Saturday, September 30, 2006

Muddy Sadza, Smelly Fish

Last Saturday, Mark, Dorothy and I had a memorable visit to Mbare Musika. This Saturday, Dorothy and I began cooking with our market bounty. Today’s lunch? Sadza rauzviyo, served with kapenta relish. Before we get to these recipes, a here’s little background on sadza, kapenta and relish.

Sadza is the cornerstone of traditional Zimbabwean food, and it can be made with several different types of refined meals. Maize meal is the most popular meal used to make sadza, and it is the meal you typically find for sale in supermarkets. At Mbare market, we were able to buy both sorghum meal and rapoko (finger millet meal, also called zviyo). These meals are rarely stocked in the shops, and are more often eaten in rural areas. Sadza made from maize meal is a light cream color, sadza made from sorghum is light brown, and sadza made from rapoko is a deep, almost purple-brown. A colleague of mine told me that his young daughter calls sadza made from sorghum or rapoko “mud sadza.”

Kapenta, meanwhile, is a type of sardine, originally from Lake Tanganyika in East Africa, which has been introduced to other African lakes, including Lake Kariba. Lake Kariba is a mammoth, manmade lake in northwest Zimbabwe, along the country’s border with Zambia. It was formed in the late 1950s through construction of a dam which provides hydroelectric power to the two countries. In the late 1960s, hundreds of thousands of kapenta were air-lifted from Lake Tanganyika to Lake Kariba. Kapenta fishing is now an important industry. Kapenta are attracted to lights, so the fish are caught at night, sun-dried the next day and distributed throughout the country.

As for relish, well, in Zimbabwe, a relish is the term for just about everything on a person’s plate other than sadza. Sadza is the focus on the meal, and all other components – meat, chicken, greens, kapenta: that’s relish. So, for the moment, forget about the sweet green stuff you dot (or slather) on a hot dog and think small, smelly fish.

Kapenta Relish
Serves 2-3

½ cup dried kapenta
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 small tomatoes, chopped
Pinch of salt

Soak the kapenta in warm water for about 10 minutes. They will, in a very unsettling way, look as if they are returning to life. In order to avoid staring at the rejuvenating kapenta, begin heating the oil in a small frypan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and sauté for five minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Then, add the tomatoes and the salt. Continue frying, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes, or until all the liquid from the tomatoes has been absorbed. Drain the kapenta, and add them to the frypan. Cook for another 5 minutes, and serve with sadza.

Sadza Rauzviyo
Serves 2-3

2 cups water
2 cups zviyo (a.k.a. rapoko)

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Turn heat down to medium-high and sprinkle ¾ cup of the meal (a big wooden-spoonful) over the top of the boiling water. Stir briskly, pressing the wooden spoon against the side of the pot to remove any lumps. Keep stirring for about five minutes.

When the mixture is smooth and is beginning to puff and bubble like lava (or, to my eye, the hot mud pools in Rotorua), stop stirring and keep a safe distance from the pot so you will not get hit by a lava burst. After 10 minutes, add another ½ cup of the meal and stir, stir, stir. Once it has been absorbed, add another ½ cup of meal. Stir, stir, stir. Add the remaining ¼ cup, and stir again. The sadza should be thick and smooth, and your arm will be tired. Spoon the sadza onto a plate and let it cool for a few minutes.

Sadza is traditionally eaten with your right hand. Collect some sadza in your right hand, and use it to scoop up your relish – in this case, the kapenta relish. I like sadza rauzviyo much better than the more popular maize-meal sadza; it has a rich, earthy, slightly nutty taste that is very comforting. The kapenta relish is a little too fishy tasting (and smelling) for me, but if you like anchovies and sardines, you will enjoy this relish.

Muddy sadza, smelly fish, tasty lunch.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

From Mozambique: A Simple Soup

Several people have described reading Field to Feast as a form of “armchair traveling” to a faraway continent. While I am quite happy for my blog to virtually whisk you away, I have to be honest – I live in only one of the 53 countries in Africa, which means that sometimes I have to do some armchair traveling, too.

