Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Jerusalem Toffees (Baked Dates)

Yeah, I know this isn't really a recipe. Or, it's a recipe contained in the title itself. These aren't doctored in any way, or spiced, or anything like that. They are just an attempt at an imitation of a treat I found here at a health food store in Mbabane. The treats were called Jerusalem Toffees, and they were essentially just baked dates that were cut into thirds, and which are completely delicious and chewy, and not as sweet as the raw dried dates. I found them to be delightful and downed the bag within a few days. Unfortunately, I had bought the last bag they had in stock, so I decided to buy the regular dried dates from them and bake them myself. I lined them up in a little baking dish and stuck them in the oven at a low temperature (about 225 F) for about 45 minutes, but you can leave them in for as long as you want - mine turned out to be a little crispy when they cooled, which I like, but if you want yours softer, I'd take them out after 30 minutes or so. They smell heavenly while they are baking, and the people in the guest house actually thought I was baking a cake. These are a great snack to bring with you if you're on the go, but they would also be delicious if you ate them for dessert while they are still warm with some vanilla ice cream. So even though it's not a recipe, and more of an idea, I hope you'll try baking some of your own.

Baked Dates

Preheat oven to 225F. Arrange dried whole dates in a baking dish and place in the oven for 30 - 45 minutes, or until the outside of the dates becomes slightly hard. If you'd like them to be a little chewier, increase the temperature to 275 F for the last 5 - 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and remove to a plate to cool. Eat warm from the oven or cool and store in an airtight container for a snack.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Jugo Beans, or African Groundnuts

As I was walking down the street in Mbabane the other day, I passed a woman sitting by a huge bin of brown beady looking things. At first Ithought they might be roasted peanuts, but upon closer inspection, I saw that they were some sort of bean. I bought a bag and munched on them for the rest of the day, savoring their salty yet slightly sweet flavor. As I snacked on them, I held them up to my Swazi colleagues and asked what they were called. They looked amused that I was eating them and said, "Oh! It's tidlubu," but no one I asked could remember the English name for them. Finally Nokuthula remembered that they are called jugo beans English, which still didn't really help me much, as I had never heard of them before. They are also known as African groundnuts or bambara groundnuts. Either way, I was hooked, and the next time I was at the market, I found a bag of uncooked beans to try my own hand at it. They are so simple to make, yet they turn out to have such a powerful natural flavor that you don't need to add anything but salt, and that's even a matter of taste. They end up looking almost like candies when you turn them out on to the plate, sticking together like caramel would, but their flavor is a deep savory one that has just a hint of sweetness to it that is complemented perfectly by the tinge of salt. These are popular in many parts of Africa and are powerhouses of protein. I have never seen these in the U.S., but who knows? Maybe someone knows a place to find them. I just wanted to share with you all that if you have the chance to try them sometime, you should take it!

Boiled Bambara Groundnuts
2 cups jugo beans/African groundnuts/Bambara groundnuts
4- 8 cups water, more if needed
1 tbsp. salt

Wash the jugo beans and remove any defective ones. Place the beans in enough water to cover by several inches and bring to a boil. Continue to boil for 2 1/2 - 3 hours, adding water as necessary to cover. After about 2 hours have passed, and the water has turned to a soupy brown, add 1 tbsp. of salt and continue to boil until the water has almost entirely evaporated away. Drain excess water and place the jugo beans on a plate to cool. Add more salt as desired to your own taste. Eat plain as a snack, or add to rice for a pilaf, or roast in the oven, or add to your favorite tomato sauce for a delicious protein boost.

Ashook's Indian Sambele

This is a simple and tasty chutney to accompany a main dish, especially a curry. It could also be used to top off a filet of fish, or a seared chicken breast, or a lamb chop.....and the list goes on. For best results, let it sit overnight and then add the fresh cilantro before serving. Ashook made this to go with the most recent curry he made for us - a lamb and potato curry full of spice and heat and deliciously enveloping sauce. But you can use it for whatever you'd like, or even eat it plain with chips as a salsa. No matter what you eat it with, the flavors in this will shine through.

Ashook's Sambele

1 onion, chopped very fine
2 tomatoes, chopped very fine
2 - 3 small green chilies, de-seeded and chopped very fine
Olive oil to coat
vinegar to taste
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 - 1 tsp. sugar (optional), to taste
2 - 3 stalks cilantro leaves, chopped very fine (half added just before serving for freshness)

Mix all ingredients together, stir well, and refrigerate overnight, covered. Remove from the refrigerator and stir. Add the other half of the fresh cilantro and stir. Serve immediately as an accompaniment to a variety of meals, including curries or meat and potatoes.

