SWEET POTATOES(NGWACI)-THE UNSUNG SUPERFOOD

Ngwaci’s or sweet potatoes are a super food and next time you are in the market, do not ignore this super food and here is why……

In Kenya we grow three kinds of sweet potatoes ,white,purple and red skinned ones whose flesh will either be yellow or white.

The yellow fleshed sweet potato variety is the most nutritious of all as it comes packed with beta carotene that is great for your eyes and immune system,Vitamin C ,dietary fibre and carbohydrates.

Read more about sweet potatoes and diabetes  here.

Here is how you can enjoy this superfood:

1.Sweet potatoes are very versatile and canbe  boiled and mashed and had  in place of regular potatoes.

2.You can have sweet potatoes fries by baking  them in a 180 degrees centigrade oven for about 35-40 minutes .

Just drizzle some olive oil ,black pepper and salt  over them and pop them in the oven.

3.They can be added(pre-cooked) to pastry dough and cake/pancake   batters  as a natural sweetener  and to boost the nutritional value of these foods.

4.They can be an alternative to regular potatoes in salads ,soups and stews.

5.You can make  sweet potato pie, even souffles!

Flavours that really go well with sweet potatoes are:bananas,rosemary,garlic,chicken,honey,cheese and bacon.

Spices:Cinnamon,nutmeg,black pepper

How to store them

Sweet potatoes should not be stored in the fridge as it alters their flavour ,store them in a cool dry dark place and they should keep for atleast a week

SPICY PEA CARROT RICE

If there is a time in history I would love to have lived in,it has to be during the   days when the spice route was all that and a bag of chips.

Trade in spices began about 3,600 years ago and  lasted up until the 17th century.Read more on the spice route here.

The spice route covered the areas from Java in Indonesia all the way through parts of Asia like India,it even covered the East African coastline as Somalia,Zanzibar were part of these lucrative route.It then went on to Egypt,parts of the Arab world and on to Europe where demand for spices like cummin,nutmeg,ginger and cloves turned it into a profitable ,very profitable trade.

A lot of legends and tales covering these time in history abound and the writers have regaled us with the bravery,treachery and adventure of this time in human history.

But enough of history lessons,here is a rice recipe with one of my favourite spices,cummin.

Spice market in India

Ingredients

1 cup rice,preferably long grain washed and drained.

1/2 cup of  peas

1/2 cup carrots

1 large onion,chopped

1 large tomato .cubed

1 small green sweet pepper,cubed

1 carrot,cubed

1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste

1 teaspoon cummin powder

1/4 teaspoon fennel seed

2 pieces of cloves

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon ghee

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 cups water

Method

1.In a sauce pan over medium heat,pour the ghee  and vegetable oil and once hot enough after 2 minutes   add the ground cummin,cinnamon,cloves,fennel seed and let the spices “bloom in the oil”.

Blooming is the process of letting the flavours in the spices out by heating them with oil,you will know when this is done because the aroma from the spices starts wafting from the saucepan and teasing your senses.

2.Add the  ginger-garlic paste to the spices and stir in saucepan for 40 seconds till it softens ,then add onions,stir for 30 seconds and let cook till softened.

4.Add the tomatoes,green pepper  and salt and pepper to taste,stir and add 1/2 cup of water  and cover for 2 minutes to cook.Make sure to scrape the bottom of the saucepan  after adding the water,thats where all the flavours are!

5.After 2 minutes the water you have added  will have made a thick sauce from the spices and vegetables in the pan,its now time to add the rice .Stir the rice in the sauce till it is coated through with the sauce.

6.Add the green peas and carrots,stir them into rice .

7..Add 2 cups of water,taste and if need me add some more salt,bring it to a boil and then turn heat to low.

8..Let rice cook for 15-20 minutes covered,turn off heat,let it steam for 5 minutes then uncover and serve.

It is a great dish on its own,or when served with a salad.

CUMMIN INFUSED GREEN GRAM STEW

The green gram/ mung bean or ndengu as we call itin Kenya  is a very common item in the cuisines of South eastern Asia .

The bean is believed to have originated from the indian subcontinett and spread to toher parts of the world.