Consider Mozambique. From Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highland town of Bvumba I have gazed into this coastal country, a place steadily rebuilding itself after years of civil war. But I have yet to cross the border. Yep, that’s right, Vilankulo, Ilha de Mocambique and Maputo, all still waiting to be explored. So, this past weekend I did a little armchair (okay, couch) traveling myself, and discovered some excellent traditional recipes from Mozambique.

The recipe that caught my eye was for a dish called sopa de feijao verde, or string bean soup. It attracted my attention because 1) I had all the ingredients on hand and 2) I have made soup with practically every vegetable I know of, except string beans. I was intrigued.

Sopa de feijao verde is a simple, elegant soup, with a peppery kick. It is certainly not the type of soup that can substitute as a one-pot meal, but it would make a lovely starter for a Sunday lunch in autumn or spring. There is something inherently graceful about long, slender green beans, and they take center stage in this recipe. However, there is nothing (slurp! splash!) graceful about trying to eat long, slender green beans with a soup spoon. In the recipe below, I have recommended cutting most of the string-bean pieces down to bite-size, while leaving a few long ones to artfully arrange on the top of your serving bowls or cups. You could also steam or blanch these longer beans separately, if you choose.

Be advised that the colors in this dish become distinctly less appealing in leftover form, as the beans’ green color seems to simply seep away into the soup, turning it the color of dirty water. (Sorry to be graphic, but it’s true!) I recommend you make just the amount of soup you think you and your lunch-mates will eat at one sitting – preferably in an armchair, well-suited for traveling.

String Bean Soup (Sopa de Feijao Verde)
Adapted from The African Cookbook
Serves 4-6 as a starter

4 cups of water
2 medium potatoes, cut into ¾-inch chunks
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
½ pound string beans

In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil and add the potatoes, tomatoes, onion, black pepper and salt. Turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, cut your string beans in half lengthwise. Reserve a handful of these long, skinny slices, and cut the remaining beans so that they are each about 2-inches long.

Puree the contents of the pot using an immersion blender (or do that messy schlep to the blender and back routine). If any foam has formed on the top of the soup, just scoop it off and discard. Add all of the string beans and simmer for an additional 8 minutes, or until the beans are tender but still have their bright green color. This might require some close monitoring beginning around the seven-minute mark. Check the salt and pepper, and ladle the soup into small bowls or cups. Fish out some of those long string beans and arrange them on the top. Serve.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

To Market, To Market: Mbare Musika

“Nice things, cheap things” Dorothy’s apt, four-word description of Mbare Musika (Mbare Market). Until yesterday, Mark and I had yet to visit this renowned market south of downtown Harare. We had our reasons. Shortly after we moved to Zimbabwe, Mbare Musika was practically destroyed during the government’s so-called “clean-up” exercise – Operation Murambatsvina. (Although the stands were eventually rebuilt, some say the market has still not returned to its old size or vibrancy.) More recently, the market was tied to a cholera outbreak. Then, about a month ago, Mbare had a two-week-long power outage, causing some unrest. But, no news from Mbare during the past week meant good news for us, and we planned to make our first trip.

Dorothy accompanied us to serve as our guide and to ensure we didn’t get murungu (white person) prices. She is an excellent bargainer, and always asked vendors for our banzela – or free gift – such as the bowl above. Plus, Dorothy is lots of fun to be around, with an infectious laugh that probably would have drawn the attention of everyone in the market even if she hadn’t been walking around with the only white people within a five-mile radius. Like many markets, Mbare attracts its share of pickpockets and other unsavory elements, so we brought little cash, no cell phones and, unfortunately, no camera. I hope my words do the place justice.

