Studentese dinner: Sudanese pasta bake

After our Ethiopian extravaganza of homemade spice mixes, clarified butter and wine, we decided to keep things a little more simple for our meal from Sudan. We found a website put together by a man called Mark Tanner, who paddled 3000 miles down the Nile through Sudan, picking up some traditional recipes along the way. The problem with a lot of them, though, was that they required ingredients we weren’t sure we could get hold of, like okra powder, so we chose the one recipe that was made up of ingredients we already had in our kitchen: pasta bake. Presumably this dish is linked to the Italian invasion of Sudan in WWII, although we’re not sure about that – but it does stick out like a sore thumb against the other more ‘traditional’ recipes on the website.

Nonetheless, we thought it was a fairly safe bet for dinner. Pasta is Toddler Mash’s favourite food, Ash has a nostalgic connection to the combination of cheese and ketchup, and Miranda is sleep-deprived and nourishing humans with her body and is therefore always hungry and willing to eat anything.

Pasta bake

Ingredients
250g pasta (we used conchiglie)
100g grated cheese (we used cheddar)
2 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 green pepper, finely chopped
1 pinch salt

Method
1. Cook the pasta according to packet instructions and put in a baking dish.
2. Stir in the butter and add the tomato paste, green pepper and salt.
3. Put the grated cheese on top and add ketchup.
4. Grill until the top is crispy.

Note Ash’s decorative piping 😀

And what of this surefire hit? Well:
Toddler Mash tried it for once! A miracle, right? Well, kind of. ‘Tried it’ meant he ate one piece of plain pasta under duress (because he’s the only three-year-old in the world who doesn’t like ketchup) and filled up on the garlic bread we bought at the last minute in an attempt to bulk it out a bit.
Ash was thoroughly dismissive of the whole exercise, dubbing it student food and threatening to call Deliveroo. Apparently the nostalgic combination of cheese and ketchup is only nostalgic at lunchtime.
Miranda is sleep-deprived and nourishing humans with her body and is therefore always hungry and willing to eat anything – so polished off her plate and Toddler Mash’s. She really didn’t think it was that bad – not gourmet, perhaps, but what’s not to like about cheese and ketchup?

So, in conclusion, with two out of three punters not rating this dinner, it’s unlikely to grace the Mash table again.

Forward planning: Ethiopian doro wat

When looking for Ethiopian recipes, we realised that for the first time in a long time, we were looking at a country with some really specific culinary rules and traditions. Ethiopian cuisine seemed complex, and for that reason we felt brave enough to stray from our current modus operandi of ‘the simpler the better’ in order to do it justice. The national dish of doro wat, for example, has its own spice blend, a spiced clarified butter, and tej, which is Ethiopian honey wine. At first, we weren’t going to make doro wat because of how spicy it’s supposed to be, but then we figured a) we could just leave out the chillies and b) Toddler Mash probably wasn’t going to eat it anyway. So we embarked on a three-day Ethiopian adventure, mostly following recipes from The Daring Gourmet.

FRIDAY: BERBERE

Berbere is an Ethiopian spice blend, and there is a lot of it in doro wat. Typically it would be very spicy because of all the dried chillies. We left these out, but one day we’d love to try it the proper way!

Berbere

Ingredients
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 whole allspice berries (pimento)
Seeds from 4 green cardamom pods
4 cloves
5 dried red chillies (up to you how many seeds you want to remove)
3 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric

Method
1. In a heavy skillet over high heat, toast the whole spices and chillies until fragrant (about 3 minutes), shaking the pan regularly.
2. Set aside and allow to cool.
3. Grind the cooled spices into a powder, then add the other spices and grind all together.

It’d be more colourful with the chilliies!

SATURDAY: NITER KIBBEH

Not wanting to be restricted by boring plain butter or ghee, Ethiopians clarify their own butter, adding spices to create a really tasty and unique cooking fat. You only need 2 tbsp for doro wat so we halved this recipe, but it still made loads. We’ve been using up the leftovers in things like sausage sandwiches and scrambled eggs. It will keep for several weeks at room temperature, at least a couple of months in the fridge and can also be frozen.

