In which I talk to Nozi, in Zimbabwe, about the food that she grew up with… and you can see below some examples of recipes that she sent to me.
Examples of Zimbabwe food:
When you have friends coming over for dinner, it makes sense to experiment on them with recipes from a book called Sharing Plates (sent to me by the publisher, Murdoch Books, at no cost; discussion of the book itself).
Rosemary popovers: these are in the Bread section of the book. You make a batter of flour, eggs, milk and rosemary, and then pour it into a muffin pan to bake. These were ok; they popped right out of the muffin holes (maybe mine were deeper than the 60mL specified in the recipe), which was amusing. I found them a bit too eggy to really enjoy like a bread roll, which is what I was assuming they would be like. The recipe calls for it to be served with seaweed butter (adding dried seaweed); I neither have easy access to an Asian grocery nor the inclination to try seaweed this way at home. I put thyme into some butter instead, which is still in keeping with the book as it does say you’re allowed to experiment with other herbs. I made 8, so they certainly count as ‘sharing’ food.
Salad of roasted pumpkin, chorizo, chickpeas, quinoa and blue cheese: from the Snacks and Salads section. I’ll be upfront and say I am made a few alterations to this. I don’t like blue cheese so I used a very good Persian feta instead; I left out the roast capsicum because I couldn’t be bothered; and I didn’t make/use the cabernet sauvignon dressing because I thought the chorizo left enough oil to dress the quinoa, and the chorizo and seasoned pumpkin and feta together all seemed to add enough zing. I did like the combination here of using quinoa and a few chickpeas with the chorizo and roasted pumpkin; the walnuts on top added a good crunch, and the preserved lemon a piquant tang. In the past I have made similar salads with couscous; I think quinoa is a bit lighter, and I’ll tend towards it from now on (remembering to not let it burn in the pot…). I guess salad counts as a sharing food?
Chermoula lamb: I wanted to use the salad, above, so I mixed n matched with the Chermoula lamb with pumpkin couscous, from the Meat section. Perhaps you can buy chermoula somewhere in Australia as a marinade, but I’ve not noticed it. I assume this because the ingredients list says “30g chermoula; 6x80g lamb loins…”. I’ve used chermoula before so I was happy to go make it, but I was really surprised to see if referenced here as something you would just buy. The chermoula/lamb combo was fine. To be honest I don’t really see how this counts as a ‘sharing plate’ since there’s nothing more ‘sharing’ about this than with any other recipe that serves 4-6 people.
Bounty bars: from the Sweets section. I was pretty excited about making these – the ingredients are straightforward (butter, sugar, condensed milk (!!), coconut, chocolate) and I love a Bounty. And yes, they were very tasty, and of course licking the bowls was lovely. However the instruction that “Using two forks, dip a bar into the melted chocolate and roll to coat all sides. Use one fork to remove the bar from the chocolate and the other to wipe off the excess chocolate” (p213) is deceptive. That process was far more difficult than implied: the bars had been in the freezer, to solidify, so the chocolate just stuck to them really quickly – removing excess was hard. And just getting them into and out of the chocolate was a process. Perhaps I need to use a wider-mouthed bowl, but that’s not specified in the instructions. In the end, because of how annoying the process was and because of just how much chocolate was ending up on each bar, I gave up on covering the whole thing and went with fairly serious drizzling instead. This was far easier and still, I think, deposited a good amount of chocolate on the bar. Having learnt this trick I would be happy to make these again. I did indeed make the 15 suggested by the recipe… they do count as a ‘sharing’ plate in that respect, although given that they are meant to last for a week in an airtight container, you could just as easily not share them…
At other times…
Sumac-spiced pork and vela meatballs with fontina mash: the meatballs were great, although I couldn’t pick up the sumac, which was sad and perhaps not surprising since you put in the same amount of ground coriander, and then some allspice, paprika, and pepper as well. The recipe calls for you to have bacon in the mix, which I think is intriguing, as well as pork back fat… which I couldn’t find, so I just left it out. Not sure what difference it would have made, of course; perhaps smoother texture? I thought they were fine, anyway. The tomato sauce had anchovy in it, which I like for the salt and umami flavour. The potato mash was intriguing – milk, cream, butter, parmesan, and fontina. I did not add cream, because I don’t tend to have it just sitting around, but I did go out and buy some fontina specifically. Fontina is not a cheese I would willingly eat, being much stinkier than I enjoy… but I was intrigued by its addition to the mash, and I quite liked it. Having said that, I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to source fontina for future mash: it’s not that easy to find, and it’s not particularly cheap, either. I’d be happy with either more buttery mash, or adding parmesan. The meatballs and the tomato sauce were very nice. Once again, unconvinced that this really deserves the moniker ‘sharing plate’; yes you can share it, yes it would be a nice cosy dinner party meal, but… it’s not something other than that.
