under african skies

With my folks heading into the ‘Cuse tomorrow, I’m going to have to take the weekend off from food blogging. I’ve already spent a good deal of time stocking the apartment with “aren’t you proud of me?” treats, like this and these — special requests from mama.) Despite a little bit of stress sneaking in as I contemplate cooking for the greatest cook I know, I can’t wait to feed the old birds.

There are millions of other delicious food sites out there to sustain you in my absence. In case you do notice my three day hiatus however, I’ve decided to leave you with two yummy dishes: Baked Chicken in Peanut sauce, and Libyan Lentil Salad.

I had the pleasure of cooking an African-themed meal for friends last weekend. It was a special request, in the form of a plaintive “I’ve never tried African food” spoken weeks earlier. Though I’ve only been to the continent once, I was happy to take on the responsibility of educating her on its vast culinary landscape.

Actually, I just zeroed in on dishes from Sierra Leone and Libya from World Hearth, an International cooking site I’d recently discovered. So next time someone says to you “I’ve never tried Uzbekian food,” you can raise your well-traveled eyebrow and proclaim, “well I’ll just have to make you my famous Kiimali Mashkichiri sometime soon.” Thanks to World Hearth, panic won’t be your side dish.

Sierra Leonean Baked Chicken in Peanut Sauce

serves 4

3 Tbsp cooking oil

3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (tofu could be substituted here)

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 fresh medium-sized red tomatoes, chopped

1 medium red or green pepper, chopped

6 3” okra fruits, sliced into 1/2” pieces

2 small-medium jalepeno peppers, finely minced

1 tsp thyme

1 medium bay leaf

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cayenne

1/2 tsp cumin seeds or powder

1/2 tsp black pepper

3/4 cup peanut butter, warmed slightly for mixing

3/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock

16 ounces green beans

  1. Saute chicken in oil until browned, but still pink inside. Remove and arrange in a single layer in a glass (or other oven-proof) baking dish.* Add onions and garlic to pan and saute for 5 minutes. Add thyme, bay leaf, salt, cumin, cayenne and black pepper. Add tomatoes, bell pepper, okra and jalepeno. Saute for 8 minutes.
  2. Mix peanut butter with chicken stock until smooth. Pour tomato mixture over the chicken, followed by the stock mixture and lastly the green beans. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Serve over rice or couscous.

*I did mine in a deep, round ceramic stew pot. Next time I’d try it in a shallower Pyrex glass 9×13 for added crispness and caramelization on top.

adapted from A West African Cook Book by Ellen Gibson Wilson

Libyan Lentil Salad

2 cups green (or French black) lentils

2 small-medium yams, chopped into 1 inch cubes

5 whole cloves

1 medium onion, cut in half and peeled

2 medium bay leaves

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tsp lemon peel

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp cumin

2 tsp coriander, ground

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Put the lentils in a big pot and cover with water. Add cloves and both halves of the onion to the pot. Add bay leaves, garlic and lemon peel, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the lentils are tender.
  2. Toss the yam pieces with olive oil and roast for 40 minutes in a 375 degree oven, until tender.
  3. Drain the lentils, discard the onion, cloves and bay leaves. Combine the lentils with the roasted yams, chopped onion, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. Set the salad aside to chill and marinate for 2 hours. Serve with plain yogurt and flatbread.

adapted from Recipes for an Arabian Night by David Scott

Spoony Sundays #1: Moroccan Stew

I’ve decided to start fresh cracked pepper’s first ever weekly series. I’m not sure how long this series will last, I’ll have to wait and see what kind of ratings it gets. I’m thinking I’ll keep it around as long as the weather stays wintry though.

And so I present to you, the first episode of Spoony* Sundays. Every Sunday I will post on soup — sippable slurpable, sweet or savory, stew-like or silky. Whether or not they turn out, they’ll be here. The winners and the losers together will parade on Sundays’ pages, and I will offer commentary on their individual merit. I’ll post on as many or as few as I’ve been able to try that week.

*spoony SPOO-nee, adjective:

1. Foolish; silly; excessively sentimental.

2. Foolishly or sentimentally in love.

Soup is easy, versatile, and the perfect leftover, with its flavours mellowing and blending with age. This week I bring you a Morroccan Stew whose name I can’t take credit for, but which I’ve made countless times. It’s always a pleaser, with its West-African inspired groundnut warmth and meaty sweet potato chunks. Its secret ingredient is the perfect protein supplement for vegetarians.

This is the kind of soup I often have all the ingredients for, chilling out in my cupboards and fridge. It’s often come through for me in times of potluck need, and it resembles a soup that’s become a bit of a joke between my hubby and I: We dined on it together years ago at a mutual friend’s, before we were married. The funny part is that it was a double date — he and his girlfriend at the time and me and mine. Boyfriend, that is.

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