The market grid is loosely divided into sections. In one section there are vendors selling grain, grain meal, beans, dried vegetables (including mufushwa), and mopani worms (fat, grey-black, dried caterpillars). Traditional healers (n’anga) manned booths in another area, hawking bottles of unidentifiable objects floating in tea-colored liquid, bits of horn, animal skins, and bowls filled with various pale-colored powders. A large group of stands sold school uniforms, flip flops, electrical equipment, clothes and other sundries. And, of course, there were row upon row of fruit and vegetable vendors. Unlike, say, a market on the Mexican border, you are encouraged – but not harassed – to buy, which makes pleasant, laid-back browsing possible.

Here are the market scenes that caught my eye: men and women deftly shelling peas, with woven plates on their laps to catch the peas and discarded pea pods collecting by their feet. A vegetable vendor leaning back comfortably upon a tall pile of cabbages. The requisite person walking around with a chicken under his arm. The surprised look of the woman carrying a huge bag of potatoes and balancing a full-to-the-brim basket on her head, whom I almost ran into. Produce being loaded onto rickety trucks for distribution and sale at the local supermarkets. A hand-painted sign that read “Save water, drink beer,” hung in front of a pile of hollowed-out gourds (perfect for beer drinking) and next to mounds of chimera, a malted grain meal used to make home brew.Most of the items we bought at Mbare Musika are familiar to supermarkets around the world – carrots, peas, onions, tomatoes, ginger. Beyond these standards, regular readers will recognize the ugly dumbe. We also bought two types of meal – sorghum meal and rapoko (finger millet meal), both of which can be used to make sadza as an alternative to the more commonly-used maize meal. Another one of our purchases was okra that had been dried and pounded, creating a fine green powder ideal for sautéing with tomatoes and onions to create a sadza-accompanying relish. And those beady eyes staring back at you from the photo? They are kapenta, a dried fish. I’ll be cooking with some of these items over the next few weeks, so stay tuned!

Like many markets, Mbare is also the place to hear the latest gossip. Case in point: There has been no bread in Harare’s shops over the past few days because the government-set price is currently too low for bakers to make money by selling their goods to stores. At Mbare we heard that the nearby bread factory might be selling chingwa (bread), and, indeed, it was. There was a queue out the door and a limit of two loaves a person. We duly lined up to buy our loaves, which cost Zim$200 each, or, at the parallel exchange rate, about 25 U.S. cents. At this price, you can understand why bakers aren’t delivering their products to retail outlets – given the cost of inputs, labor and fuel, they wouldn’t break even.

All in all, the day reminded Mark and I of how much we love markets, whether they be scenic, functional, historic, seedy, or a little bit of each. I’ve previously mentioned our favorite Brisbane market, the riverside Green Flea. We’ve also enjoyed markets in Sarajevo (one with a solemn history and, in winter, lots of potatoes and cabbages; another well-known for pirated CDs), the island nation of Tonga (pineapples galore), Carrboro, North Carolina (organic local produce), Abuja, Nigeria (vibrant African wax fabric and everything else under the sun), and Hong Kong (all sorts of animals – live and in cages or tanks, or dead and hanging from hooks). I don’t really care what vendors in a market are selling, I just like to observe the interactions between buyers and sellers, soak in the hustle and bustle, seek out the weird and the wacky, and quietly appreciate the vast difference between markets and malls. Barring any clean-ups, cholera or power cuts, we’ll be visiting Mbare Musika again.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Plethora of Puddings

Close your eyes and consider the word “pudding.” What images come to mind?

Are you visualizing Jell-O-brand boxes of packaged chocolate powder and gelatin? Bill Cosby advertisements? Pudding Pops? Chocolate pudding pie at Christmastime?

Yep, you’re an American.

Or, are you fondly recollecting your family’s favorite homemade pudding recipe, and slightly less-than-fondly remembering battles with your sibling over whose turn it was to pour a buttery sauce over the cake-like concoction?

Bet you’re from Europe, or from a country where a European nation, likely Britain, exerted considerable cultural - and culinary - influence.

How did a single word come to mean one type of dessert in the U.S., and a completely different type of dessert everywhere else?