Lamb empanadas: certainly count as sharing plates, and these were delightful. However, the info bar at the top said it made 10 empanadas; the ingredients list specifies 4 sheets of puff pastry; and the instructions say to use a coffee mug or glass to cut “10 rounds from each sheet”…
Things I haven’t cooked but give a sense of what the book is like: the first recipe is Quail eggs benedict with chilli kale on mini muffins; the final recipe is Soft Swiss meringue with berries and almond anglaise (actually the very last recipe, in the Basics section, is Wasabi Dressing).
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Allen&Unwin, at no cost. The RRP is $39.99 and it’s available from today (May 25).
Recipes I’ve tried
Potato and celery salad with celery leaf pesto
My darling isn’t a huge fan of basil pesto, as a rule, so I was curious to see how he felt about this one. It’s made with the inner celery leaves (the yellowy ones), parsley, capers, pine nuts and pecorino (I used parmesan) plus the other normal pesto bits. And the answer was that he really liked it – as did I. It’s a lot subtler than basil pesto (which I do love), but still very tasty. This recipe puts the pesto with boiled potatoes and inner celery stems. I served it with those and chicken, and ate the leftover chicken with leftover pesto the next day. Very nice.
Baked spicy cauliflower, chickpeas and fresh dates
First change: no fresh dates, so used dried ones. Anyway – cauliflower with cumin and coriander and garam masala, baked; always lovely. Cook onion and add chickpeas, then throw those on top of the cauli and add the tahini which you’ve mixed with orange juice and zest and a bit of sweet. I served this by itself but would definitely make it again to serve with other salads. Very tasty and I enjoyed the mouthfeel of cauli with tahini. I suspect this may become a favourite pairing.
Pocket pie: moroccan-spiced pumpkin, silver beet and goat’s cheese
Look, it’s fair to say that this recipe caused some anguish. This is probably largely on me, because Blereau’s recipe calls for shortcrust pastry to be made from spelt and barley flour, but the two places I tried – the supermarket (I live in a hipster and immigrant area, so it’s not that ridiculous) and a bulk-food place – did not have barley flour. So I subbed in ordinary flour. I did not do the research into whether or how barley flour deals differently with butter compared with ordinary flour. The pastry was very short and I found it very difficult to deal with. There might have been some shouting. Still, with the soothing hands of my beloved we did end up making them, and they were tasty enough; it seemed like a lot of butter, because they went very crispy. The filling was ok – roasted pumpkin with coriander, cumin, and fennel.
Split pea, fennel and winter vegetable soup
Again, neither of the places I checked had green split peas. The supermarket had a spot for them, but they were out of stock. So I used a normal soup mix. This is a very nice soup but it’s not anything out of the ordinary.
Creamy fresh corn polenta with refried black beans
I think I’ve made polenta maybe once, and that was to cut it up into squares and bake it (which was nice). This recipe recommends cooking the polenta in a fatty stock, and I realised that I had a lamb ‘stock’ in the freezer from ages ago – I think it was liquid I drained off some dish and couldn’t bear to throw. So I used that to cook the polenta, and it was delicious. The refried black beans were also really nice, with capsicum and coriander and a little too much chilli for my tastes (c/ beloved being a little heavy handed). We didn’t add the corn to this because we’re not huge fans; I didn’t think the dish suffered for its lack.
