So, I took a couple weeks off, kind of unexpectedly. But hey, this is a seven-year project, so I’m owed a few breaks every now and then, right? I used this break to fight a little bit of sickness thanks to this stupid weather and a newfound allergy to MSG, but I also worked on my research for a novel I’m writing. I’ve been reading about the medical histories of the First Ladies of the United States this week. It’s been really interesting, and I’m absolutely grateful I live in the era of modern medicine.
|This is the most beautiful thing I've seen all day.|
But now it’s time to get back to work on Nigerian food. The bread today was a hands-down choice: Agege bread. First I started with my scalded dough enhancer (something I’ve never done): I put about ¾ c of all-purpose flour in a medium bowl, and then I poured 100 mL of boiling water on top of it. I quickly stirred it to incorporate all of it together and put a lid on it. I set it off to the side for about an hour until it was completely cool. (It can actually sit for 12 hours.) Mine immediately converted in to rough looking dough balls. Once it was cool, I put 3 c of flour into a large bowl and mixed in 3 Tbsp of sugar, 1 tsp salt, and one packet of active yeast. After making a well in the center of the flour, I poured in my scalded flour and 140mL of lukewarm water (that was supposed to have 2 Tbsp dried milk in it, but my husband moved it and didn’t tell me where it was). Once I stirred everything together, I let it rest for about 10 minutes. My dough was absolutely too dry, so I ended up adding in another ½ c or so of water to help it come together before turning out the dough onto my floured pastry mat. Although it was pretty sticky, I kneaded it for about 15-20 minutes. The recipe recommended do a “stretch, slap, and fold method” of kneading. At this point, it cut in my 3 ½ Tbsp of butter into the dough. I cut up my butter into small pieces so that it’ll be easier to fold into it. And I spent another 10-15 minutes kneading my butter into the dough just to make sure it was cut in well. I could really feel it in my hands from all the kneading! Then I formed it into a ball, put it in a greased bowl and covered it with a damp towel (I actually used cheesecloth) for an hour so it could rise. When the hour was up, I punched it down and divided the dough into three smaller balls. I re-covered them for about 10 minutes while I prepared my greased loaf pan. I rolled each ball out into a log shape and laid them in the loaf pan. Then I covered it again and let it rest for another half hour. I brushed the top of the bread with a little melted butter (you can also give it an egg wash) before baking this for about 28-30 minutes in a 375ºF oven. This bread was not only beautiful to look at, its flavor and texture were nearly perfect. The outside had a nice crown, but the inside was soft and the crumb’s tiny air bubbles created this light texture that pulled apart easily. I’m trying to figure out why the Nigerians were keeping this such as secret??
|The consensus was that this was meh. Not horrific, not fantastic. I'm probably the one who liked it the best. Chef's bias.|
The main dish today is Asaro, or Yam Porridge. I washed, peeled, and cubed four sweet potatoes (in lieu of yams) and placed them in a large pot. Then I diced my onions and mixed it with just a little bit of crushed red pepper (or more if your family’s not a bunch of wimps like mine). I set my onions and pepper mix off to the side. I added enough water to the sweet potatoes to cover them and started boiling my water. Once I got a good boil going, I added in my onion mix, some chicken broth, some smoked fish (I used canned smoked trout), and a little bit of the canola oil included in the fish (in lieu of palm oil – I actually found it, but it was $8, and I knew I wouldn’t use it enough to justify the cost). I covered the pot and kept cooking it enough until the sweet potatoes were soft, adding in a little salt and pepper along the way and stirring occasionally. Just after I turned off the heat, I added in some baby spinach and parsley and stirred, but I realized it was not boiling down to a porridge consistency. So, I let it boil some more. And then my husband helped me transfer it to a smaller pot. I even smashed some of the sweet potatoes a little, leaving some larger pieces still in there. Finally, we just poured off most of the liquid, and it really didn’t taste that bad. Well, it wasn’t as horrible as I thought it was going to be. If you eat it with the bread, it’s actually pretty tasty. Even the kids ate some without complaint. I think it would be better if I had some grilled meat of some sort with it.
|This was wonderful -- the hit of the evening, besides the bread, of course.|
To go with this and even serve as a dessert, I made Nigerian Fruit Salad. This variation included cubed papayas (I used golden papayas this time instead of the maradol papayas that I usually go with), a cubed gala apple, a couple of sliced bananas, part of a can of pineapple tidbits, a ½ c of orange juice, 1 Tbsp of sugar, and ½ tsp of ground cinnamon. I mixed all of this together and let it chill for a couple of hours. I topped it with shredded coconut just before serving. This was really good. The orange juice (along with the cinnamon and sugar) really made this taste good without being too tart. I will probably make this again if I have to bring a fruit salad somewhere. I actually want to get some vanilla ice cream and put this on top. Leave it to me to take something healthy and turn it to the dark side. (Like a dark chocolate drizzle?)
|Overall, this was a pretty good meal. Pretty tasty if I may say so.|
Although this took a lot longer than I originally intended, I’m glad I finally got around to making Nigerian food. Nigeria is a country that has quite a bit to offer, yet there are a lot of misconceptions about it. It’s a country of extremes. People in the cities enjoy many of the modern ways of life, but even at that, there are still some slums in the background. Other rural areas of the country struggle with access to clean water and medical supplies, not to mention the complicated situation with gaining access to these basic human needs when it comes to areas overrun by desertification and terrorist groups. Some areas have people working for major national and international companies – including the Nigerian space program, while other areas have people escaping their hometowns as refugees. But if there’s one thing I noticed that binds all the people, no matter their ethnic origins, is their appreciation for the land and the rhythm of their people. Music and the arts is their language, a way of expression and identification. And you can’t help but be drawn into that vibrant aura of being Nigerian.
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