Sunday, December 23, 2012


Amidst picking my kids up from my parents from staying overnight, trying to battle crowds of morons to finish up my Christmas shopping to actually wrapping all these gifts, I did manage to find time to do a little cooking this weekend. And not just any cooking: food from Botswana.

At the end of the 2nd episode in “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,” Mma Makutsi mentioned making seswaa. Seswaa is slow-cooked beef brisket. I did find beef brisket, which is a tough cut of meat just below the shoulder; however, it was a little more than I wanted to pay for. They had two: one was $16 and the other was $20. So, I went with a slightly cheaper cut on meat, a top round cut. I know it has a different taste and different fat content, but it was still really good (I retained some of the juices to keep it from drying out too much). The meat was slow-cooked for 2 ½ hours in a pot with very few ingredients: some chopped onions and black pepper. After that time, I took the meat out and pounded it down. I don’t have a pestle (I asked for one for Christmas, so maybe I should’ve waited a couple of days to make this meal), so I used a potato masher instead, and it did the job. I did add a little salt at the end – it reminded me of pot roast my mother used to make. It's not beautiful in a picture, but my stomach though it was. Perfect for a cold winter’s night.

I wish you could smell this picture, like you can in Harry Potter. It certainly made my kitchen smell good. 

I made what’s called ugali; basically it’s pouring cornmeal into boiling water. It was supposed to be the consistency of really thick mashed potatoes, but mine got really dry and crumbly. I did add 2 tablespoons of butter and a little garlic powder. I don’t know if the garlic powder is truly Botswanan, but it certainly was really good. Crumbles and all.

Crumbly ugali. 
The vegetable dish I made is called Botswana cabbage.  It starts out sautéing tomatoes and onions, then adding in some ginger, oregano, thyme, and I added some green chilies, and of course, cabbage. I added water and let it simmer. However, I really should’ve been checking on it a little better because the bottom got a little burnt when the water cooked off. And I think my recipe might have had a typo, because it called for a lot of oregano, much more than mixed well with the other spices. Overall, it had potential of being really tasty, if I hadn’t have messed it up.

Cabbage and tomatoes and all sorts of bits of (burnt) pieces.
Finally, this is one meal where I broke tradition and left the bread for last. Called magwinya, or fat cakes, it starts out as a dough of flour, sugar, yeast and salt and worked it until it was smooth and rests for a half hour. Afterwards, I made small balls of dough and fried it. The recipe said it was similar to Yorkshire puddings, but I thought it was closer to fried biscuits that you find in the southern US. (And if you think about it, there is definitely a link between the two areas; however, this particular one may be more of an influence from the British, seeing how I’m not sure how much grains were actually harvested and ground before their arrival; they tend to use more root vegetables and tubers. But it’s not like they didn’t have access to buying flour, I suppose. I will have to check on this though. Please, if you know, leave a comment and let me know the origin on magwinya and whether or not it is related to southern fried biscuits or not.) And of course, I thought I had vegetable oil but apparently I didn’t, so I had to use olive oil. But they turned out really well. I never followed up to see what they put on it, so I put butter and strawberry jam. Needless to say, there are no leftovers.

Because "fat cakes" were exactly what I need when we're in Christmas cookie season. 

We are at the peak of the Christmas season and the end of the year, which makes me reflect on what’s really important in my life. I think this meal somewhat represents life in general. There are core things that make up the bulk of the meal – that part that fills you up – which is the seswaa and ugali. Then there is the part of life that doesn’t turn out the way you planned, but you really strive to still make it the best it can be: the cabbage. And of course there are the sweet moments – the fat cakes with strawberry jam – that makes everything worth waiting for, the things that memories are made of, and reminds you there is still good in the world, often of few ingredients. And of course, it’s all best enjoyed with the ones you love. It seemed like such a fitting meal seeing how Kwanzaa starts this week. Happy holidays, everyone!

The final product; Or, a visual representation of my life. 

Up next: Brazil 

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