In fact, over the centuries, "pudding" has meant many different things to many different people. According to The Food Timeline, the word was first used in medieval times to describe a boiled sausage dish. Lucky for us, puddings made by combining sweet, non-meat ingredients slowly gained in popularity and, by the late 1700s, your typical pudding was a cake-like creation. In the U.S., the introduction of custard powder combined with the skillful marketing of a new, custard-y “pudding” as a health food conspired, during the mid-1800s, to create the pudding we Americans know today.

The most popular South African incarnation of pudding (in the European sense of the word) is called malva pudding. Like a milk tart, malva pudding is a simple, straightforward dessert, easy to whip up for a weeknight treat. Even I – who can’t multi-task and am, shall we say, baking-ly-challenged – was able to pull together one version of malva pudding on Monday as I chatted with friends who had just arrived for dinner, and to prepare another version earlier tonight while my husband (who, by the way, was cooking Botswana chowder) and I shared stories from our day.

The version I liked best is a recipe crafted by the Boschendal Winery and Restaurant, which is located in a lovely spot in the Franschhoek valley, a little over an hour outside of Cape Town. The cake-like part of the pudding is spongy and moist, and the sauce is extremely sweet, although not so sweet so as to give you what Mark terms “sweater-teeth.” If you don’t like desserts that scream “sugar,” however, you might want to modify the recipe below by reducing the amount of sugar in the syrup to ¾ of a cup.

Malva Pudding
Adapted from the Boschendal Winery and Restaurant
Serves 8

1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon smooth apricot jam
1 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
Generous pinch salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 cup milk

1 cup heavy cream
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
½ cup hot water

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius). In a medium mixing bowl, beat together the egg, sugar and jam until the mixture is light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. In yet another bowl – a small one – melt the butter, and then add the white vinegar.

Next, add half of the milk to the egg n’ sugar mixture, and stir to combine. Add half of the flour mixture and blend once more. Mix in the remainder of the milk, followed by the rest of the flour mixture. Add the butter and vinegar combination and mix well.

Pour the batter into an 8-inch diameter Pyrex baking dish and cover with a lid or with aluminum foil. (If you’re using foil, make sure the foil doesn’t rest on the batter.) Bake for 45-60 minutes. You’ll know the pudding is ready when the entire top is a toasty brown color.

Just before the pudding is finished baking, put the ingredients for the sauce in a small saucepan, and warm over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the butter has melted. Pour this sauce over the pudding as soon as it comes out of the oven. Let the pudding stand for a couple of minutes to allow the sauce to soak in, and then serve with a dollop of cream.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Mulberry Madness

Mark and I were a little perturbed at the tree whose branches had begun leaning onto our electric fence – they kept setting off the alarm. Upon closer inspection, however, all annoyance at the tree evaporated. For it was a mulberry tree, and its branches – the very ones we had scorn – were hitting our fence because they were heavily laden with mulberries displaying all stages of ripeness.

Mulberries look like elongated blackberries, and taste just as tart and sweet. They stain your hands – or whatever else they touch – a reddish-purple, which was also quite fortuitous. You see, for the past week I have been considering how I might prepare purple food to celebrate the blooming of jacaranda trees in Harare. Mulberries were just what I needed.

I don’t usually crave purple food – in fact, I am violently opposed to the marketing of purple ketchup, which I spotted during a recent visit to the States. But, when the next holiday on the calendar is more than two months away, sometimes you have to invent your own special occasions. And the blooming of jacarandas is, indeed, something to celebrate. Jacarandas are very innocuous trees during the year, but, come September and October, they lose all their green leaves and flower breathtaking lavender buds. These trees are native to Brazil, which makes sense to me because they have that brazen showiness you associate with Mardi Gras, Rio style. I am certain the jacarandas lining Harare’s streets have caused quite a few accidents in their day; they are such a singularly vibrant color that you can’t do anything except stop and stare, and try to keep at least one eye on the road.

