Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, Italy

I've done a few of the major Italian culinary regions so far, and I don't think any of them have really wowed me. Until this time!

I gotta say, I was thrilled with Emilia-Romagna, Italy. And the best part was, it was super-simple. My favorite blog meals are the ones that come together fast and taste delicious, which doesn't seem to happen a lot with traditional recipes.

Anyway, about Emilia-Romagna--it's located just below the cuff of the boot, and it's one of the wealthiest provinces anywhere in Europe. It has the third highest per capita GDP in Italy, and its capital city has one of the nation's highest quality of life indices. Combine that with good food, and maybe I want to move there.
The capital city is Bologna, which as you probably know is pronounced "baloney." Now if you grew up in the 70s and 80s like I did you probably got baloney sandwiches in your school lunchbox, and that's probably what you think of whenever you hear the word "Bologna." I'm sure you can still get baloney, but frankly I wouldn't ever feed it to my children, because ew. Since you're probably curious, though, the baloney that we know and don't like very much is based on Italian mortadella sausage, which does come from Bologna, but it is not the same thing. The Italian version contains visible chunks of lard, while USDA regulations require American manufacturers to grind up all the lard. Though I'm not sure one is a whole lot better than the other, really.

 Ponte a Fiumalbo, Emilia-Romagna, Italy.
Photo by  Giuseppe Moscato.

Besides being the homeland for that stuff that was once in every American kid's lunch box, Emilia-Romagna is also home to the world's oldest university. Plus it's a culinary center, and also the place where they make Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis, Ducatis and a bunch of other fancy cars I never heard of but will probably be familiar to you if you know something about cars.

As far as the food is concerned, this is where pretty much every Italian dish you like comes from. Lasagna, tortellini, polenta and Parmigiano Reggiano all come from here, and this is where basalmic vinegar is made, too. Of course, it's exactly the popularity of all these dishes and ingredients that makes it hard to choose a menu from this place, because so many non-Italians or people from elsewhere in Italy have adopted and adapted these recipes. So it's difficult to know what's truly regional and what isn't. Because of this, I went for some of the lesser known recipes, and here they are (these recipes all come from Emilia Romagna Turismo)

Tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms
  • 10 oz tagliatelle egg noodles
  • 14 oz porcini mushrooms
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed slightly with the back if a knife
  • parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper
Ricotta bread
  • 8 cups flour type “00” (it's OK to substitute all-purpose)
  • 1 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp whole milk
  • 4 3/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp refined sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
For dessert:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup potato starch
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 packet of yeast for desserts
  • Rind of 1 lemon, grated
So first a disclaimer: I was so sure I could get porcini mushrooms at the co-op that I went to Safeway and bought everything else I needed for the meal, and then learned afterwards that I could not in fact get porcinis at the co-op, or anywhere else in town. So after a little probing I learned that criminis can be used when porcinis are out of season, though one source suggested adding a little truffle oil to simulate that characteristic earthiness that porcinis have. Which was an idea I loved, because it just so happened that I had a bottle of truffle oil in my cabinet that I'd been dying to use and hadn't yet found a recipe for.

So to make this, first tidy up the mushrooms by scraping them with a knife (don't get water on them, because that's not allowed). Then thinly slice them and set aside. Now heat the olive oil in a pan and add the garlic.

When the garlic starts to turn a light golden color, add the mushrooms along with the salt and pepper. Sauté for 10 minutes or until soft.

Now take the garlic out of the pan, provided you can identify it, and and add the parsley and the butter.
Meanwhile, cook the tagliatelle in salted water according to the package directions. When al dente, add to the pan with the mushrooms and toss to combine. Turn off the burner. If you're using truffle oil too, this is where you would add it--after the flame is off. A little goes a long way (I used maybe a teaspoon though I didn't measure it). Oh and I can't believe I'm going to say this, but don't put any cheese on this pasta because then you won't be able to taste the mushrooms.

Now for the bread, which is my new favorite way to use ricotta cheese:

First proof the yeast in warm milk until frothy, then add it to the the rest of the ingredients.

Knead and let rise in a warm place. OK the recipe said 10 minutes, which seemed crazy because why would you even bother to use yeast if you aren't going to let it rise? So maybe my bread wasn't exactly correct, because I let it rise for more like an hour.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until you hear a hollow sound when you thump on it.
And finally, the cake. Beat the eggs together with the sugar in one bowl, and in another bowl beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. Now add the milk and oil to the yolks, and sift in the flour. Finally, add the lemon rind and blend.

