Thursday, January 14, 2010


At last we have arrived at our very first East African Country! And fortunately for all of us, I know somebody who lived there! Before I continue, I must admit that we did not randomly pull Uganda. My good friend Jon Moler was visiting Chicago for the New Year. These days he lives in Minneapolis where he does law school things, but for a couple years after college he served in the Peace Corps and was stationed in Uganda. So in honor of him being a guest in our home, we decided to throw a Ugandan feast. We apologize for our brief departure from randomness, but we figure it made sense for the occasion.

There would have been a lot of guesswork with Uganda, had Moler not been around to help with the planning and cooking. Aside from the one time I got sick a couple years ago and watched The Last King of Scotland, I can't say I've ever known much about Uganda let alone its food. With Moler's help, I've found its cuisine is, for the most part, a delightful blend of Africa's many styles of food. Chapatis and curry can be served alongside plantains and beans. And like many of Africa's cuisines, most of the food is quite simple to prepare. That's not to say all of the food went well with our guests. But most of it turned out great.

By the way, everything may be eaten with your fingers, but feel free to use forks if you need to retain your Western ways (we did).

Millet Bread

Let's start with the absolute worst food of the evening. I need to be clear before giving this recipe. Nobody liked this stuff and all of us who have never been to Uganda cannot imagine why anyone would voluntarily ingest this glop! The preparation was similar to assembling a bread dough, but the baking part never occurs. You simply make a doughy paste and eat it. This confused my poor stomach and caused me to lay awake until 4 am with a bottle of Tums. Also it seems to be a very strong adhesive material similar to cement that was hell to clean off the plates. I don't recommend making it, but for diehards this is apparently essential for an authentic Ugandan meal. I suppose it's an acquired taste.

1.5 cups cassava flour
1.5 cups millet flour
4.5 cups boiling water

1. In a large pot, bring the water to a boil. Gradually add both flours to the pot stirring constantly while turning the heat down low. Stir everything until the mixture forms a doughy ball.
2. Allow five minutes to solidify and serve with peanut sauce.

Matooke: Mashed Plantain

While it sounds like a simple enough concept, this dish turned out to be the most challenging part of the meal. My first thought was to go easy on myself and try to mash everything in our brand new stand mixer, but that resulted in a large mess when the machine simply knocked the plantains out of the bowl and failed to mash anything. So we went with the food processor next, but the motor was powerless against the starchy denseness of the plantain and nearly died in the process. The best method I found for mashing the plantains was to sit down on the floor and place them in a large bowl between my legs and then pummel them with my fists for about 15 minutes. Apparently Ugandans will put them between several layers of banana leaves and jump up and down on them. Sadly I didn't have that many banana leaves lying about my kitchen. The final result after cooking is similar in texture to a very dense and bland tamale, but it tastes incredible when served covered in peanut sauce.

Banana Leaves

1. Remove the plantains from their peels and steam them for 1.5 hours. I used my bamboo steamer and a wok for this.
2. Cut the plantains into small pieces and place these pieces in a very large bowl.
3. Allow the plantain to cool and spend at least ten minutes mashing the plantains as best you can with your fists. And add a bit of salt.
4. Form the mashed plantain into a large round wheel and wrap this in several layers of banana leaves and tightly tie it up with a string.
5. Steam this package for 2.5 hours. Allow 15 minutes to cool and serve with the peanut sauce we made.

Groundnut (Peanut) Sauce

Africa is well known for its love of peanuts and Uganda is no exception. The tomatoes and spinach make this sauce pretty special, though.

2 large onions finely chopped
4 tomatoes finely chopped
3 cloves garlic minced
1 tbsp curry powder
1/2 tsp dried ginger
1/2 cup corn oil
2 cups peanuts
1 liter water
5 oz chopped spinach
Salt to taste

1. In a deep sauce pan heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion, tomato, and garlic. Cook for five minutes or until the onions have turned translucent.
2. In a processor (or for authenticity: a huge mortar and pestle) grind the peanuts with the spices as finely as you can.
3. Add the ground peanuts to the onions and tomato and cook for another two minutes.
4. Add all the water and raise the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and allow the mixture to cook down to a hearty thick sauce about 30-40 minutes.
5. Add the spinach at the end and cook for a further five minutes.
6. Serve with everything.

Sauteed Cabbage and Eggplant

Since it was New Year's Day I had to throw cabbage into this meal somewhere. It's an old tradition with me that I eat cabbage on New Year's. Fortunately it complimented the little bitter eggplants perfectly. These tiny eggplants are available at most Asian and African grocers. Large eggplants do not work as a substitute with this dish, so don't attempt it unless you can find the real thing.

