Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Lesson in Cooking

Friday I went to the home of some friends of my host family. Richard and I stopped at the market to get some vegetables on the way, and that day’s lesson was ‘cooking, the traditional way.’ Richard says that when I marry an African man someday, I will have to do this every once in a while.

First we had to cut down the banana plantains to make matooke (pronounced mah-toe-okay), and then banana tree leaves, the traditional African’s primary cooking tool.I wasn’t a good cutter. The way we hack and throw around those knives is a little dangerous, I think. Before we even began cooking, we had to prepare the leaves, removing most of the stem from the middle so that they would be flexible.
Cutting the banana plantains (kind of like potatoes). This lady came with a gift of green beans for the family, and stayed long enough to tell me how poor my cutting skills were, in the nicest way, of course. She made me laugh.The food is steamed in the banana leaves, so this was my attempt at folding them up into a tight bundle. It sort of fell apart later.I call this purple gravy. It’s made with something call G nut flour, water and vegetables. I don’t call it purple gravy out loud, just to save everyone from confusion and myself from embarrassment.
We put the matooke-in-progress right on top of the 'purple gravy' pot. They usually cook like this, heating everything at once, so that all of the parts are ready at the same time.

The stove.
We went to fetch water. Don’t be confused or think that it’s perspective making my jerry can look smaller. I’m pretty sure it was half (or even less) the size of (the eldest child) Fiona’s can.
It was far. I kept trying to turn back down the hill to go home before it was actually time to. I’m
convinced the walk to the water was much, much shorter than the walk back.They call green beans ‘french beans’ and green peas ‘cow peas’

3-ish hours later, the matooke was finished. We also prepared yams (not like in the US, they were white with purple spots) and cassava (you’ve heard about this if you’ve read any African literature).
“Mama Mercy” showed me how to fold the banana leaves and then use them like a spatula for serving.Then she started scooping right out with the children’s bowls, telling me “we just do it that way (with the leaves) for culture”

I couldn’t believe the amount of work they put into a single meal. I told them if I was in their position, I would just be lazy and cut up mangoes for myself all day. While our meals at my house here aren’t prepared in such a traditional kitchen, I still appreciate where my food comes from a lot more.



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