Fold the egg whites in gently and pour into a buttered/floured cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

 I sprinkled powdered sugar over mine.
It's OK, that's what the picture showed.
So the first time I ever had truffle oil was at a gourmet pizza place in Sacramento a few months ago. Ever since then, I've been pining for food made with truffle oil because it's exotic and earthy and really, really tasty. Now, I know this is a variation on the recipe and not in the original recipe but damn, it was good. If you can't do the porcinis I highly recommend the crimini/truffle oil combo, because yum. I could eat this every day and probably not ever get sick of it.

My oldest son, who is a gourmet at heart, also liked the pasta though he still can't bring himself to try a mushroom. The rest of the kids, well, I don't think any of them even tasted it. The bread on the other hand, I'm sure you can guess what happened to that. Five minutes equals gone. And the cake was a hit too, because what cake isn't? Well, there was that one from Iraq, but I'm not sure that was really a cake.

Next week: South Korea
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Recipes from North Korea

My kids went back to school this week, so yay. Not because I didn't enjoy having them home (I did) but because now I'm really hoping I will have enough time to keep up with the work I get paid for and the work I don't get paid for (this blog). 

Anyway this week we are  in the world's most scary place, I mean the world's most wonderful place. Because if you say anything bad about this place, the person who is currently in control of it starts whining--I mean legitimately complaining--to the United Nations that you have committed an act of war. So let me just begin this entry by saying, North Korean food is fabulous and not at all bland or boring.

OK, so about North Korea, it's a magical land full of unicorns and fairies. Super macho, manly fairies and unicorns that have nuclear launch capabilities. You may know it as that country that the US got involved with in 1945, back when we were sort of irrationally afraid of communism. We occupied the south, Russia occupied the north, and five years later both sides started fighting each other. Technically, the two nations are still at war since no one actually got around to signing a peace treaty, and each one thinks it is the legitimate government of the entire region.

Pyongyang, Arirang, North Korea (Mass Games). Photo by (stephan).
North Korea is the most militarized nation in the world, with a total of nine and a half million military personnel, which includes an active duty army of 1.21 million, the fourth largest in the world. Oh, and it is led by a person who is not at all crazy.

I got all of this week's recipes from the North Korean government's online recipe website (no, really!) which I'm not going to link to because frankly, I don't want my website linking to it. Evidently, North Korea launched the site a couple of years ago for "housewives' convenience." How thoughtful. If you're interested, The Guardian has published a link to it here:

North Korean food is less spicy than South Korean food, which doesn't necessarily mean it's boring or tasteless ;). Most of the recipes I found seemed very simple, and the meal didn't take a lot of time to put together, so that was a definite plus. Here's what I made:

Beef Stir
  • 2 lbs beef, sliced
  • 3/4 small onion, sliced
  • 1 /2 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, sliced
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
Bibimbap shrimp
  • 3 3/4 cup cooked rice
  • 10 1/2 oz prawns
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 a small onion, sliced
  • 1/2 a medium potato, sliced
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pinch pepper
And that was all, because I was kind of feeling like I wanted a slow week, and frankly I didn't find any recipes that qualified as Must-Make.

Again, these recipes are really simple, so no need to wait until you have half a day to make them. Starting with the beef:

First whisk the soy sauce together with the spices. Add the vegetables to a hot pan and stir fry until the softened. Add the beef and fry quickly on both sides until brown.

Pour the soy sauce mixture over and stir until well-incorporated. That's it!

Now for the rice:

Boil the rice and drain. Set aside. Now place the shrimp in boiling water until just pink. Remove and set aside. In the same pot, add the potatoes and onions and let cook until just soft.

Transfer to a pan and stir fry with the oil, peas, rice and shrimp. Season with salt and pepper and serve. 

That's all there is to it. See? Simple. And very simple-tasting too, which is fine if that's what you like. All joking aside, it was OK and perfectly edible, but I was left wanting a little bit more. So I added soy sauce.

