Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Beer Brewin’

I once read that the arrival of tea on England’s shores helped fuel the Industrial Revolution. Before tea, the beverage of choice was beer, and beer-drinking was not exactly a happy accompaniment to working with machinery. Tea was. I don’t know if this story is true or not, but one thing that is true is that beer and other alcoholic beverages have been with us humans for a long, long time. In fact, our ancestors may have imbibed even more than present-day Australians. And before that very same Industrial Revolution, there was only one manner of beer and alcohol production. Whether it was brewed by monks or farmers or city-dwellers, your alcohol was home-brewed. As we all know, home-brew persists to this very day.

I, myself, have married into a celebrated homebrew tradition. My husband hails from the foothills of North Carolina – a place known for MerleFest, car racing and moonshine. In fact, he swears it was moonshine production that inspired the car racing that would become NASCAR, as moonshine brewers outraced the cops in their souped-up cars, and then began, as boys will do, to race each other.

Africa also has its indigenous brews. Talking with Zimbabweans, I don’t think I’ve heard of a grain or fruit that isn’t made into some sort of beer or liquor. What do marula fruit, mazhanje (a.k.a. loquats), palm tree sap, sorghum, millet and maize all have in common? They all can be made into alcohol. Typically this home-brewing occurs in rural areas, while urbanites drink one of several locally-bottled beers (Bohlingers, Lion, Castle, Zambezi), or the cheap favorite, Chibuku, made from sorghum and maize and sold in barrel-shaped containers. These containers are called Scuds – a name bestowed upon the product during the first Gulf War, when some (likely drunk) chap noticed that the shape of a Chibuku resembled that of a Scud missile. Strange, but true. As the economic situation here has deteriorated, the price of a Scud has rocketed out of many people’s price range (and by people, I mean men), and more and more people (and by people, I mean their wives) have begun to brew beer – even in urban areas.

With a lot of help from our housekeeper, Dorothy, this weekend we brewed chikokiyana, or one-day beer. I’m not going to write up a proper recipe (really, who among you is going to try this?), but here, for your reference, is the basic idea.

First you bring about eight cups of water to a boil. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, you mix together four wooden spoonfuls of mealie meal (the finely ground cornmeal used to make sadza) with some water to make a thin gruel. Stir, breaking up any lumps, and then pour the paste into the boiling water. Stir again, partially cover, turn the heat down to medium-high, and keep the pot at a low boil for 15 minutes.

Let the gruel cool for about five minutes, and then add another four cups or so of cold water. Stir once again to break up any lumps. Next, pour the mixture into your pfuko – the traditional round, chevron-decorated bowl with a narrow neck that is used just for this purpose. In a small bowl, mix together ½ cup raw sugar, ½ cup active dry yeast and 1½ cups chimera (fermented ground millet, or zviyo). Add to the pfuko and stir. Cover, and let sit in a warm place overnight.

Twenty-four hours later, remove the cover and watch the beer’s effervescent bubbles sputter and pop. Give the brew a stir, and then drink it straight from the pfuku. Or, if you are me, pour yourself a small glass. Chikokiyana is gritty, sour and yeasty – in other words, an extremely acquired taste. I could only get down about three sips; my husband four. Dorothy’s cousin downed the rest during the course of one day.

Apparently, you can also make a non-alcoholic version of this beverage, called mahewu by simply omitting the yeast. There is also a version of beer that is brewed for seven days and that, we hear, tastes a good bit milder than chikokiyana. I think I’ll stick to moonshine. And stay away from heavy machinery.

*Note: In keeping with the spirit of this post, I wrote it having drunk two beers (Phoenix, if you must know, the famous beer of Mauritius) on an empty stomach. Please excuse all resulting typos and errors of judgment.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Well-herbed Couscous from a Well-loved Cookbook

Like a child’s blanket, hugged until threadbare, my copy of Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian has been loved too, too much. Its spine is broken, its pages are oil-spattered, and its recipes accompanied by barely legible scribbles and flurries of exclamation points.

I was first introduced to Jaffrey by my friends Matt and Steph, hooked by a recipe for salmon curry. I copied a few pages from their edition of From Curries to Kebabs: Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail, and so began 2004, the Year of Curry. For me, Indian food presented a whole new way of cooking. The recipes made me breathless with their instructions to add ingredients mere seconds after one another, my spice rack became a spice cabinet, and my tolerance for hot chilies went through the roof. Another new discovery was curry leaves, an optional ingredient in what seemed like half of Spice Trail’s dishes. Serendipitously, my now-husband had just begun gardening for an elderly Indian woman with an out-of-control curry plant. He would return home, ever-chivalrous, with curry leaf bouquets.

