Recipes from an African Kitchen

R
I just got sent the loveliest book as a present from a sweet student Jane Oxborrow who did the September 2005 twelve week course – Recipes from an African Kitchen by Josie Stow and Ian Baldwin. Jane from London has been working in the Grumeti Game Reserves in Serengeti, Tanzania since 2004 www.grumetireserves.org . She, like so many others has totally fallen in love with Africa.
Food is really precious in Africa. It is also a labour of love, whether you are sowing seeds, rearing livestock, gathering wood to fuel the fire, or pumping water and carrying it back home. Food is more than just sustenance, it is a time for sharing. Meals are always communal and eaten with the hands. Touching the food and feeling it, adds to the enjoyment and contributes to the easy relaxed feeling. African cooking has always been wonderfully sociable. In most traditional African villages you can still see the women sitting under a tree, shelling nuts or singing, chanting and chatting as they rhythmically pound corn with a large, hand-carved pestle and mortar, called le hudu and le mose. It is a place for laughter and gossip, for building the close family bonds that are the envy of other cultures. Recipes are traditionally passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth and never rely on exact quantities. A handful, a calabash (a hollowed gourd) or a mug are the usual forms of measurement and cooks rely on feel, taste and memory.

Josie Stow’s love affair with Africa and life in the bush began back in 1992 when she accepted an offer to cook on a horseback safari in South Africa. For a young English girl from Suffolk this was a daunting task: the camp had no electricity and most of the cooking was done over an open wood fire or on a small gas burner.

She was soon having to deal with all kinds of exciting situations: buffalo in the camp, snakes in her larder and rhino grazing outside her tent at night. Her supplies had to be fetched from 150km away in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Despite this, she became fascinated by the African culture, especially the cooking techniques and ingredients. Her assistant Anna could speak not a word of English but they soon became firm friends and she began to show her the wonderful food culture that lay waiting to be discovered. It was there that she met her husband, Fred, who was a ranger at the camp. Their relationship started with cooking lessons; she couldn’t understand why it was taking him so long to master a simple quiche until it was too late!.

Since then, Josie and Fred have worked on a number of game reserves and lodges. In Kwa-Zulu Natal, she worked for Phinda Forest Lodge and found that the local people were incredibly diligent, growing their own corn, beans, pumpkins and Zulu truffles. In her time off she visited the chefs’ homes and gardens, a two-way process evolved. While she was teaching the African people to cook in a professional kitchen, she was learning about their food culture and soon realized what wonderful culinary talent lay dormant among these wonderfully resourceful people. She was amazed that most lodges and restaurants were serving European-style food. ‘South African’ food consisted primarily of butternut soup and Cape Brandy tart – it was too westernized.

From Phinda she went on to develop the kitchens at Makalali in the Northern Province, near the Kruger National Park. Her great friend Lori-Ann Newman came for a short visit and she convinced her to stay and help her. Lori was a natural cook and it was while working together at Makalali that many of these recipes were created and they would often discuss new dishes under the shade of an old lemon tree.

As they began exposing the guests to African food, they broke every convention they could think of , even the traditional breakfast, and what they couldn’t find in the local culture they borrowed from the rest of Africa. 

Recipes from an African Kitchen (Conran Octupus) is one of the most exciting and original books I have come across in a long time, yet the recipes are simple and accessible. Even though many are cooked over the open fire (I can’t wait for the summer to experiment), they can equally be cooked on a stove, under a grill or in the oven, depending on the recipe. Josie Stow is a cook with a ‘sure feel’ for food, her excitement and passion and love for Africa leap down from the text on each page, Ian Baldwin’s magical photos will make you want to book an African safari right away.

Spicy Fruit and Nuts

This dish could be cooked outdoors on the barbecue or prepared ahead and cooked on a picnic.
Serves 6-8

4 tablesp. Olive oil
120g (4½ oz) dried dates, pitted
60g (2½ oz) dried apricots
60g (2½ oz) almonds, whole, unblanched
60g (2½ oz) cashew nuts
60g (2½ oz) macadamia nuts, halved
60g (2½ oz) pecans, halved
Finely grated rind of 1 lemon or lime
2-3 tablesp. Coriander leaves
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
Salt and pepper

Equipment – large frying pan

Warm the oil in the frying pan over a medium heat. Add all the dried fruit and nuts and toss until the apricots and nuts begin to change colour. Remove from the heat and add the lemon or lime zest, coriander leaves and chilli,

Mix thoroughly, season to taste and serve straight from the pan.

