24 January 2010

Cuisine from South Africa

Yesterday I bought a pressure cooker - quite impulsively. Well, I mean it's shocking that I hadn't owned one before, I know, with the type of healthy cooking I do, etc., but somehow I've always been intimidated by something that could blow your head off. Yesterday, after 5 days of heavy downpours, the sun shone brightly in the sky and I was blipping around doing Saturday morning chores and feeling generally good about things. I didn't read the newspapers much this week, you see, so the Supreme Court decision about campaign financing, and the disaster in Haiti and in Massachusetts, and the Health Care bill, etc. - none of that made it to my consciousness. So I was in a good mood. Lots of rain in January usually has that effect on me. So I popped into Bed, Bath, and Beyond for some linen and noticed the pressure cooker. I eyeballed the options - aluminium, stainless steel, 6 qt, 8, qt - and settled for the 6qt stainless steel. It cost $69.99. I don't usually buy anything that's over $50 if it isn't on sale, but I just felt a sudden urgency to possess a pressure cooker, so I bought it.

We were having guests over for dinner. I decided to make a South African dish - samp. Samp is made from dried up corn kernels whch are cracked into smaller pieces. You boil it and then try to do something exciting with it to make it edible. This dish is a staple among the Xhosa and Zulu people of South Africa, but is very much enjoyed by everyone. In the US you can find hominy which is made from the same basic ingredient - dried corn kernels.
A quick Internet search for samp brought up some fairly bland recipes. Basically beans, samp, onions, oil, and salt. So, I thought, why not make it like a chili? So this is what I did:

I used my new pressure cooker to boil the samp (purchased last week by my friend, Premi, from a South African store in LA) and some red beans. I chopped up an onion and using a big saucepan, sauteed it in sunflower oil ( high smoking point). Next I added carrots, and a few minutes later, some portabella mushrooms, and chopped garlic. The seasonings were added at this point - cumin, coriander, and cayenne. After a few minutes I threw in some tomatoes. In summer I would choose fresh tomatoes and chop them in a medium sized cuisinart. Since it's winter I used canned tomatoes, finely chopped up. When the samp and beans were done - half an hour later - I added them to the sauce I'd made and let all of this simmer together for a few minutes. Then I added salt and freshly grated ginger. The dish was very close to being ready. At this point I threw in broccoli to brighten things up. It was time to look at the consistency. For this I opened up a box of Trader Joe's vegetable broth and poured it into the pan. Just before serving time I added chopped green onions and cilantro and green chilis that were minced together. I did the taste test and found I needed more salt. The very last last thing I did was to drizzle canola oil over the dish. I have to say, this hearty meal was thoroughly enjoyed!!

18 January 2010

Food For Thought

Since I'm not traveling, or writing, or doing anything stupendously exciting at this point in my life, keeping my blog entertaining isn't easy. So at midnight on Dec 31 I made my new year's resolution. My blogs will now have a new focus: FOOD. Heck, recently it's just about the only topic on which I can make intelligent comments. As you all know by now I was in Australia over Christmas holidays. You probably also know that every second while I was there I was stuffing myself with something par excellence - both in liquid and solid form. My brother, Max, loves the fine things in life. In fact, back when we were in our teens I remember him saying, "When I start working I want to be able to buy whatever I want without looking at the price tag." Suffice it to say our family was very working class. Max has always had expensive taste - way before he actually possessed a wallet (that's another story!). Anyway, now that Max is this bigwig financial advisor with posh offices on Oxford Street in Paddington and lives in this stunning apartment near Darling Harbor with expansive views from every window, he is more or less living his dream.
In preparation for the Moodley diaspora over the holidays (the whole family from various parts of the globe descended upon him) he stocked up his liquor cabinet with the finest Australian wines, French champagne, single malts, vintage port, etc., etc. Every evening Max opened up a full bodied smooth red and poured it into an elegant crystal decanter, regailing us with the virtues of that particular wine. Sipping fine wine on the terrace with its amazing views made for an altogether special experience. With water all around us you could easily imagine you were on a huge boat.

Max isn't skilled in the art of cooking, nor is his gorgeous and gracious partner, Julia. So, meal prep fell upon my mum, my sister, and myself. We all love good food and with all the great produce available, we were quite happy to be in charge of feeding everyone. So, as I've decided that the primary focus of my blogs for now will be food, I'll cut out the backstory and get to my real topic.

For the big Christmas lunch, consumed on a blistering hot midsummer day in Sydney, I made the dessert. We had originally planned to have pavlova, but because of a lack of enthusiasm for this idea, we agreed on trifle. Now, everyone who has grown up in an English speaking country, is very familiar with this dessert and its evolution from humble beginnings into the oh so trendy kinds we find on dessert menus in posh restaurants. Americans, however, have no clue. So when I describe how I made my very special Christmas trifle, the full implication is completely lost on them, poor souls, Oh well, I'll leave it at that.

So, here's how I made the trifle that wowed the socks out of every frickin person who had it:

First I went to Paddy's market in Sydney and bought a whole lot of fruit. A big part of a good, modern day trifle is a fresh fruit salad. I got mangoes, bananas, papaya, passion fruit, kiwi, and peaches. Back home, I prepared the fruit - cutting them into little chunks and tossed them together in a bowl.
Using the biggest bowl I could find I got to work on the layering. First, a sponge cake (pound cake, for my American followers) from a gourmet bakery. In other words sugar was not the first ingredient listed. Pure ingredients: butter, sugar, free range eggs, and unbleached flour - that's important. If I'd had time I would have made my own sponge cake.
I cut the cake into little squares and arranged them in a layer. Then I poured some port over the cake to moisten it. You could use fruit juice for this if you don't like alcohol. I would have preferred to use sherry or brandy, but Max hadn't had any, so I had to use his vintage port. Next, I arranged half the fruit salad over the cake. Next came a layer of custard (best if it's homemade with eggs and cream). Apart from the US, you can buy ready made pouring custard from a grocery store in the milk section. Do read the labels. I was shocked at how hard it was to find pure custard without preservatives. In England M&S have the best custard. The final layer is thick, fresh cream. Double cream is best - that's what I used.
Repeat the layers, ending with cream on the top. I crumbled up a Cadbury's flake and sprinkled it over the cream at the insistence of my mum. The trifle had to be made on Christmas Eve so that it could set overnight.
The next day - Christmas Day - I was shocked to see the enormous trifle dwindling and then disappearing in front of my very eyes! I swear to god. Doesn't anyone care about cholesterol any more?

Since my decision to focus on food I have encountered so many writable food stories. So, I am sure my next blog will be appearing really soon.