I acquired World Vegetarian in 2005 and have been cooking my way through it ever since, adopting as dinner staples the Bengali squash curry, Italian chickpea flour pizzas and curried tomato soup. Over these two years, an ever-more-tattered green post-it has marked a recipe for Speckled Green Couscous with Red Potato Sauce. This recipe, a Tunisian dish, attracted my attention with its use of four fresh herbs – cilantro, dill, parsley and arugula – but it remained untried simply because I could never accumulate all of the ingredients at one time. My cilantro plant would be flourishing just when my dill plant had died. The supermarket would have arugula, but scallions were nowhere to be found, or perhaps the tomato paste was out of stock. Today, however, my stars aligned. In fact, even though I couldn’t find fresh dill at the store, I did discover and purchase a dill plant at the nursery (I hope it didn’t mind quickly losing half its leaves), and I compensated for my remaining dill shortfall with some feathery fennel tips, which, according to Jaffrey, are more traditional in Tunisia anyway.

Jaffrey recommends mixing a ¼ cup of the red potato sauce with cayenne and serving it as an accompaniment to the dish in place of harissa, a hot, North African spice paste. My sauce did not produce enough liquid to spare, however, so next time I’ll prepare some of my own harissa beforehand. I also think I’ll double the sauce portion of recipe, as it had a satisfying richness that well-compliments the herb-lightened fluffiness of the couscous. I wanted more! Next time…if only my new dill plant will not die, and the stars that oversee ingredient availability once again align….

Speckled Green Couscous with Red Potato Sauce
Slightly adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian
Serves 4

Potato Sauce
3 tablespoons / 45 milliliters olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons / 30 milliliters tomato paste
1 teaspoon / 5 milliliters ground cumin
1 teaspoon / 5 milliliters ground coriander
1 teaspoon / 5 milliliters paprika
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne
12 ounces / 340 grams boiling potatoes (about 5 medium), peeled and cut into 1 x ½ x ½-inch / 2½ x 1¼ x 1¼-centimeter pieces
1½ teaspoons / 7½ milliliters salt, or to taste

1½ teaspoons / 7½ milliliters salt
1 tablespoon / 15 milliliters olive oil
½ cup / 125 milliliters parsley, finely chopped
4 tablespoons / 60 milliliters cilantro (a.k.a. coriander), finely chopped
3 tablespoons / 45 milliliters feathery fennel tips, finely chopped
1 tablespoon / 15 milliliters fresh dill, finely chopped
4 scallions, green parts only, finely sliced
½ cup / 125 milliliters arugula (a.k.a. rocket), finely chopped
2 cups instant couscous

To make the potato sauce, put the oil in a medium saucepan and set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and fry it for a minute. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Next, add the tomato paste, and stir it for a minute. Add the ground cumin, ground coriander, paprika and cayenne, and stir once more. Put in 4 cups of water, the potatoes and the salt. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to a rapid simmer and cook for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Adjust the salt, if necessary.

To make the couscous, bring 2½ cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the salt, oil, parsley, cilantro, fennel tips, dill, scallions and arugula. Cover, turn the heat down to low, and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add the couscous, stir and cover. Remove the pan from the heat and let it sit in a warm place for 5 minutes. Uncover, and fluff thoroughly with a fork.

Serve the couscous immediately, topped with the red potato sauce.

This post is an entry in Weekend Herb Blogging, a food blog event founded by Kalyn’s Kitchen and hosted, this week, by Tomato.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Soup for a Rainy Season

It is easy to overlook the wonder of rain. Beyond the fact that it emerges from moving, ominous grey things called CLOUDS and falls from the SKY (two awe-inspiring features, if you ask me), there is also the breath of cool air that foreshadows its first drops, the sound rain makes on different objects (a tin roof, a pool, a window pane), and the moist, earthy smell that land somehow conceals until rain comes, just like bread hides the smell of toast.

I’ve always enjoyed rain. After all, if the weather was beautiful everyday, when would I play cards, watch two movies in a row, bake cookies, organize photos, paint my fingernails, or write long e-mails? Rain gives you permission to be cooped up and sedentary, and to ponder, over a bowl of soup, how to make the best out of the situation.

