I have always known about a certain green banana look-alike that has small real estate in the grocery stores of California, the Plantain. Apparently there is a difference between plantains and green bananas, however, they are both in the banana family, have low sugar, and are very starchy. Plantains are bigger than green bananas. They are also both cooked in dishes across Africa and the Carribean.
One night in Kenya I was given a dish that seemed to be potatoes cooked in a sauce. I was eating it and it tasted pretty good, but when I bit into the second potato I could tell that it was not a potato, it had a circular seed design like a banana. This dish is called Matoke, a mixture of cooked green bananas and potatoes.
Can you tell which is the potatoes and which is the cooked green bananas? It is very hard to tell the difference if you had your eyes closed and only relied on your taste buds. The flavor of the green bananas and the potatoes are almost the same. The texture is very close, but just slightly different; you wouldn’t notice unless you knew to look for it.
Matoke is made in different variations in each household in Kenya. The dish I had was similar to the one above, with both cut up and cooked in a sauce. The dish tastes as good as the sauce. Would I eat it again? Yes, it was good and filling. Matoke is a great comfort food; like an American eating pasta or a bowl of chili.
It is commonly understood that the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans made pastries with oil and flour; adding fruit, nuts, honey, and anything else available to add a touch of sweetness. Puff pastries are said to have originated much later in France. All around the world pastries are made with a wide range of techniques and ingredients from Baklava of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, to Somali Kac Kac, Russian Pirozhki, and Japanese Sesame Dumplings. Exploring the pastries of the world is a fun and never-ending journey.
Pastries can be made with simple ingredients and pack a big punch. Imagine the feeling the ancient Egyptians must have had when biting into a fresh pastry with honey and dates! Today, the art of baking is taken seriously around the world but homemade and traditional pastries will always be a favorite for families.
Above is a simple pastry with fresh blackberries and orange peel, with a mint garnish. A simple yet delicious take on a pastry.
All the countries that were part of the Ottoman Empire have an intense and complicated desert pastry called Baklava. It is made with Phyllo dough; a thin, light and crispy pastry dough and filled with pistachios, butter, cinnamon, and honey. The delicately layered pastry is a great way to finish a meal in that region of the world. Below is a great display of Baklava.
The baklava is usually cut in squares, triangles, or diamond shapes before serving. When you bite into a piece of baklava the honey and butter mixture seeps into your mouth in an exquisite manner. You can usually find Baklava at any Greek or Arabic food store, bakery, or restaurant.
This week’s Recipe off the Beaten Path comes from the cuisine of the coastal country of Portugal, but will actually be a Review off the Beaten Path. The restaurant my wife and I tried was Cafe Lucia in Healdsburg, CA. This restaurant was found by strolling Downtown Healdsburg looking for a unique place to dine. It is tucked away in an alley, with a window and brochures at the street. The menu descriptions looked delicious mainly because of the promise of linguica soup and seafood stew (my Portuguese favorites). However, the menu alone did not convince us to dine there; we continued to walk through Downtown Healdsburg looking at every restaurant until we decided that Cafe Lucia seemed the most unique. We walked up to the restaurant through the alley and when we arrived it was a really cute place! The outdoor seating had a great Mediterranean feel with music and lights. A very romantic setting. The server was friendly and knowledgeable of the menu. It was busy but still had good service.
When I think of Portuguese food I picture large family style meals, but there is a modern take on Portuguese cuisine that is trendy and more fitting of a high-end restaurant in wine country. The food at Cafe Lucia takes an extremely trendy and modern approach. The dishes were what you would expect at a nice restaurant; small portions and a bit over priced. The menu was a little deceiving because it did not have pictures, but this is what I ordered:
CALDEIRADA-PORTUGUESE FISHERMAN’S STEW sea bass, scallops, clams, shrimp, fingerling potatoes, linguiça, lobster fumet $27
As you can see in the picture there were no potatoes, no linguica and was painfully small.
However, it did taste good.
My wife ordered the linguica soup pictured in the center, it did happen to contain some linguica.
I would not be reviewing this restaurant if it wasn’t for the delicious Port Wine Ice Cream. It was so delicious I would almost consider going back!
If you find yourself in Healdsburg, California, and you want to get a small bite that is unique, try Cafe Lucia. If you are looking for a restaurant to satisfy your hunger, do not go to Cafe Lucia.
