actual writers started to reach out, y'all. & a nigga was shook. among those writers doing the reaching was SRP, a grrrrrrl whom i never thought would have any interest in me whatsoever. she? is of course brilliant, of course adorable, of course Zora-ish, a southern grrrrrrl who came north to study, oh, Harlem, & to take poetic notes on the state of the 'lem (is that corny? - calling Harlem the 'lem??? b/c my friends broke on me without mercy when i debuted it, yet i still think it's DOPE). & a number of awards, book tours, & Vogue interviews later, she is a rock. mothafuckin. star. so why would she be interested in my lil blog??? my puzzlement was only amped up further when she approached the aforementioned mac- diva who heads Witches Brew & People's Kitchen, my catering company, to provide sexy apps for the Transitions party in the west village. Transitions was founded 50 years ago, & is a Ugandan magazine.
Ugandan, huh? no, i am not a fan of Idi Amin, as S wanted to know. @ which point i became aware of what a dick she must have thought i was for even asking her to assist me on the job. "i'm Paki/East Indian. or didn't you get that?" she barked. & she was so, so, right - but Idi Amin notwithstanding, (& who, let us remember, committed so many crimes against - humanity for chrissakes which includes Africans as well as East Indians) the Transitions party had to get done. Ironically, Transitions was started by an East Indian person, & apparently, although most of them were cast out, during the cat's disgusting/infamous financial/ethnic "cleansing", Indian food is so dope, that Ugandans still held the food close to their hearts. This created one of the most organic fusions there are: Afro/Indo... now this is not fusion that is created by some bored elistist chef. this is fusion created by history; by life.
the menu had to 3 be things:
1 - hors d'ouvres-ish,
2 - true to Ugandan exoticism, &
3 - hot. to. def.
100% sure you've heard the term petro, right? it means scurrrrrrrrrrred.
an extensive online search revealed the national dish, Matooki. Matooki (i love saying that. matooki. who wouldn't want to eat that?) is defined by soft, stewed or pureed plantains, w/highly flavored meat/fish/poultry. traditionally, Ugandans like their matooki steamed in banana leaves; but i don't love the taste of banana leaves. so a substitution w/cabbage was key:
Ugandan Meatballs w/Yogurt Sauce:
8 oz. plain yogurt
1/4 tsp salt
1 hot red chilli, finely chopped
3 tbsp chopped parsley
3 slices wholewheat bread
3 eggs beaten
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
280g dry breadcrumbs
200g deep-fried onion slices
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp freshly-grated ginger
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp crushed coriander seeds
4 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 hot chilli, de-seeded and chopped
2 lbs. minced beef
26 oz. vegetable oil
mix together the yogurt, salt, first chilli and 3 tbsp chopped parsley in a bowl. Set this dipping sauce aside.
meanwhile soak the slices of bread in water for 3 minutes. Remove from the water and squeeze out the excess water.
Crumble the bread into a large bowl then add the eggs and Worcestershire sauce. Mix-in the dried breadcrumbs, fried onions, garlic, ginger, ground cumin, coriander seeds, remaining parsley and chilli.
Add the beef and work with your hands until completely combined. Roll the mixture into walnut-sized balls and place in the fridge for an hour to set.
Heat the vegetable oil in a wok, until almost smoking, then cook the meatballs in the oil a few at a time until brown and crispy on the outside (about 4 minutes).
Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place to drain on kitchen paper.
Insert a toothpick in each meatball and serve with the yogurt dipping sauce.
smoked fish Matooki:
6 green plantains
3 pounds smoked fish of your choice, whitefish or other, flaked off the bone
2 ½ tablespoons ghee, or margarine
1 cup flour
1 medium onion, sliced
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
1 cup stock
A little milk and butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt 2 tablespoons of the ghee or margarine in a pan. Sprinkle the flour on a plate and roll the fish in it, and then cook them in the fat until they turn golden brown. Remove from the pan and set to one side.
Now soften the onion in the pan for 5 minutes and then add the curry powder and, after about 1 minute, the tomatoes. Let them cook for a few minutes and then put the fish pieces back in.
Next, pour on the stock, add the salt and pepper and simmer, covered, for approximately 30 minutes until the smoked fish is tender.
While that is happening, boil some water in a saucepan and cook the plantains in their skins for 20-25 minutes until they are soft. Then take them out of the pan and let them cool a while. When you can handle them, peel off the skins and mash the plantains in a bowl, adding a little milk and butter, salt and pepper.
