Thursday, June 21, 2007

Mish Mash, Part I

Tonight, across Africa, mashes, thick pastes and stiff porridges are being molded into right hands and swept across plates to collect vibrant vegetables, spicy meats and flavorful juices. These pale-colored conduits are the workhorses of African cuisine; daily staples that are thoroughly filling and cheap to prepare, but texturally boring, purposefully bland and thoroughly unattractive to look at. Yes, fufu, irio, sadza, ugali and pap, I am talking about you.

One compelling feature of Marcus Samuelsson’s The Soul of a New Cuisine is how he translates these African staples into side dishes that appeal to a global audience. Sadza becomes eye-catching with the addition of avocado and fresh corn, while fufu is glamorized with coconut milk and white wine. I’ll explore a couple of these transformations in the next two posts.

First up is irio, a dish prepared by the Kikuyu (also called the Gikuyu), the largest ethnic group in Kenya. Irio is traditionally made from mashed corn, beans or peas, potatoes, and greens. Samuelsson’s version adds carrots, onions, chili, and ginger; keeps the vegetables chunky instead of mushing them all together; and employs roasted garlic and sweet potato. Although I’ve written his recipe below, note that I reduced by more than a third the amount of oil and butter he suggests, used olive oil instead of peanut oil, and substituted yams for sweet potatoes. Anyway you make it, this wordly version of irio is a side dish that eats like a meal!

Chunky Mashed Vegetables
Adapted from The Soul of a New Cuisine
Serves 4 to 6

6 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch / 2½-centimeter cubes
½ cup / 125 milliliters peanut oil
1 pound / 450 grams green beans, ends trimmed and cut into quarters
8 tablespoons / 225 grams unsalted butter
1 3-inch / 7½-centimeter piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch / 1¼-centimeter dice
1 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
2 jalapeno chilies, seeds and ribs removed, finely chopped
1½ cups / 375 milliliters water
1 tablespoon / 15 milliliters Berbere or chili powder
1 tablespoon / 15 milliliters chopped chives
1 teaspoon / 5 milliliters salt
2 tablespoons / 30 milliliters olive oil

Pre-heat the oven to 350° F (180° C). Toss the garlic and sweet potatoes with the peanut oil in a roasting pan. Roast for 20 minutes, or until the garlic is tender. Remove and reserve the garlic. Continue roasting the sweet potatoes until tender, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water. Add the beans to the boiling water and blanch for 2 minutes. Drain the beans and plunge into the ice bath to stop cooking and set the color. Drain and set aside.

When the sweet potatoes are done, transfer them to a large bowl, add the roasted garlic, and mash with a fork to a chunky consistency.

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the ginger, carrots, onion, and jalapenos and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir in the water and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat and simmer gently until the carrots are tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the Berbere and mashed sweet potatoes, and then add the blanched green beans and cook, stirring, until heated through. Stir in the chives and salt and transfer to a serving bowl. Drizzle the vegetables with the olive oil and serve.

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browniegirl said...

Hi Caroline, I am really enjoying reading your blog postings and find I keep coming back for more. I live in South Africa and can identify with alot of your writings. Thanks for an interesting post. Keep up the good work. :)

Anonymous said... are the second person who has spoken highly of this's in the amazon shopping cart for our home leave trip next week! now now and just now are fully and permanently integrated into our families vocabulary!

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

You can't imagine how exotic this all sounds from where I sit in Manhattan. Love this site, and will definitely be trying the mashed veg soon!

Anonymous said...

Carolyn - I grew up in tiny village in the central part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). Our staple there was "bidia", a cassava/manioc base with a handful of cornmeal thrown in to give it a bit of flavor and color. We ate it with our right hands, rolling it into a ball on the outer two-thirds of our fingers (no palm involved in rolling!) and made a depression with our thumb. Into that depression, we scooped up some sauce, usually made with the leaves of the manioc plant, dripping in bright orange palm oil (which is so bad for you but soooo tasty!). My favorite addition was "bwamba", a powder made of bark, special ash, and forest onions, into which we dipped the whole dripping glob before rolling it off our fingers into our mouths. (This whole eating with your hands requires lots of practice and isn't for the clumsy.) I've got some bwamba and will make sure you have a bit -- pure tropical forest musty heaven!