A truly authentic niter kibbeh would include two spices that even we don’t have: besobela (Ethiopian sacred basil) and kosseret (a type of verbena). Our local African supermarket might have had them, but we weren’t organised enough to find out, so we left them out as there isn’t an appropriate substitute. Ethiopian cardamom is also a key ingredient, but that can be substituted with Indian black cardamom (not green cardamom, which is totally different). This was good news for us because we have a huge jar of black cardamom that we don’t know how to use up!

Niter kibbeh

Ingredients
450g unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
3 tbsp minced fresh garlic
2 tbsp minced fresh ginger
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
3 black cardamom pods
3 cloves
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp besobela
1 tbsp kosseret

Method
1. Toast the whole spices over medium heat in a dry skillet for a few minutes until very fragrant.
2. Place all the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring it to an extremely low simmer. Continue to simmer over low for at least an hour, or up to 90 minutes. Do not allow it to burn.
3, Pour everything through a fine mesh cheesecloth (or if, like us, you don’t have one, improvise with a paper towel).
4. Allow to cool.

SUNDAY: TEJ

Tej is Ethiopian honey wine, a bit like mead apparently, and is another ingredient in doro wat as well as a drink in its own right. Making it properly involves fermenting, and some different ingredients, but we found a cheat’s recipe on Food.com.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this sounds revolting, and we’ll admit that we were apprehensive about trying it. We’d used a fairly cheap South African sauvignon/chenin blanc because we didn’t want to waste ‘good’ wine on it. That was the right decision, because the taste of the wine is obviously diluted, but you know what: it actually wasn’t bad. It complemented the doro wat well, and also worked as a long drink with ice. Believe it or not, we would actually make this again as a summery beverage.

Tej

Ingredients
2 cups white wine (something light)
2 cups water
1/4 cup honey

Method
1. Mix everything together and serve well chilled.

ALSO SUNDAY: DORO WAT

After all that prep, it was finally time for the main event. Doro wat itself is something of a labour of love: we started cooking it about 4 hours before we wanted to serve it. The good news is that a lot of that is just cooking time and you don’t have to be slaving over the stove the whole time.

Doro wat

Ingredients
1.3kg boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cur into 1/2 inch pieces
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp niter kibbeh
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 cups of yellow onions, finely minced to a chunky puree in a food processor
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp finely minced garlic
1 tbsp finely minced ginger
1/4 cup berbere
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup Tej
1 cup chicken stock
4 hard boiled eggs, pierced all over with a fork about 1/4 inch deep

Method
1. Pour the lemon juice over the chicken pieces and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
2. Heat the niter kibbeh and olive oil in a Dutch oven. Add the onions and sweat, covered, over low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add the garlic, ginger and 1 tbsp butter and continue to cook, covered, for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Add the berbere and remaining butter and cook, covered, for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Add the chicken, stock, salt and Tej and bring to the boil.
6. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
7. Add the boiled eggs and simmer on low heat, covered, for another 15 minutes.
8. Half or quarter the eggs and serve.
Serves 4

While we were investigating Ethiopian cuisine, we found an article that quoted Azeb Woldemichael, an Ethiopian chef, as saying, ‘we like to eat! And we eat slowly, with family and friends, over hours.’ Well, we never eat slowly these days – we usually wolf it down before being summoned to fight one fire or another (and by fire I mean child) – but we did cook slowly, so we hope that counts for something.

According to The Daring Gourmet, doro wat is traditionally ‘I-don’t-know-how-Ethiopians-have-any-taste-buds-left spicy.’ As we mentioned earlier, we left out the chilli (needlessly, because predictably Toddler Mash didn’t touch it, but we live in hope), so ours was spiced rather than spicy. One day we’ll make the full fire version! Until then, this milder version was more than tasty enough. It suited us just fine, and although it was time-consuming, we enjoyed playing around with something a bit more complicated again.

Doro wat would traditionally be served with injera, a spongy bread that takes 4 days to make. With all the other things we were making, injera was going to be a bridge too far, which is why we opted for the (clearly inferior) store-bought flatbreads instead. Injera is also eaten in other countries, though, so we haven’t ruled it out completely.

One final point to note: a valuable lesson learnt while cooking this was that if you’re going to use your phone as a timer, make sure the volume is turned up. Our carefully tended onions tragically burnt about two hours into the cooking process because we didn’t hear the timer go off (hence the change in pot in the photos). We only managed to salvage some of them, so the balance of the finished dish maybe wasn’t quite what it should have been.