Next week: Emilia-Romagna, Italy
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Recipes from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, Pakistan

So last week, we took off for the coast on Wednesday morning. I had my blog all lined up and ready to post on Friday night, and then we got home on Friday night and I ... forgot. In fact, I forgot all the way up until Tuesday, and by then I was like, I might as well just skip the week and post it on Thursday. So that's what I'm doing. :)

Anyway, I have a new arch nemesis. Before, it was fufu. Before that, it was shrimp paste, but shrimp paste and I have developed an understanding. I don't look at it directly or inhale in its presence, and it can be in my food in small quantities. As for fufu, well, I'm just not going to make it anymore because you can't develop an understanding with something you don't understand.

This week I've met a new rival, and its name is Seekh Kebab. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with the flavor of Seekh Kebab, it's the implementation. I'm fairly sure this recipe was designed just to make people crazy.

Seekh Kebab is a favorite food of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA in Pakistan. FATA stands for "Federally Administered Tribal Areas" and is one of those places where they will stone women to death for heinous crimes like possessing cellphones. Abbottabad is in Khyber Paktunkhwa, which you may know as the town that sheltered Osama bin Laden until he was killed in a US operation in 2011. So I think it's fair to say it's not really a very friendly place, hence recipes like Seekh Kebab.

No one goes to these places, and no one takes photographs.
This shot of Ilyassi Mosque in Abbottabad was the best I could find.
Photo by Shahzada Hatim.

I really don't know what to say about either one of these places, because while I hate to criticize entire regions Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA have really got some problems. Now, I know that plenty of good people are born in bad places, so I don't mean to toss a blanket insult at anyone, but when you're talking about a place where women are legally permitted to vote but are threatened with violence if they do, well, what more can you add really. Besides all that stuff about stoning.

So I chose three recipes this week and just about put myself off of blogging in the process. Here they are:

Seekh Kebab
(from BBC food)
  • 1/2 lb ground lamb
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 green chilli, seeded and chopped
  • 1 cardamom pod, seeds only
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 large handful fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Besan (chickpea flour) as needed
Kabali Pulao
(from Hala Pakistan)
  • 2 1/2 cups basmati rice
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs ground beef
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and julienned
  • 2 tbsp raisins
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1/8 tsp saffron
(from The Afghan Forum, which I know isn't Pakistani, but I believe it is the same recipe)
  • 3 cups flour 
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 3 large potatoes*
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper
  • 2 tbsp oil (more if needed)
* 3 large potatoes was way too much for the amount of dough this made. Try three small to medium sized potatoes instead.

OK let's start with the Seekh Kebab and get that over with.

First, soak eight wooden skewers in cold water for about 10 minutes. Now put all the ingredients except the besan into a food processor and pulse until combined. I have a feeling this is really where I went wrong. When you put ground lamb into a food processor you get mush.

This is what happens when you put ground lamb in a food processor.

Here's what I think you should do instead: put everything but the lamb meat and the besan in the food processor and pulse until you get a paste. Then transfer to a bowl with the lamb and mix with your hands. Add besan as needed to help bind the ingredients together.

Now shape the meat into cylinders around the skewers. Grill the kebabs 3 to 4 minutes on all sides until done.

Anyway, here's what happened to me: my mixture came out of the food processor a liquified mess. I could not have shaped the stuff into anything but a wet splat, let alone made them actually stay on a skewer long enough to cook. So I dumped a ton of besan into my mixture (which was not actually an ingredient in the BBC recipe, I only found out it was an option while desperately trying to save what I'd already done to my ingredients). In the end I got something I could shape, but there was no way I was going to get it to stick to a skewer. So I made meatballs out of mine and cooked them under the broiler. It worked, but it wasn't exactly kebabs.

I had better luck with the rice: first rinse the rice until the water runs clear, then soak in fresh water for 30 minutes or more.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Fry the onions in 1 tbsp of the oil until brown. Remove and place in a blender. Grind to a paste and set aside.

Now add the beef (I actually used ground lamb in mine, which was overkill with the kebabs but I was having a bad day and I really didn't want to have to defrost hamburger). Anyway brown the meat and then pour in a cup of water and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer until tender.

Remove the meat from the broth and set aside. Put the onion paste into the broth and mix well.

Now heat another tablespoon of oil in a small pan and add the carrots. Saute until lightly browned, then add the raisins. Remove from the oil when the raisins start to swell.

Boil the water with the salt. Drain the rice and add to the boiling water. Parboil for three minutes, then drain and transfer to a casserole dish. Sprinkle with the garam masala and saffron.