It  is a very good source of protein especially for vegetarians but it also contains vitamin C  and essential  minerals like calcium ,phosphorus and potassium

In every 100 grammes of boiled greengram you also get 7.6 grammes of dietary fibre,7.02 grammes of protein and just 19.15 grammes of carbohydrates(source USDA  Nutrient Database).

The beans can also be sprouted and used in stir fries or as a filling for items like spring rolls.

They especially taste absolutely great when paired with spices and ginger or garlic.Here is my recipe for the beans which even my picky 5-year-old loves.

Ingredients

1 cup pre boiled green grams

1 onion,chopped

1 large tomato

2 medium sized carrots,cubed

2 clove garlic,minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoons olive oil

1 and a half cups chicken stock/water

salt/pepper to taste

Method

1.In a  sauce pan ,heat oil slowly for 2 minutes then add the ground cummin seeds.

2.Let cummin infuse the oil for about 2 minutes till you can smell the aroma of the spice wafting from the pan.

3.Add the minced garlic,fry for 3o seconds till it softens then add onions,tomatoes,carrots, 2 pinches of salt and a dash of pepper and let to cook till softened.

4.Add tomato paste and stir into vegetables let cook for a minute then add the pre-boiled green grams.

5.Add the chicken stock and let to simmer over medium heat for 15-20 minutes then serve

They stew is great when served with  plain rice or chapatis.

OX TAIL SOUP

I grew up taking ox tail soup thanks to my  dad who  loved to buy this cut of meat  for soup.The ox tail is  actually the tail of any beef animal and not neccesarily ox and the reference as an ox tail is just a term used loosely.

We would throw the bones in a large sufuria (saucepan) over a charcoal grill and watch them boil and stew for hours till the meat was almost falling from the bones.

Ox-tail retains its flavour best when slow cooked over medium heat and is a wonderful base for any kind of stock.

I have been working on my own recipe for this soup and I normally include vegetables and some pepper to make one of the best soups you will ever have.

You can add some good red wine to the water to give it more body and is a wonderful soup for breast-feeding mothers or anyone who wants to enjoy a good soup.

Ingredients

1 kilo of ox -tail

1 large onion,chopped

1 large tomato,chopped

2 celery sticks chopped

2 cloves of garlic,minced

1 large potato,cubed

2 carrots ,cubed

1 teaspoon black pepper

salt to taste

2 tablespoons oil

Water

tomato paste(optional)

glass of wine(optional)

Method

1.In a large saucepan  heat the oil then add the bones to the saucepan  and brown it,turning it frequently.

2.Using a spoon transfer the bones to a large plate then add the onions to the oil,saute them till soft,add the garlic cook for 10 seconds,then add the rest of the vegetables and salt to taste.

3.Add the tomato paste if using and  black pepper,then put back the bones in the sauce pan.

4.At this point you can add some wine or enough water to cover the bones and bring to a boil then simmer for 3-4 hours.

5.The soup should be ready when the meat is almost falling off the bone and the soup has turned a milky color.

6.Serve  the soup hot  with some of the bones  garnished with some  chopped parley or spring onions

Note:The meat from ox tail makes a great sandwich filling paired with tomatoes,lettuce or coleslaw.

Make sure to keep checking on the soup incase you need to add more liquid.

BLACK BEANS(NJAHI) STEW

Black beans are a staple in South American cuisine ,here in Kenya they remain a preserve of central Kenya.

Black beans in parts of Kenya are a delicacy especially given to expectant and breast-feeding mothers to boost milk production as well as aid in aiding the mothers recovery after child-birth.

The folate in the beans is especially good for the development of the nervous system in a foetus and may  help prevent spina bifida that is caused by lack of folate.

Spina bifida(open spine) is a congenital condition where the spine is not completely developed.

Black beans need to feature in every pregnant womans diet.Its high iron content is also great for pregnant women and any  individuals  who need to boost their Hb(Haemoglobin) levels

The black bean or njahi is a very nutritionally rich food,its high in protein,folate ,iron,vitamin B6,calcium,magnesium and phosphorus.

As a legume the soluble fibre that it contains  is very good in lowering cholesterol levels.

