It's all about the hot peppers ...
... and of course, the fish
... and of course, the fish
When Casey of Eating, Gardening, and Living in Bulgaria challenged food bloggers to cook an African dish to highlight the incredible culinary diversity of the continent in honor of World Africa Day, I was eager to participate. After all, African cuisine - particularly the hot and spicy variety - is one of my very favorite things in the world. (I have the sweat-inducing and curiously addicting West African pepper soup at Sumah's carryout in Washington, DC to thank for it. )
Of course, saying "African cuisine" is a gross oversimplification. Each region and country has its own signature ingredients, spices, and cooking techniques. Ethiopian, Senegalese, Tunisian, Ghanaian, Kenyan, South African - these cuisines, and many more I didn't list, are as different from one another as French is from Viennese. I hope that more and more people begin to discover the depth and breadth of flavors this continent has to offer.I chose to make mtuza wa samaki, a curried Kenyan fish dish that was one of the first African recipes I ever tried at home. I found it on Celt Net, an incredible recipe source. I urge you to also check out the Congo Cookbook, another site I have consulted frequently.
What I love about Kenyan food is that you can often see both African and South Asian influences at work in the same dish. Black eyed peas may swim in coconut milk, as in m'baazi, or, as with maharagwe, turmeric, red beans, hot peppers, and coconut milk all coexist harmoniously in the same bowl.
The broth in mtuza wa samaki has hot peppers, loads of onion, tomatoes, white vinegar - and cumin and coriander, the South Asian touch. The fish essentially poaches in a hot peppery broth, emerging perfectly moist with an enduring, pleasant heat. I added a West African element, in that I used a combination of palm and peanut oils to fry the onion, which added yet another layer of flavor.
Mtuza Wa Samaki, for World Africa Day
adapted from Celt Net
1 pound of firm white fish - I used MSC certified sustainable halibut.
2 tbsp red palm oil
2 tbsp peanut oil
3 large onions, sliced (2 were sufficient)
2-3 habanero or Scotch bonnet peppers, pounded to a paste (I removed the seeds, if you leave them in you will increase the heat dramatically)
3 garlic cloves
4 medium fresh tomatoes, or 6 canned plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
120 ml white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp sea salt
Fry the onions in the oils until just transparent:
That yellow color is from the palm oil. Chop the hot peppers (bye, bye seeds!):
Pound the hot peppers:
To accompany my fish, I went a little crazy and prepared a bit of a feast. First I made a mountain of moyin-moyin, West African black-eyed pea cakes. (Leftover sauce from the fish tastes really good on this!) You can find the recipe at the Congo Cookbook:
I also made kelewele, a spicy Ghanaian fried plantain. I didn't get a good shot - we were too hungry - but I've made it before, so here's a photo from a previous post:
If you haven't already, I hope this has inspired you to go discover African cuisine for yourself!