Put the plantain mash into the bottom of a serving bowl. Place the cooked fish pieces on top and pour over the sauce. serve.
the chicken matooki is made much the same as the fish but w/chicken:
6 green plantains
3 pounds chicken skinned and cut into joints
2 ½ tablespoons ghee, or margarine
1 cup flour
1 medium onion, sliced
2 TBSP. teaspoon curry powder
1 cup stock
Salt and pepper to taste
same method as above
& although a nigga was already pressed, & although a recipe test had yet to happen, i always find that the best time to explore uncharted territory w/a brand new recipe is the night of a really important catering job, right?
gulab jamun, then:
1 cup dry milk powder
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter), melted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder1/2 cup warm milk
1 tablespoon chopped almonds (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped pistachio nuts (optional)
1 tablespoon golden raisins (optional)
1 pinch ground cardamom
1 quart vegetable oil for deep frying
1 1/4 cups white sugar
7 oz.. water
1 teaspoon rose water
1 pinch ground cardamom
in a large bowl, stir together the milk powder, flour, baking powder, and cardamom. Stir in the almonds, pistachios and golden raisins. Mix in the melted ghee, then pour in the milk, and continue to mix until well blended. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes.
In a large skillet, stir together the sugar, water, rose water and a pinch of cardamom. Bring to a boil, and simmer for just a minute. Set aside.
Fill a large heavy skillet halfway with oil. Heat over medium heat for at least 5 minutes. Knead the dough, and form into about 20 small balls. Reduce the heat of the oil to low, and fry the balls in one or two batches. After about 5 minutes, they will start to float, and expand to twice their original size, but the color will not change much. After the jamun float, increase the heat to medium, and turn them frequently until light golden. Remove from the oil to paper towels using a slotted spoon, and allow to cool. Drain on paper towels and allow to cool slightly.
Place the balls into the skillet with the syrup. Simmer over medium heat for about 5 minutes, squeezing them gently to soak up the syrup. Serve immediately, or chill.
***note: i added a good deal more flour to these to make the dough more silky - i'd advise you to do the same - 1/2 cup to 1 cup more, depending on your humidity, altitude, texture preference...
b/c i was making my own samosa skins (& b/c of the gulab jamun above, i had to make a visit to my favorite people, India Spice & Sweet (in the aforementioned curry hill, east 20's). the owners are two: 1 grumpy bespectacled salt-&-pepper-haired cat, sturdy build who doesn't like people or talking to them, & 1 lean, dark haired, wide-eyed sweetie who is always kind. i love them both. many years ago, after a pro-kitchen-induced 19th nervous breakdown, while reneging on yet another promise to NEVER return to kitchens again, i was once again smelling/fondling musing on spices/flours/dal for a party of 100. i felt out the game, seduced, & was riddled w/pre-party jitters/performance anxiety. the grumpy one made his way over to me, looking down over his spectacles. while i braced myself for some sort of quasi-racist/patriarchal BS, he wished me well.
"good. after such a long time, you are cooking again."
i turned my head away from him to hide the emotion/tears in my eyes. (- b/c it was true! it had been forever - @ least 3 months - since i had made a bunch of beautiful food for a large group of people. & during that time, my life felt... bloodless -) when i turned back, my mind was crystal clear. 'yes', i knew, 'this is what i am meant to do'.
Samosas (india) or , Sambuzas (uganda) in any language, a must:
This recipe will make enough skins for 24 samosas and you will need:
2 cups plain flour
2 tsp. salt
2TBSP. vegetable oil
scant 3 oz. warm water.
Mix flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well into the centre and add the oil and enough water to make a firm dough. Knead the dough on a floured surface until smooth and roll into a ball. Cover in plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Divide the pastry into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and roll out into a circle of 6 - 8 in.. Divide this circle into two equal pieces with a knife.
Brush each edge with a little water and form a cone shape around your fingers, sealing the dampened edge.
Fill the cases with a TBSP of your chosen mixture and press the two dampened edges together to seal the top of the cone.
Deep fry the samosas in hot oil until crisp and brown take out and drain on a paper towel.
3 Potato boiled, then peeled & diced
2 cloves of crushed garlic
1 Onion finely chopped
2 TBSP minced scallions
1 tblspn vegetable oil
2 tsp. curry powder
1 -3 curry leaves
1/2 tsp. mustard seed
Salt, Pepper to taste
thank goddess i was in the process of revisiting the fearless, inspirational writings of my lit-kitchen idols, Vertamae Smart Grosvenor. my grrrrrrl N, the hot to def blogger who puts out http://thehotness.com/ was kind enough to offer me the opportunity to review her seminal cookbook/memoir Vibration Cooking for her site. again i thought, N's a real writer. a review from me. really?
a few years ago, while catering a book festival @ http://www.faisonfirehouse.org/index.php thrown by my grrrrrrl, the epic M, i met a gorgeous, lanky sis. we were shooting the breeze on things culinary & such, & she was kind enough to hear out some of my food philosophy. just as i got to the part about how ancestral food moves souls from place to place, she sneered, "oh christ. another food freak. you're a real weirdo. you're just like my mom." "well, what does your mom do?" i queried, praying the woman wasn't like, an accountant who cooks for fun on the weekends, then crows about the recipes for months afterward. her slow sideways smile revealed itself. she said, "Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor. that's my mom."
Vertamae is the BOMB! she has been the wind beneath my wings (sorry Whitney...) for damn near as long as i've been cooking/writing. she is a woman who continued the legacy of cookbook memoirists, a special niche; part of a teensy club of women who write this way: MFK fischer (non-fiction) & Laura Esquivel (magical reality/fiction) among them.
