Sunday, March 4, 2007

Adventures in African Cooking: It Begins

My foray into African cooking begins.

Wednesday (February 28, 2007) I made a West African-inspired Chicken-Peanut-Curry stew over rice. It really should have been served with fufu, but I didn't bother trying to make that. I invited my brother over to be my guinea pig, and he was, as always, a willing participant.

It started with a recipe I found online (don't ask me where--I have no idea). As it came together I discovered it was a bit, well, BORING. The taste was okay, but lacked the wow factor. So I added a little coriander, a little cinnamon, then a little tumeric, a little curry... then a handful of raisins and a handful of prunes. I also mixed in a little pureed eggplant-red bell pepper-cherry peppers for some added nutrition!

Hey, eggplant is an authentic ingredient in african cuisines, and I have to sneak veg in where I can.

It turned out delicious. Here's the recipe:

West African-inspired Chicken Peanut Curry Stew
4 chicken breasts, cut into strips or chunks
cooking oil
2 medium cooking onions, peeled and sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup pureed roasted eggplant-roasted red pepper-hot cherry peppers (can substitute 1/2 cup tomato paste)
1 cup natural peanut butter
3 cups water, divided
1/2 cup prunes
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground coriander
pinch tumeric
3 Tbsp curry powder
salt and pepper, to taste
In a large skillet, fry chicken pieces in cooking oil in batches to brown; do not let chicken pieces touch in skillet. Remove chicken and set aside.
Fry onions in same skillet until transparent. Add garlic and stir until fragrant. Stir in tomato paste and eggplant puree, if using, and 1 cup of the water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat; allow to simmer for about 5 minutes. Return chicken to pot. Stir in peanut butter. Be sure to use low heat and stir continuously or peanut butter will scorch. Add rest of water (2 cups) and mix to combine to a smooth sauce.
Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover pot and leave on low heat for 15-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Alternatively, you can cover pot and move to the oven set at 200*F for about 2 hours, checking and stirring occasionally (every 15 minutes or so).

The same day I made a pot of chili, as well, for the husband. (He doesn't eat unusual food, nor does my brother's wife... so when the mood for international food strikes, we get together to indulge while the spouses eat something less exotic.) When I got a bowl and tasted it--the heat was moderate, the way we like it--I thought, hmm, that stew from this afternoon might be good mixed in. So I tried it...


The balance of the chili spices and heat along with the peanut and curry was fantastic! The heat was perfect, texture was awesome, the touch of sweet added by the raisins and prunes was a wonderful twist, and having chicken pieces mixed with the ground beef was excellent. If I served that as a mixed pot of 'chili' I'm sure people would be pleasantly surprised.

Have I dabbled in fusion cuisine?

But my REAL interest is Ethiopian cooking, specifically injera and doro wat--my favorite thing ever. I started amassing the ingredients last week... buckwheat panake mix (it's so hard to get teff here that I'm forced to improvise), tumeric, cardamom, allspice... fenugreek proved impossible to find locally, so I ordered it online. It arrived in a deliciously fragrant cardboard box after waiting only three days!

I'm not usually one of those people who raves over a particular vendor, but in fairness I have to recommend this one. I ordered my fenugreek from The Spice House. They did not have a minimum purchase requirement, so I didn't have to buy a whole vat of the stuff--3 oz for $1.99 is a good price. Shipping was a bit high ($6.55 for UPS ground) given the small order amount, but I figured it was a standard small-package rate. It arrived in record speed--ordered on a Saturday, and it arrived the following Wednesday.

In preparation for cooking an Ethiopian meal, I've been searching hundreds of recipes online for berbere (their spice paste), niter kebbeh (spiced clarified butter), doro wat (spicy chicken stew), and injera (their sourdough pancake used as tablecloth, plate and utensil). There are literally as many different recipes as there are Ethiopians in the world, because every cook has their own mix of spices.

The funniest thing about all these recipes I've been sifting through online is that several people refer to doro wat they've eaten at restaurants as mildly spicy! Hah! Clearly they've been eating toned-down americanized versions! Doro wat is always HOT. My favorite restaurant in Atlanta--Queen of Sheba near North Druid Hills--made it HOT. When I went to Addis I ate it HOT. This ferengi keeps it real! (Ferengi = foreigner. I wonder if the writers of star trek knew that... hmm... )

I've written to a couple of friends who I know are fans of Ethiopian national food and are experimental cooks, so maybe I'll get some good advice.

Until next time...

Mrs. W

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