Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mangia! Mangia! A Field Trip to Rome

Coliseum? Check. St. Peter’s Basilica? Check. Sistine Chapel? Check. Roman Forum? Check. During our trip to Rome, Mark and I even, by sheer coincidence, found ourselves standing four feet from the Pope. Mamma mia!

The mental postcards I took away from Rome, however, are not only images of its ancient sites and famous residents, but of its everyday people and everyday food. We will remember Osteria Antichi Saporo da Leo for 1) bruschetta con fagioli (a crusty slice of bread adorned with creamy white beans and doused in a fruity olive oil), 2) schiaffoni alla ricotta forte pugliese (rough-cut pasta tubes tossed in a tomato sauce made with an uncommonly pungent ricotta cheese), 3) radicchio con provola affumicata alla griglia (mounds of grilled radicchio capped by disks of provolone cheese, all well-moistened by a lemon-pepper vinaigrette) and 4) Leo, the proprietor. Pleased that we had just concluded our second meal at his establishment, Leo pointed to our empty glasses of raisin-soaked grappa and proclaimed – hands gesturing from his heart – “Free-o.” “Grazie, grazie,” we happily replied. With a flourish, he grabbed our glasses and gave us a refill of this traditional after-dinner liqueur, also “free-o.” Grappling not-too-successfully with my double-dose of grappa, I practically burst into tears as we said arrivederchi.

Another proprietor, another day. At Antica Caciara Trasteverina, Roberto proudly shaved off a paper-thin slice of his pecorino Romano for me to sample. I closed my eyes as it dissolved on my tongue, not wanting to hurry the experience by chewing. We purchased a wedge and asked if we could take a photo of his store. He said yes, and began carefully arranging his wheels of cheese to show off their best sides. (He apologized for stepping into our picture. We wanted him there all along.)

In Rome, foodie heaven is a neighborhood gastronomia like Antica Caciara Trasteverina. Cured meats hang from hooks in the ceiling, hand-scrawled labels identify a huge variety of cheeses and salamis, and shelves labor under bowls of pesto and submerged buffalo mozzarella. The walls are lined with row upon row of Italian olive oils and Italian wines, some graced with the distinctive black rooster seal which means that the Chianti Classico you are holding actually comes from Chianti. Seduced by a sample at a gastronomia called Volpetti, we bought dried Calabrian figs and pecorino di Fossa, a cheese that is wrapped in a cloth sack, placed on a bed of burnt straw in an underground hole, covered with sand and pebbles, and aged for 100 days.

Overflowing fruit and veggie markets and sweet-smelling pasticcerias are also stellar spots for open-jawed food gazing and selective taste-testing. At Campo de’Fiori, stare-worthy vegetables included fresh borlotti beans in their mottled rose-colored shells, heads of cauliflower Romano with their eye-catching hue (chartreuse) and texture (imagine 3-D ice crystals), radicchio rosso di Treviso (a chicory variety that looks like white-flamed torches with burgundy tips), and tiny, unidentified berries, which glowed a luminescent red and tasted like cherry-infused strawberries. Meanwhile, the bountiful display cases at each pasticceria we visited made choosing an accompaniment to our espresso difficult – that is, until we discovered pinolate, a marzipan ball rolled in pine nuts, which we proceeded to seek out wherever we went.

What amazed me most about food in Rome was first, how ingredients so simple could become dishes so extraordinary and second, why the heck I hadn’t heard of some of these dishes before. Take cacio e pepe, for example – pasta with a sauce made from Pecorino Romano, tons of ground black pepper, olive oil and, I suspect/fear, a healthy pour of cream. The pepper taste is quite powerful, and lingers in your mouth after every bite. At Alle Fratte di Trastevere the sauce was plentiful – almost like a peppery alfredo – and served with orecchiette, while at Antico Forno Roscioli it clung tightly to homemade spaghetti strands. A salad eaten on the piazza outside Osteria dell’Ingegno was notable for the phenomenal tenderness of its arugula, which was well-complimented by shaved parmesan, walnuts, halved cherry tomatoes, mushrooms and a light vinaigrette. The delicately battered and fried fresh anchovies (alici fritte) at Da Franco ar Vicoletto were juicy, meaty, and perfected by a squeeze of lemon juice. And the risotto of saffron and pistachios at Osteria Margutta was so rich that it was best eaten in tiny spoonfuls.