Verta is the rarest bird: number one, she one of the extreme few black beats i know of. there are other lady beats: Hettie Jones, Diane DiPrima, Joyce Johnson, et al. she, however is the only black grrrrrl. beats are the cultural predecessors to hippies or freaks. they were way ahead of their time: an introspective group of counterculture artists who obsessively documented themselves/the shifting world around them through film, literature, theater, & visual art. They pre-dated every group of hipsters w/regard to sexual experimentation, the embracing of eastern philosophy/religion/theosophy, & of course, the liberal use of hallucinogens. They are the original beret-wearing (a sartorial nod to a french/existential aesthetic) poetry performing (the early 90's spoken word takeover is a grandchild of this movement), finger snapping (clapping is SO uncool), interracial dating hipsters. She is a member of a movement that includes Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka.
She lives her philosophy, attracting all types of people (like Charles Fuller, Archie Shepp, & Lou Gossett jr.) into her kitchen/life, & a visit w/her is nothing if not enlightening...
Vertamae freed me from the shackles of the printed word/image & allowed me to create my culinary world @ will & she will free you, too, so that any cookbook becomes a template - to be revised for the free expression of the food of your soul - she doesn't quote any japanese recipes, but i'd be lying if i said that she had nothing to do w/my decision to make sushi - while having the nerve to be both black & a woman. (i'mma write a book called 'having the nerve' one day... an 'as told to'... ya.) it was strictly through Vertamae's irreverent meanderings that i gathered up the courage to think to myself: 'now all the fabulous home cooks in japan are not cookbook authors; hell all the fabulous professional chefs in japan aren't either. but millions are happily eating delicious food there every day. maybe if i learned the concepts...'
& that's how it all began.
which leads me to the next toe-curling suspense of the next job, procured, according to Mac Diva/Witches Brew, when one of the management of the so SO fly Urban Bush Women attended the Transitions party, & decided that we should handle the food/drinks for UBW's 25th anniversary. - talk about honored.
a charmed event all around, i served sushi, which is cited in the death/redemption post on this blog, & an encore of the gulab jamun. & even though i had a great time, w/the dancers & Mac Diva mocking me for part time wrapping sushi, & part time boogie-ing down to the ground (the best DJ!!! this grrrrl was smokin.) - who could hold back tears @ Jawole's exhortations to the revelers: "please dance to 1 james brown, 1 parliament funkadelic, & please be happy"... but y'all know what a crier i am.
why are all of these things converging @ once, i asked my self. & then it began to dawn: the realization that spiritual/extended/creative unconscious-wise, we outspoken/renegade/creatrixes are all daughters of Vertamae, whether we are aware of it or not, in the way that Thelonious Monk & Mingus are children of Duke Ellington. in the same vein as Prince/Michael Jackson/All of Hip-Hop are sired by James Brown. like how Macy Gray & Erykah Badu are both spiritual/vocal progeny of Billie Holiday.
we black bohemian grrrrrrrrrrls - the Siren, S, KRG, Mac Diva, SRP, N, et. al., are all children of the joy of Jawole, which was preceded by the genius that is Vertamae, which was preceded by none other than Zora herself.
this is our legacy. -
speaking of legacies, i never doubted that i was my mother's daughter. & the potty mouthed chef MUST have gotten it from somewhere, right? but this rant cements forever in my mind the adage, "i get it from my mama"
we were discussing the sorry-assed state of affairs when a fat, unnatractive prick like Rush Limbaugh gets to, for any reason whatsoever, critique the looks of our grrrrrrrrl Michelle:
"I know right? How DARE them mothafuckas - when you KNOW the president's wives have traditionally been butt-ugly - let's go back as far as i can remember - Theodore... what is it again?"
"Roosevelt?" I sputtered, already reduced to pee-type laughter.
"That's it. whose fuckin' wife looked like she she escaped from a zoo. Talkin' bout he had polio. He ain't had no damn polio. She beat the shit outta him after she prolly caught his ass w/the babysitter or some shit. & what enquiring minds really need to know its, how could he have done that without the help of the secret service? the president is constantly shadowed. & please. don't even get me started on Jackie O. Niggas wanna be like 'she's so beautiful'. Glamorous - now i'll give her that. But that was one weird looking little bitch!"
@ this point, the whole scenario has me literally choking. how did we get here? i wondered as i reached for a glass of water & waited to stop laughing long enough to drink it. but mom was relentless. i did want to know one last thing:
"Did Teddy Roosevelt die of polio?"
"I already told you! he ain't had no damn polio! That horsey-looking broad - & you know she was some sort of distant cousin of his, right? - which makes sense, b/c how else were they going to marry that ass off? - & you know they do that gross shit to keep the money in the family...
Mmm Mmm Mmm... & they wanna talk shit about Michelle..."
the apple doesn't fall far.
& speaking of moms. check out my brief interview w/Mrs. Knowles about menu planning, in this month's Uptown Wedding issue!
thank you for your time!!!
Happy Solstice & allathat...
& love, of course.