Culinary Adventures à l’africaine

When I went about creating this blog – mostly in anticipation of being in Mali – I didn’t think at all that it would be a food blog. Yes, avocados and agriculture are inherently linked to food and to eating, and so I guess in the larger sense, this is intrinsically food related. However, I was in the kitchen last night cooking dinner after having done some shopping at a couple of local markets (no way I’m going without toilet paper, and there is only so much tolerance I have for sterilizing water every morning to drink).  Less than $3 got me a bunch of carrots, four tomatoes, three large beets, a head of cabbage, two giant plantains, two green peppers and three of the hottest little chilies I know. On the other hand, I think I paid almost forty dollars for things like toilet paper, bottled water, salt and pepper, a small jug of milk and a few other house essentials.

tomates et bananes

While in the process of opening a can of mushrooms (don’t judge me) with a sort of pokey devise that doesn’t at all resemble any can opener I grew up with, I realized that cooking in Africa is a total adventure in and of itself. Especially when you find yourself in a kitchen that you didn’t outfit yourself; whoever did equip it clearly did not come from a house outfitted with three crockpots, enough dishes to serve fifteen, various gadgets to perform various (seldom necessary) tasks, and more kinds of flour than I am proud to admit.

With the know-how of someone who has lived in an African kitchen, I hacked open the can of mushrooms (I promise, they really are tasty), chopped up an onion, and found a skillet buried in the cabinet somewhere.

onions sautées

I then, for the second time that day, set about taking my life into my own hands turning on the gas. Opening the gasket as little as possible, I said a small prayer and lit the stovetop with my lighter. “Low heat” is not something this range does well, unless there are two burners going at a time, in which case you have to open up the gas a bit more and play with the levels. Otherwise, flames will be at a roar.

my attempt at a slow simmer


my humble little stovetop

Boiling water in a small casserole to make rice, I suddenly understood better why all the ‘ceeb’ you get in Senegal has the crispy stuff on the bottom of the pan. If you try to steam rice over a huge flame, it will crisp. Granted, crispy rice is delicious – a delicacy, some might even say – but that’s not what I was going for. Dancing between the gas tank and my two burners, juggling the sputtering rice pot and some sautéing vegetables, the only thing I was missing is a unicycle, and I would have been a bonified kitchen circus act.

un repas délicieux

The meal turned out delicious; or maybe it was simply the fruit of my labor that was so satisfying. Either way, I don’t think I will be wont for a interesting culinary adventures over the next several months.


One response to “Culinary Adventures à l’africaine

  1. Sarah Johnson 28 January 2011 at 14:16

    Whoa your blog is awesome! I’m so excited to see all the things you cook (and hear about your other adventures). I *think* (never tried it) you can turn the stove off after the water boils and the rice will cook on its own…I found this on Serious Eats:

    I use the ratio of 1 cup rice to 1 3/4 cup water and a pinch of salt. I put it all together at once and turn the burner on high and when it reaches a boil ( 5 to 7 min. ) turn it off. I leave it on the burner, set my timer to 20 min. 20 minutes later, I have beautiful rice.

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