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Soul of the Caribbean........in Africa

 

By Franka Philip

 

 

I’ve spent the last few days reading a super-duper book on African cuisine. When I first saw The Soul Of A New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavours of Africa, I was struck by the life story of author, Ethiopian-born chef Marcus Samuelsson, brought up by a Swedish family who adopted him and his sister after their mother died in a tuberculosis epidemic.

 

In 2003, he was voted "2003 Best Chef in New York City," and also became the youngest ever chef to receive a three-star restaurant review from The New York Times.
 

His love for food was fostered by his grandmother where he spent lots of time learning about Swedish food. “I spent many weekends at her side, learning about food from start to finish: picking apples, making jams, hunting for mushrooms, pickling our garden harvest, and more. She passed her love of food to me and because of her teachings, every job I have ever had has had some connection to food.”


Eventually, Samuelsson moved to
New York, where he’s a major star in the Big Apple’s gastronomic firmament. His work at the Aquavit restaurant, where he is the executive chef and co-owner has won lots of plaudits and awards. It was also in New York that he began to get in touch with his African roots, after being exposed to the city’s huge African community.


He returned to Ethiopia in 1998, at the age of 18 and was struck by the “importance cooking and eating hold in day-to-day life” in his native land. On his return to the US
, he was surprised to discover that so little had been writte about African cookery, despite the fact that is is the “birthplace of mankind and the continent where fire - and cooking - were discovered”.


Samuelsson’s book is a fantastic tribute to a continent that has inspired so many cooking styles especially in Caribbean and Latin American food. He pays homage to us by including recipes for classic Caribbean dishes like Callaloo and Jerk Chicken. This is not any ‘by the way’ inclusion, the man has been there and has experienced our food and our culture.

 

  

  Book cover with forward by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

 

He’s visited Trinidad and Tobago (and wined down in Carnival, I feel) several times and I guess we can claim him as an honorary Trini!


This book is not only the best African cookbook I’ve ever seen, but one of the best cookbooks I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Africa
is brought to life, not only in Samuelsson’s recipes but in the excellent photography of Gediyon Kifle. The continent and its people look beautiful and so does the food!


Samuelsson visited several major African cities and compiled over 200 recipes that clearly demonstrate the diversity of the continent. The book isn’t arranged according to country or region but by a logical ordering of food categories starting with Spices, Blends and Rubs (the foundation of the cooking as it were) and ending with Desserts and Drinks.


I particularly enjoyed reading the Fish and Seafood section and I’m quite impressed with the simple but sophisticated recipes Samuelsson provided like Plantain Crusted Yellowtail, the clam dish Malata, Oysters with Green Tomato Water and the one I want to try first Cassava-Stuffed Shrimp.


Now that I’ve said all that about the book and I’ve convinced you to go out and buy it, I’ll point out that Marcus Samuelsson is extremely good looking, an added bonus in my opinion. Go out there and get this book! Here’s the Cassava-Stuffed Shrimp recipe, complete with intro by the chef.

 

Cassava-Stuffed Shrimp

One way to create a culinary surprise is to mix a basic ingredient with a high-end luxury one - in this case, shrimp. In West Africa, cassava is one of the most common ingredients you see - it’s filling, it’s abundant and it’s cheap. Here, I use the humble cassava to prepare a dish that’s anything but rustic. For an elegant way to incorporate a taste of Africa, the next time you entertain, try serving these shrimp as an appetiser.

 

Ingredients
¼ cup olive oil, or as needed, divided
1 merguez sausage, chopped
1 small red onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup butternut squash, diced
1 cup cassava, diced and rinsed
1 Scotch bonnet pepper, seeds and ribs removed, chopped
1 tbsp curry powder
½ cup coconut milk
¼ cup stock
1 tsp chopped tarragon
Salt
16 jumbo shrimp, peeled, deveined and butterflied

 

Method
1. To make the filling, heat two tablespoons of the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the sausage and onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent, about five minutes.


2. Add the garlic, squash, cassava, pepper and curry powder and cook, stirring often, until the garlic is golden, about three minutes.


3. Add the coconut milk, chicken stock and tarragon and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 35 minutes.


4. Drain the vegetables and reserve the liquid. Transfer the vegetable mixture to a bowl and mash with a fork, adding half the reserved cooking liquid, or as needed to make a smooth puree. Season with salt then set aside to cool.


5. Lay a butterflied shrimp out on a sheet of plastic wrap, cover with another sheet and gently pound with a meat mallet to as thin as possible, about 1/8 inch or less.
6. Remove the top piece of the plastic wrap and place 1½ teaspoons of the filling in the centre of the shrimp.


7. Bring the four edges of the plastic wrap together up over the shrimp so the shrimp wraps around the stuffing, and then holding the edges of the plastic wrap, squeeze the wrap around the shrimp to form it into a ball, then rotate the shrimp ball to tighten it. Repeat with remaining shrimp.


8. Heat the remaining two tablespoons of oil in a large sauté pan, preferably non-stick, over medium high heat. Carefully remove the from the shrimp balls. Add them to the oil in small batches and cook for three minutes. Turn and cook an additional four minutes or until the shrimp is opaque throughout.
Serves four as a main dish, six as an appetizer.

 

Recipe taken from The Soul of A New Cuisine: A Discovery of The Foods and Flavours of Africa by Marcus Samuelsson. The book is available online and at most leading bookshops.

 

Franka Philip is a food expert and a journalist with the BBC in London. She blogs at www.cancookmustcook.com

 

Please e-mail comments to comments@thenewblackmagazine.com 

 

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