Now, from super-involved to super-simple, our next dish from Sudan is the total opposite of this one in every way. Stay tuned.

What we expected (and what we didn’t): Djiboutian skoudehkaris

Another week, another meal thwarted by one of our offspring…

It was Baby Mash this time. We normally make this international dishes on the weekend, when there are two of us around, and had planned for this to be the case for Djibouti’s national dish, skoudehkaris. Unfortunately, Baby Mash chose this particular weekend to come down with a virus and raging fever that caused him (and Miranda) to spend a night in hospital. He’s fine now, thankfully, but we did have to postpone our dinner.

It did happen to be a long weekend, which would have given us an extra day to fit it in, but the thing is, we’d already bought a massive steak to cook on the BBQ in honour of the fact that Miranda is no longer pregnant and can therefore eat steak again – and there was no way we were forgoing that! So the skoudehkaris was postponed to a weekday, meaning that the challenge of cooking it whilst also keeping an infant happy fell to Miranda. Luckily, said infant was in a relatively amenable mood that day, despite having gone through the trauma of his first immunisations, and we managed it!

There are lots of different skoudehkaris recipes online, some of which incorporate rice and some of which don’t. We opted for the one on 196 Flavors, partly because it’s a website we trust and partly because it was one that did include rice, and we liked the idea of a one-pot meal.

Skoudehkaris

Ingredients
450g lamb shoulder, diced
2 1/2 cups basmati rice
5 tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and diced
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 red onion, sliced
2 onions, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp chilli powder (omitted in our version)
4 tbsp oil
1 tsp ground cumin
6 cardamom pods
2 pinches of cinnamon
Salt
A few coriander leaves, chopped

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. In a dutch oven/casserole dish, brown the meat over medium high heat. Set aside.
3. Add all the onions and sweat.
4. Add the garlic, tomatoes, chilli powder, tomato puree, salt and spices and stir.
5. Return the meat to the pan and cover everything with boiling water.
6. Cook, uncovered, in the oven for 45 minutes.
7. Remove the pot from the oven and put it on the stove over medium heat.
8. Add the rice, mix well, cover and cook for 15 minutes (5 minutes over medium heat and 10 minutes on low heat). Add water if necessary.
9. Sprinkle with the coriander leaves to serve.
Serves 4

Regular (and very observant) readers of this blog will know that one of Miranda’s least favourite cooking tasks, perhaps slightly irrationally, is peeling and deseeding tomatoes. We have to admit that she gladly used the ‘I had to do this quickly because I was looking after a baby’ excuse to get out of the peeling, although she did begrudgingly deseed them. And honestly, did a bit of tomato skin make any difference to the finished dish? She really doesn’t think so.

As for the finished dish, we commented that it was what we expected a lot of the African dishes to be like: simple and hearty with a bit of spice. The lamb wasn’t quite as tender as we’d have hoped, but nor was it tended to as attentively as we’d hoped, so maybe with a bit more browning and/or cooking time, it might have been a bit softer.

And now, let’s all chorus together: ‘Toddler Mash refused to touch it.’ (The broccoli was for his benefit. He will – usually – eat that.)

True to type: Somali baasta iyo suugo

We seem to be developing something of a trend in our blog posts; namely, every single time we cook something we say that our stubborn fusspot of a toddler hasn’t wanted to eat it. The national dish of Somalia, bariis iskukaris (a biryani-style rice dish) was set to result in the same outcome, so when we discovered baasta iyo suugo (pasta with sauce) we thought that maybe this was our opportunity to write about something different. Toddler Mash will refuse most other foods on a whim, but pasta is a safe bet (unless there is tuna in the sauce, in which case he will wail as though the world is ending).

That said, we were a little surprised to be cooking a pasta recipe for an African country. What we didn’t know is that part of Somalia was once colonised by the Italians, who clearly brought some pasta along with them. This is not your bog-standard bolognese, though: the secret ingredient of Somali suugo is a spice blend called xawaash (pronounced hawaaj). There are a LOT of spices involved, giving this pasta sauce a very distinctive flavour. We made our own xawaash as we have quite an extensive collection of spices, but you can buy it premade if you do a bit of Googling.

