Thursday, May 3, 2012

Recipes from Botswana

MY love affair with eBay is over.

Once upon a time, eBay was a great place to buy stuff. Sellers listed their products at fair prices, they shipped quickly, and the US post office delivered in a timely manner. Today, sellers list their products at outrageous prices (or they try to sell everything for a penny with $29.99 to ship, in order to avoid eBay fees), they sit on orders for days before they finally feel like they can be bothered to go down to the post office, and the post office takes forever to move stuff from one end of the country to the other.

So what I'm trying to say in a very roundabout way is that my piri-piri peppers did not arrive in time for this entry, even though they were supposedly shipped on April 24. Stupid eBay.

Anyway, this week we are in Botswana, and fortunately the recipe that asked for the piri-piri peppers comes in several different versions, at least one of which doesn't require said peppers. So I went ahead with this entry even though my piri-piri peppers are still floating around out there somewhere in US Postal Service Land. Or, more likely, in that eBay seller's garage.

Botswana, as you probably at least have an inkling, is an African nation. It is located in the southern part of the continent, is almost completely flat and is about 70% engulfed by the Kalahari Desert. It is also one of the most sparsely populated nations in the world, with just over two million people living in a total land area of 224,610 square miles (that's roughly nine people per square mile).

Botswana, a landlocked nation in Southern Africa.

In the last 45 years or so, Botswana has had one of the world's fastest rates of growth in per capital income, which makes it one of Africa's greatest success stories. In 1966, Botswana's was one of the poorest nations in the world, with a GDP per capita of just $70; today it is a middle income nation with a GDP per capita of about $14,000—which means that Botswanans today are about 200 times better off than they were in 1966.

The cuisine in Botswana is actually pretty unique and unfortunately poorly represented online. Most of the recipes I found were for Botswana's most famous dish, a heavily salted, mashed beef dish called seswaa, which frankly didn't sound all that yummy to me. It was also kind of the go-to dish for anyone wanting to cook something from Botswana, which always kind of puts me off a recipe unless I literally don't have any other options.

Botswana: A simple chicken pie with cabbage on the side.

My other choices were a dish made from "mopane worms," which I couldn't find for sale anywhere (because I wasn't looking, ew) or a couple of basic dishes listed on a website called Celtnet.

Now I've used recipes from Celtnet before, which hosts a pretty enormous variety of international recipes, but I generally only go there as a last resort because I'm still not sure where all of those recipes come from or how authentic they actually are. As you know, I prefer to get recipes from websites that are maintained by people who actually live and work in those nations, but sometimes this just isn't possible because the Internet isn't necessarily used with the same enthusiasm in other countries as it is here in the US.  So once again, I'm posting these recipes with a disclaimer; if you happen to know a better and/or more authentic recipe, please send them on and I'd be happy to revisit Botswana at a later date.

Here they are:

Botswana Chicken Pie

For the filling:
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3 1/2 ounces onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 apple, peeled and diced
  • 1 lb cooked chicken, chopped
  • 2 tsp hot chilli powder
  • 1/2 cup currants
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 egg yolk whisked in 1 tbsp water
For the dough:
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup butter or margarine
  • 1/4 cup cold water
 And on the side:

Botswana Cabbage

  • 1 ripe tomato, finely chopped
  • 1/2 onion, shredded
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp dried piri-piri chillies, crumbled  (optional)
  • About 3/4 of one small white cabbage, shredded
  • Oil for frying
And finally, I chose this recipe for dessert:

Lemon and Condensed Milk Biscuits

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp grated lemon rind
  • 7 fl oz condensed milk
  • Pinch of salt
  • 8 oz unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • Powdered sugar for dusting
A couple of notes about the biscuit recipe: first, it came from a book called "Mma Ramotswe's Cookbook." Mma Ramotswe is a character in a series of novels called The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, which is, of course, fiction. So while this book purports itself to be a collection of Botswanan recipes, we need to keep in mind that as the book's name and theme come from fiction, there is a strong possibility that the recipes do, too.  So I'm not going to be too concerned about screwing up this recipe, which brings me to my next point: I screwed up this recipe.

I have since discovered that the conversion tool I'm using on my iPad is, and how shall I put this, a piece of inaccurate technology. In fact, it gave me a flour conversion that was a full cup short of the actual volume of flour needed for the recipe. So while the recipe copied above is accurate, the one I made was not. Though honestly I don't know how much I would actually change it if I did it again because it was pretty yummy even in its screwed-up form.

