Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Tag, a Picnic, and a New Warm Salad

Maintaining a food blog isn’t all fun and games you know. Sometimes you get witheringly challenging assignments from your peers, like the one I recently received from lobstersquad. Stop by and admire Ximena’s endearingly carefree writing and illustrations, and then note that she has “tagged” me to respond to the following question: Which menu would you serve food-blogging friends for a welcome dinner upon their first visit to your home?” This meme was started by Angelika of The Flying Apple, and has solicited numerous mouth-watering replies.

Well, my food blog friends, you’ve come a long, long way to arrive here at my home in Zimbabwe, and you’ll probably want to get out and see the country you’ve landed in. So, instead of being stuck inside my house, I’ll prepare a picnic lunch and we’ll all head off to nearby Ngomakurira, an imposing rock formation that features amazing ancient rock art. We’ll stop for our picnic beside a steep rock face that, because of its slightly convex shape, offers some welcome shade at its base. If you come now – quick! – before the rainy season starts, the sky will be a penetrating blue and the landscape’s colors – the light tan of the rock, the rust and lime lichen, the dark green scrub – will be almost flattened by the intense sunlight. You’ll have a clear view over the surrounding countryside from the rock’s peak, and will be able to spot a few villages and some people dressed in white who have gathered for church under a tree.

However, what you really want to know is – what will you be eating? Well, the assignment asks for “signature” dishes, and one of my entertaining signatures is dips. I love dips. In fact, this may sound like one tall tale, but I once shared my recipe for feta-walnut dip (a recipe adapted from Molly Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook) with a friend in North Carolina, who happened to be friends with the then-boyfriend of Rachel Ray, who loved the dip, made her own modifications, and prepared it on Oprah earlier this year. True story.

In addition to my feta-walnut dip, you’ll be munching on spicy hummus, beetroot pesto and olive tapenade, all waiting to be scooped up by toasted pita crisps. Other nibbles will include baked ricotta cheese and boursin-stuffed peppadews. You’ll wash these appetizers down with cool sips of rooibos sangria, straight from my trusty cooler.

Next up will be a creamy avocado gazpacho, followed by a warm green salad with spicy peanut-butter dressing and sadza-sage croutons. This is a special recipe I invested just for you. I know you’ll want to try some Zimbabwean food during your visit, but, to be honest, the local cuisine doesn’t really lend itself to picnics, multi-course meals or chardonnay-laced toasts. My salad adds some new flavors to a traditional Zimbabwean relish made with greens, tomato, onion and peanut butter and transforms its traditional sadza accompaniment into tasty croutons. You’ll find the recipe below (with an option to use polenta instead of sadza for the croutons) just in case you can’t make my picnic. The main course – a light one, since we have a bit of a hike back to the car – will be Savory Broccoli and Cheddar Strudel, garnished with a dollop of chakalaka.

The wine selection in Zimbabwe is quite limited and, to make matters worse, I am totally stupid when it comes to wine. So, I will bribe a fellow food blogger with the promise of a Zimbabwean stone sculpture gift (like this one) to bring several bottles of an appropriate white wine to accompany the meal.

Finally, I have bad – and long-standing – habit of trying out new recipes on unsuspecting guests. It is not surprising, therefore, that I have found the perfect untried and untested dessert for you all. I recently discovered a recipe in Food and Home Entertaining (September 2006) for a grilled fruit platter that looks simply stunning – grilled chunks of pineapple, cantaloupe, bananas, strawberries and guava in a mango reduction sauce topped with toasted fresh coconut. This dish is supposed to be served at room temperature, which makes it a perfect take-along picnic treat. Just in case this plan backfires, however, I’ll have some sweet baked nuts on hand.

Sleepy, full, and sun-kissed, we will lethargically make our way back to my house, drink some tea or coffee on the veranda, watch the sun set, and reminisce about that lovely warm salad.

Warm Green Salad with Spicy Peanut-Butter Dressing and Sadza-Sage Croutons
Serves 2 as a side salad
Adapted from a traditional Zimbabwean relish and a crouton recipe in Food and Home Entertaining, July 2006

1 cup sadza
1 tablespoon butter
2 sage leaves, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 dried red chili pepper, crushed
½ an onion, finely sliced
1 large bunch of greens, chopped (I used a medium bunch of Swiss chard, supplemented by a handful of beet greens)
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 small clove garlic, minced
Salt, to taste
2 tablespoons natural peanut butter
1 teaspoon hot water
Juice of ½ a lemon

To prepare the sadza croutons, first you need some sadza, which you could create by making this recipe. For those of you far from sadza, you can use polenta. Stir in the butter and sage during the last five minutes of cooking either the sadza or the polenta. Let the sadza or polenta cool slightly, then use the back of a wooden spoon to flatten the sadza/polenta into a square, 3/4-inch tall pancake. Cut the sadza/polenta into cubes and grill using a hot griddle pan and the olive oil. You’ll end up with a few more croutons than you’ll need for this salad, but you can store them in an airtight container for future salad-topping use over the next few days.

Now, begin the salad. Pour the oil into a large fry pan over medium/medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the dried red chili pepper and stir. Quickly add the onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until the onion has turned translucent. Add the greens, a handful at a time if necessary, stirring frequently. When the greens have begun to wilt, add the tomato, garlic and salt, and stir. Sauté for just a few more minutes. Meanwhile, mix together the peanut butter and hot water in a small bowl or teacup until it is smooth. Pour the thinned peanut butter over the sautéing mixture and stir. Cook for one minute more, and then take the warm salad off of the stove. Adjust the salt as needed and squeeze the lemon over the salad. Toss, and serve topped with sadza-sage croutons.


lobstersquad said...

Such fun! I love a picnic, and this one , with the scenery, and the dips, is just too good. I´ve been wanting to try the rooibos sangría since you posted it, but it´s too cold for that now, so at last. thank you.

Jeanne said...

Wow - what a bunch of fab and unusual ideas for picnoc food! And I love those Zim sculptures - not the teensy ones at curio shops, but the huge ones. There are guys that sell them by the roadside on the way to Cape Point - I mean a HUGE area of monumental statues and I am always tempted. NOt sure what the airline will say about the weight of my luggage though...!