15 small round Thai eggplants
1/2 head cabbage thinly sliced
1 serrano chile seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic minced
1/4 cup oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the tops off each eggplant and cut them in half. Salt the eggplant halves and set aside in a colander for 20 minutes.
2. Heat the oil in a large pan and add the eggplant. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes or until softened.
3. Add the garlic and chile and cook for a further five minutes. Add the cabbage and 1/2 cup water and raise heat to a simmer and cook for 10 more minutes and serve.

Okra and Greens Cooked in Goat Fat

Carl and I cooked a goat shoulder a couple weeks back and saved the fat that was rendered from it. If you're like most people, and don't have any goat fat sitting around, feel free to use lard or ghee. The savory animal fat pairs perfectly with the slightly bitter greens.

1 lb frozen whole okra
2 lbs collared greens
3 cloves garlic minced
1/2 cup rendered goat fat
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Let the okra thaw for several days in the fridge or for a couple hours on in the sink. Then remove the stem ends of the pods and cut them into small circles about a centimeter thick.
2. Pull the greens' leaves from the ribs and wash to remove any grit.
3. Boil the greens in batches for seven minutes each and drain.
4. Chop the greens roughly on a cutting board.
5. In a large skillet or wok over medium heat melt the goat fat and add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds.
6. Add the okra and cook for two minutes and then add the greens and 1/2 cup water.
7. Raise the heat to high and cook for five more minutes. Season and serve.

Stewed Chicken

I'm pretty sure that all nations of the world could get together and agree that chicken is pretty great. Uganda's spin on chicken tastes remarkably similar to the old Cajun standard of chicken creole.

4 sets of chicken thighs and legs cut at the joints
1/2 cup lard or corn oil
2 green bell peppers thinly sliced
1 serrano chile minced with seeds
3 medium onions thinly sliced
2 tbsp fresh ginger minced
4 cloves garlic minced
5 medium tomatoes (I used roma) chopped
2 tbsp curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a deep heavy pot or dutch oven heat the lard or oil over medium heat and add the onions, garlic, chile, and peppers and cook for five minutes or until the onions have wilted.
2. Add the chicken and cook a further five minutes flipping the pieces to brown them as best you can.
3. Add the tomatoes, ginger and curry powder and cook a further five minutes.
4. Add enough water to just cover the chicken. Raise to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Cook covered for 45 minutes.
5. Remove the chicken pieces from the stew and set aside and continue simmering the sauce for another hour and a half covered.
6. 20 minutes before serving return the chicken to the pot and boil the sauce down to a medium thick consistency. Salt to taste and serve.

Goat Skewers

This is the second time we've had goat on the blog, and I'm sure it won't be the last. I was pretty excited to find cheap and meaty goat meat for sale at "The Old World Market" near Argyle and Broadway. This city never ceases to amaze me! It's important to get the spice rub on the meat a day in advance to ensure that the goat pieces will be properly tender after a quick cooking on the grill. Also it's important to use a grill for proper charring of the meat, even if it means standing outside in the cold cold snow.

3 lbs goat meat cut into 1 inch cube (preferably from the upper leg)
3 tbsp ginger chopped
5 cloves garlic chopped
2 tbsp chili powder
1 serrano chile chopped
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 red onion chopped
1/2 cup corn oil

1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
2. Slip the chunks of meat onto grilling skewers and grill over very high heat for about 3 minutes on each side.
3. Serve on a large platter.

In Conclusion

This was the largest dinner we've had in our apartment thus far (both in terms of food and people), and despite the simplicity of most of the food, I'd say it was the most difficult. The reason I say this is because the only day that worked for anybody was New Year's Day: a day I generally spend laying on my couch while clutching my poor hungover head. Instead I prepared food while clutching my head, but It all turned out to be worth it in the end. Amy was almost too incapacitated to deal with this dinner but managed to pull herself out of her coma just as guests were arriving.

We were lucky to have quite a few friends in town for the holiday. We even had a few of Moler's friends from the peace Corps who had been with him in Uganda come to our meal. Their approval of the food vindicated our labors. Also I learned its quite the compliment in Uganda to compliment your friends for being very fat even if they are not. This shows that you have noticed how successful their life must be. By the end of the meal all of us were feeling very fat and had no desire for any more food.

1 comment:

  1. Moler is looking exceedingly fat in the last picture, there.