Spiked Fruit with Star Anise

The syrup can be made well in advance and kept in the fridge until needed.
Serves 8

1.6kg (3½ lb) mixed fruit, such as blueberries, cherries, strawberries, papaya and pineapple

Lightly whipped cream to serve

For the Syrup:
400g (14oz) white granulated sugar
50g (2oz) star anise
750ml (1pint 6 fl.oz) water

To make the syrup – place the sugar, star anise and water in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and boil for 7 to 10 minutes until syrupy. Leave the syrup to cool.

Cut the fruit into equal-sized pieces.

Strain the syrup to remove the star anise, then return the syrup to the saucepan and add the fruit.

Place over a moderate heat and poach the fruits in the syrup until warmed through.

Serve the fruit in bowls with lots of syrup and some whipped cream.

Algerian Spatchcock Baby Chicken

Serves 6
2 tablesp aniseed
Juice of 3 lemons
2 onions, grated
A bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
5cm (2in) fresh ginger, peeled and grated
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teasp paprika
½ teasp cayenne pepper
A pinch of saffron threads
250ml (9fl.oz) olive oil
3 baby chickens
Salt and pepper

Toast the aniseed in a dry frying pan until fragrant, then crush it.

Combine the aniseed, lemon juice, onions, coriander, ginger, garlic, paprika, cayenne and saffron in a bowl and whisk in the olive oil.
Season the marinade mixture to taste, adding more cayenne and black pepper if necessary.
Use a large knife to spatchcock (see below) the baby chickens, then open them out and trim off any excess skin or surplus fat.

Place the chickens in a plastic bowl and rub them with the marinade.
Cover and place in the fridge to marinate for a minimum of 12 hours.
Bring the chickens to room temperature before cooking.

Cook on a grid over medium-hot coals or under a conventional grill, turning the chicken occasionally and basting with the remaining marinade – the chicken is done when the skin is crisp and the juices run clear when the thickest part of the leg is pierced with a skewr.
Note: Marinate the chicken for at least 12 hours, but preferably for a whole day.

To spatchcock a chicken - Insert a heavy chopping knife into the cavity of the chicken from the back end to the neck. Press down sharply to cut through the backbone. Alternatively place the chicken breast side down on the chopping board, using poultry shears cut along the entire length of the backbone as close to the centre as possible.

Open the bird out as much as possible. 
Injera
Makes 6-8
600g (1lb 5oz) self-raising flour
150g (5oz) wholemeal flour
1 teasp baking powder
2 teasp salt
About 500ml (18 fl.oz) soda water

Vegetable oil, for frying

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and make a well in the centre.
Gradually beat in the soda water and 1 litre (1 pint 15 fl.oz) of plain water, until a smooth, thin batter is obtained.
Heat a crêpe pan until hot. Add a little oil and swirl it around the pan.
Pour in some batter, swirling it around to form a thin layer like a crêpe. Cook the bread until bubbles appear on the surface, then flip over and cook the other side for 2 or 3 minutes.
Place the cooked injera on a plate, cover with a tea towel to keep warm and continue until all the batter is used.

Melktert

Serves 12
For the crust:
125g (4½ oz) butter
2 tablesp sugar
1 egg
185g (6½ oz) flour
1 teasp baking powder
½ teasp vanilla essence

For the filling:
35g (1½ oz) flour
3 tablesp cornflour
2 tablesp custard powder
1.2 litres (2 pints) milk
150g (5oz) white granulated sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 vanilla bean, split in half
2 teasp butter
1 teasp baking powder
2 teasp caster sugar
2 teasp ground cinnamon