Pour 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp of the beef broth and onion mixture over the rice. Now put the meat on one side of the casserole and the carrots and raisins on the other. 
Pour the rest of the cooking oil over and bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes.

When done, remove the beef and carrot/raisin mixture. Fluff the rice and transfer to a platter. Top with the meat and garnish with the carrots and raisins.

Now on to the burrani. First mix the flour, water yeast and salt together and let rise for an hour. Roll the dough into small balls (they should fit in your palm) and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 10 or 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes and fry the onions in oil until lightly browned. Mix the onions and potatoes together and add the coriander, salt and pepper and red pepper to taste.

Flatten the dough balls and roll to about the thickness of a tortilla. Spread the potato mixture over half the circle and fold over like a calzone. 

Heat the oil over a medium flame in a frying pan and fry the bread on both sides until golden.

OK so here's what we thought. The kebabs tasted like kebabs that had too much flour in them, because they were, you know, kebabs with too much flour in them. Definitely do not put this mixture in a food processor, it is a very bad idea. Not sure what the authors of the original recipe were thinking, unless they weren't starting with ground lamb. Once all that flour had been added the texture was really pasty and not very nice, but the flavor was good. Really good, in fact. But the experience of making them was so negative that I'm not sure I would personally go back and try it again, even though I'm pretty sure I know what went wrong.

If the name Kabali Pulao sounds familiar to you, it's because I made a version of it waaay back in Afghanistan, in the very early days of this blog. This version is really similar to the one I made back then, with slightly different ingredients and a different technique. In my defense, I tried to find a rice dish that was wholly Pakistani but I was running out of time, as I always seem to be doing these days. Anyway this was good, and after eating it I decided once and for all to never again boil basmati rice because the oven method results in infinitely better texture.

The bread was, of course, my kids' favorite part of the meal, which surprised me a little because although they are fiends for bread they aren't that crazy about mashed potatoes, especially when they have spices in them. But fried bread, you know, you really can't go wrong. This is something I would make again, if I can block the whole kebab experience out of my head.

Next week: North Korea
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Recipes from Campania, Italy

We were due to stop in another region of Pakistan this week, but it seemed like it was a little too soon after the last Pakistani meal I cooked. Hey, do you think people in Pakistan ever say things like, "Do you feel like Pakistani food tonight?" "Nah, we just had Pakistani food a couple of weeks ago ..."

So anyway I decided now was as good a time as any to go backwards in the alphabet to Italy, which I decided kind of late in the game that I should be tackling in regions instead of as a whole. This week it's going to be the region of Campania, which is in southern Italy, east of the Mediterranean Sea.

Positano, Campania, Italy. Photo by Kevin Rechts.

There are 5.8 million people crammed into this small region of Italy, which is just over 5,000 square miles. You can hardly blame them, though, because Campania is 5,000 square miles of culture, food, architecture, music and sites of great historical significance. Pompeii is in Campania; so is Naples and the island of Capri. This is where I would go if I was to ever visit Italy, which less face it probably ain't gonna happen since $1k for a single plane ticket seems pretty beyond what I could ever afford, let's forget about the other five I would need to buy.

So at least I'm visiting it in the Travel by Stove way, which is almost as good. Not really, but, you know. The food from this part of Italy is pretty classic Italian as we Americans know it--in fact, this is the region where spaghetti was born, and, yes, pizza. Pizza comes from the city of Naples and is the main dish I decided to make this week, because I felt like after all those fish curries and lamb curries and chicken curries I've been doing lately I kind of needed to throw my kids a bone.

And here are the recipes:

Pizza Margherita alla Napoletana
(from Cooking with Nonna)

For the dough:
  • 3 2/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 5 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • Pinch salt
  • Pinch pepper
For the topping:
  • 1 medium-sized fresh mozzarella ball, sliced thin
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Oregano

On the side:

Cauliflower, Olive and Caper Salad
  • 1 tbsp coarse salt
  • 2 lbs cauliflower
  • 3/4 cup pitted, oil-cured black olives (I used Kalamata)
  • 1/3 cup capers, rinsed and dried
  • 3/4 cup pitted green olives
  • 1/2 cup vinegar-packed red peppers packed, rinsed and julienned
  • 8 anchovies, drained and chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
For dessert, because who can resist a cheesecake?

