Sunday, June 05, 2011

Malawi - May 29th 2011

It is so freaking hot!  My brain is melting.  They say that after 40 your body begins to change.  I have not noticed any significant change in the actual look of it but if I didn't know any better, I'd be thinking that I'm having hot flashes! Last year (2010) I remember I could never get warm all the way through May.  Then in the summer it was hot but I don't recall suffering.  This year, I am.  I could blame it to the suffocating heat that I did not write my blog for a week after I hosted a dinner with food typical of Malawi.  It's quite hot in Malawi too.  And they're rather poor too but they don't complain as much as I do about the heat.  Or about many things. Made famous by Madonna when she adopted a child from Malawi, this country was recently quoted by Trip Advisor has having one of the happiest people in the world.  Not sure how they know at Trip Advisor who's happy or who isn't but they posted a list of the happiest people and Malawian made the top 10.  Interesting.  I had a few friends over yesterday afternoon and while drinking prosecco and eating chips and homemade guacamole we talked about the fact that Malawian are supposedly amongst the happiest people in the world and one of my friend commented that it's probably because they appreciate the little pleasures of life without being bogged down by the race to get more material possessions.  Possibly.  I still think it's pretentious to put an entire population in a bucket and say "these ones are happier than most other countries".  I think it's in part cultural whether people even admit to being happy.  For instance in Italy you rarely would say everything is fantastic.  Even if it is, it is more acceptable to say "not too bad" or "could be worse".

Finding enough recipes to make a meal was challenging.  Malawi is a very poor country and so there isn't much in terms of dining choices....  I found a few website that are primarily kept by volunteering organizations and they posted some staple foods but I didn't want to serve only nsima (which is really polenta) and vegetable curry.  In my research I did come across a website that mentioned that it is common to eat some field bugs prepared in various ways but I decided that I couldn't hope in my cats to hunt enough bugs from the garden to make a meal and so spared the experience to my friends.  They appreciated. 

While reading about the country, I learned that they have a really large lake (Lake Malawi, which forms a natural border with Tanzania and Mozambique) and so thought that perhaps I could find a fish recipe I could make.  On a separate note, I learned a piece of information that I thought really interesting: Lake Malawi is also known as "Calendar Lake" as it's 365 miles long and 52 miles wide.  Isn't this something!  I would never have remembered this stat if it wasn't for the name! 

Since it was Memorial Day on Monday, I decided to host the dinner on a Sunday night and invited Kiyomi and Floyd and Kako.  I had asked Dan & Peter too but they were celebrating Peter's granddaughter's birthday and so they couldn't come.  All of us had met the previous week at Kiyomi & Floyd's fancy condo common area and they whipped up a fabulous meal...  which had nothing to do with East Africa.  Everything was so delicious!  I had to reciprocate so I asked everyone to come to my house and sample my interpretation of Malawian's cuisine.  The meal wasn't bad but it wasn't quite up to the same standard experienced the previous week at K&J!

To start I served Ujeni Ndiwo with Nsima.  Ndiwo is really a stew that can be made with a variety of vegetables and spices.  It is popular in other African countries like Zambia but in Malawi it is essentially made as a vegetable dish whereas in other places it is prepared also with meats.  Meat is luxury in Malawi - I did not find any recipe that contained meat.  Ndiwo is always served with nsima which as I mentioned earlier is corn maize cooked like polenta.  I added some butter in mine so it wasn't too plain but it was still rather plain.  I made the ndiwo with turnip greens - Eric's choice - but it can be made with any other kind of greens including spinach and cabbage.  This particular recipe included curry powder which I made from scratch.  I actually thought that it was really nice and spicy as it was made with several dried chilis.  The reviews of this dish were quite good despite its simplicity:  most said that it only made sense served together as you wouldn't eat the nsima alone (well... if you have no choice you probably would) and that it was nice, healthy, spicy but not too hot and overall very flavorful. 

The main course was curried "chambo" fish.  I'm putting chambo in quotation marks because it is tilapia but Eric bitched that tilapia is not only environmentally unfriendly, it's also an unhealthy fish... I had never heard this before so I searched in Wikipedia and it turns out that farmed tilapia (and that's what most of us get) is high in fat the point of being worse to the heart than burgers and bacon... really?  Anyhow, I asked him to provide an alternative and we landed on halibut.  Not exactly found in Lake Malawi but at least I won't be accused of clogging my loving husband's heart.... well, at least not yet.  I again used the homemade curry powder and the curry flavor was nice but the dish itself was probably a little bland.  Kiyomi commented that it was well cooked (when a Japanese tells you your fish was well cooked you pat yourself on the back) but it could have done with a little more curry flavor. 

About not clogging the heart of my husband with fat...  I served the fish with rice and with another ndiwo, this one with peanut butter sauce.  I have mentioned before how much I love peanut butter so to me anything that contains a cup of it is just heaven but everyone else (except Kako who like me must be a big fan of peanut butter) thought that you couldn't really taste anything else.  So what's the problem??  No, seriously, Eric said it was a "muddy" flavor, too rich.  Interesting, did he really taste mud... note to self.... keep better watch on husband.  Both Kiyomi and Floyd thought the peanut butter was too overpowering.  Perhaps they were right.  The picture below is of the main courses as I served them family style (like most of what I serve)

Finally the cake.  Mtedza cake or peanut cake.  This was very interesting to me.  Actually divine would be a better description (have I mentioned how much I like peanuts?).  There was some left, about a third perhaps, and I ate the entire thing on Monday night after dinner.  Just couldn't stop.  In fact I could have eaten the entire thing on Sunday night but finally I begged Eric to take it away as I kept on taking "just one other tiny piece".  It has virtually no flour and the cake consistency is given by chopped peanuts and some breadcrumbs.  The frosting was really good also.  Made with 1.5 stick of butter, egg yolks and sugar, it ended up being sublime thanks to the addition of 2 tsp of instant coffee.  I had Starbucks VIA "French roast" and even Eric thought the icing was delicious (but he thought the cake tasted like a candy bar, and what's wrong with that I wonder).  It also looked lovely.   

In the goody bag I put a little jar of the curry powder which I hope my friend will use in one of their dinners, sweet potatoes biscuits (which I ended up making twice since the first batch was so hard that I was afraid of causing unexpected dental expenses) and banana bread that I cooked forever and would never really set properly... too many or too big bananas I guess!  I thought the flavor to be nice and sweet though but you would have to eat it by itself as it was just too gooey. 

Here is the menu with the scores:

Ujeni Ndiwo  (Vegetable Stew)  8.4
Nsima (Corn Porridge)    7.9          
Curried Chambo Fish     8.3
Ndiwo Za Mpiru Wotendera (Mustard Greens and peanut sauce) 6.8
Mtedza Cake (Peanut Cake) 7.5
Overall Dinner  8.2

Not one of my best efforts but I would have rated the cake 10!  But I don't get to vote....

Next time, we're going to Europe: Netherlands!

Stay tuned

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I didn't know what to expect but the Malawi dishes were surprisingly good. And we've been enjoying the curry powder from the goodie bag.

Thanks again for the yummy and fun night!
Kiyomi and Floyd