28cm (11 inch) fluted tart tin
Baking beans

To make the crust, beat the butter and sugar together until light and creamy.
Add the egg, flour , baking powder and vanilla and mix until combined.
Press the pastry into the tart tin and chill for 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.gas 4
Lay a sheet of greaseproof paper inside the pastry case so that the edges come over the rim and fill with the baking beans.
Bake the pastry case for 15 minutes or until the sides begin to colour.
Remove the baking beans and greaseproof paper and continue cooking the pastry case for 5 minutes to dry out the base.
To make the filling, mix together the flour, cornflour and custard powder, adding a little of the milk to form a smooth paste.
Place the remaining milk in a saucepan with the sugar, egg yolks, vanilla bean and the cornflour paste.
Bring to a boil, stirring continuously, and simmer for 3 minutes.
Remove from the heat, stir in the butter and baking powder and set aside. Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold the whites into the custard mixture, then spoon into the pastry case, discarding the vanilla bean.
In a small bowl, stir together the caster sugar and cinnamon then sprinkle the mixture over the custard filling.
Place the tart in the refrigerator to set.

Goreme

This is a spicy cheese pureé that can be served as a dip or a spread. Try it with Shraak or with raw vegetables such as carrot sticks.
Serves 10-12

300g (10½ oz) feta cheese
300ml (11fl.oz) plain yogurt
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teasp paprika, plus extra to garnish
½ teasp cayenne
1 tablesp olive oil
Kalmata olives to garnish
Salt and pepper

Place the feta cheese and yogurt in a bowl and, using a fork, mash them together to form a paste.
Add the garlic, paprika, cayenne and a little salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the mixture into a serving bowl.
Drizzle the goreme with olive oil and garnish with some Kalamata olives and paprika before serving.

Shraak

Shraak is a thin, crisp unleavened bread that is great to serve with cheese and pickles.
Makes 16

500g (1lb 2oz) plain flour
½ teasp salt

Rolling pin

Place the flour and salt in a large bowl and stir in 250ml (9 fl.oz) lukewarm water or just enough to form a firm dough.
Knead the dough until smooth.
Cover and rest for 30 minutes to make the dough more pliable.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6.
Working on a floured surface, divide the dough into 16 equal pieces and roll them out into thin rounds.
Place the rounds on a floured baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until they puff up and lightly colour.

Lamb in Mechoui

Josie gives a description in the book of how to do a poacher’s roast by the light of the silvery moon – hanging the meat with a piece of rope from a branch overhanging your camp fire – find your location the day before and make sure you have help. Check the weather forecast too she says!
It would also make a delicious roast in your own kitchen.
Serves 8

3kg (6lb 11oz) leg of lamb with knuckle

For the mechoui:
20g (¾ oz) mint leaves, chopped
4 tablesp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 tablesp. Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablesp. ground coriander
2 teasp. ground cumin
2 teasp. paprika
1 teasp. cayenne pepper
Salt

Prepare the mechoui by mixing all the ingredients together in a bowl. Rub the marinade over the leg of lamb.
Place the meat in a plastic container and leave to marinate for 24 hours in the refrigerator or other very cool place.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Sprinkle the lamb with salt and roast for 15-17 minutes per 500g (1lb)

Foolproof Food

Coconut and Lime Cookies

Makes 24
100g (3½ oz) butter
100g (3½ oz) white sugar
55g (2oz) desiccated coconut
1 teasp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teasp finely grated lime zest
1 egg, beaten
175g (6oz) plain flour
1 teasp cream of tartar
½ teasp bicarbonate of soda
¼ teasp salt

Baking sheet, greased
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Add the desiccated coconut, lime juice and zest and mix well.
Beat in the egg.
Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, bicarbonate of soda and salt and fold them into the butter mixture until a dough forms.
Place the dough on a sheet of greaseproof paper and roll into a cylinder about 5cm/2in in diameter, twisting the ends of the paper together. Place in the freezer until the dough is firm.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6.
Peel the greaseproof paper away from the cylinder and cut the dough into 5mm/¼in round slices.
Place the cookies on a greased baking sheet and bake for 5-7 minutes.
Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Hot Tips

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Learn to cook Good Things –
Carmel Somers has an exciting range of cooking classes on offer in 2006 – small classes – morning, evening, day, weekend and week long courses in Good Things Café, Durrus, nr Bantry, West Cork. Tel 027-61426 www.thegoodthingscafé.com  info@thegoodthingscafé.com

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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