I ignored most of the section on ‘basics’, like using kefir grains in… stuff… and preparing and cooking beans, lentils, and grains.
The book itself
It’s a well presented book, as you’d expect from Allen&Unwin; it’s one of those big cookbooks, with what feels like a solid spine, and generally appetising photos throughout. Each recipe has dietary info about whether it’s dairy or gluten free, vego or vegan, and other allergy stuff. However the recipes, while nicely set out on the page, sacrifice font size in favour of white space, which makes reading from a distance something of a struggle – not great from the other side of the stove.
I have two main issues with the book. One is perhaps obvious from comments above: there are ingredients in here that were not easy for me to find. I do not know what kombucha or kefir grains are, nor where to find them. I live near the city, in a hipster area. Probably I could find these things, and I know I could find them online, but the point remains that this is not an easy, automatic book to cook from – and that’s not acknowledged anywhere, as far as I could find. Connected to this is the reality that this is not a book for the economically poor, nor the time poor. This is not necessarily a problem, if you’re buying for yourself and willing to put in the time and money, but it is something that should be acknowledged. Blereau is all in for pre-soaking beans and grains and then cooking for however long, so you need to be prepared for that if you want to follow the recipes precisely. And of course being prepared for the time it takes to make cultured cream and so on with your kefir grains.
And then there’s the wholefoods thing. I am not on the wholefoods bandwagon. I am all in favour of cooking food from scratch if you have the time, I understand some of the issues with overly processed stuff, and so on. But when I read the introduction to this book, I ended up getting out a pencil and making annotations in the margins because I got annoyed with it. For instance, there’s the suggestion that industrialisation of food in Australia started in the 1960s and 1970s, and grossly generalised statements about ‘traditional cultures’ that enjoy ‘good health and happiness’ all understanding that our physical bodies are ‘formed of and governed by the forces of nature’… whatever that means. And then there’s her suggestion that she grew up with a ‘strong, intact food culture’ and that many people today are ‘without a strong grasp of food culture.’ Maybe ‘food culture’ means something really specific that I’m not aware of, but I think that is bordering on offensive. (Do not get me started on the idea that herbicides and fungicides are ‘derivative of nerve gases left over after the early wars’ – my note in the margin says “what, Persians? Assyrians?”)
In the end, I think that this book has some interesting recipes in it, but if you’re not completely on board with wholefoods you might find it more annoying than not. That said, if you ARE into wholefoods (which is totally fine I would just rather have a more scientific discussion about it), this may well be the book for you, especially if you’re just starting out and are interested in exploring different sorts of grains and how to actually use them in meals.
It’s available from Fishpond.
I’d been wanting this book for quite a long time when I finally saw it on sale and cracked. I like that it doesn’t just have the standard ‘Middle Eastern’ countries that I think Anglo-Australians think of when they think of food; it’s got Armenia, The Gulf States, Yemen…. So my thought was to try and do a week or two of mostly cooking from on country. Obviously that’s going to be harder or easier depending on season, as to what we feel like; and some ingredient will make things hard. But I figure it’s a good way to try new things and make my way through bits of the book.
So my first foray was into Cyprus. It’s not the first country in the book – that’s Greece – but I thought starting with Greek was cheating because I already know at least some Greek food.
The very first recipe is for haloumi. I am intrigued by the idea of making haloumi but I can’t imagine every actually doing it. Unless I hit some holidays and I get really adventurous… which may well happen, not going to lie.
I also don’t think I will be marinating or frying brains (appetisers). Yes, I happily own to being a culinary coward.
Page-wise, the first recipe I tried was the Kolketes (pumpkin pies; appetiser). This was a bit harder than I had expected. Making the filling of pumpkin and bulgur and spices was a cinch. But the pastry wasn’t nearly as easy to deal with as I had expected, and I got a bit frustrated. This was compounded by the instruction to roll the dough out “about the thickness of a normal pie crust” which is not at all useful if you’re not accustomed to making pie crusts. As I am not. So I just had to guess. Ultimately I managed to make the pies; they were quite tasty. However the pastry has made me leary of trying them again.
