Tastes of Mozambique

 

September is a beautiful month. The temperature is hot, yet bearable, and days became longer. It’s also when south winds or suladas constantly rise, as if nature had this form of telling us about change. Summer is what lies ahead. The incognita. An exciting incognita, not a stressful one. Thankfully.

 

Before suladas sweep once and for all winter 2009 from my memory, I look back and perceive two main ingredients making it: 1) Very demanding tae bo classes. 2) Experimental cooking.

 

Somehow both are related, since I believe I was pushed into cooking (and eating) because I was afraid I wouldn’t survive the aggressive methods of my new tae teacher.

 

My experimental cooking means trying part of the recipes collected over a set period. In the end, there’s only one or two destined to mark our winter. I was almost getting rid of one of the recipes never tried, when I decided to give it a chance. It seemed impracticable, but at the same time it underlined a nice Mozambican flavour: cashew. So I tried it and the impossible turned into our favourite winter recipe. If you are curious about Mozambican tastes, why don’t you give it a try too?

 

Four Ingredients and Four Steps Cashew Nut Cake

 

250gr of good plain cashew nut
6 to 8 eggs
200 to 250gr of white sugar
½ to 1 tablespoon of good almond essence

 

1. Using any good food processor, reduce the nuts to flour consistency. If necessary, strain it.
2. Beat together egg yolks and sugar until you get a whitish cream. It’s difficult to reach the right consistency manually, but the end result can be good too.
3. Beat the whites until firm, if necessary adding 2 or 3 tablespoons of the sugar.
4. Fold into the yolks mixture: cashew flour, the whites (Softly, please!) and the essence.

 

That’s it. You just have to pour the mix into a well-buttered middle size tin and cook it for about 40 minutes at medium temperature. If you feel like it, you can cover your cake with good melted chocolate. The result is a very light and slightly moist cake, just like this country is.

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Cooking Seasonally

 

I was worried about my cooking ways. Each time I thought about preparing something special I ended up with some recipe involving almonds or Granny Smith apples, mainly my apple cake and marzipan.

 

Well, I am not that worried any longer because I am aware now that I’ve been cooking seasonally and that is normal and desirable.

 

It’s almond and apples harvest time down here, so I cannot resist to the quantity and quality available. Comprehensibly. Abundance of oranges (yummy) and pears (yummy, yummy) is starting; hence, my interests will surely diversify.

 

To avoid taste boredom I introduced a few changes to my apple cake recipe, improving it a lot with organic cinnamon and ginger, and a special olive oil that has a unique flavor I could only find in traditional Portuguese cuisine.

 

What did I learn other than cooking seasonally? Well, I learned that we don’t have only to discover new recipes. We can, for instance, improve the ones we already have.

Weekend Treats

 

Two weekends ago my sweet tooth broke loose and it was my own self who paid for it. First I baked pecan biscuits: 1) Beat well half cup of unsalted butter. 2) Add half cup of brown sugar and half cup of honey, always beating. 3) Then 3 eggs, one at a time. 4) Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl: 3 cups of flour, 1 cup of sliced pecans, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, a touch of salt, a bit of nutmeg. 5) Slowly add the dry mixture to the batter. 6) Spoon small portions to a previously greased baking tray and let it cook at 200ºC during 15 to 20 minutes.

 

It was the first time I baked such biscuits and I found them good to go with coffee. Maybe because I cut down on butter, I found the final result a bit dry. Though, all those nice, familiar ingredients tempted me. I also decided to bake my apple cake (maybe it’s time to discover a new fantastic apple recipe) just because the Granny Smith looked so yummy.

 

At the same time my vim was going to the marzipan production I was learning something from it: no use speeding up the sugar process or buying packed almonds. As a result, my fourth marzipan looked good but tasted worse than previous attempts prepared with almonds from the shell. This once I used crystal sugar and broke one in half to underline the difference between my granny’s marzipan and mine. Hers had a sweet egg yolk filling. They are called “queijinhos do céu” or little cheeses from heaven. That’s how delicious they are.

 

Meanwhile and curiously, Andy also picked three different treats for the same weekend: peppered clams, manioc and mud. He brought home a lot of it. Montanhana mud, I presume. He cooked clams to share with friends. They tasted really good. Tieta boiled the manioc mechanic-driver Américo brought from his family farm in Gaza. Andy usually likes cookies with his tea, but he makes clear he also likes to prepare a few treats by himself.

So It’s May

 

Friday
This year the appeal of the 1st of May had nothing to do with work. If people who went away picked a beach they had reasons to congratulate themselves. It’s summer again and I am stuck with dogs Thoth and Keket.

 

The evening before it was only two of us for the tae bo and teacher changed the usual energetic routine to a mix of strange, challenging exercises involving stretching, equilibrium and meditation. I am not sure what happened back there but today I woke up at 8am, got a glimpse of a few stunned looks, reported a very nice lightness on my back and kidneys, and started working non stop until 6pm. Even Paul asked me several times to stop, but I was feeling capable of changing the world. As I couldn’t, I changed a lot of things around here.

