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Zambian Pumpkin n’ Peanut Oats: To keep Mermaids away

Forget what you know about The Little Mermaid. Zambia’s infamous mermaid, Chitapo, is no dewy-eyed, red-haired princess. To set eyes on this fierce water spirit, paddle along the Zambian/Congolese waterways – along Lake Namulolobwe, down Victoria Falls, into any number of smaller ponds. You might even find her cresting the salty Atlantic. How will you know it’s her? See that shadow caught up in a whirlwind? An elusive figure sunning on a rock, with the body of a woman and the tail of a fish or serpent? That’s Chitapo. Beware: Beautiful Chitapo is not content to observe humans from afar. Pay attention if things seem amiss in your village. Did a woven mat or a few beloved baskets vanish, then reappear a few days later? Is a neighbor’s missing collection of pots and pans now floating on the murky lake? Chitapo pushes this shiny bait in the shallows, luring unsuspecting victims to their untimely death. Tempted to wade into the water to retrieve these prizes? Think you can outwit, or out-muscle this water spirit? Good luck. Even those with unflinching biceps and …

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Malaysian Herbed Rice Salad | Nasi Ulam

Do packaged herbs ever go on strike at the back of your fridge? Now, thanks to Malaysian Herbed Rice Salad, bundles of herbs can finally go to work in a dish that everyone will love. When herbs go on strike I wonder how many partially used packages of fresh herbs lay wilting at the back of fridges across America. I’ve certainly been there. Even though I “store” my herbs in the garden, disgruntled leaves occasionally congregate behind the eggs and mustard (the few remaining upright stems looking like picket signs). The problem? Outside of a putting basil in pesto or parsley in tabbouleh, it’s hard to use most fresh herbs up. To give our herbs a chance, we need to rethink how we use them. A pinch here or there doesn’t really do the trick when it comes to adding flavor or using them up. Standing them in a jar of fresh water helps tremendously (sometimes adding a couple of weeks of life to them). Another idea is to find a recipe that makes good use of …

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Spicy Vietnamese Slaw + Extreme Compassion

Extreme Compassion Stopping to move a wandering worm off the sidewalk. Helping a baby bird that fell out of it’s nest. Not walking by with indifference. This sort of extreme compassion is a thing that some of us – with our busy, distracted lives – strive for imperfectly. But there are others – startlingly kind souls – who live and breathe extreme compassion. Last week I went to the tailor – a big deal for me since I know how to sew. But I have a dress – a dress with lace, three layers, and a hidden zipper. I love this dress but it needs to be 2 sizes smaller. This project is totally out of my league. Wendy’s tiny, crowded shop is located in a remote basement shop of an art deco building in downtown Tulsa. Little Ava and I circled the whole property 5 times before we phoned Wendy, defeated. Two minutes later she appeared: a bespectacled Vietnamese woman in cherry lipstick. As she led us down to the basement she crooned “So pretty” in …

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Green Papaya Salad

  What do you do when you’re running low on inspiration? Do you sip a cup of tea, take a walk, paint, write a poem, cook something? Or do you freeze up, unable to create? Writing a book for the last several months has had an interesting effect on my brain-space. The book is incredibly daunting and takes all my creative juices. I find myself sopping through my house like a wrung out rag. I once read that we are only capable of making a certain number of decisions each day. After that time, we’re pretty much worthless.  Sometimes, after a particularly long book writing session, I can’t even decide what pajamas I want to curl up in to decompress.   Thankfully, the world is a resource. It’s a constant inspiration. Remember, even on those nights you’re too tired to pop popcorn, the world is there, whispering sweet nothings to you. Inviting you to try something different. And so here we are… today, Vanuatu is doing the whispering. Since I spent yesterday grating a mountain range of …

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Peanut Brittle with Coconut & Cardamom | Kashata

On the simmering streets of Uganda, you can walk up to a street vendor and satisfy your sweet tooth with a big bite of Kashata. Loosely speaking, Kashata is East African brittle.  It’s most popular in Uganda and Tanzania. It’s hard, sweet, and all kinds of delicious. I’ve seen Kashata shaped as cubes, balls, and diamonds. Some are flat, some are thick. Just like people, the shape doesn’t matter; it’s all about what’s on the inside. The most glorious Kashata are a blend of peanuts, shredded coconut, and either cinnamon or cardamom. You can also find Kashata made from all coconut or all peanuts. Moreover, sometimes you simply dump in whatever nuts you have on hand. Easy. Makes enough to share. 1-2 dozen (depending on how thin you spread the mixture) Ingredients: 2 cups sugar 1 1/2 – 2 cups peanuts 1 1/2 – 2 cups dried coconut (unsweet) 3/4 tsp ground cardamom (or cinnamon) pinch salt oil, for greasing Method: Let’s go to Uganda, where electricity is optional… because, truth be told, this entire …

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Green Papaya Salad | Som Tam

Whomp. Womp. Womp. Everything worth doing takes a little bit of work. And so it is with Som Tam. The mortar and pestle crushes the garlic, mashes a Thai bird chili peppers,  and wooshes the fish sauce and lime juice into the green beans and papaya. I put the bowl on the table, dotted red with tomatoes. Ava thinks the papaya is spaghetti. The pale green shreds curl around her fork. “It’s something like that…” I say, hoping she believes me. She takes a bite, then another. Soon the forks on plates are the only noise. While I adore Thai food, I’d never had green papaya salad before this week. When several readers suggested I try it on our Facebook Page, I listened. First, I tried to order it at a local restaurant called My Thai Kitchen, just to see what all the fuss was about, but it wasn’t on the menu. So, instead, I went to our local  Asian market, Nam Hai, and picked up what I needed, including some palm sugar, a green …