Next was haloumi bread. Yes yes yes and yes. I can also imagine just making the Kouloura bread dough by itself.
Further on we hit vegetables, and I made Yemista – stuffed vegetables. I can’t quite imagine stuffing eggplants and my love isn’t a huge fan, so I just went with tomatoes and capsicum. I’d seen some American cooking show where the woman did ‘deconstructed’ stuffed capsicums – don’t worry, she was being sly about and knew this was entirely the cheat’s way of making them – and I had every intention of making the filling (mince, rice, tomato) and then piling the capsicum and tomato on top or something. But in the end I actually properly stuffed them (and how organised is this, I made that bit the day before and just had to cook them the next day for dinner!). They were quite tasty, although I think either the stuffing or the sauce (which was a very basic tomato sauce) needed something a bit richer. Possibly just more tomato.
Then there’s Afelia, which is apparently anything with cracked coriander seeds. I made mushrooms with coriander – fry them off, add some red wine, add coriander – and given I love coriander in all its forms I liked it. I would have liked more ideas in this section about what sort of food it should accompany, though. I also made the pork version, which was quite a Moment for me since I’m not sure I’ve personally cooked pork more than… once before? Basically it just tasted like coriander, though; I didn’t think the pork came through at all. Maybe that’s just pork.
Finally, fish: Psari Savoro (fish with rosemary and vinegar). I used Australian rockling. We went through a bit of a fish phase a few years ago but haven’t been back in ages; I’ve just not found a convenient and good fishmonger. There’s apparently one a bit north of where we are, though, that I’ll have to try – I think this cookbook is likely to have some good seafood recipes. Anyway: salting the fish was an intriguing suggestion, and then coating with flour of course made it crisp up a bit and leave flour to thicken the sauce. My love cooked the fish and did it very well. The sauce was made up of garlic, rosemary, vinegar (we used cider instead of brown) and white wine. It thickened up heaps more than I expected, and was basically tasty although too heavy on the vinegar for my taste. One I will quite likely be revisiting.
Starting with Cyrpus was an … interesting choice. It wasn’t an overwhelming success – I didn’t love everything – but there wasn’t anything that I hated the taste of. I’ll be a bit more cautious as I go further into the book as I’ve not always found Mallos’ instructions to be as straightforward as I’d like. With both the pork and the fish, she says to fry until ‘just cooked through’ – but no instructions about what that looks like. It’s surely not hard to say ‘until the pork is white through’ or ‘until the fish is white and flakes’? Even expert cooks aren’t going to get annoyed by a few extra words, are they?
None of these were particularly photogenic, hence the lack of pics.
I loathe shopping, including for food. So I am indeed one of those people who get fruit and veg delivered to the door – and meat as well. The meat I pick for myself; the fruit and veg just come in a box, and I’m never sure what is going to turn up. This week: an entire Queensland Blue pumpkin.
Oh the decisions.
Pumpkin soup was obvious… and would have been enormous. So I went looking, and in Moorish
I came across one for a tagine of pumpkin, eggplant and whole green chillies. The sauce simmered away for about an hour – tomato and onion and garlic and a small mountain of caraway, cumin and coriander – while the pumpkin baked and the zucchini and eggplant were lightly fried. The pumpkin I overcooked so it ended up more like a puree by the time I stirred it through the sauce, but it was utterly delicious. The darling was a little disconsolate about eating nothing but vegetables for dinner, but since he also got to eat the last of the flat bread I made the other week (taken out of the freezer and reheated in the pan, just like it was cooked), he wasn’t really complaining.
Of course, that only used about a third of the pumpkin. So I also made soup, with a rather large helping of ginger (from the fruit and veg box). It made quite a lot… . My freezer is now well and truly stocked.
Thank you, punkin. You served well.