Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Z for Zimbabwe

Dee:  “For our final entry in our first blogging project we return to Southern Africa, not too far from where we started.  However, the cuisines of Angola and Zimbabwe turned out to be quite distinct.  While both include Western European ingredients and cooking styles, in Angola, these have fused with the older African recipes, wheras in Zimbabwe, the two have remained separate to the extent that two separate food styles exist.  There is a noticeable love of cake and biscuit baking recipes, and I was also surprised to discover how popular fish and chips were in Zimbabwe.  These recipes presumably became incorporated into the cuisine during the time when the British were in Africa, but have remained and are now part of the Zimbabwean cuilinary tapestry.
I found the Zimbo Kitchen web site very useful when researching what to include in the menu, and it was interesting to look through the wide spectrum of recipes.  In the end, it was the section of the web site dealing with the older recipes that I selected the menu from.  These dishes were all simple to prepare and followed a now familiar concept of extracting maximum flavour from relatively few ingredients.  There were more meat stews than I was expecting, but I decided to take the vegetarian route instead.  Some of the ingredients listed, especially the plants, were out of my reach, but I was still able to put a menu together that I was happy with.”

Starter:  Derere (Okra) Soup
Dee:  “I’ve tried okra many times as an ingredient in stews, but never as a main ingredient in a soup, and it was here that I experienced a whole new taste sensation.  The dish was very simple to prepare, consisting of okra, water, onion, tomato and seasoning, with bicarbonate of soda added to the water prior to the commencement of cooking.  The resulting soup was like nothing I have ever enjoyed before.  The slicing up of the okra allowed the sap to flow out and gave the soup a stringy, jelly-like texture, but with a savoury rather than sweet taste.  I’m under no illusion that this is going to have a love-it-or-hate-it effect on people who try it for the first time, but I found it tasty and also quite filling.”

Main:  Bean Curry with Rice rineDovi and Muboora
Dee:  “For the main course we put together a plate made up of a nicely balanced mix of beans, vegetables and carbs
Our taste buds were ready for the curry to be the star, with the rice and greens acting in a supporting role, but in fact it was the humble greens that proved the most enjoyable element.  Continuing the theme of careful cooking to allow great flavours to rise from the simplest ingredients, the greens offered earthy tastes from the leaves themselves, with sweet elements from the cooked tomato and onion.  We had to use spring greens instead of the specified pumpkin leaves, and as I’ve never tried the latter before I’m not sure how different the two taste, but we were very happy with the results from the spring greens.  The thick stems were removed from the leaves prior to cooking and the leaves were then finely shredded.  Bicarb was again added, which may have helped produce the semi pureed texture that we ended up with.
The bean curry, surprisingly, ended up being our side dish, but that certainly does not mean that it was inferior to the rice and greens.  It certainly wasn’t.  It was quite lightly textured and flavoured for a curry, with the vegetables retaining a fresh taste and slight crunch.  We didn’t go for a hot sauce this time, which proved to be a good call as I think that would have unbalanced the meal.
Our initial plan was to serve millet porridge with the greens and curry, but after making it and tasting it, neither of us liked it.  It was far too bitter tasting and had an unpleasant sandy texture to it.  We used millet flour rather than the grains, so perhaps we didn’t use the correct ingredients, but we needed something to replace it with.  That came in the form of peanut butter rice, which was far better.  The addition of peanut butter to the rice gave it a smoother texture and slight sweetness which complimented both the greens and the curry very well.”

Dessert:  Nhopi
Dee:  “Nhopi is supposed to be made with pumpkin, but we used butternut squash instead, which the recipe listed as being a suitable alternative.  This isn’t the first time we have enjoyed squashes as a dessert in African cuisines, and also not the first time we have paired it with peanut butter either, but we’re not complaining as the two go great together.  This was another simple dish to prepare.  The squash was boiled, then mashed, and finally enriched with the peanut butter, before being garnished with milk.  A sweet, tasty and filling end to a great meal.”

Soundtrack:  Leonard ‘Karikoga’ Zhakata – Ndingaite sei?
Dee:  “This album, from 1998, is a fast paced collection of complex melodies and rhythms, played mostly on highly tuned guitar, drums and percussion.  All the songs are lengthy affairs, the shortest being just over 7 minutes.  The songs are not structured in the way that ‘western’ songs are.  They sound more like they are developed in layers; first with the rhythms, then the guitar and finally the vocals.  An occasional trumpet also adds to the sound.  Another great accompaniment to tonight’s meal.”

And there ends our project to sample cuisines that were previously unfamiliar to us.  It’s been a fascinating few months for us, and we hope that you have enjoyed reading about our meals as much as we have enjoyed researching, cooking and of course eating them. 
We have found some great new recipes, cooking methods and ingredient combinations, and have learned much about what is cooked and eaten across the world, and listened to some great music as well.
Our curiosity with trying out new food and drink will carry on, and there remain many cuisines and cooking styles that we have yet to experience.  In fact, a book about Burmese cuisine has just found its way into our collection; so that will be another first for us.

In terms of where we go now with the blog, we’re enjoying our involvement with Tasting Jerusalem, so will be continuing with that.  There are a number of food and drink related events which we will be attending over the next few months, so there will be a few reviews on the way covering those, and we have started sketching out a new long term project, to be unveiled soon, so please do stay around.

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