Black beans make a complete protein when paired with brown rice.Read more about this legumes nutritional benefits here .

When my daughter was born and we were recuperating at home,a friend  brought a very tasty dish  of mashed black beans and sweet bananas that was out of this world,i am still trying to replicate the recipe.

Here is a recipe i got from my friend Leah that is finger licking good!

Ingredients
1 medium onion
1 large clove of garlic
1 medium carrot
1 medium stalk celery
Parsley sprigs
4 slices bacon (I use the kind with a bit of fat)
1 knorr chicken cube dissolved in a cup of hot water
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
500 grams boiled and drained black beans (njahi)
Directions
1.       Peel and chop onion, peel and finely chop garlic, peel and coarsely chop carrot, coarsely chop the celery, wash and chop parsley about two tablespoons.
2.       Cut bacon into ½-inch strips and fry in a saucepan over medium heat for one minute.
3.       Add onion and garlic to the bacon. Cook for about five minutes stirring frequently until onion is tender and begin to turn yellow. Bacon will still be soft. Remove saucepan from heat
4.       Stir in the dissolved chicken cube, carrot, parsley, celery, oregano and red pepper. Boil the mixture over high heat, once boiling, reduce heat just so that the food is boiling gently and cook for ten minutes.
5.       Place about half a cup of the njahi in a bowl and mash with a folk then stir the whole beans and mashed ones into the saucepan and heat through. Salt to taste.
(I usually do not use pepper because of the young ones in the family, I add either fresh chilli or Tabasco in my plate).
6.       Serve with plain white or brown rice

FRIED PUMPKIN AND SPINACH IN CREAM

I was watching Bobby Chin do is magic on World Cafe Asia or was it Bobby Chin cooks Asia and was very surprised to learn that pumpkin flowers are edible,though you have to remove the blossom first.They are covered with batter and deep fired,i have to try that some time.

This followed my finding out that the pumpkin seeds I throw out are actually a delicacy in some parts of the world.

Now I don’t know many people who eat pumpkin leaves but they are an absolute delight.

I use them with mashed potatoes and mash them togtehr  to add some color,texture and taste  as well as additional Vitamin A.But here is my absolute favourite way to have them,fried  with cream,nothing can beat that.

he secret with great tasting pumpkin leaves is to use the tender young leaves,they have great taste and less fur.

Also after cleaning them,remove the stalks  and shred them.

Ingredients

2 cups washed and shredded pumpkin leaves

1 cup spinach leaves shredded

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion,chopped

1 tomato chopped

3 tablespoons fresh/sour cream

salt and pepper to taste

Method

1.In a small sauce pan  heat the oil,add the onions and fry till tender.

2.Add the chopped tomatoes and 2 pinches of salt and pepper.

3.Cook till soft and mushy about 2-3 minutes

4.Add the shredded pumpkin leaves,cover for a minute then add the spinach and let cook covered for 3 minutes.

5.Add the 3 tablespoons of fresh cream and cook uncovered on low heat for 3 minutes,till cream is heated through.

6.Serve hot

 

Variation:Instead of cream add a whisked egg,let it cook covered for 2 minutes till egg sets.

Bon appetit!

 

RE-DISCOVERING KENYAN CLASSICS

Corn on the cob from www.fotosearch.com

Kenyan cuisine offers an interesting variety of meals which are colorful,nutritious and very delicious if prepared well.Most of us are used to having it one way but here are ways to have what i consider Kenyan classics in a different way that will have you enjoying them all over again.

1.Deconstructed Githeri

Instead of having your usual fried githeri,why don’t you make a salad out of it.Refer to my recipe here.

2.Sweet potatoes,arrow roots,yams.

Instead of having them boiled for breakfast why not make them the start of the show at dinner/lunch by cutting them into bite size pieces,drizzle some olive oil,salt and black pepper pop into your oven at 350 F for 35-40 minutes until they turn crisp on the outside and are soft when you pass a poke through them.

3.Sour porridge.

So maybe you do not like porridge,why not try my citrus infused sour porridge recipe here.

4″.Corn on the cob”

Corn is the fancy name given to maize and roast maize with pepper and lemon juice is a Kenyan street food very common in major towns.