Can anyone talk of food in Italy without mentioning pizza and gelato? You cannot. The pizza in Rome is thin crust and comes in red (with sauce) and white (no sauce) varieties. Pizzaiole apply toppings with a light touch and do not disturb their masterpieces by slicing – you and you friends must admire their handiwork then tear off your own delectable, odd-shaped pieces. We particularly enjoyed one pie topped with tuna, capers and olives and another decorated with anchovies and curls of puntarelle, another type of chicory. After your pizza, the crème de la crème of gelato has to be the licorice version at San Crispino, which is served with a slather of dense whipped cream. Alternatively, you could try gelato’s cream-topped brethren, granita de caffe, which we found at Maestri Gelatieri di Calabria. This grated ice and coffee combo is perfect for when you want to experience your after-dinner coffee and dessert in one potent dose.

In a six-day trip, you can only eat and drink so much. Luckily, we brought some of Rome home – the aforementioned pecorino Romano, pecorino di Fossa, and dried figs, along with Arborio rice, polenta mix, a massive wedge of Parmesan, and a package of multi-colored estratterrestri, a shell-shaped pasta bought at a pasta-making stop called Pastificio that featured myriad pasta shapes, some stunningly striped like ribbon candy. But, despite our copious eating and load of take-home goodies, here, in no particular order, are foods I missed out on – otherwise known as reasons I must return to Rome:

Baccalà (salted cod)
Cavolo nero
(a black cabbage traditionally used to make ribollita)
Arancini and suppli (fried rice ball snacks)
Carciofo alla giudia (deep-fried artichoke)
Carciofo alla Romana (artichoke stuffed with mint or parsley and garlic)
Baba (a rum-soaked yeast bun)

Heading to Rome sometime soon? Lucky you! Listed below are the addresses of the shops and restaurants noted above. Mangia! Mangia! And beware of grappa refills.

Alle Fratte di Trastevere
Via delle Fratte di Trastevere 49/50, Trastevere

Antica Caciara Trasteverina
Via S. Francesco a Ripa 140, Trastevere

Antico Forno Roscioli
Via dei Giubbonaro 21-22, South of Campo de’Fiori

Da Franco ar Vicoletto
Via dei Falisci 2, San Lorenzo

Maestri Gelatieri di Calabria
Via Marmorata 111, Testaccio

Via della Croce 8

Osteria Antichi Saporo da Leo
Via Aurelia 366

Osteria dell’Ingegno
Piazza di Pietra 45

Osteria Margutta
Via Margutta 82

San Crispino
Via della Panetteria 42

Via Marmorata 47, Testaccio

Note: Many thanks to new mom Gia at Gia-Gina in Italy for all her eating tips!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

From Nigeria: A Fish Stew

Last December I spent 10 days eating (and working) in Abuja, Nigeria. I discovered that Nigerian food can be quite spicy, and that fish of one kind or another seems to sneak its way into most meals, even a serving a greens. I ate many things I didn’t like and a few I did.

By the end of the trip, I had identified several favorite dishes. First, there was moin-moin – a steamed cake of ground legumes studded with tiny fish and hard-boiled egg, and dyed a lovely rose color from the use of palm oil. I’d usually order moin-moin with a side of dodo, which are fried plantains similar to the ones you’d eat at a Cuban restaurant. I also enjoyed a wide variety of fish stews and soups.

The recipe below creates a fish stew that is rich and comforting – a simple, flavorful dinner on a chilly night. You should use a firm white fish for this dish. We used bream (a.k.a. tilapia), a fish found in Lake Kariba on the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Nigerian Fish Stew
Adapted from Food by Country and Motherland Nigeria

Serves 4

1.2 pounds / 500 grams fish fillets
2 teaspoons salt, or more, to taste
1 tablespoon dried thyme, or more, to taste
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 small green chili, minced
1 small onion, chopped
½ cup tomato paste
2 cups vegetable broth
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (palm oil, if you have it)
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Season the fish fillets with salt and thyme, and set aside. Place the red pepper, chili, onion, tomato paste and broth in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Add the oil and turn the heat down to low. Cook for 15 minutes. Slice the fish into ¾ -inch strips, and add them to the pot. Simmer for 10 minutes more. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve the stew over rice.