Living in Zimbabwe has deepened my rain-appreciation. Here, rain only falls between November and April. Those first dust-dampening storms literally transform the landscape from shades of brown to a bright, new green. Rain is also critical to the country’s lifeblood – agriculture. This year, the rainy season got off to a sluggish start. There were a few storms in mid-November, but then the sun and heat returned, and by the time I visited a few rural communities in early December…well, people had begun whispering the dreaded D-word (drought). With farmers facing many challenges beyond the weather (such as the inavailability and high cost of seed and fertilizer), a good rainy season is critical to averting hunger. So, I am especially happy to see today’s rain, and a steady, soaking rain it is.

We had invited two friends over for tennis and a light lunch, but the rain nixed the tennis, as well as my enthusiasm for the green salad I had planned on serving alongside a chard and saffron tart. Soup was in order, and Tunisian Tomato Soup is the prefect choice for a cool, drizzly day, combining all the comforts of tomato soup with the heartiness of lentils and chickpeas, a sunray of lemon, and classic Tunisian accents of cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne and raisins.

Let it rain!

Tunisian Tomato Soup
Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven
Serves at least 8 as a starter

1 cup brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 cinnamon stick
6 cups / 1½ liters water
2 tablespoons / 30 milliliters olive oil
4 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons / 10 milliliters salt
1 teaspoon / 5 milliliters ground turmeric
1½ teaspoons / 7½ milliliters cumin seeds
2 teaspoons / 10 milliliters ground cumin
3 bay leaves
1 28-ounce / 800-gram can crushed tomatoes
1 14-ounce / 400-gram can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3-4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup raisins, soaked in warm water and drained

Put the lentils, cinnamon stick and water in a medium saucepan, and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but not mushy. Remove the cinnamon stick and drain the lentils, saving the water.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Toss in the onions and garlic and sauté for 5-8 minutes until the onions are soft. Add the tomatoes and six cups of water (including the reserved cooking water from the lentils). Bring the pot to a boil, and then lower the heat so that the soup is simmering. Partially cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaves.

Add the cooked lentils and chickpeas and stir. Simmer for five minutes, until the chickpeas are heated through. Stir in the lemon juice, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Serve hot, topped with a sprinkling of raisins. (I like to soak the raisins in warm water beforehand so that they are nice and plump, but you don’t have to.)

Monday, January 15, 2007

African Peanut Stew, Organized

I used to be organized. I really was.

Every Saturday morning I would sit cross-legged on the sofa, coffee on the side table, cookbooks piled beside me, scrap paper on my lap and pen in hand. From this happy perch I would flip through my cookbooks, while writing, scratching out, tweaking and, ultimately, jotting down exactly what meals I would cook the next week and precisely which ingredients I required. Mark and I would then collect our shopping bags and head off for Brisbane’s Green Flea Market.

Sure, I occasionally varied from my set schedule. Spontaneously inviting friends over might require a quick ingredient top-up at the Vietnamese grocery downstairs. Or, while trudging between the ferry stop and our flat after a late day at school, the oompah music and sidewalk-table conviviality of Lefkas Greek Taverna (and the adjacent bottle shop) might draw me in. Passing that siren call, the cocoanut-curry smells of Thai Dream would sometimes entice me to walk just a few steps past my stairs for takeaway. And, even if I made it safely to the apartment, laziness could always trump my menu plan and encourage me to boil the spinach and cheese ravioli made across town by Italians and sold at the Greek store down the street, which was always fabulous with an easily-concocted sauce of good-quality tomato paste, toasted pinenuts, parsley, basil, parmesan, and olive oil.

But, usually, I stuck to my plan. Ah, those were the days.

Now, I live in Zimbabwe and my shopping and my cooking have no rhyme, reason or semblance of organization. When we first arrived, I tried, fruitlessly, to make a comprehensive weekly shopping list. Inevitably, I would tear it up in frustration after our trip to a third grocery store. Overall, I must say, the grocery stores here have many, many items. But, they have no specialty ingredients (oh, how my heart pangs when I see stunning recipes that hinge on mascarpone cheese) and their stock is very unpredictable. The minute you NEED an eggplant and only an eggplant, it will be nowhere to found. Out of flour? There is sure to be a shortage. Desperate for milk? The long-life milk has disappeared from the shelves and the fresh milk is spoiled. Vital kitchen implements often meet a similar fate: I once forced my husband on a futile, city-wide search for a bundt pan.

Eventually, I developed a new menu-planning scheme. I go to the stores with the best fruit and veg, buy whatever looks fresh and beautiful, and figure out what to do with my cornucopia when I get home. The result? I love recipes that can adapt to the whims of my fridge’s most recent arrivals.