 

Our initial plan was: Seabell is up late and we have a nice, simple break-lunch of Scottish salmon and salad. But then TD announced he was coming from a gig in Swaziland and expected to have Saturday dinner with us. We decided to share the salmon with him and I had to come up with a pasta lunch. I also decided to surprise him with another Seabell’s dessert. This time I played with two flavors: orange and almond. It’s really simple: 1) Good homemade orange sponge cake. 2) Good homemade marzipan. 3) Orange sauce to give color and zing. 4) Orange peel as final touch. Usually I think orange with chocolate, but I tried a different approach. The tastes play along well, yet the colors are a bit bland.

 

As I didn’t trust Tieta was going to show up on Saturday, I organized a Zambezian chicken grill for Saturday lunch, once dinner was secure with the salmon as piéce de resistance.

 

Despite the trillion of things I have done, in the end of the day I was feeling a bit tired because of the dogs. Thoth and Keket show signs of aggressiveness towards each other and Keket is changing her four meals a day routine to three (8am, 4pm and midnight).

 

Saturday

Saturday was really busy too. Though, what I shall remember is the change of our dogs’ behavior. Guard George and I used a quiet moment of the morning and succeeded to put Keket and Thoth together. They played for most of the day. It was great, but after that she was so tired that I had to feed her from my own hand. If I were still picking a best of the month I would have a good one for May.

 

Sunday

When I look back and remember all that I have done over the last days I think I deserved the nice Sunday lunch I had with Paul and TD. Andy wasn’t feeling well. It was Mother’s Day in Portugal, but living here we are a bit influenced by the South African calendar.

 

It was a nice day until I started to feel a slight migraine. I cannot remember the last time I had one and the reason was only clear when a strong tropical storm formed. There was enough electricity in the air to start fires, as actually happened. A good morning turned into a strange afternoon and evening. These days I can only say I am fine when things with the dogs are running smoothly. I am fine.

Seabell’s Dessert

 

Sometimes I write poetry. Sometimes I invent desserts. I’ve been doing both. Here is a dessert I put together with unexpected success. And this is what you need to try it too:

 

– exceptional yummy chocolate ice-cream

– homemade or any other good quality marzipan
– homemade or any tasty coconut-chocolate biscuit
– grated or flaked coconut to sprinkle
– fresh mint leaves

 

Start by cutting a slice of marzipan as if it were a biscuit and cover it with crystal or icing sugar. To get a coconut biscuit you have to follow the marzipan steps, substituting the almonds for grated coconut. You can dip the coconut biscuit in chocolate sauce (plain good chocolate melted) or just drizzle some over it. You place both biscuits on a serving plate. Finally, you scoop the ice cream, sprinkle it with grated or flaked coconut and add the fresh mint or whatever colorful trick you have at hand.

 

It may sound a bit busy but this dessert only plays with three great flavors: chocolate, almonds and coconut. That’s my dessert. Sometimes it’s poetry. Sometimes it’s sugar.

Shall I…?

 

Last Saturday puppy Keket completed two months. At the same time we celebrated two weeks since she has been with us. For now she is closely watched, not just because of her tender age but also to protect Thoth from her teeth. Correction, from her weapons of mass destruction…

 

In order to celebrate the occasion I doubled Thoth and Kekets’ chicken bouillon (I cannot do a lot with the strict diet dogs are in) and felt like preparing something special for us. So, I found myself cooking a dilemma: shall I please Greeks or Trojans?

 

For the boys, a feijoada (beans stew) would be enough. But I cooked a Brazilian feijoada last weekend, so their dream food is ruled out.

 

I know for sure I would please Paul if I cooked the Swiss chard butter he likes to spread over country style bread. This one is simple: 1) Steam a generous amount of nice, fresh Swiss chard leaves and let them cool down a little. 2) Blend it together with a good portion of the kind of vinegar you like and 1 to 2 tablespoons of white flour. 3) Sauté lightly a few crushed garlic gloves in a small amount of olive oil, add the blended mix and let it cook until creamy and firm, seasoning with salt and pepper. 4) In reality, we call “esparragado” to the result of this culinary operation. It’s a very good option to go with meat, but Paul likes it as a green butter too.

 

Lately I’ve been craving homemade marzipan, my grandmother’s fashion. It’s a bit complicated, so maybe I’m asking for trouble. Besides, it would be kind of adventurous trying to reproduce methods I witnessed before I had ten, since I don’t have her recipe. It would be much, much wiser any of my usual cakes…

 

Well, can you guess what I decided?

Prawn Soup

 

My appetite for prawn soup faced a terrible contrariety: to make it creamy, as any prawn soup has to be, I had to use either flour or cream. As I avoid both, I was restricted to a forced prawn soup diet.

 

I tried to make it using potatoes as a base, but the potato has a recognizable taste and texture I don’t like in this particular soup. The cream must be velvety and discreet so that the seafood flavor stands out.

 

After a few attempts I discovered I could only reach the result I wanted by mixing rice and potato – sweet potato since my nutrition guru recommended it instead of regular potato. It’s too simple and too tasty to believe.

 

1. Put together into a large pan:

a good quantity of water
10 to 20 large prawns, at least half of them with shells and heads
1 or 2 onions
2 to 4 garlic gloves
½ of an average size sweet potato

3 to 4 tablespoon of white rice

2. After well cooked, blend it well and strain it carefully.

 

3. Season the resulting cream with salt and a drizzle of olive oil.

 

4. Let it boil until the required consistency: light and creamy.

 

5. Right before the end of the process, add a generous amount of shopped fresh coriander leaves and don’t forget the pepper too. Serves 4 to 6 and… bon apétit!