Xawaash

Ingredients (we halved this and still had WAY too much for the recipe)
3 tbsp cumin seeds
3 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp peppercorns
1 tbsp fenugreek seeds
2 tsp green cardamom pods
1 tsp whole cloves
2 tbsp dried sage
4 tsp ground ginger (or dried ginger if that is something different – but we used ground)
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces

Method
1. Toast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, peppercorns, fenugreek seeds, cardamom pods and cloves in a dry frying pan over medium heat, until fragrant.
2. Use a spice grinder or pestle and mortar to finely grind them, along with the cinnamon stick.
3. Mix in the other spices.

Baasta iyo suugo

Ingredients
1 medium red onion, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
450g stewing beef, cut into 1cm cubes
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp xawaash
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1 banana per person
300g spaghetti, cooked al dente (cook it while the sauce is simmering)

Method
1. In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat.
2. Add the onions and green pepper and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant (a minute or two).
4. Add the beef and cook until browned, stirring regularly. Make sure you have the heat high enough that the meat doesn’t stew.
5. Add the xawaash, tomatoes, tomato puree and black pepper. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 30 minutes until the meat is tender.
6. Add the sugar and adjust seasoning if necessary.
7. Serve over the spaghetti, with a banana and a squeeze of lime juice, garnished with the coriander.
Serves 2-3

Hang on, what? Serve with a banana? Believe it or not, yes. Apparently Somalians regularly serve a banana alongside savoury dishes, taking a bite of the banana with each mouthful. It definitely seemed odd to us but we went with it, and had to admit that it did actually work by adding a touch of sweetness to an otherwise very savoury dish. (Plus, Toddler Mash also likes bananas – winner!)

Banana or no banana, we were really happy with this dish. Cutting the beef into 1cm cubes was time-consuming, but not prohibitively so, and because it was coarser than mince but smaller than how you’d cut beef for a stew, it resulted in a texture that we hadn’t encountered before, and enjoyed. The xawaash and lime turned what would otherwise have been a fairly standard Italian-style pasta sauce into something that was more like a cross between a pasta sauce and a curry. We’d have stirred the sauce through the pasta (Italian-style) rather than serving it on top though!

And what about Toddler Mash – was this meal the success we had hoped for? Well, only the day before (apropos of nothing) he’d said something about bananas not being dinner food, so we were able to excite him with the prospect of banana with pasta, which was promising. The reality of the occasion was that he’d had a couple of busy days, a couple of disturbed nights and limited naps, meaning that from about 4pm he was nearly the most tired we’ve ever seen him, staring into the distance in a trance that made us wonder if he might actually be ill. By the time dinner was on the table, he was utterly miserable (as was Baby Mash who was screaming the house down at this point) and didn’t want any of it, so we cut our losses: Miranda quickly got Toddler Mash into bed, Ash put Baby Mash in the carrier and took him for a walk around the block in an attempt to calm him down, and we both reheated our untouched pasta in the microwave once those two missions had been achieved. In other words, the quest to find an international dish that stubborn fusspot of a toddler will eat continues.

Learning to cook and parent simultaneously: Kenyan nyama and grilled corn

If Google is to be believed, the national dish of Kenya is either ugali (cornmeal) or grilled meat with kachumbari. We made the latter for Tanzania and, as ever, the problem with ugali is that it isn’t actually a meal. In the interests of efficiency, our further research involved looking at some of our favourite blogs by people who’ve done this challenge before, and on Global Table Adventure we found two dishes that looked both easy and a little bit different: nyama (stewed beef) and grilled corn with chilli and lime salt (which is apparently ubiquitous amongst Kenyan street vendors). There was also the added benefit of the fact that Toddler Mash actually likes corn. We served this with another traditional accompaniment, chapatis (in case anyone else wasn’t sure, chapati and roti are the same thing), although that was shop-bought as homemade chapatis definitely don’t fit our current ‘easy’ requirement.