Many Americans and peoples of Western countries are probably unsure of what African cuisine consists of. When I first traveled to Kenya, I had to research what the common meals comprised of so I knew what I was getting myself into. It initially took some time to get used to the different diet, but I ended up enjoying the food that was new to me. I had some ideas of what the food was going to be, and for the most part, I was wrong. I was expecting spicy food but unlike Ethiopian and Nigerian cuisine, Kenyan food is not very spicy at all (in a hot way, however, the food is well seasoned). Some of the food was completely new to me; ugali, goat, and plantains. I have heard of people eating goat and plantains, but I had never heard of ugali before. Some of the food I ate in Kenya was very familiar; rice, beans, and chai tea. Trying these dishes that are traditional to the people of Kenya is very exciting and new (I really missed eating cheese though).
I met my wife in Kenya in 2013, so now I have the privilege of eating Kenyan food regularly. We have a tough time finding the right ingredients in the United States but have found some Indian grocery stores that carry African groceries. We drive to Berkely to get Ugali corn meal. We have tried using the Mexican corn meal that is readily available, but it is completely different and does not work.
Below are made-from-scratch Chapati bread and beef stew.
The Chapati is made by using:
- All purpose flour
- Cold water
Make a dough, roll them in cinnamon roll shapes, then flatten out like a tortilla. Fry them with corn oil until golden on both sides.
The Beef stew is made with:
Below is Kenyan Chai Tea made by the top tea brand named Katepa. This particular tea is called Fahari Ya Kenya Tea (The Pride of Kenya Tea) and Tangawizi flavor (Ginger).
The tea is served with boiled milk. Sugar is added to flavor in the cup afterward. Extra ginger or honey can also be added if available. The Chai Tea in Kenya differs from Indian Chai because it is made using black tea leaves that are grown in Kenya and does not have cardamom, cloves, or cinnamon. Chai Tea is consumed multiple times throughout the day in Kenya and is customary to offer house guests a cup.
If you have ever seen The Ramen Girl with Brittany Murphy, then you know what goes into making a bowl of authentic Japanese Ramen. You first have to clean toilets, wash dishes, mop floors, then maybe, just maybe, you will get to stir the broth. The ramen should reflect your deepest emotions, enough to make the lucky customer fall deeply into your sadness, happiness, or laughter.
In Japan, making ramen is serious business. There are Dojos dedicated to the craft and people can spend up to 10 years being an apprentice before they are certified to make ramen on their own. Ramen Masters can only sign off on the most talented of the group.
There are four main types of Ramen Broth:
- Tonkatsu (My favorite, pictured below from Ramen House Ryujin in Sacramento, CA)
Tonkatsu broth is made from boiling pork bones up to 20 hours, releasing the marrow into a white creamy broth. The broth is added to each day (think sourdough) and brought to a boil. Ginger, eggs, and other ingredients are added depending on the Ramen Masters recipe. The ramen above has sliced pork, cabbage, scallions, and pickled ginger added after. Infused oils are added to ramen for flavor and depth usually from burnt garlic oil.
The ramen noodles are a skill that will take much practice and patience. The handmade noodles are a mix of flour, baking soda, and water, but require experience to pull the noodles just right. Check out this Youtube Video on how to make handmade ramen noodles.
You can move to Japan and dedicate your life to making authentic ramen, or you can visit Ramen House Ryujin in Sacramento, CA to experience real ramen. The place is packed with patrons slurping noodles and drinking broth by the spoonful. The service is quick and friendly.
Vietnamese cuisine almost does not belong on this blog because Pho restaurants sit in almost every major city, suburb, and small town in the United States. The reason why I am including Vietnamese is because the food is delicious, unique, and is actively changing the Western taste. Vietnamese food is not like any other food that has broken into the western mainstream because it has maintained it’s traditional charm. The other noteworthy mainstream Asian cuisine that has graced the US is obviously what we call “Chinese Food”, however, we have stripped its regional attributes and adapted it to Western taste (think Orange Chicken). Vietnamese food not only has survived breaking into the US but also has adapted our Western taste buds to like the dishes as they are. Did you ever think an American would eat rice with fish oil? We do now!
Pho is a hearty soup that has a thin broth, Banh Hoi rice noodles, veggies, and meat. The beauty of Pho is the unlimited amount of ways the soup can be made. The broth is usually constructed from beef bones, onion, ginger, salt, fish sauce, and star anise. This creates the light but hearty broth that flavor the rice noodles. Vietnamese Pho usually has hot peppers that make it very spicy, fresh mint, lime, and bean sprouts, but these are added to taste after served in the bowl.
Pho Vietnam in Santa Rosa, CA makes a great bowl of Pho. This busy restaurant serves quick and inexpensive food and has an extensive menu. My usual go-to is the BBQ Pork, Rice, and Shrimp plate.
Below is the Beef Pho.
Below is the BBQ Pork dish with shrimp, rice, and an egg roll.
