24 February 2010

My First Foray into African Cooking

I've been hanging out at home a lot this week, and I find myself cooking up a storm. I should have been leaving for Zambia this weekend, but instead, I'll have to make do with making an West African-inspired dish in my own kitchen. I joined Weight Watchers a couple of months ago, and a couple of days ago, this recipe came through my eTools feed, and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try it, with just a couple of small variations. And if you clicked through the link, you're probably thinking, "Peanuts? Spinach? Sweet Potatoes? Really?" Yes!!! Peanuts, or ground nuts as they are known, feature pretty prominently in many African cuisines, and they add a rich depth of flavor to meats, or ground nuts might also bring thickened texture and protein to a vegetable stew like the one I'm about to talk about.

I blasted the Glee soundtrack as loud as I could handle (which given my ears, is not very loud for most people), tied on my Rosie the Riveter Apron, and started chopping away to make this Senegalese Peanut Stew. First things first: As Americans, our store-bought peanut butters are heavily sweetened, and lack a lot of the texture that a fresh nut butter would have. If you're thinking of giving this recipe a go, make sure that you buy natural peanut butter with no added sugar. Secondly, this recipe calls for green peppers, and I didn't have any. I did have red peppers, and in combination with the orange of the carrots and sweet potatoes, and the green of the spinach, I think that visually, the red color of the peppers cuts through nicely.

Senegalese Peanut Stew

1 spray(s) cooking spray

2 medium onion(s), roughly chopped

1 medium red pepper(s), cored and roughly chopped

1/2 pound(s) sweet potato(es), peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes

2 medium carrot(s), peeled and thinly sliced

2 medium garlic clove(s), minced

2 Tbsp ginger root, fresh, minced

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

4 cup(s) vegetable broth, reduced-sodium

6 Tbsp peanut butter, natural, creamy variety

6 cup(s) baby spinach leaves, coarsely chopped

  • Coat a large saucepan with cooking spray and set over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes.
  • Stir in the sweet potato, carrots and garlic; cook for 1 minute, stirring often. Add the ginger, cloves, salt and cayenne; cook for 30 seconds.

  • Pour in the vegetable broth and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the peanut butter until smooth.
  • Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer slowly, stirring once in a while, until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.
  • Add the spinach; cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Yields about 1 2/3 cups per serving.
And this is your finished product. All the flavors meld together nicely, and even though it seems like a lot of ginger, it's really not. I like my stew a little spicier, so I increased the cayenne pepper by 1/4t, and also added about a t of crushed red pepper. I used my own vegetable broth that I made from scratch to cut down on the sodium content. I ate some of the leftovers today, and it definitely has a nice kick to it. Also, I started running out of room in my pan, so I cut the spinach down to 6 cups instead of 8 that the recipe calls for. The total yield is 6 servings of 1 2/3c each.


16 February 2010

Inauspicious beginnings

DC has gotten a pretty ridiculous amount of snow since December. Apparently, Dulles International Airport recorded 72 inches of snow this year. While I usually declare DC to be full of wusses unable to handle a little snow...the city-wide shut down made perfect sense last week. I think that would even have stalled Michigan a little. My biggest concern was that I was supposed to fly out of DC on Friday for my beloved city of Belgrade. What if I couldn't get out? What if I were stuck in DC trying to deal with changing my ticket and losing days I was supposed to be in Belgrade?! Joy of joys though, that did not happen. After the massive snow storms last week, Dulles was fully functioning by Friday. Little did I suspect however, that getting out of DC would not be my biggest problem.

My flight got into Munich slightly later than scheduled but as I was facing a four hour layover I was not terribly heartbroken to arrive late. The heartbreak came later when my 11:00 flight was cancelled. Lufthansa rescheduled everyone for the 3:00 flight...which was cancelled. It seems that Belgrade was in the midst of its own Snowmageddon. I was rescheduled for Sunday's 3:00 flight (seats for the 11:00 were completely booked) and Lufthansa put us all up in a hotel for the night. But did the problems stop there? Oh no.

I asked that my suitcase be offloaded so I could have it for the night. What I really wanted was my laptop cord which I had not thought to bring with me because why would I need it (lesson learned). I waited for two hours for my suitcase while the baggage handlers told me to be patient as it usually took a little while. Finally I went to the counter to ask where in blazes my case was. You know where it was? Lost, that's where. Because so many European countries have been hit with bad weather over the last week, Munich has experienced a lot of delays and cancellations so the luggage storage room was a bit of a mess. How very unGerman of them. With a promise that the bag would probably be located within the hour and that they would deliver it to my hotel I finally left the airprot for my first glimpse of Munich in nearly 11 years. I saw snow. Sadly it was too late and I was too tired to even think about trekking into the city. Needless to say my suitcase was not delivered that night nor even the next morning.

When I checked in again at the airport I asked after my suitcase only to be told that it was still lost. Panic was beginning to set in. I could use one of the computers in my Belgrade office so that wasn't so bad. Lufthansa would reimburse 100% of toiletries and 50% of clothes which is great since I only ever seem to find designer lables here...but hair product! I have yet to find a salon in Belgrade that carries Tigi's Curls Rock (if anyone knows where to get it here let me know!). The horror of having to go without my hair product was almost too much. I checked at the Lufthansa service center shortly before my flight and found out two things: 1. my 3:00 was delayed due to weather in Nice, and 2. my suitcase was discovered! Hurrah! I ate a Rittersport for joy.

I really love Lufthansa. I hate that I have to fly American airlines where available. I have a feeling that United would have been much less helpful than the lovely people at Lufthansa. I hope that this will be the only snag during this trip. I have almost two full weeks in Serbia before I head to Kosovo for a week and from there Macedonia for a few days. Fingers crossed.