Lets make Ema Datshi

Chillies and cheese

Bhutan is a country that loves its Chillies. Indeed, the average family in this small landlocked country between India and China eats more than a kilogram of Chillies per week. Just about every dish they prepare has Chillies of some form or the other in it.  Because Chillies in Bhutan are seen more as a vegetable than a spice, the typical type of Chilli used in this cooking is not exceptionally hot. They fall into a mild to medium heat range. These include Chillies like the Sha Ema, Baegop Ema, Ema Mapa, Super Solu, Yangtsepa Ema and the Urka Bangla Chilli

But that is not to say that the Chillies they eat are not hot. One of the hottest The Dalle Khursani or Jyanmaara Khursani carries two names for good reason. It has the name of Dalle Khursani (which translates to round ball) because this describes the shape of these Chillies. The Chillies second name of Jyanmaara Khursani translates to “Lifetaker” Chillies. It carries this name because it is extremely hot, with a Scoville rating of 100000 to 350000 Shu

While Bhutan has many dishes that contain Chillies, Ema Datchi (Bhutan’s national dish), is a Chilli stew made with cheese and Chillies. Ema means Chilli, and the Datshi part of the name refers to the type of cheese used to make the dish. Datshi is a type of cheese made using female yak  or cow’s milk. The cheese is similar in appearance to ricotta, and its flavour is somewhere between feta and Gruyere cheese

Bhutan’s national dish intrigues me so much that I have decided to make it. Of course, it is unlikely that I will find the exact Chillies they use in Bhutan or Datshi cheese to make this dish, so I will have to make substitutions. However, I am relatively sure I will get close. It is certainly worth a bash

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Chillies and Spuds

Closer than you think

Not many people will know that Chillies and spuds  have a lot in common. Not only will you find them together in some of the world’s finest cooking, but they both originally come from the same part of the world and also belong to the same biological family.

Both Chillies and potatoes originated in a region that shares modern-day southern Peru, and the extreme north-western part of Bolivia. If that’s not amazing enough, consider this. They both belong to the Solanaceae family, a classification they share with aubergines, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.

That in itself is intriguing, but what is even more fascinating is that both Chillies and spuds  were among the first-ever domesticated vegetables in Peru. They were cultivated there as early as 10000 years ago. This means they have been found together in cooking for thousands of years

Archaeologically verified evidence dating back to 2500 BC was found in a coastal site in Ancón, Central Peru, that potatoes were already being eaten at that time. The earliest archaeological evidence of Chillies being consumed was found in the Guitarrero Cave  in Peru. This evidence links Chillies being eaten as early as 8,500 BCE. This is not to say that Chillies were cultivated before potatoes . It is simply that potatoes’ do not preserve well. This has made finding earlier proof of their use for archaeological purposes more difficult

Today, it is difficult to imagine cooking without Chilles or spuds, but there was a time (not so long ago) when they were unknown outside of South America.  It took Christopher Columbus to bring  the first Chillies back the old world in 1492, after he found them in the West Indies. It would take another fifty-eight years before spuds appeared on the scene.


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History of hot sauce in the UK

Where it all began

Just about everybody loves a Bloody Mary. There are a few versions of how this spicy cocktail came about, but it was most likely created in New York City in 1934 by a bartender named Fernand Petiot. Whether he used Tabasco® hot sauce to create Bloody Marys is a matter of speculation. However, in its original form, the cocktail certainly contained cayenne pepper and black pepper. Thus, once Bloody Marys started becoming popular, it is not hard to imagine bar staff using Tabasco®. to make them. Tabasco® had already been available in the United States at that time for well over sixty years

Bloody Marys almost certainly would have found their way to the United Kingdom after becoming popular in the USA. After all, the British travelled (whether as businesspeople or tourists) to the United States all the time. It is probable these visitors would have brought the recipe back to the UK. If they had (and they almost certainly did), they wouldn’t have needed to look hard to find Tabasco®. It was already here. Tabasco® had already been in the United Kingdom for some time. It had arrived in England in 1874

Now, that is a sobering thought (if you will excuse the pun). For Tabasco to be already here must have meant it had a following. How was it that a country known for bland food felt it needed a hot sauce as part of its cuisine?

The probable answer is that chefs had introduced it as a subtle way of adding flavour to sauces.  Whether this is accurate is unclear. But, be it as it may, the popularity of the Bloody Mary would soon mean that Tabasco would find another home. It would become part of a cocktail cabinet of the dinner party set and in UK cocktail bars. . The start of the history of hot sauces in the United Kingdom had begun.

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Lets make a Durban curry.

 A definite must have

Anyone who visits Durban in South Africa must try a Durban curry. It is one of those delights in South African cuisine that should not be missed.  When you eat this tender lamb curry, you will know that you are in paradise. It is comfort food of the highest order, and is hard to beat.