And, so, I love African Peanut Stew. You could probably throw any vegetable in here and it would taste just fine. Eggplant, corn, green beans, squash, peas, tomatoes – bring it on. Even tofu would be a welcome addition. I made this recipe last night with what I had in my fridge. This included some dried shrimp that a friend brought us back all the way from Brazil. (Shhh, don’t let Customs know.) Yum. I highly recommend the pineapple if you have it, the chilies add a vital bite, and, of course, the peanut butter is a must-have. Otherwise, may your crisper dictate your dinner.

African Peanut Stew
Serves 4

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large leek, white part only, well-cleaned and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons gro
und coriander
2 medium sweet potatoes, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 green chilies, deseeded (if you wish) and minced
1½ teaspoons salt
2 cups vegetable broth
1 medium pineapple, peeled, cored and cut in
to chunks
1 green pepper, diced
¼ cup dried shrimp/prawns (optional)
½ cup smooth, natural peanut butter
½ cup crushed peanuts, toasted

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, leek, garlic and ginger and cook for five minutes. Stir in the ground cumin and ground coriander and cook for one minute. Add the sweet potatoes, carrot and chilies and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes.

Add the salt, vegetable broth, pineapple, green pepper and optional dried shrimp. Bring the stew to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 8-10 minutes, or until the sweet potato and carrot are soft. Mix in the peanut butter and cook for a final five minutes. If you want a thinner or thicker stew, you can add more peanut butter or, alternatively, more broth.

Serve the stew hot, with the toasted peanuts either sprinkled on top or stirred through. Fresh coriander/cilantro also makes an excellent garnish, if you have it.

This post in an entry in the inaugural Waiter, There’s Something in My…, a monthly food blog event organized by Cook Sister!, Passionate Cook and Spittoon Extra. Janaury's theme is stews.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

One Perplexed Sous-Chef

Mark dutifully peeled, seeded and diced the butternut squash and cracked and whisked some eggs. After searching the countertop for other ingredients that needed to shed their skins, he quietly commenced paring a carrot. Like most nights, Mark had identified an ideal soundtrack for our dinner preparations – one of my favorite bands, Patty Hurst Shifter. As one song ended and another began, he looked up from his labor and asked, “So, what are we making anyway?”

My first thought: Oh, what a horrible cook (and wife) am I, putting my sous-chef/husband to work without the common courtesy of telling him what we are making!

My second thought (verbalized): “So, what do you think we are cooking?

Mark: “Squash pot pie?”

Me, nose crinkling: “Squash? Pot pie? With eggs?”

Mark: “A frittata?”

Me: “A more appetizing guess, but still no.”

Mark, spotting the curry powder, chickpeas and yogurt: “Chickpea and squash curry with raita?”

Me: “Hmm, not a bad idea.”

Mark: “I give up.”

So, what are we making?

We are making bobotie, a traditional Cape Malay casserole from South Africa. Its sweetly spiced flavor comes from mixing curry powder with raisins, apple and spoonfuls of jam. These ingredients are combined with crumbled pieces of milk-soaked bread and also, typically, minced meat. Since Mark and I don’t eat meat, the version I cook employs a golden trifecta of chickpeas, carrot and butternut squash. The entire wholesome, warming dish is topped with custard and speckles of paprika.

You can easily adjust bobotie to meet your preferences. So, for example, you could substitute lentils for the chickpeas, add slivered almonds, or trade the squash for more carrot. Just one warning, though: unless you want to risk making squash pot pie – I advise informing your sous-chef about your dinner plans!

Golden Bobotie
Adapted from
Quiet Food: A Recipe for Sanity
Serves 6

3 slices wheat bread (soft crust, or no crust)
1 cup / 250 milliliters milk
2 tablespoons / 30 milliliters vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced
2 medium carrots, grated
1 tablespoon / 15 milliliters mild curry powder
1 teaspoon / 5 milliliters ground turmeric
1 teaspoon / 5 milliliters ground ginger
4 teaspoons / 20 milliliters white vinegar
1 green apple, grated (skin on or off)
2/3 cup / 80 grams raisins
1 14-ounce / 400-gram can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 eggs, plus 3 more eggs for the topping
2 tablespoons / 30 milliliters smooth apricot jam
2 teaspoons / 10 milliliters salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 bay leaves
1 cup / 250 milliliters yogurt

Soak the bread in the milk. Pre-heat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for five minutes until the onion has begun to soften. Toss in the squash and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Stir in the curry powder, turmeric and ground ginger, and cook for another two minutes. Take the pan off of the heat.