Countless Carrots? An Algerian Answer

Your neighbor stops by with a basketful of just-picked zucchinis from her bumper crop. You return from the supermarket laden with priced-to-sell tomatoes, so bursting with juicy ripeness that you know, for sure, that the next day they’ll be rotten. Gazing at your overflowing garden, you realize that you forgot to space out the planting of your green beans, and they’ve all appeared at the same darn time. For these situations and more, everyone needs to have at their fingertips recipes that can cope with an overabundance of one particular vegetable.

Preserving is always an option, of course, but I usually need a little more instant gratification. So do the veggies. Anyone remember that holiday episode of Friends where Joey tries to convince Phoebe that pine trees want to be cut down so they can fulfill their dream of becoming Christmas trees? Well that’s similar to what ripe and ready veggies say to me – please don’t stick me in a jar for months on end; my dream is to be eaten while I am fresh and beautiful.

So, in my kitchen, a tomato bounty is converted into pappa al pomodoro, an unexpected oversupply of zucchini flowers is transformed into pasta with zucchini blossom sauce, and an excess of eggplants leads to a container-full of caponata. And now, thanks to the recipe below, a couple pounds of carrots is transformed into refreshingly tangy Algerian Carrot Salad.

Algerian Carrot Salad
Adapted from Food by Country
Serves 6

2 pounds carrots
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Peel the carrots. Cut the skinny sections of the carrots in half lengthwise, and the fatter sections in quarters lengthwise, so that you end up with relatively uniform-width sticks approximately three inches long.

Put the carrots in a medium saucepan along with the garlic, ½ teaspoon of the salt, and the sugar, and add just enough water to over the carrots. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and cook for 15 minutes. Drain the carrots, place them in a medium bowl and chill for approximately one hour.

In a small bowl, mix together the lemon juice, remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, cayenne pepper and cumin. Pour this mixture over the carrots and gently toss. Serve with a generous sprinkle of fresh parsley.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Chakalaka vs. Chakalaka

Some foods are magnets for controversy. Take the topic of barbeque sauce. Is true barbeque sauce vinegar- or tomato- based? Toss that question into an up-to-that-very-moment civil conversation in North Carolina, and watch the dust fly.

The subject of chakalaka might inspire a similarly heated debate in southern Africa. However, just as all meat-eating North Carolinians would agree that pulled pork is the ideal destination for barbeque sauce in any form, there are also points of agreement about chakalaka. So, let’s start there. Chakalaka is a spicy mixture of sautéed vegetables, with tomato, onion, garlic, bell pepper and chili pepper the essential ingredients. It is also commonly accepted that the dish originated in southern African mining towns, invented by miners who would take whatever veggies they had on hand, throw them in a pot and serve the outcome alongside stiff maize-meal porridge (sadza in Zimbabwe, pap in South Africa, sima in Malawi).

From this point on, everyone has his or her own chakalaka preferences (South African food bloggers included). You can choose to add curry powder, ginger, cabbage, carrots, cilantro, cauliflower, green beans and/or baked beans. You can serve chakalaka hot or cold, soupy or firm. You can make your chakalaka from scratch, or pour it out of a can. And you can call the final product a stew, relish, sauce, gravy, or side dish.

The recipe below is for a gourmet chakalaka – the southern African equivalent of trying to gussy-up coleslaw. Note, in particular, the use of a pretentious shallot and the ridiculously-named patty pans (pictured left). This chakalaka is cooked until the veggies are just tender, giving the dish a colorful, confetti-like appearance. In the carefree spirit of chakalaka, I tossed in some of the dried okra powder I had recently purchased at Mbare Musika. It didn’t add much flavor, but it did contribute that distinctive glutinous okra texture, which was actually quite helpful in making the chakalaka stick together.

Today, chakalaka is served alongside many carbohydrates other than sadza/pap/sima, including cornbread, rice and, in this case, a tart.

Chakalaka Tart
Adapted from Food and Home Entertaining, May 2006

Makes one 9” tart, about 6 servings

1 half-recipe Martha’s pie dough, minus the sugar
30 milliliters / 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small shallot, finely diced
2 bell peppers (preferably two different colors),
seeded and finely diced
Small handful of green beans, finely diced
2 hot red chilies, finely diced, with their seeds
4 baby patty pans, finely diced (if you don’t have baby patty pans, substitute one yellow squash)
1 small eggplant, finely diced
2 medium carrots, grated
2 plum tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped

1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried okra powder (very, very optional)
Sour cream or a soft, creamy cheese, to serve

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius).

