The response to Africa Day 2010 has been very positive. Thank you everyone. Just to recap, on May 25th 2010, I urge you to join me for a collective culinary homage to numerous cultures that exist on the African continent. Your participation is simple, sign up below and dedicate a post to exploring an African recipe and provide a little background information on the recipe you chose. Please send me the link to your post by May 24th, which I will then compile into one virtual African Day celebration re-post on the 25th of May.
I hope everyone has figured out what they are making by now… I still have a lot of suggestions that I am sorting through. I wanted to post a reminder for everyone and give you a formal opportunity sign up with Linky and share with you a fantastic experience fromSteve Rogers via Foodies Groupsite
I was in Zambia nearly two years ago and the food we ate was the food of the people; not the glorified restaurant edition but Nshima cooked in an open-sided grass-roofed hut on a wood fire in the village in Chinwah. Life and the expectations we attach to it melt away during the 20-minute dust-choked ride from the nearest paved road.
It had been a bad rainy season, so we brought the corn meal, dried fish, cabbage and tomatoes with us. Over the wood fire, a huge vat of Nshima (a stiff cornmeal “mush”) was prepared for the entire Oasis Village (established by as a refuge for widows and orphans of deceased AIDS patients) in a huge pot using what I euphemistically referred to as a boat oar. The cabbage was chopped and sauteed in lots of oil (oil is important in that area of the world if you can get it, fats being calorie-rich in an area with short supplies of food) with onions and tomatoes and infused with curry and the juices of the meat course, if available. We brought dried fish, to be steamed and reconstituted. In Chinwah, the fish were freshwater fish bought dried at the open-air public market (which resembled something from an Indiana Jones movie, only not so sanitary) that were 2-3 inches (50-75 mm) long. for the trip to Chilengwa the fish were more like one inch (25mm) long. The former were reconstituted and cooked and the flesh was picked from the bones. The latter were eaten whole. (I did have a small problem with the little bones getting caught between my incisors an my gums!)
Nshima (once it has cooled just a little) is rolled in small lumps in the right hand until a small “ball” is formed. (Just try doing that one-handed!). Then a small indentation is made with the thumb and the ball flattened into a small (~2 inch diameter x 1/2 inch thick – 50mm x 12mm) disk that is used to pick up the other food.
Since eating is done with the right hand, the hand-washing ceremony is very important before the meal. What I failed to realize the first time is that it is equally important not to dry one’s hands after the washing; the film of water helps keep the starchy cornmeal from sticky to the hands. Otherwise, it is quite possible for the right hand to end up looking like something from a Grade-B science fiction film from the 50s.
Except for the Nshima, the recipes are fairly simple and I have given you all you need to know for a basic meal. Feel free to substitute oven-roasted pork chops or chicken for the fish. However, Nshima is an acquired art form and has made and broken many marriages. As with Eskimos and their extensive vocabulary to describe snow, there are something in the neighborhood of 15 different forms and textures of Nshima, depending on the region. One thing predominates: It must be made from white cornmeal. There are guides online (google is a wonderful tool) but you will only really know if you have it right if you work closely with somebody who has cooked and eaten it. It is like life or a joke; either you get it or you don’t. The reward of “getting it” is the joy of eating simply-prepared, wholesome and nutritious food that is so life-sustaining in s small corner of the world. A secondary satisfaction is to know that you have made a small connection with people who have been ravaged by the AIDS epidemic in that part of Africa.
As we travelled from Zambia into Botswana for an afternoon of animal spotting, we stopped in a restaurant. I put a pile of Nshima on my plate and began to eat cabbage and Impala and the waitress began to laugh out loud. When I asked why she was laughing she replied, “You eat just like an African!”
I have seldom felt so honored.
If anybody would like to know how to connect with Oasis Village or their sister community in the city of Ndola that ministers to street children, I can put you in contact with them.
I look forward to seeing all of you African dishes. Please sign up below. If you have any questions please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org