It’s finally happened. Our food appreciation classes have left the Americas and entered completely uncharted territory for us: Africa.
The trip from Brazil did not take very long. If you look at the map, there’s only a couple inches of ocean separating the two continents. Heck, you could probably swim. But culturally this represents a gigantic leap. Africa is a huge place–three times the size of the United States with many different cultures and culinary traditions, most of which are completely unfamiliar to me.
This will be a voyage of discovery for myself as a cook and teacher as well as for my students. I approach it with great anticipation, as well as some trepidation. I know there are ingredients I have never even seen before. Yet we have African grocery stores in our area. I am girding for a visit. And of course some parts of Africa are easily accessible. For instance, I already know my way around North African cuisine a bit. And here in the District of Columbia we have one of the world’s largest Ethiopean populations outside Ethiopea. Finding ingera bread is a snap.
Perhaps our readers can help. Do you know any great African recipes you’d like to share, things our students absolutely must know about? Do pass them along.
Meanwhile, this week we are sampling a fairly simple dish of rice, curry spices, tomatoes and fresh greens. Simple but quite delicious. And you’ll notice that the rice is blanched in hot oil with the spices to infuse all the flavors. Most people would use white rice for this, but I try to teach my kids the virtues of brown rice. It takes much longer to cook, but is far more nutritious and has a great chew that I enjoy. We used a brown basmati rice that is available in bulk at Whole Foods.
Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a heavy pot and add 1 onion, diced small. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon curry powder and 1/2 teaspoon paprika (or ground red pepper). Cover and cook over moderately low heat until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 cups brown rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice begins to lighten in color, about five minutes. Add 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, then 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and cook until the liquid is almost completely absorbed and the rice is tender. This will probably take 45 minutes or more. Adjust the seasoning as needed.
Meanwhile clean some leafy greens, removing the stems and pulling the leaves into small pieces. These can be chard or spinach or mustard greens. Something that will cook fairly quickly. I used some of the broccoli rape that we have growing in the garden. It gives a nice, tart flavor. When the rice is cooked, stir a cup or two of greens into the pot, cover and let the greens wilt for a couple of minutes. Now the rice is ready to serve.
You will find the rice is quite aromatic. This is a versatile dish. You could serve it all on its own, but it would also make a great side dish for a roast chicken or fish. And wish us luck on our African food safari.
For more great stories about how we are taking back our food system, check Fight Back Friday.