It is without temperance in its harshness or in its favours. It yields nothing, offering much to men of all races.
But the soul of Africa, its integrity, the slow inexorable pulse of its life, is its own and of such singular rhythm that no outsider, unless steeped from childhood in its endless, even beat, can ever hope to experience it, except only as a bystander might experience a Masai war dance knowing nothing of its music nor the meaing of its steps.

For an overview and comments about this book, read here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


If you subscribe to receiving emails of new posts and just received an alert for a new post, I hope you did not get it! It was edited and done, but the wi-fi at the coffe shop I'm at had disconnected briefly and thus the draft that was saved was the incomplete and unedited version.

I fear I've lost my cleaned up draft, but I hope my memory will serve me well and get it out in the next couple minutes.

Sorry for that!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

the system, revised, and Introduction to Africa

I've got at least five other middle eastern dishes that I've cooked over the last two months of which I'd love to share with you. My idealistic nature believes I will do such, but my slowly-growing-but-still-infantile realism is forcing me to give the disclaimer that they may not all appear.

However, in reworking the system for keeping up-to-date on this blog, my brilliant husband won me an Olympus digital voice recorder on ebay in order for me to record my thoughts and stories as they come to me or while I'm cooking. This is the perfect choice, for when the time comes that I can actually hop online to post, it's the end of the day and I'm looking for my pillow instead of the publish button!

I am currently reading and researching African cuisine as we move westward from the Mideast. To connect the cuisines, I believe I will start with Eastern African countries. Inititially (and ignorantly), I hoped to tackle this in a lumped group of Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia. What was I thinking???
I seem to suffer from this foggy notion of Africa as an enormous country instead of the enormous, incredibly rich, diverse continent that it is. Ethiopia has preserved its own cuisine, largely due to its naturally isolating geography; Kenya alone has over 40 tribes, resulting in unique cuisines among each. I've realized that I must tackle Africa country by country, highlighting each one's everyday and festive foods.

But even in going country by country, I must be careful to not be bound by geographical lines. A good friend of ours, who spent his teen years living in Kenya, noted that the people of Africa define themselves by tribes, and not by the country divisions that Europeans have created. In A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa by Howard W. French, he says, "The continent is simply too large and too complex to be grasped easily, and only rarely, in fact, have we ever tried. Instead we categorize and over simplify, willy nilly, ingnoring that for the continents' inhabitants, the very notion of Africanness is an utterly recent extraction born of Western subjugation, of racism and of exploitation."

In order to understand the cuisine, I must understand the people. I read a fictional book while cooking Middle Eastern, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, but I am now reading the above mentioned non-fiction African memoir to expand my incredibly, and shamefully, limited knowledge of Africa. I've also put a number of holds on books from the library in hopes that I may better understand the beauty, the traditions, and the pain of this great land.

Certainly, I hope to highlight amazing food from this continent, but more so I pray that God will create in me a love for this land and its people and give me insight into easing her pain and seeing her beauty.

Friday, March 12, 2010

discovering borani

I've always liked yogurt, plain yogurt that is. Many people I know detest it unless it's vanilla flavored or sweetened with lots of sugar. If you fall into that category, consider using it in a savory way, instead of trying to stomach it alone. You can use yogurt just as you would use sour cream. It's a great (and healthier) substitute for some recipes that call for heavy cream; it's great on top of rice, burritos, tacos, and squash or sweet potato soups. The active live cultures in yogurt are incredibly important as I'm sure you've been hearing lately in health/food news - or at least you've heard the term "probiotics". If you haven't heard, check out these sites:
Surprising Uses and Benefits of Yogurt - this one is an answer to a question on one problem, but the author discusses the numerous problems yogurt can help lessen, cure, or prevent

In many parts of the Mideast, Mediterranean, and Africa, yogurt is a staple on or mixed in food. One common Middle Eastern dish is called borani, which is, as Faye Levy describes, "a simple, refreshing medley of vegetables and yogurt". Remember my post a while ago about shopping at the Afghan market? Rahim referred to one of his favorite dishes of roasted eggplant and yogurt, a type of borani.

An often looked-over vegetable that I love is the beet. My kids absolutely love it as well, though it stains their hands, we make them wear bibs, there is the after effect of slightly reddish, um, well, pee! They have such wonderful, almost sweet, flavor on their own that I simply boil them whole, peel the skin, and then slice it. You could add salt or butter if you like, but it's truly not necessary.

So, of course, let's combine those two loves of mine - beets and yogurt - to make a Beet Borani!

Trim the bottom of and cut off the greens of 4 medium beets. (Save the greens to chop and saute with garlic and butter!) Don't fork the beet as you might a potato. Simply rinse off any dirt gently then place in a steamer over water or directly into water, covering completely. Cover tightly and steam for 40 to 60 minutes, adding more water as necessary. (The age of the beet will determine how long it takes to soften; fresher takes less time.)

Cool the beets by running them under cold water and resting for a few minutes. The skin will easily slip off when you gently rub the beet. Cut into wedges, and let cool completely.

In a bowl, mix 2 cups plain yogurt, 2 tablespoons fresh mint (or 2 teaspoons dried), a pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper. Add beets to the yogurt and fold in gently. Serve chilled.