Lightly flour your countertop and roll out the dough so that it will fit into a 9” springform pan. Carefully move the dough from the counter to the pan, and press the dough into the pan. (In my pan, the dough went about 1¼ inch up the sides.) Next, line the sides and bottom of the dough with aluminum foil and pour in a single layer of pie weights, rice or beans. Bake blind for about 15 minutes, until the top bit of crust you can see has lost its pale color.

Meanwhile, begin preparing the chakalaka. Pour the olive oil into a good-sized fry pan, and set over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and the shallot, and sauté 5-8 minutes until the shallot is translucent.

At about this time, your oven timer will be sounding. Remove the foil and weights from the tart pan and bake the crust for about 10-12 minutes more, until it is a uniform toasty-blond color. Let the tart crust begin to cool.

Back at the stovetop, add the bell peppers, green beans, chilies and patty pans to the mixture in the fry pan. Sweat for three minutes. Add the eggplant, carrot, tomatoes, salt, sugar and dried okra powder and cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until everything is soft, but hasn’t turned into a mushy mess. You should be able to look into the pan and still distinguish most of the vegetables.

Spoon the chakalaka into the tart crust, remove the sides of the springform pan, and serve in slices. Top each slice with a dollop of sour cream, or a soft, creamy cheese.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

One Pumpkin, Many Fritters

Pumpkins and beets. Before I lived in Australia, I thought that pumpkins were solely used for carving jack-o’-lanterns and making pumpkin pie, and that beets came out of a can for a speedy, but not-so-eagerly-anticipated side dish. Oh, how Australia changed these perceptions. Pumpkin became a welcome member of a roasted vegetable foccacia sandwich, a sweet substitute for spinach in a feta-filled filo triangle, and, when cubed and roasted, a colorful complement to couscous. Meanwhile, beets became beetroot, and a lunchtime staple sliced and served on a veggie burger. Who would have thunk?

I am happy to report that pumpkin also has a life beyond carving and pie here in southern Africa. For example, one traditional South African dish is pumpkin fritters. Spiced with cinnamon and served with cinnamon sugar, these fritters taste like mini-pumpkin pies without the crust and can be served as either a dessert or a side dish.

Since Australia greatly expanded my pumpkin repertoire, I thought I would try matching the pumpkin with some other ingredients – chutney, chili, lemon juice and cilantro for a sweet and spicy Asian-style fritter and fresh herbs and roasted garlic for a savory version. I have to say, the Asian-style fritters were my favorite. Luckily, my husband liked the sweet ones best (surprise, surprise), so we each gobbled up our respective portions. And speaking of gobbling, with Thanksgiving right around the corner in the U.S., these fritters – in any variation you choose – would make a unique alternative to the traditional sweet potatoes with marshmallows. You will never look at pumpkins the same way again.

Pumpkin Fritters
dapted from Recipe Zaar
Makes about 24 little fritters

2 cups cooked pumpkin
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon granulated sugar
2 large eggs
Extra flour, if needed
Vegetable oil, for frying

Option 1 – Sweet (traditional version):
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Cinnamon sugar, for dusting

Option 2 – Sweet and spicy:
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons minced cilantro (a.k.a. fresh coriander)
Juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon mango chutney
1 green chili, minced

Option 3 – Savory:
2 teaspoons roasted garlic paste
Handful chopped fresh herbs of your choosing (I used basil, oregano and marjoram)
Pinch of salt

Using a food processor, blend together the pumpkin, flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. Add the eggs and blend until the mixture forms a thick batter that is firm enough to hold its shape when scooped up with a spoon. If the batter is too soft, add some additional flour.

At this point, you can follow one of the options above, or divide your batter into twos or threes and make several different types of fritters. Just mix in the ingredients listed under the option of your choice, reducing the quantities as appropriate if you are dividing up your batter.

Heat the oil in a fry pan over medium heat. Then, drop heaped tablespoons of the batter into the pan, leaving a bit of space between each fritter. Fry the fritters in batches until they are firm and golden on their undersides. Carefully flip over and fry on other side. The fritters are done if you can press them and they spring back, and no batter squishes out from the sides.

Serve fresh from the fry pan, or as Donna via JenJen suggests, cover the fritters that are ready with a clean tea towel as you prepare the subsequent batches. Or, if are cooking other items to accompany the fritters, keep the fritters warm in a 100°C (210°F) oven. If you made option 1, dust your fritters with some cinnamon-sugar. Garnish the other options as you please!

