Sunday, September 6, 2015


So, it’s Labor Day weekend. What’s weird about Labor Day is that most countries celebrate Labor Day on May 1 based on an incident that happened in the US (the Haymarket Affair). However, the US (and Canada, I think) celebrates Labor Day on the first Monday in September after a labor march held in Canada around this time. And this year we’re cooking food from Kenya on our long weekend. 

My son, Jabari, waiting for the coconut mandazi to cool. Pretty sure he's just waiting for me to turn my back.
I started today’s cooking adventure with making coconut mandazi (sometimes called mahamri). Mandazi are like doughnuts, typically not made with coconut milk, but this is a variation recipe that calls for it. First I added 3 c of flour into my bowl, then a packet of yeast, 7 Tbsp of sugar, and 1 tsp of ground cardamom. I poured about ¾ c of coconut milk into the flour mixture a little at a time until it was soft. I found I had to add about another ½ c or so to get it to the right consistency. I kneaded it for 10-15 minutes, which doesn’t seem like a long time if I’m reading a good book, but feels like it’s at least three days if I’m kneading dough. Once it’s been kneaded enough, I divided it into two balls and let rise. It didn’t specifically say, but I let it sit for about a half hour.  When it was ready, I divided each ball in half again, rolled them into a ball and flattened them out to disks that were about a quarter inch thick. After this, I divided each disk into four sections and laid them on a floured surface to rest for another hour. After the second rest time, I heated up my oil and put in the pieces to fry. It’s important to turn them once they start to puff up and start to look brown; it doesn’t take very long. I have to tell you that these were fabulous! I think this will definitely be made again. The flavor was sweet but not too powerful. It was light and airy and taste great by themselves. But try them with a little chocolate syrup drizzled on top and they are out of this world! I might even try to fill these with chocolate pudding next. 

Surprisingly good, especially for spinach fans. This is Popeye approved. 
The second dish I made was a side dish called irio. I boiled some potatoes that I had peeled and cut into smaller pieces along with a can of corn, lima beans, spinach, and peas. When it was done, I mashed them altogether and added salt and pepper. The recipe called to mix in some fried onions as well, but I decided to just sprinkle those on top. I really liked this. The spinach was the predominant flavor, so if you don’t like spinach, then you might either want to keep it out or substitute another green. I liked it, and I think everyone else liked it, too.

Ugali is a staple in Kenya and probably several other countries in this area. It’s essentially yellow cornmeal mixed with boiling water and a little salt until it becomes the consistency of grits. However, may this be a lesson to me: I really thought I had cornmeal in the cabinet, and I didn’t check because I was so sure about it, but it turns out that I had everything BUT cornmeal. I had corn starch, corn flour, grits, barley, white flour, wheat flour, white rice, red rice, and oatmeal, but no cornmeal. So, needless to say, I had to skip this recipe at the last minute. Lesson learned.  

It was pretty good, even though "two more minutes" can make a huge difference.

And finally, the main course: nyama choma. I used stew beef so that it’s already cut into pieces. Although it doesn’t have to be marinated, some people choose to do it that way, which is what I did. After I thawed out my meat, I mixed it with a little bit of minced onions, ground ginger, minced garlic, salt and pepper, and some Worcestershire sauce (in lieu of lemon juice). After letting it sit for about an hour, we fired up the grill, put it on skewers, and grilled it until it was done. Ok, maybe it was a little too done, but it was still good nonetheless. 

Overall, this was really good. My husband and I are still coming up with variations on the mandazi. I'm thinking of filling it with chocolate ice cream now. 
I thought this meal turned out pretty good. Simple, yet flavorful. I’ve noticed that some areas of Africa use a lot of spices (like northern Africa), and other areas tend to stick with just salt and pepper. It seemed like most of the meals I looked through only used a handful of ingredients, which is great because food is getting more and more expensive. The price of eggs has almost tripled in the past decade, and the price of meat has almost doubled. Cereal and nuts are outrageous. It’s ridiculous. But I also thought of how resourceful Kenyans must be to be able to make tasty dishes out of the few ingredients they may have on hand. I have learned so much about Kenya over the past couple of weeks. I’m proud to have a president who is half-Kenyan. It’s a shame he’s vilified by some for his heritage because that’s not what we’re about. Unless you’re Native American, everyone here came from somewhere else. So, let’s be proud and celebrate where we came from. It’s what makes us interesting. It’s what makes us strong.

Up next: Kiribati

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