Crumble the soaked bread and add it, along with the white vinegar, apple, raisins and chickpeas to the pan. In a small bowl, whisk together two eggs, the jam and the salt and pepper. Add this to the saucepan, too, and then thoroughly combine the contents of the saucepan. Spoon everything into a medium-size casserole dish with sides at least 3 inches / 7.5 centimeters high. Press the bay leaves down into your casserole.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3 eggs and the yogurt, and add a pinch (or grind) of salt and pepper. Pour this topping over the squash-carrot-chickpea mixture that is in the casserole dish. Sprinkle with paprika.

Bake, uncovered, for 35 minutes until the topping is set and very lightly golden. You can serve bobotie by itself or with rice. It is traditionally served with yellow rice.

For a meat-eater version of bobotie, accompanied by yellow rice, check out Cook Sisters’ recipe here.

P.S. A big thank you to everyone who voted for me as Best Food Blog Rural in the 2006 Food Blog Awards. Your support was very, very appreciated! Congratulations to the winner Farmgirl Fare. (An excellent blog it is!)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Make Hibiscus Tea (Then Vote for Me!)

This morning the weather cannot decide if it wants to be hot and sunny, cool and rainy or the pinnacle of atmospheric ambiguity – sunny and showering. I am just as restless. I made a shopping list, then decided the last thing I wanted to do was face the grocery store. Got dressed to do yoga, then plunked down on the couch. Flipped through a magazine, then tossed it aside. Began dismantling our Christmas tree, then got distracted by re-reading the cards we received.

I can’t even decide what to drink. Do I want a cup of hot tea? Or, do I want a glass of iced tea?

I better make BOTH.

The flowers of the hibiscus plant* are used in countries all around the world – from the Middle East, to North and West Africa, to the Caribbean, to Central America – to make a tangy, well-sweetened, ruby-colored tea that can be served either hot or cold. The tea is typically prepared by steeping the flowers (fresh or dried) in hot water, and then straining them out. Lots of sugar is added, and the tea is often infused with flavors that complement its cranberry-like taste, including lemon, mint, ginger, vanilla, pineapple and orange essence.

In Egypt and Sudan, the word for both the hibiscus flower and hibiscus tea is “karkaday” (or karkade). Legend has it that karakday was a favored beverage among the Pharaohs. Hibiscus flowers are known as “bissap” in Senegal and The Gambia, and the Senegalese call water infused with hibiscus flowers “jus de bissap.” For one hibiscus beverage, they mix a concentrated version of this “juice” with soda water, ginger ale or lemon-lime soda, which makes an exceptionally refreshing spritzer.

Hibiscus flowers can also be stewed to fill tarts and pies, or used to make jellies and jams. The excellent cookbook The Soul of a New Cuisine flavors then freezes hibiscus-steeped water to create a lovely, mint-garnished granité. In fact, given my current state of indecisiveness, it’s amazing that I could select tea as my preferred use of the ingredient! There are two recipes below – one for a cold Senegalese-style spritzer with vanilla accents, and one for a hot tea made with ginger and lemon.

Once you have settled down with your tea, please take a moment to check out the vast array of nominees in the 2006 Food Blog Awards. If you, like me, are having trouble making choices today, then you will be absolutely incapacitated by your voting options. Some stellar blogs have been nominated, and Field to Feast is up against tough competition in the Best Food Blog – Rural category. To check out the other nominees and cast your vote (before midnight EST on January 9!), please click here.

Iced Hibiscus Tea Spritzer
Serves 4

1 vanilla bean (you can use 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract as a substitute)
2/3 cup sugar
2 2/3 cups water
1 cup dried hibis
cus flowers, lightly rinsed
Ice cubes
Soda water

Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrap the seeds into a small saucepan. Toss in the bean, and add the sugar and water. Stir. Bring to a boil, and then remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the hibiscus flowers and cover. Let the tea steep for 10 minutes.

Strain the liquid using a fine sieve, and then place the liquid in the refrigerator to chill. When you are ready to drink your beverage, fill four glasses with ice cubes and divide the liquid between them – each glass should be about 1/3-1/2 full. Top up with soda water and serve.

Hot Hibiscus Tea
Serves 2 (using mugs) or 3 (using teacups)

2 cups of water
½ cup dried hibiscus flowers, lightly rinsed
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Lemon slices, for garnish

Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan, take it off of the heat and add the hibiscus flowers. Cover the pan, and steep the tea for 10 minutes. Strain the tea using a fine sieve into a small bowl. Add the sugar, ginger and lemon juice and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Serve hot, with lemon slices.