Ricotta Cheesecake
(also from Cooking with Nonna)

For the crust:
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 /4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • flour as needed
For the filling:
  • 2 lbs ricotta cheese
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1/2 tbsp orange zest
  • 2 tbsp fresh orange juice
OK, first make some pizza dough! I always do bread of any kind in my bread machine, but here's how to do it the old fashioned way:

First dissolve the yeast in warm water and let stand until frothy. Meanwhile, Put the flour in a bowl and make a Vesuvius style hole in the center of it. When the yeast us ready, pour that into the well, then add the rest of the dough ingredients. Knead until you get a nice, smooth, elastic ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for two hours.

Now preheat your oven to 350 degrees and roll the dough out to a 12 to 14 inch circle.

You may have to stretch the dough a bit to get it to the right shape and size--pizza dough can be uncooperative. Now place the dough on a pizza stone (we have one of those wire mesh thingies). Spread the marinara sauce over the dough and top with the mozzarella slices.

 Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with the basil and oregano.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the crust is a golden brown.

Now for the salad:

Boil some water with a tablespoon of salt. Add the cauliflower and reduce heat to medium. Simmer to 15 minutes, then remove and drain. Your cauliflower should be tender-crisp.

When the cauliflower is cool, break it into florets, then transfer to a large bowl. Add the olives, capers, red peppers and anchovies.

 Toss gently, then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature.

 Now for the cheesecake:

First make the crust. With your electric mixer, blend the egg with the milk, butter, sugar and baking powder.

Remove from the mixer and gradually add the flour. Work the dough with your hands until it is stiff, adding flower as necessary.

Now flatten the dough with your hand and then use a rolling pin to make a circle about 15 inches in diameter and 1/4 inch thick.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, then butter a springform pan and sprinkle with flour. Now transfer the dough to the pan, letting the extra hang over the edge.

Mine isn't really hanging over the edge.

Now go back to your mixer and add all the filling ingredients. Pour into the pan and cut off the excess dough around the rim, leaving about a half inch above the filling. Bake for 1 1/2 hours.

Do you remember how I said, "Who can resist a cheesecake? Well, me! Apparently. I didn't like the cheesecake. I found the texture way too grainy, which is my experience with pretty much anything that has ricotta cheese in it, though I don't mind it in things like lasagna. Sadly no one really liked it, though we all really wanted to. This is honestly the first time in my life I've ever done anything so blasphemous as throw out perfectly good cheesecake, but I did. Oh well.

The pizza was much better than the cheesecake, but it could have used some more time in the oven. My crust wasn't golden enough, and therefore not really crispy enough either. I also thought it was a bit bland--the crust, that is. More salt would have been a good plan. I did love the simplicity of the recipe, and with good marinara sauce this is definitely a keeper. Makes a great switch from your run of the mill pepperoni that we always eat at my house.

I really liked the cauliflower salad but I was the only one. With those anchovies and olives and pickled peppers it tasted really not very much like the things that most Americans eat, so my kids were not impressed. I think Martin ate a little but being an olive hater was also not impressed. More for me. :)

I'm going to have to remake that pizza I think. Can anyone recommend a great prepared marinara? The one I used was good, but this pizza is really all about the sauce and it needs a mind-blowing one. I know, I should make it from scratch but because of that job thingie I have, blog night has become the sole evening where I do actual, real cooking anymore. Stupid job.

Next week: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, Pakistan
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Recipes from Kenya

If you've been reading my blog for any length of time you already know this one little fact: I'm not that crazy about African food. Ethiopia is one exception (there are a couple of others), because the flavor of Ethiopian food is big and robust and exotic. But most African food, at least the stuff I've had, is simple and, well, bland. It's perfectly edible, but not something I'm likely to make more than once.

So I wasn't that thrilled about Kenya, really, which I figured would be another meh experience. And I was wrong! Kenyan food is good. But before I get to that, let's talk about the nation itself.

Kenya borders Ethiopia, which could at least partially explain why I like the food--maybe a regional thing. It also borders Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan and Somalia, all countries that are a lot further down on my list, so we'll see. There are 44 million people living within Kenya's 224,000 square miles. The climate ranges from warm and humid to cool, depending on whether you're on the coast or near permanently snow-capped Mount Kenya. There are also deserts and temperate forests in Kenya, which makes it pretty geographically diverse.