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Swazi Salad | Slaai

Swaziland’s swooping slopes are dotted with crops; it is here that the Swazi grow the freshest produce, from sunshine yellow lemons, to buttery avocados. With farming of that caliber, it should come as no surprise that Swazi Salads are especially grand. This is not to say they are carefully composed salads. (Most things that are careful, aren’t nearly as delicious.) No, these are simple, heaped piles of chopped veggies. But you can get them on the side of even the most humble plate of beans, which counts for, well, everything. There’s no elaborate dressing, save, perhaps, a squeeze of lemon juice and fresh grated ginger. Croutons? Forget it. The crunch you seek comes from a handful of crushed peanuts and the crisp bite of a sharp radish. Feeling bold? Add minced hot peppers to that lemon juice. Fresher and brighter is the name of the game. So what’s in a Swazi Salad? Every time I looked up Swazi salads, I happened across some combination of avocado, lettuce, onion, and beets. Beets were everywhere: red heaped piles …

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West African Peanut Bites | Kanya

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this Adventure, it’s that my family’s unfaltering love of peanuts inexorably links us to the fine people of West Africa, where this little legume is  enjoyed in both savory and sweet concoctions. Peanut soups and cookies are both fair game, but today we explore Kanya, an altogether new delight. Kanya are naturally gluten free and beyond simple, made with just three ingredients: peanuts, sugar, and toasted rice flour. That’s it! Kanya remind me of fudge, but with a drier, slightly crunchy texture thanks to the toasted rice flour. There’s just one catch (there always is, isn’t there?)… If you want to make Kanya the old fashioned way, you’re going to need arms of steel to push, and punch, and grind the mixture until it is so pulverized that it begins to stick together. Women in Sierra Leone (and beyond) know this art well and can be found patiently pounding grains and peanuts in the dappled sunlight, laughing and talking all the while. When I read about Kanya, I …

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Senegal’s PB & Peanut Sugar Cookies | Cinq Centimes

In French, Cinq Centimes means Five Cents. Don’t be fooled by the name. This isn’t the sort of recipe that must be studied like a terrible, paragraph-long math problem. This is not a prerequisite to calculus, or even rocket science. This is a snippet – a slice of a dream from Senegalese street vendors. A one-two-three treat worthy of any snack time. No more. No less. Every step is ridiculously easy.  The hardest part will be keeping your sweet, adoring Mr. Picky from sniffing the cookie tray out and eating the entire shebang, so that you have to go and arm yourself with more supplies and an extra secret spot to stash them in. But maybe that’s just me. Inspired by The African Cookbook by Bea Sandler. Ingredients: Sugar Cookies Peanut Butter Peanuts Method: Step 1: If you have the inclination (and a great recipe from grandma), make a batch of sugar cookies. Otherwise, your local bakery is your friend. Oh, and what a good friend they are… Step 2: Arm yourself with a handful of peanuts …

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Sweet Semolina Cake with Lemon & Rose water | Basboosa

Love’s every whimsy can be found in the tender, fragile curve of a rose. Arab cooks must know this in their hearts, as they imbue many of their desserts with the essence of this great flower. Rose water is made from hundreds (thousands!) of rose petals and I’m convinced there is magic in every drop. Today’s cake, called Basboosa (also called Basbousa), is heavy with such magic. This sweet cake is conjured up with durum semolina, then soaked in a pool of syrup made with sweetened rose water and fresh lemon juice. Some versions are dense while others are fluffy – I’ve provided options for both below. No matter how you slice it, each bite is like a garden at sunrise. The dreamy perfume of roses and lemons unite, overflowing the senses like King Fahd’s Fountain in Saudi Arabia (the tallest fountain in the world… “The water it ejects can reach a speed of 233 miles per hour and its airborne mass can exceed 18 tons.” Wiki). This magic is glorious with a cup of strong tea (I’m talking …

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Rwandan “Agatogo” with Collard Greens

There’s an old Rwandan saying “The most extensive land is the human belly.”  I like to think there’s mountains and streams in there, glorious sunsets and easy, glimmering sunrises. Is that somehow unsavory? I don’t know. I do know I want this land to be vast, and include as much variety as possible. I want to fit the whole world in there. And this, my friends, includes the plantain. Plantains have been an issue for my family from the beginning. Ava isn’t really keen on them (or bananas). Mr. Picky has consistently pushed aside his in favor of other foods (except for that time I made Plantain Chips with Sea Salt for Panama and that other time I used them as a butter-fried cheese wrapper, a.k.a. tortas de plantano). It’s time for us to love the plantain, after all they are the starchy cousin to the banana, but more savory and filling. For this reason, they are an important staple all over the tropical regions of the world. Plantains fruit all year round, which makes the crop …

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Grilled Plantain spears with crushed peanuts | Boli Bopa

This is so quick, it’s silly. All you need are a few medium-ripe plantains (as pictured), some red palm oil, and a bit of salt & hot pepper. You can find the red palm oil at your natural grocer or, if you’re lucky enough to have an African market, there. You brush on the red palm oil (back in the day I wrote a bit about this popular west African oil)… Sprinkle with salt and whatever spices you like (think hot, like cayenne… or mild, like paprika)… Grill until tender and charred, but not mushy. Slice and serve… … preferably with crushed peanuts and a sprinkling of extra spices, as desired. This would also be great with minced chili peppers, like jalapeno. That’s it! A quick and relatively fuss-free taste of Nigeria. Adapted from The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent by Jessica Harris. Here’s what you need… Ingredients: 3 plantains 1-2 Tbsp red palm oil handful crushed peanuts salt cayenne pepper, optional Votes: 0 Rating: 0 You: Rate this recipe! Print Recipe This is so quick, it’s …

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