So anyway, starting with the chicken pie:

First make the filling. Fry the onions in the butter until translucent, then add the apple, chicken, currants and chili powder.

Chicken, onions, apples and currants.

Cook for about a minute, then add the tomatoes and salt to taste. Keep cooking for another five minutes or so. This mixture is supposed to be pretty dry, so you'll want to turn off the heat just before the tomato juice has dried up.

Meanwhile, make the dough. Sift the flour and baking soda together, then add the butter, working it with your fingers until you get a texture like fine breadcrumbs.

The mixture should look like fine breadcrumbs.

Now whisk the egg whites together with one egg yolk and add it to the dough. Add the water in small amounts until you get the right consistency for a pastry dough. Cut out circles about 6 inches wide or so.

Drop enough filling on each dough piece to cover about half the circle, with enough room left over to pinch the edges together.

Add the filling to a half of the pastry circle, leaving room to seal.

Fold over to a half-moon shape. Repeat until you either run out of dough or filling. Prick each pie to vent.

Mix the remaining egg yolk with 1 tbsp of water and brush the surface of each pie.

Now brush each pie with the egg wash and bake.

Transfer to a well-oiled baking sheet (they stick, so make sure to use plenty of grease) and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the pies turn a nice golden brown color.

When they are a golden brown, they are finished.

Meanwhile, make the biscuits. Now as I said earlier, mine were really more like cookies because I left out about a cup of flour. If you want yours to be cookies you could do the same thing, because they were yummy. However, not true to the recipe (which may or may not be authentic).

So first cream together the butter and sugar in your awesome vintage mixer, or your awesome modern one depending on which version you have.

Cream the butter and sugar ...

Now add the condensed milk and keep blending until well-mixed.

Add the lemon juice and grated zest, then sift together the dry ingredients and add that too. Keep blending until the ingredients are well-incorporated.

... then add the condensed milk, lemon and the dry ingredients.

Here's where I knew something had gone wrong: the recipe says to take teaspoons of dough and roll them into balls, then place them on a greased baking sheet and flatten gently with a fork. Which of course was impossible with my mixture, because I used way too little flour. So I just dropped mine by the teaspoonful like I would any cookie dough, which worked just fine.

You're supposed to be able to roll these into balls, but I didn't use enough flour.

Bake at 335 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, or until starting to brown underneath. Let cool, then dust with powdered sugar.

My finished "biscuits" were more like cookies, but they were yummy!

Finally, make the cabbage, which you should get started about 20 minutes before the pies are finished baking. This is an easy recipe, so here goes:

Fry the onion and tomato in a little bit of oil for about five minutes, then add the herbs and spices. Stir well until you get a thick, kind of mushy paste.

Fry the onion, tomato and spices until you get a pasty mixture.

Add the grated cabbage and saute for one or two minutes until well-blended, then cover and cook until the cabbage is soft, stirring occasionally (I added a little bit of water to prevent sticking).

Now add the cabbage, cover and cook until soft.

This meal went over pretty well with my family, except for the cabbage, which none of us liked. I really don't know what went wrong with the cabbage because I usually like the stuff—but this had a weird bitterness that I couldn't put my finger on. I did use a little bit of piri-piri sauce (which I had leftover from Angola), but I'd be surprised if that was the problem since I don't remember it being particularly bitter. At any rate, I threw mine away (as did everyone else in my family).

The kids loved the pie. What's not to love? Apples, currants and chicken—they were a great combo and the pastry was really good; heavier and not as flaky as a lot of pastries but a really nice flavor nonetheless. I personally thought the filling was a little too dry, but that didn't seem to bother anyone else. Martin ate two and a half pies and my kids ate most of theirs, except for Hailey who discovered—the horror—an onion in hers and was put off of finishing it.

The "biscuits," which were really cookies, were seriously yummy and I'm not sure I'm even going to correct the recipe as I've copied it in my recipe software. Not accurate, maybe, but delicious. Mine were soft, sweet and lemony. I might be curious to know what they're supposed to be like, but I'm not sure it's worth the extra work of finding out. Sometimes mistakes are good things—though I'm not going to use that conversion tool anymore because my luck isn't usually that good.

Next week: Bouvet Island

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

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