Nyama

Ingredients
Cooking oil
1 large onion, chopped
700g stewing beef, cubed
1 inch fresh ginger, minced or grated
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp paprika
1 tbsp curry powder
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 small carrots, chopped
1 potato, cubed
1 1/2 cups beef stock

Method
1. Brown the onions in oil in a large pan over medium heat and set aside.
2. Turn the heat up to high and brown the beef in batches.
3. Return the onions to the pan along with the ginger, garlic, paprika and curry powder and stir.
4. Add the carrots, potatoes and tomatoes and stir.
5. Add the stock and season.
6. Simmer uncovered until thick and pasty and all liquid has reduced away (about an hour).

Grilled corn with chilli and lime salt

Ingredients
Corn on the cob
1/4 cup rock salt
2 small chillies, sliced (or more to taste)
Juice of half a lime (or more to taste)

Method
1. Grind the chillies into the salt in a pestle and mortar.
2. Squeeze in the lime juice.
3. Cook the corn (we boiled and then griddled).
4. Rub the corn in the salt mix. (The original recipe put the salt mix in a corn husk, which is undoubtedly more traditional but we just used a plate.)

Pot on its way to being very burnt (see explanation below).
Salt mix for the corn. Sorry about the shadow.

Our method was a little more like this:
1. Put Toddler Mash in the bath, supervised by Ash, and Baby Mash in the carrier asleep on Miranda.
2. Realise that this means there is no one to cook dinner and although it’s easy, it needs to stew for a while, so there’s no time for delay.
3. Get Ash to attempt to keep one eye on the bathing toddler whilst starting to cook the dinner, only to realise that this isn’t going to work because the toddler wants more attention than that. (Please never leave small children unattended in a bath for any amount of time – Ash could see Toddler Mash at all times while this was happening.)
4. Get Miranda to attempt to brown the onion and beef whilst wearing Baby Mash, which meant that she had to keep the stove at arm’s length to prevent Baby Mash getting anywhere near it (or the spitting oil in the pan).
5. Realise that this isn’t going to work very well either, but at least manage to get it done.
6. End up with a very burnt pan (but not burnt food, for what it’s worth).
7. Convince Toddler Mash to get out of the bath so that at least one parent can cook dinner.
8. Move contents of pan into another non-burnt pan.
9. Carry on as per recipes above but eat dinner a little later than originally planned.

All of those adventures aside, opinions were mixed on this one. The stew was a winner – simple in concept and execution, but hearty and flavoursome. We’d make it again. We weren’t fussed on the corn, though, despite it being a really promising concept – how can you go wrong with chilli and lime? We did use sea salt flakes instead of rock salt which might have been an error, but overall we found that it was simply too salty to be enjoyable – the chilli and lime were often hidden by the sheer saltiness that comes from rolling a corn cob in a pile of salt. And as for Toddler Mash, we were never going to give him the salt mix (it’s too salty for his little tummy and he doesn’t like chilli and lime anyway) but he didn’t want more than a nibble of his plain corn, didn’t touch the stew, and took one bite of the chapati. Sigh.

Indoor barbecue: Tanzanian mishkaki and kachumbari

As is the case with seemingly most African nations (so far, at least), the national dish of Tanzania is ugali (cornmeal). And, as ever, the problem with this is that it’s a side dish, so we needed to find an alternative. Digging deeper into Tanzania’s epicurean traditions revealed that this is very much a country of two culinary halves: the mainland half, which we might consider to be more ‘traditional’ African cuisine (hence the ugali), and the island half (Zanzibar and Mafia, the former of which lends an Indian/Arabic influence to the cooking style). We were therefore faced with choices ranging from kidney beans cooked in coconut milk, to salmon curry, to barbecued meat skewers (mishkaki). In the end we opted for the latter, served alongside a traditional salad, kachumbari.

Depending on which recipe you look at, mishkaki can be made with either beef, goat, fish or chicken, and some recipes also added green papaya to the marinade to further tenderise the meat, while kachumbari can have all sorts of things added to it (avocado, cucumber, chilli, honey, lemon…). We went for beef for the mishkaki because it’s our preferred meat out of the given options, and a very simple version of the kachumbari because we figured that couldn’t be straying too far from the traditional way. We also only had about two-thirds of the amount of steak in the mishkaki recipe below, but roughly followed the same quantities for the marinade because it was easier than trying to scale it down. We normally leave out things like chilli and cayenne to make meals toddler-friendly, but given that we knew the toddler was very unlikely to eat it anyway, we made it the proper way for a change.

