Monday, March 30, 2020


Bits of Thailand have popped up in my life over the years. It probably started with the musical The King and I. That’s when I first learned that Siam is modern-day Thailand. I also came across it in other musicals like Miss Saigon and Chess. I grew up in a rural area, so the first time I had Thai food was visiting friends in St. Paul, Minnesota. I met people from Thailand visiting the United States and know Americans who have moved there and/or frequently visit Thailand for work. Not to mention all of the episodes I’ve seen of Anthony Bourdain and other chefs showing us the vast diversity of Thai cooking.

Thailand literally means “land of the Thais.” But the origin of “Thai” varies between meaning “free person” and just general “people.” The formal name of the country is Kingdom of Thailand, or Ratcha-anachak Thai. It’s also known as Siam, which has an even murkier origin. Some linguists think it may be derived from either a Pali, Sanskrit, or Mon word, while others believe it may have originated from the Chinese name Xian that the Portuguese turned into Siam.

Thailand lies in southeast Asia, surrounded by Laos to the east and northeast; Cambodia to the southeast; the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia to the south; and Myanmar (Burma) to the west and northwest. The Mekong River plays an important part in its ecology and economy. Thailand is known for its beaches and water-eroded landforms. For the most part, Thailand basically has a rainy season and a drier season. As a coastal country, it’s one of the countries that’s affected by rising sea levels and extreme weather patterns the most.

The earliest people migrated into this area around 20,000 years ago, and rice cultivation began roughly 4000 years ago. The ancient people were among the first in Southeast Asia to really make use of copper, bronze, and iron. The Thai people, of the Tai ethnic group, were first mentioned in Chinese chronicles in the 6th century BCE. Early Thai culture was heavily influenced by Mon, Khmer, and Indian cultures that were already mainly in the area. During the Sukhothai Kingdom of the 1200s, they started to fight against the Khmer. This is also when the Thai script was invented, and Theravada Buddhism was established. After this, the Ayutthaya Kingdom came to power under a mandala system (where local power had more influence than the central powers), lasting nearly 400 years. Europeans started making their way into southeast Asia in the 1500s, starting with the Portuguese, followed by others. Tensions grew as the Siamese navigated their rocky relationships with European powers, including the French who spent most of their time trying to spread Christianity. The late 1700s saw a period of fighting against the Burmese, and under Rama I, was able to finally put an end to it. Britain stepped in and created a treaty that offered some reprieve over a couple other situations in Southeast Asia. As Siam tried to figure out how best to rule over different ethnic groups and regions, there were quite a few revolts between the Siamese government and the French who controlled nearby countries. It remains one of the few countries in this area of Asia (and probably the world) not controlled by Western powers. When WWI happened, Siam backed the Allies. During WWII, Siam changed its name to Thailand, and Japan invaded the country in 1941 (not because of the name change, probably for other reasons). During the Vietnam War period, Thai society saw a period of modernization; however, some in the rural areas leaned toward communist as a middle class was growing more evident. After a couple of coups in the late 1970s, Thailand finally elected its first prime minister in 1988. The country would be rocked by the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which originated in Thailand. In 2004, the country would be hit again in a different way: by a massive earthquake and corresponding tsunami. I remember watching it unfold on television; it was horrible.

The largest city and capital of Thailand is Bangkok, known as Krung Thep Naha Makhon in Thai (or just Krung Thep to locals). Located at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River delta, it started out as a small, 15th century trading post. Bangkok’s modernization helped bring the whole country forward. Known for its cultural landmarks, culinary scene, and street life (including its famed red-light districts), Bangkok frequently makes the “top cities for tourists” lists. Bangkok is an example of what’s called a primate city (no, not referring to apes and monkeys), a city that is disproportionately larger in population and influence than all of the other urban centers in the country; the rule is that it’s twice as large as the next most populated city (the US lacks a true primate city, but if you look on a state level, it’s probably like Chicago is with Illinois). I feel like a lot of national capitals call into this category.

Thailand has the second largest economy in the subcontinent and is very dependent on exports that includes cars, electronics (including appliances), rice and fish, jewelry, rubber, and textiles. Tourism is a crucial part of their economy and includes several niche-style tourist markets: ecotourism, culinary tourism, and even sex industry tourism (I guess there really is something for everyone here - I laugh at it, but it’s thought that at least 10% of tourism dollars are spent in this category). Thailand also has a large number of workers working in the “informal work” field (or as we call it in the US, freelance or gig economy), which opens up some aspects for being a hotbed of trafficking.