The fruiting of our mulberry tree has come just in time to celebrate the jacaranda blooms. Over the past few days, I have tried my hand at mulberry ice cream, mulberry coulis and, as you can see below, mulberry smoothies. Luckily, it appears our tree will be producing fruit for at least another few weeks. Which means I can eat purple food straight through jacaranda season. My fingernails will be permanently stained, but my stomach will be happy.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Peppadew To-dos

There is a mysterious little pepper, native to South Africa, called the peppadew.

Like Kleenex, Dobro and Dumpster, “Peppadew” is both a brand name and a common name. It describes a sweet piquanté pepper, jar-packed in vinegary juice, that is vibrant red and the size of a doll-house teacup. You can fill your peppadew cups with any number of tasty ingredients that compliment their sweet and spicy taste – soft goat cheese is my current favorite. You can also dot your peppadews on top of pizza, cut them in half to layer in a sandwich, or simply pluck them from the jar and pop them in your mouth. After making a heroic effort to determine exactly what peppadews are (uncovering sources that identify the fruit as a pepper-tomato cross and a pepper hybrid), Confabulist transforms them into an attractive appetizer with aged cheddar and soppressata. Jeanne at Cook Sister! hails from the same South African province as the person who discovered wild peppadews, and bakes lovely-looking peppadew and parmesan muffins. These ideas surely only scratch the surface of peppadew possibilities.

When a friend recently told me her new South African cookbook had a recipe for feta and peppadew muffins, well, these muffins quickly made my list of peppadew to-dos. Like any self-respecting food blog reader, you probably have a muffin tin in your kitchen cabinet. I must shamefully admit, however, that a muffin tin did not accompany me across the Atlantic. So, I made this recipe as if it were a quick bread and, voilà – Feta and Peppadew Bread. By all means, make muffins if you wish. Either way, your finished product will epitomize “rustic,” with chunks of peppadew, feta and spring onion peeking out from under the crust. It is a savory bread, and the bites of peppadew steal the show.

Feta and Peppadew Bread
Adapted from Sprigs: Fresh Kitchen Inspiration
Makes one loaf

500 grams cake flour
25 milliliters / 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons baking powder
400 grams feta cheese, crumbled
12 peppadews, quartered
3 spring onions (a.k.a. scallions), sliced
Salt and black pepper, to taste (be generous)
2 eggs
100 milliliters / 2/5 cup water
100 milliliters / 2/5 cup milk
100 grams butter, melted

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius (360 degrees Fahrenheit). In a medium bowl, mix together the cake flour, baking powder, feta cheese, peppadews, spring onions, salt and pepper. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, water, milk and butter. Gently stir this egg mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. Spoon into a greased loaf pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Turn the bread out onto a plate and let it cool. Slice and serve slightly warm, with a thin layer of butter.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ethiopian Lentil Stew and an Analogy

If you went to college in the States, you are sure to shudder at the memory of analogies. Analogies are the word pair bane of your existence that, until 2005, dominated the verbal section of the SAT – the entrance exam required by most colleges in the country. For some reason, the exam writers believed that students’ ability to understand the relationship between two words was an effective way of predicting future academic success. The test would provide a word pair, such as “chef : food,” and you needed to review a list of other word pairs and ascertain which of these pairs shared a similar relationship to the given pair. In this case, “carpenter : wood” would do, for example. Chef is to food as carpenter is to wood. Clear as mud, yes?

Not surprisingly, I have spent nary a second thinking about analogies since I took the dreaded SAT. That is, until I embarked on a search for a recipe for yemiser w'et, an Ethiopian lentil stew. Every recipe reminded me of Russian nesting dolls because in order to make the main recipe, you first had to make at least two other, smaller recipes. Ergo:

“Russian nesting dolls : Ethiopian lentil stew” as “Recipe : Dish.”