In South Africa, it is usually eaten with rice, chutney and sambals with a knife and fork. It may also be scooped onto a roti and eaten by hand.  Another way to eat it is as a Bunny Chow.  A Bunny Chow is made by removing the soft bread out of a quarter loaf of white bread, and then filling the hollowed-out crust with the curry. A Bunny Chow is eaten by initially dipping the soft bread into the curry in the crust, and is finished off by eating the crust itself, which by then has become infused with curry sauce.  It is simply heavenly

Just thinking about this brought back memories of my childhood in Pinetown, just outside Durban. On a Saturday, my father would take a whole afternoon to make his special Durban curry. It was based on a recipe given to him by a South African Indian friend. It was certainly something he valued. It was as authentic as it got

To keep up the tradition, I made my dad’s Durban curry this Saturday afternoon, the way I remember him making it . I too took my time and made sure everything was done right. Each ingredient was slowly added at the right time, and I allowed enough time to ensure the curry was tender, spicy and mouthwateringly delicious.

It is not at all hard to do. Simply follow each step I took to make it, and you will never look back. Your best curry house curry will never be the same. It will just not meet the grade anymore. This will become your new favourite

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Lets make Brazilian Feijoada

Friday is Feijoada day

Feijoada is Brazil’s national dish. While there are many variations, it generally always contains beans and various meats cooked with spices, onions, garlic and oranges.  Chillies are added in some of these recipes, but if not, hot sauce is never far away when this dish is being served.

On Fridays, virtually every establishment that serves food in cities like Rio de Janeiro makes Feijoada. Be it a cheap pub or the most expensive restaurant, Feijoada will be on the menu. In Rio de Janeiro, Friday is Feijoada day.

I became a fan of Feijoada when I first tasted it in a Portuguese bar in Capetown, South Africa. That version was made with white cannellini beans, whereas  traditional Feijoada in Brazil is made with black beans. Regardless of this difference, the flavour was still to die for. It was comfort food of the highest order that I will never forget.  So much so, that given the opportunity, I will make Feijoada at the drop of a hat.

Indeed. So, when I recently came across a recipe for a traditional Brazilian Feijoada, I didn’t need any encouragement. I was so impressed by the recipe that I decided to make it. Nothing was going to stand in the way of making this dish.

Before doing that, however, I needed to order some ingredients. They are ingredients that might be available in any Portuguese kitchen, but they certainly are not things I had in my larder. I am talking about ingredients like Paio sausages (a smoked Brazilian sausage made with pork loin and seasoned with garlic, salt, and Chillies)  , corned beef (as a substitute to carne seca),  the black beans themselves and Linquica sausages 

Over and above these ingredients, I also needed smoked gammon, brisket (to make corned beef), a smoked ham hock, chives, parsley, onions, garlic, oranges, Chillies, pork belly, pork ribs, some olive oil and various herbs and spices.

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Mauritian fusion food

An island nation

Mauritius is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, about 2,000 kilometres off the southeast coast of Africa. It includes the main island (Mauritius), as well as the smaller Rodrigues, Agaléga and St. Brandon islands. The country’s population is composed predominantly of people with European (mainly French), Indian, African, Chinese, and Creole descent. At present, the country’s population is about 1270000 people.

Whenever there is a mixing of cultures, it is inevitable that the food that people eat will change.  Local cuisine gets influenced by the ingredients and cooking styles of the other cultures. So, instead of cuisine staying close to its roots, it becomes fusion food.

And this precisely happened in Mauritius.  Before long, what perhaps may have started as a French dish, after being adapted with Indian influences, and maybe a hint of the African way of cooking would  have become something else.  A good example of this is Mauritian Daube .  Similarly, Chinese cooking started taking on a Mauritian nuance. A typical example of this is Bol Renversé. (a rice stir fry). With all this diversity, Mauritian cuisine started developing a shape and character of its own. It was no longer French, Indian, African or Chinese cooking. It had become Mauritian fusion food

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Lets make jerk chicken

Let’s make Jerk chicken

This jerk chicken recipe is made in three stages. The first stage is brining the chicken. For the brining, I will need a large chicken, one Scotch bonnet Chilli, a big piece of root ginger, a tablespoon of pimento berries (allspice), a medium head of garlic, a quarter cup of brown sugar, enough water to cover the chicken, and one tablespoon of salt flakes for every cup of water used. I wanted my brine to contain six to seven percent of salt in total.

First, I cut the chicken into pieces and placed the pieces into a pot. I then added water by the cup until I had added enough water to cover the chicken completely. I then removed the chicken from the water and placed it in a glass dish. I placed the chicken in the refrigerator and discarded the water

In a new pot, I added four cups of fresh water into a pot (this was the amount of water it had taken to cover the chicken).   I then added four tablespoons of salt flakes. To this, I added the pimento, ginger and head of garlic. (I had previously cut these in half without peeling them.) Next, I added the sugar and the Scotch bonnet, which I had also cut in half

I slowly brought the brine to a simmer, stirring all the time until the salt and sugar had completely dissolved. I then took the brine off the heat and let it cool down.  I then added some ice cubes to the glass container the chicken was in, and poured the brine over the chicken. The reason for adding the ice was to make sure that brine was cold enough.  This is an essential step, otherwise food safety could have been jeopardised

After covering the dish with cling film, I placed the brining chicken in the refrigerator.  I left the chicken in the brine for twenty-four hours. It would have benefited if I had left it in the fridge  for longer (i.e., up to forty-eight hours). During this time, the meat absorbed the flavours of the aromatics, the pimento berries and the salt and sugar.