*Technically it is the hibiscus calyx, not the flower, which is used to make tea. Also, to be precise, only one variety of hibiscus is used for culinary purposes - Hibiscus Sabdariffa, which is commonly known as roselle or red sorrel in English.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Pizza for the Adventurer

All right, Mr./Ms. Adventurous Eater: so, you think you’ve tried every type of pizza there is. You’ve ordered the egg and ham pizza in Australia, had slices of biltong grace your South African pie, and eaten just about every topping combination from yuppie vegetarian (organic rocket pesto accompanied by slow-roasted tomatoes, Thai basil and fresh, hormone-free ricotta) to redneck carnivore (name-your-meat slathered in ranch dressing).

But have you tried Zanzibar pizza? I didn’t think so.

When Mark and I visited Zanzibar last November, we discovered that one of the most popular food items at the night market was this stuffed bread dish. It’s not really pizza – there is no cheese or sauce to speak of – but, it somehow tastes strangely similar. The bread lies somewhere between a crêpe and a chapatti, the filling typically includes mince meat, onion, chili, egg, garlic and mayonnaise, and the whole shebang is topped with hot sauce.

Last night Mark and I made a vegetarian version that compensated for the meat with cabbage and tomato. I could have closed my eyes and told you that what I was eating was Zanzibar pizza. But, as I have previously writtenit is impossible to separate a food from a place or an experience. Zanzibar pizza is no different. Without the sound of waves crashing and vendors hawking, the smell of fish grilling, and the sight of smoky fires and headscarf-clad women, Zanzibar pizza was Zanzibar pizza, but it wasn’t Zanzibar pizza. Does that make any sense?

If you’ve never eaten Zanzibar pizza on Zanzibar, then you won’t have this problem, and you will enjoy the dish for what it is – a tasty snack or light, casual main course that welcomes being washed down with a frosty glass of beer.

Zanzibar Pizza
Adapted from A Taste of Zanzibar: Chakula Kizuri
Serves 6

2 cups / 250 grams plain flour
½ teaspoon / 2.5 milliliters salt
½ cup / 125 milliliters water (plus more, if needed)
Vegetable oil, for coating dough and frying
1 medium onion, minced
2 small tomatoes, chopped
1 cup cabbage, finely shredded
3 fresh chilies, deseeded and minced (I used two green and one red, for color)
1 tablespoon / 15 milliliters fresh garlic, minced
1 tablespoon / 15 milliliters fresh ginger, grated
2 tablespoo
ns / 30 milliliters cilantro (a.k.a. fresh coriander) stems and leaves, chopped
6 eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Tomato chutney and/or hot sauce, for serving

Sift the flour into a medium bowl and add the salt. Pour in the water, adding more, if necessary, to create a smooth dough. Knead the dough for three minutes, and then divide it into six equally-sized balls. Place the dough balls in a shallow dish, rub plenty of vegetable oil over them, and cover the dish. Let the dough sit for two hours.

Stretch the dough into a very thin 10-inch / 25-centimeter circles, making sure that the edges are thinner than the centers. Place 1/6 of each topping (onion, tomato, cabbage, chili, garlic, ginger and cilantro) in the center of each circle. Now, here is where talented Zanzibari street vendors would effortlessly crack an egg over these toppings and seal the dough into a package without any egg sliding out. I am not this talented. So, I would recommend frying the eggs until they are just set, and then adding one to each pizza. Grind salt and pepper over everything, to taste. Then, fold the top and bottom sides of the dough to the center, and close the dough package by folding in the left and right sides. Make sure there are no holes in the dough or any cracks where egg or filling could escape.

Cook the pizza packages, using as little vegetable oil as possible, in a fry pan over medium-low heat. How many you can cook at one time depends on the size of your fry pan. (Note: If you need to make multiple batches, it is advisable to keep the dough balls covered until you are ready to use them.) You want to cook the pizzas until the dough is toasty-brown on both sides and the fillings are warmed through, all while making sure that runny egg doesn’t escape during the process of flipping the pizza. Acquiring such certainty requires about eight minutes of cooking on one side, and three on the other.

Serve hot, with a spoonful of tomato chutney or hot sauce on top and, if you desire, a garnish of extra cilantro and minced chilies.

Okay, maybe now you’ve tested every pizza possibility.