The yemiser w'et recipes I found all required berbere (a spice mixture) and niter kebbeh (spiced ghee). Now, I don’t know about you, but berbere and nitar kebbah aren’t usually on the shelf at my local supermarket. After consulting with Recipe Zaar and Food and Home Entertaining, I combined recipes for these two ingredients with several recipes for the main dish to develop the one consolidated yemiser w'et recipe below. It looks more complicated than it actually is – many of the ingredients are spices that you simply measure and add. Once finished, you’ll have a delicious, spice-infused tomato, lentil and green pea stew. One recipe, one dish. No Russian nesting dolls.

Ethiopian Lentil Stew (Yemiser W'et)
Serves 8

½ cup
ghee (use vegetable oil as a substitute)
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
¼ teaspoon turmeric
2 cardamom pods, crushed
1 small cinnamon stick
1/8 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
3 leaves fresh basil

2 cups dried brown lentils, picked over
4½ cups water

3 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
8 cloves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
15 dried red chilies, crushed
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt

2 cups onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups tomatoes, chopped
1 cup tomato paste
2 cups vegetable stock
2 cups fresh green peas (or frozen peas, defrosted)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Put the ghee in a small fry pan over medium heat. Add all the ingredients listed and turn the heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, rinse the lentils and put them in a pot with the water. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a very gentle simmer, and cook, partially covered, for 25 minutes or until tender. (If the lentils are tender and there is still water remaining in the pot, simply drain.) Set the lentils aside.

Next, prepare the berbere. The spice mixture is very strong, so it is a good idea to open all the windows in the kitchen; otherwise, you may have a coughing and sneezing fit. Put a fry pan over medium-high heat and add all the spices listed (except the salt). Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the salt, and grind all the spices in a spice grinder, or with a mortar and pestle.

At this point, your ghee should be almost ready. Strain the mixture using a cheesecloth and discard the solids. Return the newly-spiced ghee to medium heat in a large saucepan, and begin to make your stew. Add the onions and garlic to the spiced ghee and sauté until the onions are just translucent, about 5 minutes. Add 3 teaspoons of the berbere (saving the rest for the next time you make this dish!) and sauté for a few minutes more, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.

Mix in the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer for another 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the vegetable stock and the cooked lentils, and continue simmering and stirring for 10 minutes. Add the green peas and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper, and you are finished!

Yemiser w'et is typically served with injera bread – the Ethiopian mealtime staple made with teff, the smallest grain in the world. This bread always reminds me of an undercooked pancake, which is not a good thing. So, as an alternative, I served the lentil stew with some Indian rotis we had on hand. Pita bread or tortillas would also work well. Since the stew is often accompanied with yogurt or cottage cheese, I spread smooth cream cheese on the rotis, and we used them to scoop up the stew.

“Chili : Spicy” as “Yemiser w'et : Yum.”

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Botswana Chow-da

New England is well-known for its clam chowder (or chow-da, as the locals famously pronounce it). The ultimate way to eat this hallowed dish is at a weather-beaten restaurant by the sea, with a dusting of salt on your skin, sand between your toes, and a packet of oyster crackers at your disposal. Walking through downtown Boston? Tourists and Beantown natives alike enjoy the clam chowder at Union Oyster House – the oldest restaurant in the U.S. – where Daniel Webster once dined (and drank) regularly at the bar. Growing up, I also ate my fair share of corn chowder – one of my mom’s specialties. (Just for the record, we are talking about chowder made with a cream and broth base – none of that tomato-laced Manhattan stuff. New Yorkers and Bostonites don’t only argue over baseball, you know.)

Blessed with these New England roots, I was predisposed to try a recipe for Botswana chowder that I found in a vegetarian cookbook published by The Buddhist Institute of South Africa. Sweet and spicy, smooth and creamy, Botswana chowder has become one of our preferred weeknight dinners and a favorite recipe to share with friends. One acquaintance was so enamored with Botswana chowder that she e-mailed the recipe to a relative in the States, who reportedly wrote back, “I never knew I wanted to eat warm, spicy peanut butter and yogurt. But I do.” You will, too.