The official language is Thai, which is closely related to Lao. Its writing script used is similar to that of Khmer. There are actually 62 languages that have been recognized by the government, but only four of those are listed on the census. Of the minority languages spoken in Thailand, Lao has the most speakers, followed by Kelantan-Pattanin Malay in the south (also called Jawa or Yawa), and Thai Chinese. Learning English is a mandatory subject in schools as a second language.

By far, Buddhism is the dominant religion of Thailand, and more specifically Theravada Buddhism. Almost 95% of the population follows it in one way or another. Of the remaining 5% or so, most of those are Muslims (mostly concentrated in the south and mostly Sunni). There are a very small group of Christians, Hindus, and whatever of gods or non-gods that happen to make their way through Thailand.

The name Siamese has lent its name to a few common things that we name today. Thailand was where the first known Siamese twins, now called conjoined twins, were born in 1811. They have an odd yet interesting story if you want to Google it. Siamese cats also originated from Thailand. A 14th century poet described 23 different kinds of Siamese cats, but today there are only six kinds. Brides are often gifted a pair of Siamese cats on her wedding day since they’re seen as good luck. I don’t know, I’ve known a couple people who have had Siamese cats, and they seemed a little temperamental. I mean, even more so than cats are normally.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, March 22, 2020


Welp. Here we are. This is what quarantine looks like. I’ve been working from home for over a week now. The kids and I have been navigating what e-Learning is and trying to make sure they are doing their work too. The cats are confused why we’re all here all the time now. My husband worried himself into a migraine the other day. The stores are out of everything essential; I haven’t seen hand sanitizer for a while. As a family, we just normally practice social distancing anyway, so it’s like a typical weekend for us. But finding the ingredients for this meal was a little more challenging than usual. I grabbed the last bunch of collard greens, and the only carrots were a bag of shredded carrots. Because of America’s weird panic of buying everything out and racism against other culture’s food, the Hispanic and Asian sections were practically fully stocked, so that helped.

I need to do this one over again, except I ran out of flour. And actually, this is half all-purpose/half sorghum flour.

So, to distract me today, I’m making food from Tanzania. I started with Zanzibar Chapati. I added 2c of all-purpose flour in a bowl with about a ½ c of water and started mixing it with my hands. I had to add another ½ c of water, then I worked the dough until it was able to form into a ball. Then I formed a small well into the ball and added a Tbsp of oil and a ½ tsp of salt and kneaded it into the dough well. Once it was soft, I rolled it out and then made it into a rope, coiling it around and tucking in the end. I brushed the top of it with oil and let it rest for 20 minutes. I tried rolling it out again, but it fell apart, so I just redid the coil and flattened it with my hand. I added a bit of coconut oil into the skillet and fried it on one side until it started to turn brown, turned it and fried the other side. However, my heat was up too high, and I don’t typically cook with coconut oil. So, the outsides of it burnt a bit and the inside wasn’t done enough. Mer ner. The good thing was that my double fan/hood my husband built works really well at getting the smoke out of the kitchen. The small bite I did take wasn’t bad, though.

And odd texture, to be sure. But the flavor wasn't bad.

The next dish I made was Ugali na Maharage ya nazi. I started with the first part: Ugali. I heated up water but not until it boiled, then I stirred in about a cup of corn flour and stirred with a wooden spoon until it was like porridge. When it started to bubble, I covered the pot and let it cook for about 3-4 minutes. Then I added in the second cup of flour. It should’ve had the consistency of play dough at this point, but it just never got to that point. For me, it was like thick grits. I tried to spread it out as much as I could along the bottom of the pan, covered it, and let it cook for another 3-4 minutes. After this, I turned it so it could cook on the other side for another 3-4 minutes, repeating this two more times. To serve it, I was supposed to form it into a ball and place it on a dish, but that wasn’t really happening. However, it didn’t taste bad. I was kind of skeptical, but once I mixed it with the other dishes, it was pretty good.
This was pretty good. This made a good vegetarian dish, but I think you could probably also add in meat if you want.

The second part of this is the Maharage. I started with browning some diced onions. Just as they started to brown, I added in a drained can of diced tomatoes and some of the shredded carrots and let them cook for a couple minutes. After that, I added in the kidney beans to the mix with just a touch of salt and stirred well. At the very end, I added in about half a can of coconut milk and stirred it into the mix, reducing my heat to low and letting it simmer for 3-4 minutes. I had to keep stirring to keep it from sticking. This was actually pretty good, and I can see that it went well with the ugali. I was quite surprised with this, although it probably used another touch of salt.
Who doesn't love collard greens? It's so healthy and so simple!

