Category Archives: African

A kiss that leaves you wanting more

20140613-093728-34648897.jpg Have you ever eaten out and tried a dish with an ingredient or two that you’ve never had before, just to see what all the fuss was about? After a week of uninspired, hotel restaurant meals on a recent business trip, I finally escaped the hum-drum monotony of dishes prepared to satisfy the tastes of travelers from anywhere and everywhere and ventured out to find something, anything different.

I’m guessing there is an Arabic version of Foursquare, Yelp, or pick your favorite trusty food guide, but since I haven’t found one yet, and I don’t read or speak Arabic, I was out of luck and had to take my chances.  I settled on a Mediterranean-North African restaurant, all but guaranteed to find something I hadn’t tried, at least in the preceding week. Anyway, back to the important part… the food.  I ordered a dish with with a pomegranate glaze. I’ve drunk my share of pomegranate juice, but I just couldn’t imagine how concentrating that flavor wouldn’t overpower the dish. Oh, man, was I wrong. It was ah-mazing, like a perfectly balanced symphony, each bite tempting me onto the next.

Of course I had to recreate it!  I picked up a tube of harissa, a few pomegranates, and a bottle of pomegranate molasses the very next trip to the market. A half dozen chicken breasts later, I thought I was going nuts. Why was it so hard to figure out?  Turns out I was so focused on the sauce that I forgot about the most important part, seasoning the chicken. Once I took the spices out of the glaze and used them to punch up my otherwise bland chicken breasts before glazing, things started looking up. A few minutes together in the pan was just the tantalizingly, tangy kiss that I was looking for.

Harissa-rubbed Chicken with Pomegranate Glaze and Herbed Quinoa

Well-traveled food

Baked Bhajias (Veggie and Chickpea Patties)I first experienced bhajia in Mombasa, then as pakora in India, and then as dhaltjies in Durban. I love finding food that has traveled from one continent to another and in one bite recognizing a taste of the original with a new twist you maybe weren’t expecting but find just as pleasurable.

These bhajia, stuffed with broccoli and cauliflower, are really just another variation on the theme.  I ran out of garbanzo bean flour and wondered what would happen with canned chickpeas.  You can pan fry or deep fry them if you want that street food feel, but since the ingredients are so healthy to begin with, it seems a shame to coat them in oil.

I can never decide which chutney I like better, so I usually end up dipping one side of the bhajia in a cilantro mint chutney and the other in a tamarind date chutney.

Change artist

20131026-064333.jpg As a kid, I thought butternut squash was just a mellow, but forgettable, accompaniment for about any roasted meat.  Of course, my mother used to buy it already puréed in the frozen foods section at the market.  It’s kind of hard to generate excitement over a frozen orange brick of anything.

Back then, I had no appreciation for how amazingly versatile it can be, especially when you start with fresh squash.  For instance, I made this Moroccan Spiced Butternut Squash to serve alongside some salmon, and it completely stole the show.  I was so disappointed there were no left overs, that I’ve been thinking of other dishes to serve it with ever since.

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