I roasted the pumpkin I used in this recipe, but you could also boil it. If you do boil the pumpkin, ensure it is very dry before you begin making the batter. Note, too, that the possibilities of how to modify your pumpkin fritters are pretty endless. You could add some currants to the sweet fritter, for example, or maybe make a savory one with zucchini (shredded, salted and well-drained) and crumbled feta. Depending on your additions, you may need to blend in extra flour to thicken the batter, or milk to thin it.

This post is an entry in Hay Hay it’s Donna Day #6- F is for Fritter, a food blog event excellently hosted by JenJen of Milk and Cookies.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Road Trip, Snack Trip

Road trips are 30 percent about getting to a destination, 30 percent about the journey, and 40 percent – heck, let’s forget math and make it 50 percent – about the food you eat along the way. In my years of roadtripping with friends and family, I’ve found that there are a variety of road-trip eating strategies.

First, there are the snack packers. Zip-lock bags and Lil’ Playmate coolers at their service, snack packers stow away all sorts of nibbles that successfully pass the no-crumb, no sticky fingers that need to be washed test. Especially worthy snacks include crackers sandwiched around peanut butter and raisins (our snack of choice on a recent trip), Goldfish and seedless grapes. I feel certain a South African would add biltong, just as a Montanan would add beef jerky.

Then there are the risk-takers. Like a water diviner sensing an underground spring, risk-takers use gut instinct and a tug of intuition on their arm (right arm in the States, left in the UK, Australia, Zimbabwe, etc.) to indicate which exit they should use to pull off the highway. The food available at the exit is unknown. The risk-taker does not care.

Meanwhile, the plan-aheaders pre-select and carefully mark on the map each scheduled eating establishment, all of which are conveniently located at hunger-pang-spaced intervals. A final category of road-trip eater includes the people who see road trips as excuses to eat junk food, and, licking their greasy fingers, happily take advantage of these plentiful opportunities.

Growing up, we utilized a strageic road-trip combination of snack preparation (after all, who wants to be in a car with two hungry kids?), observation of the plan-ahead advice offered by AAA travel guides, and close scrutiny of the blue “Gas, Food, Lodging” signs by the side of the road. If it was mealtime and one of these signs indicated that there may be a local joint at the upcoming exit, we would stop. Only local restaurants – that was the rule. Chain restaurants were not allowed on road trips because, as my mother said, travel was for experiencing new things.

I speak of road trips because this past weekend Mark, a friend and I drove six hours southeast of Harare for a holiday in Gonarezhou National Park, which is situated along the border with Mozambique. Although we packed some snacks (macadamia nuts, peeled carrots, apples and cereal bars made with baobab pulp), we also knew we could acquire more treats along the way, since, no matter how rural the area, in Zimbabwe you can always find people selling fruits and veggies by the roadside. That’s how we ended up with this sugar cane.

Sugar cane is, of course, used to make sugar. It can also be eaten fresh by peeling off the tough skin, tearing out the fibrous inside with your teeth, chewing it, and sucking out all the sweet juice. Then, in a move that is hard to accomplish gracefully, you must spit out the well-masticated pulp and throw it out the window. My husband does all this much better than me, which is why he is in the photo. Sugar cane fills many road trip snacking needs, as it provides a quick sugar burst and the chewing keeps your jaw busy for a while. And, if you ask the nice woman who sells you the sugar cane to break it into smaller pieces, you won’t even make much of a mess in your car.

Our road trip didn’t give us the option of junk food, exits or a variety of roadside eating establishments. It did however, give us sugar cane. Which means that, all in all, sugar cane helped make our road trip what it should be – a snack trip.

The top photo in this post was named "Best in Originality" in the October 2006 edition of "Does My Blog Look Good in This," a food blog event hosted by Spittoon Extra.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Faves on Fridays #1: Curried Tomato Soup

Mark, my husband, tucking into a plate of sweet tomato and baked ricotta pasta: “You should really post on your blog about some of our favorite recipes. You know, like this pasta.”

Mark, a week later, dipping his spoon into a cream-topped serve of fruit crumble: “See, here’s another one – another of our favorite recipes that we make all the time. I’m sure people would like this – you should post the recipe on your blog.”

Mark, just the next day, ladling spicy mushroom and cilantro curry onto a plate of cardamom-scented basmati rice: “Come on, Carolyn! Mushroom and cilantro curry. You’ve got to write about mushroom and cilantro curry!”