To go with this, I also made Sukuma Wiki. I sauteed some more onions in a large pot until they were translucent. Then I added in some collard greens that I de-stemmed and chopped up. I added it in batches and sauteed until it was wilted. Then I added in about ⅔ of a can of diced tomatoes, some water, and some salt and pepper to taste. I brought it all to a boil and then let it simmer for 20-30 minutes. I served all of this with a side of rice because if my son refuses everything else, I know he’ll eat rice. The recipe also mentioned serving it with couscous or ugali, and I would’ve tried to make couscous, but I couldn’t find it. I liked this, but we’re also fans of collard greens. I did add just a little bit of minced garlic to the mix, but it just helped make it even better.

This proves that vegetarian meals don't have to taste like cardboard.

I really learned a lot with this one. And I even restarted learning Swahili on Duolingo. It’s an interesting language. I wish Duolingo would add more African languages to their list. Like why are they adding in fake languages when they only have one African language represented? And there are so many to choose from, too: what about Amharic, Yoruba, Oromo, Hausa, Igbo, Zulu, or Shona for starters? Anyway, I do have to give a big thanks to my friend Kim for talking to me about her favorite Tanzanian foods from her Peace Corps days and trips made afterward. It was excellent!

Up next: Thailand


Music in Tanzania has long borrowed and been influenced by musical styles from a number of different groups who traveled through the area. Many of their traditional instruments are similar to those that are fairly ubiquitous throughout the broader region. This includes common ones like the mbira, goblet drums, rattles, and tuned drums. And some instruments (or variations of instruments) are specific to certain ethnic groups. Modern music utilizes many of the modern musical instruments we see today.

One of the most popular musical genres in Tanzania is Taarab. Coming from Islamic roots, it uses several instruments that are popular in the Middle East, like the oud and the qanun, but also uses a lot of African percussion instruments and European guitars, and even instruments from East Asia (like the Japanese taishokoto). The melodies were mainly Islamic songs mixed with ancient Swahili songs. It started to really gain popularity in the late 1920s, and by the 1960s, Taarab groups had started to modernize it a bit and introduce it to other nearby countries.

Tanzania is a multi-ethnic country, and each ethnic group has their own styles of traditional dance. These traditional dances were passed down from generation to generation and told stories or represented a facet of life. In modern society, they’ve been somewhat lost to the younger generations, but there are dance troupes out there trying to teach people their history.

Starting in the 1930s, Cuban rumba and other Latin genres began to make its way into Tanzania, and it was really popular! Bands started forming and performing this new music, often calling themselves jazz bands, even though many of them didn’t play jazz. They stayed popular as dance music bands throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Today, quite a few new genres have gained in popularity, based on European and American styles mixed with their traditional sounds and instruments. Bongo Flava developed during the 1990s as a mix between hip-hop and reggae and mostly sung in Swahili. Hip-hop is equally just as popular, with Dar es Salaam being one of the centers for hip-hop musicians to thrive. Likewise, reggae here has been influenced by African and Caribbean roots but with its particular Swahili flair added to it. By the way, Freddie Mercury of the band Queen was born in an Indian community on Zanzibar. They tried to do a big celebration for him, but plans were shut down because of his openly gay lifestyle, seeing how homosexuality is illegal there.

Ras Nas

I found quite a few artists on Spotify that I took a quick listen to. I started with a bit of reggae from Ras Nas. It’s pretty chill, and I really liked it. You can really tell that he makes use of the guitar using African styles and rhythms behind some of it. He used English and Swahili (I’m guessing) both in his songs.

I found a couple of hip-hop artists. I checked out Juma Nature. There weren’t too many of his songs posted on there, but the ones I listened to were pretty catchy. One was a little more chill, and one was a little faster. Obviously, I don’t know what he’s saying, but I liked the cadence and inflections. The other one I listened to was X Plastaz. They incorporate more Maasai rhythms and styles into their music. It was pretty catchy and put together well from what I heard.

Vanessa Mdee

Now for the big genre: Bongo Flava. First of all, there’s a nice playlist on Spotify. And some of the artists I sampled (and some are on that playlist) include Vanessa Mdee, Diamond Platnumz, Harmonize, Dully Sykes, and Nandy. I really like this genre. I feel like it’s something I could listen to while driving with the windows down. Like a summer playlist if it would ever get warm and stay warm.