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Lets make Jollof rice

A common thread

Jollof rice is found in many countries in West Africa. The dish is a chord that runs throughout the regions cooking, with versions found in Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, Gambia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, and Liberia.  Particularly in Ghana and Nigeria, Jollof rice is considered a national dish to be proud of.  Both countries consider their Jollof rice as the best in the West. So much so that there is great rivalry between chefs in these countries to prove who takes top spot.  Even though the subject has been hotly debated, there has never been unanimity on who the crown should go to.   Neither side is prepared to budge. To both Ghanaians and Nigerians, their own versions of Jollof rice are unbeatable

The primary difference between Ghanaian and Nigerian Jollof rice is the type of rice they use to make it.

In Nigeria, parboiled long grain rice is used. On the other hand, basmati rice (also known as Thai Jasmine rice) is used in Ghana. The basmati rice has more starch than the rice the Nigerians use.  The basmati rice also has a characteristic aromatic spell

The different ways of preparing these rices for this dish leads to another difference between the two Jollof rices. In Ghana, the rice is not parboiled. Doing so would make the rice soggy. Instead, the Ghanaians first rinse the rice and then cook it in stock, and the tomato stew that forms the base of their dish. The Nigerians parboil the rice and then rinse it water before making their version of the dish.

Another difference is in the spiciness of the dishes. Ghanaian Jollof rice is spicier than Nigeria’s . The Ghanaians use Scotch bonnets, Chilli powder and Shito (an oily hot sauce made with Scotch bonnet Chillies, dried fish and crustaceans, garlic, and tomatoes) to spice their Jollof rice. The Nigerians however use bay leaves as a key ingredient (together with Scotch bonnet Chillies) to add pungency and spiciness to their version of the dish.

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A recipe for seafood gumbo


The origins of gumbo

Gumbo is a dish that it so closely assimilated with Louisiana in the American South that it is difficult to imagine it originally came from Africa.  However, it is closely related. Indeed, it even gets its name from ki-ngombo or ochinggômbo, West African words for Okra

In its original form, Gumbo would have been made from Okra by African slaves. Okra (or ladies’ fingers as it is known in many European countries) is a vegetable the ensalved people brought with them from West Africa.  It is an edible green pod with mucilaginous properties. These means it can be used to provide a vegetable element to dishes, but also to thicken them

The enslaved people would have used Okra to make one pot stews.  This was a method of cooking they used in Africa. They may have made Gumbos with or without meat or seafood, but one ingredient was certainly not going to be left out. That ingredient was of course Chillies. Gumbo just wouldn’t have been Gumbo without them!

While the original Gumbo dish may have come from Africa, the dish is fact fusion food. Besides its West African origin, it has French, Spanish, Caribbean, and even Italian influences. Consequently, there is no one all inclusive version of Gumbo.  It depends on the availability of ingredients and the region the Gumbo comes from. Areas closer to the coast traditionally have their Gumbos containing seafood like prawns, oysters and fish, while in areas more inland, Gumbos will be made with chicken and sausage.

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Chillies. The connection with Africa

African influence on other cuisine

Many people might not associate Chillies with Africa. In fact, Chillies and Africa are irrevocably linked through the history of the continent, its people, and the type of cuisine eaten there. From South Africa, right through into Central Africa, East, and West Africa, you will find Chillies being used in everyday cooking. Be it curries in Durban, South Africa, Rolexes in Uganda or Frango Piri- Piri in Angola, Chillies can be found in Africa in all their glory

One particularly unpleasant part of the continent’s history resulted in the Africans’ love of Chillies spreading far beyond its borders. This was a consequence of the slave trade. During this awful era, millions of Africans were forcibly removed from their homelands and coerced into working as slaves. They were transported from Africa by sea (or by crossing the Sahara desert  to North Africa) and then on to Europe, the Caribbean, the USA, and South America.

In the Caribbean and South America, slavery would probably have meant working as labourers on sugar cane plantations. In the American South, it could have involved toiling in the fields of tobacco farmers, working in rice plantations, harvesting cotton or as domestic servants. In Europe, the enslaved people would have been put to work as domestic servants, cooks, or labourers in agriculture.

The Portuguese were one of the first to participate in the slave trade in Africa, but the English, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Danish soon followed them. These slave traders kidnapped their slaves mainly from West African countries, like the modern-day Senegal and Benin, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Angola, and then sold to work as unpaid labourers at the beck and call of their masters

The influence these enslaved people had on the cuisines of the countries they were sent to is truly amazing. It is a powerful legacy from that terrible time that is thankfully here to stay. Dishes like Jerk pork from Jamaica, Feijoada from Brazil, and barbequed hog from the American South all carry the hallmarks of cuisine that has its origin in the cooking of enslaved peslaves from Africa. And what fine cooking this is!

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