Mishkaki

Ingredients
900g sirloin steak, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp water
50ml vegetable oil
80g fresh coriander, finely chopped

Method
1. Put the dry spices, garlic, ginger, vinegar, oil and water in a large bowl and whisk until all ingredients are mixed.
2. Stir in the fresh coriander.
3. Put the beef in a large tray or bowl, pour over the marinade mixture and mix thoroughly.
4. Cover in as airtight a way as possible and marinate for at least 24 hours in the fridge.
5. When ready to cook, allow at least 1 hour for the meat to come up to room temperature out of the fridge.
6. Skewer the meat (using either metal skewers or bamboo skewers that have been soaked for an hour).
7. Cook either on a barbecue (the traditional way) or under the grill to your preferred degree of doneness (the recipe said medium-well but we prefer beef a little rarer than that).

Kachumbari

Ingredients
500g tomatoes, sliced and deseeded
1 small red onion
1 lime
Salt

Method
1. Cut the onion in half, then slice each half into thin slices.
2. Add some lime juice, a pinch of salt and a little water to the onions and let it sit for about 5 minutes (this gets out the intense rawness of the onions).
3. Drain the onions and release the excess water.
4. Combine the onions and tomatoes and add some more salt.

Because you can’t be a good sous chef without a Beetle car

The actual making of this dish was a little less straightforward than it should have been, given how simple it is. Firstly, we had to admit defeat when it came to barbecuing the mishkaki: setting up the barbecue takes longer than turning on the grill, and with two small needy children, time is of the essence. We’ll return to barbecuing one day…

The other complication was that Miranda had to take Baby Mash to the doctor right at prime dinner prep time, which left Ash to look after Toddler Mash and make the food at the same time. The saving grace here is that Toddler Mash loves to be helpful (on his terms, at least), so Ash set him to work deseeding the tomatoes while he figured out everything else. Toddler Mash was also kept happy with the promise of chips, which is what we chose to serve this with.

As for the verdicts: because of the aforementioned chaos, we ended up slightly overcooking the beef (for our liking, anyway), which was a shame because it was a really lovely marinade, and when we occasionally bit into a piece of beef that was a little rarer, it was very enjoyable. This is perhaps one to revisit when a) we’re in less of a rush and b) we can barbecue it. That said, considering just how many ingredients were in the marinade, it wasn’t quite as punchy in flavour as we’d have expected (which is perhaps why Toddler Mash claimed to like it when he tasted a little piece in the kitchen… or perhaps why he claimed not to like it when he was sitting at the table).

The kachumbari, similarly, didn’t blow us away, but that can probably be explained by the fact that despite buying ‘Finest’ tomatoes, they seemed underripe and tasteless. Again, maybe this is a recipe to come back to in the summer when tomatoes are actually nice.

Baby Mash’s first bake: Burundian date and banana mix

When Toddler Mash was born, the labour took 33 hours and we then had to stay in hospital for a further three days. The hospital food was OK, all things considered, but sorely lacking in terms of snacks, so Ash had to make a few trips to the shops to pick up supplies. Three years later, awaiting the arrival of Baby Mash, we were fully prepared for this eventuality and had a big bag full of every food we might need (both savoury and sweet, healthy and unhealthy), one of which was a Tupperware full of dates, which we thought would be a high sugar, high energy survival food.

In the end, Baby Mash charged his way out in less than 6 hours, arriving only 13 minutes after we got to the hospital, and we were discharged the same day, so other than a pack of biscuits and some chocolate coated ginger (best snack ever, just saying), we brought all of our provisions home with us again. The early days of sleep deprivation with a newborn (and a very wakeful toddler) need real refined sugar, not substandard natural fruit sugar, so the container of dates has sat sadly in the cupboard, waiting for its time to shine. And that time was 20 days later when, with Baby Mash strapped helpfully in the baby carrier, Miranda attempted to assemble and bake Burundian date and banana mix without waking him up. (The assembly was successful; he woke up before it finished cooking but we are still counting this as a win!)