Ashook's Lamb Curry with Sambele

Mmm, my third evening of instruction in the school of curry turned out deliciously, as you can see. Ashook approached me yesterday and said, "Come, we will make a nice curry tonight." And we went to the Gables, one of the higher-end grocery stores here in Swaziland, and he picked out a package of lamb riblets and legs and a box of curry powder. I first had to talk him down from the "extra spicy" to the "hot" curry powder, and I am lucky that I looked at the side of the package of the first one he wanted to buy. It had "wheat cereal (gluten)" very clearly labeled on the side of it, and Ashook looked a little shocked when he saw it. We came back to the guest house and he immediately began assembling ingredients, telling Thomas to chop onions while he searched for oil, ordering potatoes peeled and the lamb chopped as he measured spices and dumped them into the pot. The thing I'm learning about curries is that that really just need time. It doesn't take too long to get everything into the pot that needs to be there, but you must give all of the ingredients time to simmer and blend with each other, to mingle, get to know each other, before you try to take them back out of the pot and onto a plate. So we added onions, chili powder and curry powder, lamb and potatoes, and curry leaves and cilantro and just put the lid on and waited. We waited for over an hour until the sauce had turned into just a thick enough, and lamb and potatoes were tender. So if you are a novice cook, don't worry - this recipe is simple enough. The main ingredient is patience.

Ashook's Lamb Curry

3 - 6 tbsp. oil (we used olive oil, but vegetable or palm oil work fine, too)
2 onions, cut into long slivers
2 tbsp. turmeric
2 tbsp. chili powder (more to taste)
3 - 5 tbsp. hot curry powder
4 cloves garlic
1 piece ginger
1 kg. chopped lamb riblets and leg pieces
3 - 4 cups of water, divided
4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 large tomato, diced small
2 stalks of curry leaves
5 - 8 stalks of cilantro/coriander leaves

Heat the pot and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the 2 sliced onions and stir, cooking for about 2 - 3 minutes. Stir in 2 heaping teaspoons of turmeric and continue to cook for about 3 minutes. Add 2 heaping tablespoons of chili powder and 3 - 5 heaping tablespoons of hot curry powder. Stir to mix well and continue to cook. Meanwhile, mash up 4 cloves of garlic and one piece of ginger into a paste, then add about 1/2 cup of water and stir to mix. Add the garlic - ginger mixture to the pot, and then stir in the chopped lamb. Add about 1.5 - 2 more cups of water, enough to cover the lamb, stir well, and add about 1 tablespoon of salt (more to taste later, if desired). Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer over medium heat for about 15 - 20 minutes.

When it has simmered for about 20 minutes, add the quartered potatoes with another 1.5 - 2 cups of water. Stir in the diced tomato as well, and then bring back to a boil. When it is boiling, place the whole stalks of curry leaves and cilantro on top of the curry, but do not stir in. Replace the lid and let it simmer for another 45 minutes - 1 hour. Stir it every 10 minutes or so, and after about 45 minutes, check to see if the lamb is tender enough and the potatoes are done. Continue to simmer until it is the consistency you desire, and then serve with Ashook's Sambele and rice or bread.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Butternut Apple Bake

Squash is everywhere here in Swaziland. They eat it like mashed potatoes with melted butter and milk. They cut butternut squash into thick slices and drizzle it with butter and sugar and bake it for so long that it melts in your mouth and tastes like heaven on earth. They boil slices of sweet pumpkin for a snack. So when I found a 2 pound bag of butternut squash at the grocery store the other day for only about $1.50, I thought of the bag of apples I had sitting in my room at home and bought them, along with an onion. Later, I pulled these three ingredients out, chopped them up, drizzled some olive oil and spices over them, and left them to do their thing in the oven. I let them bake for about 55 minutes until they were very soft and the juice from the apples was bubbling on the bottom of the pan. You could serve this as a hot side dish, but what I recommend is to chill them overnight and then eat them cold the next day. I don't know what happened in that fridge, but something magical took place and they tasted amazing when I took my first bite this evening. I didn't even bother to warm them up after tasting them cold; I just spooned them into a bowl and ate, and it was wonderful and satisfying. I think that I will try this with a mixture of butternut squash, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes to go with the apples; you could really use any kind of squash or potato you have on hand and serve it as a potato/squash salad. Or you could heat it up and eat it with rice. It's versatile, so just make it work for what you have!

Butternut Apple Bake

1.5 lbs chopped butternut squash
3 small apples, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped into slices
2 - 3 tbsp. olive oil or gluten-free buttery spread
Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Oregano, and Basil sprinkled to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
2 - 3 tbsp. brown sugar

Chop the onion and arrange on the bottom of a glass baking dish. Chop the butternut squash into equal-sized pieces and chop the apples, and arrange over the onions. Drizzle the olive oil over the whole thing. Add the salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, and oregano to taste and stir to coat all of the pieces. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the mixture. Cover with foil and bake at 375 F for 45 minutes to 1 hour, testing for doneness. Add more seasoning or brown sugar according to your own taste. You can either serve immediately when it is hot or chill to serve as a cold side dish.