Up next: the food

Thursday, March 19, 2020


Tanzania lies in the midst of the Great Rift Valley, or East African Rift as it’s called now. This refers to the great geographic feat that created the great mountain ranges and peaks we see throughout this region as well as the lakes the people here so depend on. And with these structural changes, created plenty of natural canvas for rock drawings. Many different tribes of people moved into this area and had their own style of rock drawings, some of which are nearly 7000 years old! The Kondoa province has quite a bit of rock art that has been preserved, covering different styles across different time periods. The Sandawe drawings are distinctive for their fine red lines, while other styles (here and elsewhere in Tanzania) include the geometric styles of the Twa peoples as well as paintings from the Maasai and Bukoba.

Quite a few handicrafts are also produced in Tanzania. Batik cloth making is a common trade among women. Batik is made by stamping hot wax onto cloth in patterns and then dipping the cloth into a dye, which will adhere to all the places not covered in wax. Many of these batik designs use tribal or animal patterns. Woven mats and bowls are another common handicraft. Some use bright colors and incorporate designs into these. A lot of these items are sold at open air or roadside markets.

One of the more well-known styles of painting to emerge in the 20th century is Tingatinga painting, named after its creator, Edward Said Tingatinga. It typically uses bicycle paint since it holds up better and has brighter colors; masonite board seems to be the prefered material to paint on since it’s light but durable. Flowers, animals, and geometric designs seem to be the main themes. Many of these paintings have become known as “airport paintings” because of its appeal to tourists and its small size being easier to transport through airports. George Lilanga is quite known for his paintings using the tingatinga style, even though he never specifically studied it. He just hung around a bunch of these particular artists and picked it up from them (see why it’s good to pick good friends!).

George Lilanga with one of his tingatinga paintings
However, George Lilanga originally studied sculpture, which has long been a focal point of Tanzanian artists. Many of these sculptures represent an abstract version of people, animals, and mythological characters. Wood carving, using several different kinds of natural woods found locally (like ebony, for instance), are often used, but other materials, like stones and shells, may also be used, depending on the region.

George Lilanga is known for his shetani sculptures. Shetani are mythological spirits, mostly malevolent, and typically depicted as distorted animal or human figures.

During the latter part of the 20th century, cartoon artists began to emerge as its own field. And they were widely popular. Some published their works in newspapers, and even political cartoons became a thing. Other artists created comic books and published them as a series.

Cartoon by Salum Matata

For the vast majority of Tanzania’s history, its literature has been primarily in oral traditions. Not only would they tell and pass along stories and folktales, but they also told poems, proverbs, and riddles. In recent years, the art of oral storytelling has fallen to the wayside a bit as family structure and modern society has impacted these traditions. However, written literature is still on the up and coming and still fairly undeveloped. A few writers have emerged in the field though, producing works in both Swahili and in English.

Some of the writers who write in Swahili include Shaaban Robert (novelist, essayist, poet; probably one of the most prominent Tanzanian writers), Muhammed Said Abdulla (known for his detective stories), Ebrahim Hussein (playwright, poet), and Fadhy Mtanga (creative writer, blogger).

There are also quite a few authors who write in English as well. Some of the top names include Peter Palangyo (novelist), Gabriel Ruhumbika (novelist, short story writer, translator), Marti Mollel (short story writer), and Abdulrazak Gurnah (novelist, nominated for the Booker Prize and Commonwealth Writers Prize).

Up next: music and dance

Monday, March 16, 2020


Several years ago, I tried reviewing books. I gave it up really quickly because it felt weird to ask an author for a book and review it publicly. What if I had an issue with a character and the author disagreed? I’m a very sensitive person, and I don’t want to ever appear rude (except when I mean to be of course). Criticism, even if it’s constructive, is hard for me to take sometimes, even after 40 years. I am extremely non-confrontational at heart. But one book I reviewed and enjoyed was called Lost in Tanganyika by Thomas Thorpe. Essentially, this British couple was imprisoned on Zanzibar in the mid-1800s and they escaped, making their way across what’s now Tanzania to Lake Victoria to a British outpost that’ll set them up with passage back to England. Kind of an adventure, but steeped in the history and culture of that time.

