Monday 29 December 2008

Cook's Alphabet 'U' — Um'bido (Peanut and Greens Stew) Recipe

Cook's Alphabet 'U'

This is the twenty-first in my series of 28 postings going through the entire alphabet, as it relates to cooks and cooking. As you can see, today I'm dealing with the letter 'U'.

The letter 'U' is, of course the twenty-first letter in the English alphabet and, apart from the letter 'X' it's the second most difficult recipes to get dishes named in. However, there are some classic dishes beginning with U (though the majority are African). Here I present Um'bido; a classic sauce common to much of sub-Saharan Africa made with peanuts and greens:

Um'bido (Peanut and Greens Stew) Recipe

900g spinach
220g peanuts, coarsely ground
2 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Cook the spinach in just enough water to cover. After about 4 minutes sprinkle in the peanuts and stir-in well. Cover and continue to cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes, adding more water if necessary to prevent burning. Drain before serving and mix-in the oil, salt and pepper. My wife makes a variant of this: chilli um'bido that includes chillies.

(This recipe reproduced, with permission, from the Celtnet Um'bido Recipe page, which is presented as part of the site's African recipes collection. )

Today's cooking term is Umami: Umami is a Japanese word for one of the five basic tastes (along with the more familiar: sweet, sour, bitter and salty). Literally, Umami means 'savoury' or 'meaty' and refers to the 'full mouth' sensation produced by foods rich in gultamates, such as fish, meat, cheese and other protein-heavy foods. This is why monosodium glutamate (MSG) makes food taste 'better'. Anchovies are particularly rich in 'umami' and this is why the use of anchovy fillets and the use of anchovies in many sauces and condiments is so prevalent. It also probably explains the Roman predilection for fish sauce condiments which provided both salt and umami to the foods they were used to season.

Today's spice is Uzazi: Uzazi (is the Nigerian name for the spice derived from the pericarp and fruit of Zanthoxylum tessmannii. a West African member of the 'prickly ash' trees and a relative of Asian Sichuan Pepper and a member of the Rutaceae (citrus) family.

Z tessmanii has a more spicy flavour and even greater 'pungency' than Sichuan pepper and both the pericarp and inner fruit are ground and used as a flavouring in traditional West African 'pepper soups' (ie chilli-based stews). Below is a recipe for a classic West African cassava-based stew that incorporates uzazi as a spice:

Cassava Soup Recipe

8–10 Scotch Bonnet chillies, made into a paste
1 kg lamb pieces on the bone, cubed
100ml strong beef stock (or 2 stock cubes in 100ml water)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp sumac (optional)
0.5kg cassava (peeled and cut into large chunks)
0.5kg yam (peeled and cut into large chunks)
3/4 kg sweet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks (red is best)
3 large plantains, peeled
3 onions, roughly chopped
3 ehuole seeds
6 uzazi peppercorns
3 large sardines, baked
2 dried fish fillets
3 tbsp red palm oil (optional)

Begin by pounding the uzazi and ehuole to a powder in a pestle and mortar. Add the chillies and pound to a paste then add 3 onions and pound those in.

Dry-fry the meat in a non-stick pan for a couple of minutes then add the remaining onion and the chilli paste, along with 1.5 l or water (including the stock). Bring the water to a boil then reduce to a simmer.

Meanwhile, soak the dried fish for about 20 minutes and prepare the sardines by removing the skin and bones and add the flesh to the broth. Strip the flesh from the dried fish as best you can and add this to the stew as well. Now add all the remaining ingredients to the stew (the cassava, yam and sweet potato should be cut in roast potato-sized chunks), bring back to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 80 minutes, stirring occasionally.

At the end of this time add about 3 tbsp red palm oil

(This recipe reproduced, with permission, from the Celtnet Cassava Soup Recipe page. )

For more information on cookery-associated terms and information beginning with the letter 'U' here are various links that may well be of interest:

Recipes beginning with 'U'
Spices beginning with 'U'
Herbs beginning with 'U'
Wild foods beginning with 'U'
Cook's glossary 'U'

For more African Recipes, see the Celtnet Recipes Blog African Recipes page.

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