Wednesday, May 05, 2010


Here's the thing with African food: it takes a long time to prepare. And I'm not sure it's worth the effort/payoff ratio. But even though I had made African food before, I decided that I had nothing better to do for a few hours and I would try the recipe for Khimi Chapati in my new issue of Saveur magazine.

I should mention I have never liked anything I have made from Saveur. I read it for the photos.

So who's the dummy?

First, the initial traumatizing African food experience. When I lived in Memphis, my friends Leigh, Megan and I started the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers group there. We did it as a way to meet men. Our intention was to throw parties. We were done with volunteering. Been there, done that, had the GG shot every three months.

There was one killjoy who insisted at our first meeting that we do "socially relevant" projects. Having spent some time managing people who have great ideas, I knew what to do. I told her she was in charge of all such activities.

We never heard from her again.

In the meantime, I went to the bathroom, which is always a bad thing to do when a group is organizing and choosing officers. When I returned, I discovered I had been elected president of the group.

We were always looking for fun things to do,* so someone came up with the idea of an African cooking class. One of the volunteers knew a few Ethiopian ladies who were willing to teach the class. I got about 15 people to sign up at $20 a person (the money was going to the ladies) and told everyone to show up at Leigh's house at 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday, with the idea being we would eat at noon.


The food was not done until 5:00. People had left. Megan had come and gone a few times, saying, "I've lived in Africa. I know how this works."

I have to say the food was fabulous, but I should have learned an important lesson, which was if you want African food, go out for it.

And yet, here I am ten years later trying African food again. This is a Kenyan recipe for a sort of empanada. You roll out little pieces of dough, throw in some meat filling, crack an egg over the top, then fold up the dough and fry. Simple, right?


There is all this fancy stuff with the dough about rolling it out, spreading it with ghee (the recipe calls for one cup of butter for six pastries, which makes me wonder how anyone over there could be thin), then folding it like an accordion and then making a spiral and then rolling it out again.

Have you ever rolled out dough that is spread with a lot of butter?

Doesn't work too well, even if you say, "Lord have mercy no way am I using an entire cup of butter for this. My clothes are already tight enough." Even if you just put the lightest brushing of butter (no, I did not make ghee - please - I'd be cooking until midnight), the dough gets all slippery and uncooperative and you pretty much have to be the boss of it and slap it around to get it to do what you want and then your hands get all buttery, which is not necessarily a bad thing, except you are not supposed to be spending your time licking your hands.

Then there are little holes in the dough because you used the Good Salt instead of table salt because you have about a gajillion pounds of Good Salt now and it shouldn't just be a darn souvenir, except guess what property table salt has that the Good Salt harvested by virgins at the full moon in a leap year does not?

Table salt is tiny.

The virgin/moon Good Salt has big granules, which I suspected might be a problem but then thought, Oh, they'll dissolve in the water that I am mixing with the flour.

No, they did not dissolve. Instead, they made little Good Salty chunks in the dough that tore as I rolled it out. And when chunks of dough tear out, eggs leak out of the hole.

Eggs leaking burn as the thingy is cooking.

And yet. They are done.

The zucchini bread I made with frozen zucchini without squeezing out the extra water?

Not done. Baked for an extra hour. We will be eating it with a spoon. Can I still serve it tomorrow night when I have the neighborhood ladies over to talk about a block party?**

* To meet men.

** SH keeps asking if I have heard back from any of the women I've invited. Nope. I haven't. He is very worried that we will have all this extra food.

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