Date and banana mix

Ingredients
220g butter, melted
1 cup sugar (we used granulated because we had some to use up and it worked fine; caster would obviously also work)
2 eggs
4 cups plain flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
4 bananas, sliced (we only used 3 because that was enough to create a layer in the tin)
1 1/2 cups chopped dates (we only used 1 cup for the same reason as above, and also because chopping dates is tedious)
2 tbsp butter, melted (we didn’t need all of this)
2 tbsp sugar (we only used 1tbsp which was plenty)
1 tbsp ground cinnamon (again, we used half this amount)

Method
1. Beat the 220g butter with the sugar.
2. Add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating the first before adding the second.
3. Mix in the flour, salt and baking powder – this will take quite a bit of stirring as it is a very dry mixture but persevere until the flour is fully mixed in.
4. Line a baking tin with greaseproof paper (the one in the recipe was 7×10″; we used tin because that’s what size we had) and spread half the dough in the pan, pressing down with your fingertips.
5. Add a layer of banana slices.
6. Add a layer of dates.
7. Cover with the remaining dough.
8. Bake at 180C for about 30 minutes until golden brown.
9. Brush the top of the cooked cake with the 2 tbsp melted butter and sprinkle with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon.
Makes 10 generous pieces

A lot of flour to mix in!
It eventually looks like this.
Sous chef.
Two of the bananas were slightly underripe; one was all manky and brown; it doesn’t seem to have made a big difference to the finished product.

It’s hard to believe that such a dry, crumbly dough could somehow turn into a cake in 30 minutes in the oven – but it did! The texture, probably unsurprisingly, is a lot like shortbread. Apparently date and banana mix is actually best served warm, which would give it more of a soft and spongy texture, but beggars can’t be choosers and frankly we were happy to have any homemade cake at all at this stage of parenthood. And for something so simple, this cake is really good! We think it’s the cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top that really makes it. With the amount of butter and sugar in it, you’d be hard pressed to get away with calling it healthy, but the bananas and dates do provide some nutritional value. And mixing in all of that flour is a workout, so we’re sure it all balances out. (That said, if you want to upset the balance a bit, we reckon this would go really nicely with some custard.)

A welcome change: Rwandan beef and banana stew

When we first started researching Rwandan dishes, it looked like we were going to end up making yet another chicken stew. The national dish is, apparently, brochettes (meat on a skewer) and we wanted something a bit more elaborate than that, but the problem was that almost all the ‘more elaborate’ recipes we could find contained plantains, and we didn’t think we had time to make a special journey to buy plantains. However, in the end, Miranda did make a quick journey into town and was able to buy some, so at the last minute we changed our minds and made beef and banana stew (although that’s a bit of a misnomer as it has plantain in it, not banana).

Beef and banana (or plantain) stew

Ingredients
500g stewing beef
3 green plantains (ours were greenish, but on their way to ripening)
1 onion, chopped
2 tsp cooking oil
2 tsp chilli flakes (we omitted these and added them at the table)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
2 tsp salt
2 beef stock cubes
Rice or ugali (cornmeal porridge), to serve

Method
1. Fry the onion and beef in a casserole dish until brown.
2. Peel the plantains and rub them with the lemon juice. Add to the dish and fry for a further 5 minutes. You will need to stir continuously so they don’t stick and burn.
3. Add the remaining ingredients along with enough water to cover all of the ingredients.
4. Cover and cook on a low heat for about 2 hours.
Serves 4-6

A blurry photo to show how frantically you need to stir to stop the plantains from sticking to the pan.

As you can see, we strayed from tradition a bit and served our stew with roast potatoes and vegetables. This was mainly in an effort to get Baby Mash to eat something and not simply declare, ‘I don’t like this dinner.’ He did at least eat the potatoes…

As for those of us whose palates like a bit more variety, we really enjoyed this! Ash commented as we were eating that this is the first dish we’ve made in ages that he’d actually make again: not only was it incredibly easy, it was also really nice. Adding fruit to a beef stew seems like a bit of a strange thing to do but the plantains added a really welcome sweetness. The beef was also incredibly tender after the long, slow cook.

One final note before we go: Baby Mash shall henceforth be known as Toddler Mash as his Baby status has been usurped by his little brother, who joined us a couple of weeks ago. The new Baby Mash obviously has a few months to go before he starts joining in on the culinary fun, but we are already assuming that he will be more adventurous with his food than his older sibling currently is!

