Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Trying Kenyan Food

I'll be honest: I had no idea what might constitute Kenyan food when I first received my assignment. There were plenty of Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants in my part of the U.S., but I had no exposure to neighboring Kenya's cuisine. Sure, we tried Googling it - but Google can only tell you so much.

I was delighted, then, when my friend from church agreed to come over on a Sunday and have a little cooking party with me! It turned into a proper feast.

I love to cook, but I usually don't bake - especially from scratch. (Yes, I usually love the taste of packaged brownies and cookies more than the homemade stuff.) As a result, my poor friend had to improvise when she discovered I don't have a rolling pin. We tried bottles to no avail but finally found success with a cucumber! She was such a trooper.

It was totally worth it for the tasty, tasty chapati (pictured uncooked above and finished below). Aren't the colors beautiful? Chapatis can be made plain, but this recipe called for shredded carrots and cilantro (well, we used parsley because I picked up the wrong herb at the store). It still tasted amazing!

It's like a thin pancake, closer to the texture of a British pancake but savory instead of sweet. It also reminded me of a less flaky paratha bread. It was the perfect amount of firm and oily and all-around delicious.

Then there was sukuma wiki, which literally means something akin to "push the week" in Kiswahili because it helps you power through the workweek. I think the traditional version is made with collard greens but I've seen the sukuma wiki label applied to kale, as well. It's sliced thin and sautéed with onions. I wish I had captured a photo of my friend's skilled slicing technique: she just holds a bunch of the greens in her hand and then runs the knife terrifyingly close to her fist! I'll probably stick to the cutting board for my own safety.

Of course, there is no trying Kenyan food without having the ultimate staple food: ugali! Ugali is a simple dish made by mixing maize flour with water. The best way I can think of describing it is the flavor of couscous with the consistency of firmer-than-average polenta. Needless to say, unfortunately, most Americans are not a fan (M included). I do like it - as long as I get to eat it right away. My attempts to store it and eat it later have been utterly unsuccessful.

Ugali pretty much just absorbs the flavor of anything else served with it, anyway (in this case, the tasty beef, carrot, and tomato mixture below). It also has the added benefit of making every meal somehow look and feel three times larger.

Last but not least, I have to give a special shout out to mandazi, which we proceeded to eat every day for a week. A mandazi is like a slightly sweet, spiced doughnut. On the Swahili coast, they are usually made with coconut milk and cardamom. Ours used cow milk and cinnamon, and they were amazing! We couldn't even wait until we were sitting at the table to start munching. We ate so many that by the time the rest of the food was ready, we were halfway full.

I got to have this wonderful cultural experience thanks to my talented and kind friend! I'm sure it won't be our last time in the kitchen together.

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