Kimana reserve, Kenya. Photo by Francesco Scaglioni.

If you ever go on an African Safari, chances are it will be in Kenya. There are several large and diverse wildlife refuges there, and also some good beaches. So tourism is important to the economy, though agriculture employs more people. There's an illusion of wealth in Kenya, which probably comes from those places where tourism is a big money-maker, but in reality Kenya is a poor nation--38 percent of the population lives in poverty and the nation's human development index is a mere 145 out of 186.

If you travel to Kenya you won't find a lot of restaurants serving Kenyan food. I guess Kenyans themselves don't have a very high opinion of their cuisine, but I think I disagree. Their recipes share some similarities with other African nations--for example, a staple called "ugali" appears to be very much like my arch nemesis, fufu. But like India they also do samosas and chapati and they cook with garam masala, so there are a lot of familiar flavors in Kenyan cuisine. Here's what I made:

Mtuzi wa Samaki (fish in coconut milk curry)
(from Kenya Advisor

  • 3 pounds fish filets
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut milk 
  • 2 tbsp tamarind paste or lemon juice
  • 3 tsp garam masala or curry powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
On the side:

Watermelon Salad with Celery-Nut Dressing
(this recipe comes from the Samburu Tribe and was also posted on Kenya Advisor)
  • 3 cups watermelon balls, chilled
  • 1 1/3 cup celery, chopped
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 4 oz softened cream cheese
  • Fresh lettuce leaves
  • 1/2 cup roasted cashews, chopped
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
For dessert:

Coupe Mount Kenya
(from Kenya Travel Ideas)
  • 4 to 5 ripe mangos, peeled and pitted
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon peel, julienned
  • 1/2 cup condensed milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
So I got told off once for serving a summery salad with a wintery main course, and I'm thinking that this is sort of the same situation. Watermelon salad is, obviously, quite summery and I really couldn't say if the curry dish is something they would eat year round. So if I got it terribly, terribly wrong I apologize. It was still good though so I can't say I really have any regrets.

I was gong to make chapati, too, by the way ... but I ran out of time.

Let's start by making the curry. Al these recipes are actually pretty easy, so here we go:

Heat the oil over medium-high heat and place the fish filets into the pot. Sear on both sides and transfer to paper towels.

Now reduce the heat to medium and add the pepper and onion. Cook until the onion is translucent, then add the garlic. Stir for an additional two minutes and add the tomatoes. Turn the heat back up and add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer. Season with salt and pepper and add the fish. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until the fish filets are cooked through.

While this fish is cooking, make the salad:

Put the mayo and cream cheese in your mixer and beat until fluffy. Now whip the cream until you get stiff peaks. Fold the cream into the cream cheese mixture and add the celery.

Now line a bowl with the lettuce and put the watermelon balls on top. Finally, spread the dressing over and top with the cashews.

And finally, the dessert:

Mash the mangoes (I put mine in a blender) and transfer to a large bowl. Mix with the lemon peel, condensed milk and salt.

In a separate bowl, whip the cream with the sugar until you get stiff peaks. Fold into the mango mixture.
Pour the mixture into a six-cup mold and freeze overnight. Feel a deep sense of joy when your kids declare that they don't like this.

So yes, the curry was really good. Now, I've made stuff like this before, and I'm pretty sure I've made something really similar for another country, but this definitely had its own unique flavor. The tamarind and coconut milk combined with the garam masala sort of made it seem like a dish suspended somewhere between Thailand and India. The watermelon salad was really unusual, a bit too heavy on the celery for my tastes (I do like raw celery in some salads, but I think it needs to be in small doses). The dressing and cashews combined with the melon made for a really different dish, definitely not like anything else I've ever made. Kind of potlucky, if you're a risk taker. Not all potluck goers are going to love it, but you'll definitely give everyone something to talk about.

Now for my favorite part: the Coupe Mount Kenya. This was really a mango sorbet, and it was delicious. It had that great tangy bite that you get from mangoes (they're never completely ripe when you buy them in California) but you could taste all that wonderful cream and condensed milk, too. I loved that my kids hated this dessert because that meant I got to eat all their leftovers. Yum! I love fruity desserts and if you do too, I'm pretty sure you're going to love this one. Maybe another one for my end of year list, 'cause I'd have to find a really mind-blowingly delicious dessert to top it.

Next week: Campania, Italy
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