Botswana Chowder
Adapted from
Quiet Food: A Recipe for Sanity
Serves 4

3 fresh ears of corn or 1 can of corn kernels, drained
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
6 curry leaves (optional)
2 centimeters / ¾-inch fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 stalk of lemongrass, lightly crushed
2 green chilies, cut in half lengthwise, with seeds removed
2 cups plain yogurt
4 tablespoons smooth peanut butter, smooth
1 teaspoon honey
3 teaspoons corn flour, mixed into 4 tablespoons of water
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fresh, chopped cilantro (a.k.a. coriander), for garnish

Slice the kernels off the corncobs (or use canned kernels, if you wish), and cook in the stock for 15 minutes or until soft. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. Cook until the seeds begin to pop, and then add the ginger, garlic, lemongrass and chilies. Fry over gentle heat for a few minutes, stirring frequently to prevent browning. Add the yogurt, peanut butter, honey and corn flour mixture, and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add the corn kernels and stock mixture to the saucepan and warm through. Check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper if necessary. Serve topped with fresh, chopped cilantro.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Any-time Tart

Pancakes for dinner. Pizza for breakfast. Certain foods assume completely different personalities when eaten at unconventional times of day. I don’t even like pancakes in the morning, but pancakes for dinner? Well, they are a special and welcomed treat. Cold pizza’s coagulated cheese and limp crust may be unabashedly unappealing, but there isn’t any better breakfast on the morning after a late night, and no college kid in the world will tell you differently.

On the other hand, there are some foods that simply transcend all constraints of hour or circumstance – for them, no time of day is particularly special or strange. These dishes are the utility players of your recipe box, the little black dress appropriate for all seasons and every occasion. They are steady, reliable, unassuming, essential.

A milk tart is just such a food. Brought to South Africa by Dutch settlers in the late 1600s, melktart is the consummate any-time tart. It is creamy, but not too rich, and only slightly sweet. Although similar to flan or custard pie, a milk tart has a much more prominent milk flavor. It could be your breakfast tart, tea-time tart, afternoon picnic tart or midnight snack tart. Top with some poached pears or candied ginger and it could become your gourmet impress the in-laws dessert tart. Today, it was our after-tennis, pre-lunch tart. And, since the recipe below makes two tarts, it can also be our bring to tonight’s potluck dinner tart. Delicious, every time.

Milk Tart
Adapted from Food and Home Entertaining, June 2006

Makes two tarts


125 grams butter
100 grams sugar
2 eggs
250 grams cake flour
10 milliliters / 2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt

1.2 liters / 4 4/5 cups whole milk
50 grams butter
3 eggs
50 grams cake flour
50 grams corn flour
160 grams sugar
10 milliliters / 2 teaspoons vanilla essence

Generous pinch ground ginger
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt

10 milliliters / 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

70 milliliters / 2½ tablespoons sugar

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius, or 360 degrees Fahrenheit. To make the pastry, cream the butter and sugar in a medium bowl until fluffy. Lightly beat the eggs, and add them to the bowl. Sift in the cake flour, baking powder and salt and stir the mixture to form a dough. Divide the dough into two pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each piece of dough so that it fits into its own 23-centimeter (9-inch) pie dish. (I used two spring-form pans instead.) Prick the dough on the bottom of each dish several times with a fork. Bake the pastry for 10-12 minutes until very lightly brown.

To make the filling, pour the milk into a medium saucepan and add the butter. Bring to a boil and quickly remove from the heat. In a medium bowl, mix together the eggs, flour, corn flour, sugar, vanilla essence, ground ginger, ground cinnamon and salt. Add this mixture to the saucepan, and return to the heat. Bring to a boil once again, then remove from the heat. The mixture will be very thick and custard-like.

Pour the filling equally into the two prepared pastry crusts. Cool completely, then refrigerate until set. Mix together the ground cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over the milk tarts. Serve.