During the times when farmers have just harvested their crop and fresh young green maize is in plenty,why don’t you have some boiled maize on the cob.

Boil the green maize in lots of salted water with some of the husks on for 10-20 minutes and feast on this simple delicacy.

The best maize for this is always the freshest where if the kernels are pressed “milk” runs out.

NB:Always remember to remove the “silk” from the maize first before boiling and most of the outer leaves.

Bon appetit!

COOKING “KIENYEJI” VEGETABLES

If you are intimidated by cooking traditional Kenyan vegetables,worry no more I have an answer for you.

Most people shy away from these vegetables becuase of the time it takes to prepare them and cook them,but trust me they are worth every minute spent in the kitchen.

So far I have been unable to locate any English equivalents to mrenda,managu and lot of others.I simply refer to them as bitter herbs.

Other traditonal vegetables that were used by Kenyan communities include pumpkin leaves or cow pea leaves (kunde).All can be prepared in the same way.

They key is to boil them as it helps take away the bitterness and I never add “magadi” to mine as it is a leading cause of osteoporosis(weak bones) in women because it causes leaching of calcium from the bones.Resulting in a bone structure which instead of being dense looks like a sieve.

Oesteoporosis is especially common after menopause.So women reading this keep off “magadi” or caustic soda.

For great tasting kienyenji(traditional) vegetables the key is lots of tomatoes and fresh cream.If you do not live on a farm not to worry many supermarkets now stock cream and in place of that you can add sour cream.

The key is to fry the onions till soft,then add some tomatoes(i add lots of them),and salt them ,let cook till soft then add your pre boiled vegetables.

Cook in a covered saucepan then afterwards add the sour cream,fresh cream and mix the vegetables so they get covered in the cream.Do not let the cream boil just let it heat through then serve with ugali.

It is finger licking good!

Bon appetit!

DECONSTRUCTED GITHERI

Bobby Flay's Crunchy Corn and Avocado salad

Ok,you are wondering what I am talking about right…?

Deconstruction is just a fancy chefspeak for taking the individual components that make up a dish and preparing them in such a way that you get the same taste you would get if you had prepared the dish in the traditional manner.

The idea for this recipe was inspired by  an episode of Grill it!with Bobby Flay when he was preparing a corn and avocado salad.

But there is a little story that goes with the recipe too and it involves my days in high school.

Now in most Kenyan schools,githeri(a mix of fried dried maize/corn  and beans with potatoes and maybe greens too) is a staple food.Most students do not like it but they put up with it because hey,your parents did not send you tp a five-star hotel on Kenya’s coast to lounge  all day on a beach towel and sip pina-colada all day right?

Yes,they sent you to school to read.

Now students are always looking for interesting things to add to their school mens to make them more palatable and they include adding margarine,some flavourings like tomatoes sneaked from the school farm and maybe an avocado.

In my school which was an all girls school,we loved avocados and we especially loved adding them to our githeri which tasted for the most part like saw dust.

And I thought why don’t i bring back high school memories by tweaking my usual mix of maize and beans .

So here goes…

1 cup cooked beans

1 cup sweet corn

1/2 cup carrots chopped into cubes

1/2 cup red onions chopped

1/2 avocado,cubed

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 table spoons olive oil

Black pepper and salt to taste

Fresh parsley chopped for garnish

First boil the sweet corn for 3 minutes  to remove starch and then place in an ice  bath to stop the cooking process.

In a salad  bowl mix the corn,beans,onions,carrots in bowl.

Whisk the lemon juice and oil,salt and black pepper together in a  small bowl till throughly mixed pour over the salad and mix.

Add diced avocado pieces to the salad  just before you serve it  and mixing carefully so as not to mash them.

garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

Here is the original recipe from Bobby Flay’s show.

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
  • 2 ripe beefsteak tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup pitted nicoise olives, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup canned chickpeas, drained, rinsed and drained again
  • 2 tablespoons roughly torn flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 ounces blue corn tortilla chips

Directions

Gently toss the avocados, tomatoes, olives, chickpeas, parsley, vinegar, olive oil, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Crumble the chips over the top and serve