Tanzania is a portmanteau created from the two states that united to form the country: Tanganyika and Zanzibar. Tanganyika itself is from the Swahili, meaning a “sail in the wilderness.” (There’s also a Lake Tanganyika as well.) Zanzibar comes from the Bantu word “zenji,” meaning “black” and the Arabic word “barr,” which means “shore.”

Located in eastern Africa, Tanzania is surrounded by Uganda and Kenya to the north; the Indian Ocean to the east; Mozambique and Malawi to the south; and Zambia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda to the west. There are several major lakes that have some shoreline in Tanzania: Lake Victoria, Lake Malawi, Lake Rukwa, and Lake Tanganyika. And it’s also known for many of its mountain peaks, namely the famous Mt Kilimanjaro (remember the old joke: “Never trust a mountain that starts out with ‘kill a man.’”) as well as its many national parks, including the Serengeti. They generally go through a rainy and dry period, and the temperature can vary widely depending on your altitude.

Slave trade memorial on Zanzibar

Linguistic and archaeological evidence shows that the original people moved into Tanzania from the north around 2400-4000 years ago and came in several waves. There were also others coming in from the west as well, bringing with them their languages, ways of life, and their food. Travelers and traders have been doing trade up and down the coast line since the first millennium AD, introducing their foods and wares from the Middle East and India. Around the 8th or 9th century, it became known as the Swahili Coast, and Islam was spread into the area. During the mid-1800s, an Omani sultan by the name of Said bin Sultan decided the island of Zanzibar would be the perfect place to base his slave trade operations. Some estimates say between 65-90% of the people on the island were enslaved (hence, the setting of the book I mentioned earlier). By the late 1800’s, the Germans moved in to take over quite a few areas of eastern Africa. However, after the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, both Tanganyika and Zanzibar were handed over to Britain. During WWII, they were forced to fight alongside the British, and Tanganyika became a major source of food during this time. By the mid-1950s, they started organizing themselves under the leadership of Julius Nyerere and eventually became the first Prime Minister after Tanganyika gained its independence in 1961. A few years later, the people of Zanzibar were able to overthrow their Arab controllers and joined Tanganyika. Not long after that, they changed their name to the now-familiar Tanzania. There were some struggles as the new country tried to figure out how to modernize itself while retaining political stability. After some reforms, it seems they continued to grow economically and sociopolitically in the region.

Fairly centrally located in the country, Dodoma is the capital city. It literally means “It has sunk” in the Gogo language (lovely sentiment). During the mid-1970s, it was decided to move the capital from the must larger coastal city of Dar es Salaam to someplace more centrally located, which turned out to be Dodoma. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s when it became the official capital. Not only is it the center of government, there are also several universities and sports venues as well as areas for shopping/markets, entertainment, and restaurants.

For a time, Tanzania had one of the faster growing economies in eastern Africa. Not being strongly connected to the global market actually helped protect it from being hit so hard in the global economic recession of 2008-2009. However, the country has severe national hunger issues. Very little of its economic growth is reaching the poor. Agriculture makes up the vast majority of Tanzania’s exports. By far, maize is their largest crop, but they also produced cassava, sweet potatoes, beans, bananas, sugar, cotton, cashew nuts, tobacco, coffee, sisal, tea, and a variety of meats. Tanzania also relies on a certain amount of tourism to its cities and its many national parks and conservation areas.

Because of its history, Tanzania is about two-thirds Christian. Of those Christians, a little more than half are Roman Catholic. Of the rest of the Protestants, Lutherans and Moravians are at the top, thanks to the German missionaries who were once there. There are also quite a few Anglicans, Adventists, and Pentecostals. Islam is the second largest religion and mainly concentrated on Zanzibar and the coastal regions. Of the Muslims there, the largest denomination is Sunni, followed by Shia, other non-denominational Muslims, Ahmadiyya (which are often not considered Muslim), and Sufi. And of course, there are small pockets of Buddhists, Hindus, and Baha’is spread throughout the mainland.

Tanzania is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in Africa with over 100 languages spoken there, representing each of the four main African language families. However, there are no official languages. Swahili tends to be the primary language used in lower courts and in education (especially in the lower grades). English is used in the upper grades and post-secondary levels, upper courts, and in business and trade. Arabic is used as a co-official language in Zanzibar. ECLs (ethnic community languages) are not only discouraged from being taught in school, it’s also prohibited from using them on TV and radio and almost impossible to create a newspaper in one of these languages. It’s sad because it makes it that much more difficult to keep it from becoming extinct.