Eastern Africa is known for having a unique regional cuisine. From the Nyama Choma of Kenya to the Muufo of Somalia, the variety of food is astounding. The horn of Africa is in a wonderful location to be readily available for inspiration from the Arab World and other parts of Africa. Major trade routes go through Mombasa and bring spices and recipes from around the world. Some foods span across Eastern Africa and some are local to the respected regions. Sambusas (Samosas) are found in every country in Eastern Africa. They are often filled with meat, onions, beans, or potato. Tea is taken every day, all day in East Africa.
Ethiopian cuisine is a wonderful treat for any Westerner to stumble upon. Ethiopian restaurants are fairly common in major cities in the U.S and are usually very authentic. Abyssinia in Santa Rosa offers a wide menu full of Ethiopian and Eritrean favorites. Injera bread is a must for those new to Ethiopian food; it is the bread that scoops the food and absorbs the sauce. Sambusas are offered with beef or vegetarian, I highly recommend both. Beware of the spicy nature of Ethiopian food, it may surprise you! If you are familiar with Indian food then you will recognize the slow burning spice that creeps up on you.
Ethiopian Tea is a great way to feel the warmth of the cuisine. The smell will draw you in, similar to a spiced cider. Milk is optional in Ethiopian Tea, unlike its Eastern African counterparts. The tea at Abyssinia is made with:
No actual tea leaves are used in this spiced tea. Boil the spices in a pot until fully seeped. Sugar can be added to taste.
Above are Sambusas filled with meat, beans and fried. Injera bread with spiced chicken, cabbage, lamb, and beans.
Jamaican food comes in many different forms; from curry goat to vegetarian stew, it can satisfy many different diets. Jamaican food is well rounded, flavorful, and widely considered a healthy cuisine. Jamaican colonial history has played a big role in the shaping of the Jamaican cuisine and draws flavor and techniques from around the world. Some of the different cultures that have contributed to what we think of as Jamaican Cuisine include; Spain, India, England, and food of West African influence.
Rice and beans are a staple of the Jamaican diet. Spices like curry and jerk sauce add to intense dishes and have become known around the world as Jamaican favorites. In Sebastopol California, a new Jamaican Cafe has opened; Revibe Cafe & Scoop Bar. My wife and I went to try their culinary creations.
Ital Stew, shown above, is a vegetarian Rastafarian-influenced stew. Quinoa, beans, kale, potato, and spices mesh together perfectly in this thick stew. It is mildly spicy, but as you finish the spice will begin to creep up on you.
Rice and beans are a great way to satisfy hunger in Jamaica. Coconut milk is often added for flavor. Many Jamaican families have a unique way of making rice and beans, some make it simple like the dish above, and some families make it like an Indian pilau.
Above is a curry goat dish. This restaurant in Sebastopol has taken a trendy approach to traditional Jamaican food. The goat is stewed in curry spice until it is soft and shreds very easily like pulled pork. The curry has considerable heat.
Overall Revibe Cafe & Scoop Bar has good food, but the trendy style of plating takes away from the feel-good vibe that I like to feel when I am experiencing traditional food.
India is a great example of wonderful food. Complex flavors, natural ingredients, and filling dishes comprise the extraordinary cuisines of India. Indian food has also played a part of inspiring cuisines of other cultures including East Africa, Middle East, Europe, and East Asia. You will find curry in almost every cuisine around the world, but it comes from Tamil origin. Chapati and Chai tea are a staple in East Africa but also originated in India.
Spices are a defining ingredient in Indian food. If you buy Chicken Tikka Masala from a street vendor in India, expect your mouth to be on fire! Flavor is a very complex and calculated art of Indian cooking. Chai tea can include a mixture of cardamom, cinnamon, clove, black pepper, allspice, and more.
Regions of India experience a very different food culture. Religious practice can condition the choice of local diets. Over 30% of the people in India have a vegetarian diet, and peoples of the Hindu religion do not eat cow or other red meats. Below is Goat Masala, Goat Vindaloo, Garlic & regular Naan bread, and Rice Pilau from Aroma Indian Food in Napa, California.
One of my favorite cuisines is the food that hails from Kenya. I love the simplicity of flavors, the diverse vegetables, and the staple of barbecue goat. On the dinner table below, my wife has made an authentic Kenyan meal; complete with sukuma wiki (greens), ugali (corn flour), and goat stew. The meal is best eaten with your hand, taking a piece of the hot ugali, and using it to scoop up the greens and goat. Hot chai is also consumed in Kenya daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
To make this meal you will need:
- Collard greens/spinach
- Diced onions and tomato
- Royco Mchuzi powder
- Cook until soft
- White corn meal
- Cook with hot water over stove, mixing the corn meal into and folding until it becomes a moist but solid consistency
- Green peppers
- Royco Mchuzi powder
Optional: Carrots, Green Beans, or Beans.