More African chicken: Ugandan chickennat

Another day, another African chicken dish. The national dish of Uganda is actually matoke, but it’s more of a side dish than a meal: mashed and steamed plantain. We instead opted for chickennat, partly because it looked tasty (can’t go wrong with a dish based on peanut butter) and partly because it looked easy. Its USP is that it uses egg yolks to thicken the sauce, and a lot of butter – you can certainly see a French influence. We went with a recipe from Taste of Africa.

Chickennat

Ingredients
1.5kg chicken, portioned
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
100g butter
100g onion, chopped
600ml chicken stock
150ml peanut butter
2 egg yolks
6 tbsp chopped parsley
Rice, to serve

Method
1. Season the chicken pieces liberally with the salt and pepper.
2. Melt the butter in a large pan, add the chicken and onion, cover and allow to cook on the lowest possible heat, adding the stock little by little until it has all been used.
3. After about 15 minutes of cooking, take out 100ml of the stock and use this to thin the peanut butter before adding it back to the pot.
4. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
5. Take out 100ml of the stock. Allow to cool a little and then whisk in the egg yolk before returning to the pot.
6. Simmer very gently until the chicken is done.
7. Serve with rice, garnished with the parsley.

As you can see, we also served this with some vegetables to try to get some nutrition into Baby Mash (and ourselves), although from memory that plan backfired due to his tenacious tendency to hate whatever vegetable he loved the day before.

As for the dish itself, we enjoyed it – the Frenchness of the recipe made it a bit different from some of the other African dishes we’ve made recently. We also freestyled it a bit with the leftovers and turned it into a noodle stir fry kind of thing.

Roast dinner with a twist: Congolese soso ya kotumba

We mentioned that we should have made a Congolese recipe a while back, but mistakenly made one from the Democratic Republic of the Congo instead, so we said we’d just make a Congolese dish next time. However, we didn’t anticipate that finding a Congolese recipe would be such a challenge! Everything we looked at turned out to be from DR Congo instead. Eventually, after a good bit of searching, we discovered letsCOOKwithELLE and her Congolese recipes on YouTube, including a Congolese version of roast chicken (soso ya kotumba). Grandma was going to be visiting that weekend so we thought a spin on a Sunday roast sounded like a good idea.

One thing we learnt when watching the video is that there is such a thing as ‘hard chicken’. We’d never heard of this before and wondered why the recipe said to boil the chicken for an hour before roasting it – that just sounded like a recipe for overcooked chicken. Thankfully we looked it up and learnt that hard chicken is basically an old chicken that has got chewy and hard, hence the need to boil it first. If you just buy a regular chicken like we did, there’s no need to boil it first.

The recipe below is also a little approximate because the video didn’t give exact measurements for everything so feel free to adjust to taste.

Soso ya kotumba

Ingredients
1 chicken, spatchcocked and thighs scored
2 spring onions, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
2 tbsp all purpose seasoning
1 tsp ‘different all purpose seasoning’ (we didn’t know what this meant so just added another teaspoon of the normal kind)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
A few spoonfuls of tomato puree
1/2 small onion, sliced
Small thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely chopped

Method
1. Combine the all purpose seasoning, thyme, nutmeg and tomato puree and rub into the chicken.
2. Blend the onion, red pepper, spring onions and ginger with a splash of water and rub all over the chicken.
3. Put the chicken in an oven dish skin side down and cook at 180C for 30 minutes.
4. Turn the chicken over and cook for another 25 minutes.
5. Serve with rice (or roast potatoes like we did) and mixed vegetables.
Serves 4 with some leftovers

Not a level of tidiness to aspire to

It’s probably fairly easy to imagine what this chicken tasted like: a particularly flavoursome version of a roast chicken. It is, however, worth mentioning that all purpose seasoning is rather spicy! For Ash and Miranda, that isn’t a problem, but Baby Mash and Grandma are not fans of spicy food so we did have a momentary panic! Fortunately the spiciness only really permeated the skin so if we took the skin off it was fine for all palates.

An unexpected bonus of eating this dish was that if we put the spicy sauce on the roast potatoes and added a bit of mayonnaise, it tasted just like Spanish patatas bravas. Nothing to do with the Congo, of course, but that didn’t stop it from being delicious. Many roast potatoes were consumed after we made that discovery!