Tanzania boasts many protected sites and national parks. Conservation and animal welfare is important, and one of those parks is Gombe Stream National Park. This national park is particularly famous because it was the location of much of the research done by Dame Jane Goodall. Knowing that humans are distinctly similar to chimpanzees, she traveled to the area in 1960 to conduct her own research on chimp communities. At the time she first traveled there, she was only 26 years old and hadn’t been to college at all. However, through her extensive research on chimps that’s provided through the Jane Goodall Institute, she’s really brought a lot of insight into the world of chimpanzees and how they relate to human development.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, March 1, 2020


We finally ended the year known as January and February came and went. Supposedly spring will come early (I’m not complaining about that), and it’s a busy time for both of the nonprofits I work with. A couple weeks ago, I spent the entire day volunteering at the Indiana Civic Day, listening to people speak on getting out in their communities and trying to make this a better place economically, environmentally, and educationally. I may complain a lot about my state being on the lower end of every list (except ones like “Who has the highest carbon footprint” and “Who treats their teachers like crap”; we rank pretty high on those), but I’m glad that there are people out there trying to make it better for everyone. And today, I took pictures at our Annual Feijoada and celebrated the projects we have between Indiana, USA and Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, all with the goal of changing lives.

Nice and buttery on the inside, the sesame seeds added a nice touch.
But I guess that was the whole point of this blog: to teach people that there are places out there like Tajikistan. Today, I made a pretty complicated dish called Qurutob, or Tajik braised lamb with yogurt sauce and flatbread. This dish has many stages to it and takes forever to make. So, I divided this dish into two days, with some minor modifications. The first thing I did was make the flatbread part, or fatir. In a mixing bowl, I added in my flour, salt, water, and egg to make a basic dough; when it was done, I wrapped it in plastic and and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes. After that, I rolled it out into a big rectangle about a ¼” thick and cut it in two longways. I spread softened butter on top of both pieces. Then I took one piece and rolled it up, placing it on the edge of the other piece and continued rolling them both together. Then I wrapped this cylinder in plastic and put it in the fridge for an hour. When it was time to take my dough out of the fridge and unwrap it, I put this on a baking sheet lined in parchment paper and pressed the dough flat with the palm of my hand. I pricked it with a fork and added my sesame seeds to it before putting it in the oven for 35 minutes or until it was golden. Mine never really got golden, but it was still good, I think. Probably all the butter.

The soft cheese-like flavor with the onions was a pleasant surprise.
I did the other two parts today. First, the qurut, or yogurt part. I spread my plain yogurt out into a 9”x13” baking dish into a thin layer and baked it at 300ºF for about an hour. While that was baking, I started preparing the lamb. In a small bowl, I mixed my spice rub: cumin, ground coriander, and paprika. After applying the rub to the lamb, I sauteed my lamb in olive oil so that all the outsides were seared. I transfered this a baking dish with all the drippings and added in my tomatoes (I used grape tomatoes that I chopped in half). I baked my lamb for about an hour and a half, making sure that it wasn’t drying out.

Of course, lamb is one of my favorite meats.
I took out my qurut (yogurt). I squeezed out any liquid I could through a colander and put it back in the baking dish, adding a bit of salt into it and stirring before putting it back into the oven for another 30 minutes. Finally, I took the qurut and the lamb out of the oven to cool. In the original skillet I seared my lamb, I added a bit more olive oil and sauteed some sliced onions until they were soft and transferred them to the dried yogurt mixture. Then I spooned in the yogurt-onion mixture in and around the lamb and tomatoes, stirring everything together. I took my flatbread that I made the day before, warmed it up a bit and tore off pieces of it and put it in with the lamb and qurut. I stirred everything together to mix it well. To serve, I layered the lamb, tomatoes, and qurut mixture of top of that, and topped it with fresh chopped parsley and basil.

A stroke of genius, this all came together and tasted fantastic.
I had my doubts about this meal. I mean, I was really skeptical about the whole thing from the start. The thoughts that ran through my head included “Isn’t this going to burn up the yogurt?” and “I bet the meat is gonna dry out and be nasty.” But it wasn’t like that at all. The qurut almost had the taste of a soft feta cheese, and the meat was so tender, it broke apart from the bone very easily. Of course, the recipe called for the meat to bake for 2 ½ hours, and I only did it for 1 ½. But maybe that’s why it was good. Sometimes you can’t judge a recipe by its ingredients, I guess.

Up next: Tanzania