Okay, okay. I get the point. And, instead of changing the sub-title of Field to Feast to “Almost-always African-inspired writing, cooking and eating, and with an occasional post inspired by the dog-eared pages of my cookbooks” I have decided to introduce a new, occasional blog feature – Faves on Fridays.

My one reservation in posting this inaugural Fave on Friday is that you might think I am on a liquid diet given the number of drink, soup, stew and chowder recipes I have recently written about. Fear not, I have all my teeth and do eat solid food. However, my first recipe is, indeed, a recipe for soup. A tomato soup in fact. But, once again, fear not: this is not Campbell’s (or your middle-school cafeteria’s) tomato soup. This is curried tomato soup and it is simple to make and simply yummy to eat.

The recipe comes from Madhur Jaffrey, one of my favorite authors, who says it is inspired by an old Anglo-Indian cookbook. This soup also has many features my husband admires – you can be flexible with the veggie proportions, your chopping can be haphazard, and you just throw everything together, go for a jog (do yoga, watch TV, call your Mom, whatever), re-enter the kitchen, blend the now-tender mixture, and eat. Plus, you have leftovers for lunch the next day. Yes, this is truly a Fave.

Curried Tomato Soup
Adapted from World Vegetarian
Serves 6

2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon mild curry powder
1 tablespoon hot curry powder
2 cups (1 pound) chopped tomatoes
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup fresh (or frozen and defrosted) peas
4 cups water
2¼ teaspoons salt
½ cup heavy cream

Heat the oil into a large saucepan, using medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes or so, until the onion is translucent. Stir in the curry powders, and then add the tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, peas, salt and water. Bring to a boil. Cover, turn the heat down to low, and keep at a gentle simmer for 45 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and blend the soup using an immersion blender. Stir in the cream, and serve.

Note that you can use the curry powder judiciously to make the soup as mild or spicy as you would like – we tend to like a lot of heat.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tea, Meet Sangria

Rooibos tea – born, bred, and brewed in South Africa – is a tea full of paradoxes.

Paradox 1: Rooibos means “red bush” in Afrikaans. Yet, rooibos does not come from a red bush at all. The bush is green. The leaves of the bush turn reddish-brown only after they are fermented, which is how most rooibos leaves are processed for sale as tea.

Paradox 2: Although this dark reddish-brown tea looks as if it must contain caffeine, it is miraculously caffeine free and, healthier still, is chock full of antioxidants. This makes rooibos the ideal beverage for kicking your caffeine habit. (If you want the habit to be kicked, that is. I like mine very much, thank you.)

Paradox 3: Rooibos is not a tea at all. Technically, it is an herb. (It is also a member of the Cape floral kingdom, which is located in southwestern South Africa, in and around the city of Cape Town. The Cape floral kingdom is the smallest of the world’s six floral kingdoms, and is also the most species-packed. In fact, Table Mountain, which forms the stunning backdrop to Cape Town’s skyline, supports more flora species than the entire United Kingdom.)

Paradox 4: Rooibos was first drunk in tea form thousands of years ago by the Khoisan people, the original inhabitants of large swaths of southern Africa. They introduced it to subsequent arrivals to the region, but it was not very popular. In recent decades, however, rooibos has become one of those patriotism-inspiring products that South Africans proudly claim as their own. In fact, it is almost trendy, and posh South African coffeehouses are now serving rooibos espresso.

I enjoy rooibos’ mellow, slightly-sweet, slightly-nutty flavor in a simple cup of hot tea or glass of iced tea. Or, twist my arm, on a sunny afternoon I like rooibos in this refreshing, non-cloying version of sangria. Tea? Sangria? No paradox there.

Rooibos Sangria
Adapted from Food and Home Entertaining, June 2004
Makes about 8 cups

2 cups water
4 teaspoons rooibos tea leaves
½ cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
3 cups red wine
½ cup brandy
2 cups apple juice
1 orange, sliced
1 apple, sliced
Ice cubes

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the tea leaves, sugar and cinnamon sticks, and give the pot a stir. Turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the mixture to remove the tea leaves and cinnamon sticks. (It’s okay if a few tea leaves slip through). Put the liquid in the refrigerator, and chill. This will take about an hour or so.

Add the red wine, brandy, apple juice, orange slices and apple slices. Stir. Serve with ice cubes.