Sunday, February 24, 2008

Samp and Beans, Enlivened with Lime

Corn has been getting a lot of publicity lately. But even before industrial agriculture dug its claws into this versatile cereal and invented high-fructose corn syrup, cultures around the world had devised myriad techniques for consuming every edible part of the plant. In Zimbabwe, you can buy roasted maize by the side of the road, or bags of popped maize, called maputi. Finely ground white maize (mealie-meal) is used to make the staple dish, sadza, as well as a thin porridge commonly eaten for breakfast. A Zimbabwean could easily eat corn three times a day.

Another corn permutation, common in southern Africa as well as the southern U.S. and Mexico – not to mention a food that kept the colonists alive in New England – is samp. Much has been written in an attempt to explain the difference between samp, hominy and grits, a task complicated by regional usages of these terms within the U.S. Here is how I distinguish between them:

- Hominy is dried, whole kernels of corn whose skins (or hulls) and germs (the little bit inside the kernel) have been removed.
- Samp is the same thing, except the kernels are cracked into a few pieces.
- Grits are ground hominy. Mealie-meal and polenta (typically made from yellow corn, instead of white) both differ from grits in that the hull and germ are not removed before grinding the dried kernels.

Got it?

Samp is typically paired with dried beans in southern Africa. In fact, you can often buy the soulmates packaged together in one bag. In South Africa, samp and beans (umngqusho) is a traditional dish of the Xhosa people, and was supposedly one of Nelson Mandela’s favorite meals growing up. You can serve cooked samp and beans with sautéed or fried onions, with butter, or with any sauce of your choosing.

This refreshing recipe employs lime, honey and mustard to create a light, punchy take on samp and beans that makes a refreshing side for shellfish or a lively addition to a summer salad buffet.

Honey-Lime Samp and Beans Salad
Adapted from Food and Home Entertaining, May 2005
Serves 4 as a side dish

1¼ cups / 200 grams samp (you can substitute hominy)
½ cup / 100 grams sugar beans (you can substitute pinto beans)
2 teaspoons / 10 milliliters salt
¼ cup / 60 milliliters olive oil
1 tablespoon / 15 milliliters whole-grain mustard
1 tablespoon / 15 milliliters honey
Zest of one lime
2 tablespoons / 30 milliliters fresh basil leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Fresh basil leaves, for garnish

Rinse the samp and beans and soak overnight. Drain, put in a medium saucepan, cover generously with water and add the salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until tender, about 1½-2 hours. Drain and set aside.

Whisk together the olive oil, mustard, honey, lime zest and basil leaves and season to taste. Pour over the still-warm samp and beans and leave to cool. Serve at room temperature, or refrigerate and serve cool, garnished with the remaining basil leaves.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Tiny Potatoes, Spicy Salad

The number of vendors has increased over the past few months in Harare – shop-side vendors dangling plastic sleeves of tomatoes, potatoes, onions and okra from sticks like veggie mobiles; street-side vendors displaying their greens, mangoes, avocadoes and maputi (popped maize) on upturned boxes; and, my favorite, the men who defy death itself, standing smack dab in the middle of busy roads (even when the lights aren’t working) hawking the most delicate of commodities – crates of eggs.

Given Zimbabwe’s ever-more-astronomical currency denominations, bargaining for these items sounds absolutely ridiculous. “Tomatoes, imari?” I ask. “Five million.” “And the potatoes?” “Seven point five.” "I’ll give you 10 million for both." “11.” Sold. And so I count out a small pile of bills – one 5 million note and 30 200,000s.

I am picky about my produce. The tomatoes can’t be too ripe or too firm; the mangoes and avocados must be string-less. And the potatoes I seek out from venders are the tiny, spherical ones that you barely need to chop. A quick slice or two and they become bite-size.

These potatoes are ideal for tourchi batata, a spicy potato salad from Tunisia that can be served hot, cold or anywhere in between. This salad is quick to prepare and easy to double – after making it the first time and seeing my husband gobble it up I have vowed never to make a single recipe again. You could peel the potatoes, but I like to keep them on. I served tourchi batata last week as a tapas-like dish with afternoon drinks – beer cuts the spice best. I’ll let my friends make their own comments, but I think the salad was a hit.

Tunisian Potato Salad (Tourchi Batata)
Adapted from Sephardic Cooking: 600 Recipes Created in Exotic Sephardic Kitchens from Morocco to India
Serves 4 as a side dish

1 pound / 450 grams small boiling potatoes
2 tablespoons / 30 milliliters olive oil
1 teaspoon harissa (more, or less, to taste)
½ teaspoon / 2.5 milliliters salt
1 teaspoon / 5 milliliters ground cumin
1 lemon, freshly squeezed

Cook potatoes in boiling water for 15 minutes, or until tender. Cool and cut into cubes (or, with tiny potatoes, just in half). Heat the oil in a skillet, and add the harissa, salt, ground cumin and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and boil for a few seconds. Pour over the potatoes and toss. Let marinate for twenty minutes or so and serve warm, or serve at room temperature, or refrigerate for at least one hour and serve cool.