For those of you who don’t know me, I read a lot. I mean, I really read a lot. And I read a lot of books about and from Africa and other parts of the world. I often like to try to make food from the places whatever book I’m reading comes from or is set in, but there are not so many African cookbooks out there. I have found recipes online, but to have actual cookbooks of African food, those are surprisingly hard to come by.
Recently I read Yes, Chef, a memoir by Marcus Samuelsson.
Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, but adopted, along with his older sister, by a couple in Sweden after his mother died of TB and his father was presumed dead in the war going on in Ethiopia at the time. It is a wonderful memoir and I really recommend it. But for the purposes of this post, I just want to say that part of his journey was getting acquainted with Ethiopia as an adult and then becoming intensely curious about African cooking in general. I was so excited to find out that he put together this book:
I have a copy from the library right now and will soon write a review of the book itself, but for the time being, I’ll tell you about making my first recipe from the book. I chose “Red Penne,” which Samuelsson describes as a “sort of North African pesto.” First I made spicy harissa, which was later mixed with some sauteed almonds, garlic, and shallots before being tossed with penne pasta and some potatoes.
The harissa is a mixture of olive oil, garlic, chili powder, coriander, caraway, salt, and freshly chopped mint. I had two problems though. I failed to see that the recipe called for an entire cup of chili powder. I ended up mixing two kinds of chili powder, one being chipotle chili powder, and still coming up a little bit short. Also, I was supposed to use ground caraway, but I only had seeds and did not feel like doing the mortar and pestle thing. Besides which, it was going to go in the food processor. So I combined what I had the best way I could. I heated 3/4 cup olive oil and put the minced garlic (2 cloves) in it until they turned golden. I removed the pan from the heat and stirred in the almost cup of chili powder, 1 tbs of coriander, 1 tsp of caraway seeds, 1 tsp salt, and 2 tbs chopped mint. I then measured out 1/3 cup of the harissa paste and set it aside. The rest went into a glass dish and is in my refrigerator, waiting for the next recipe.
Meanwhile I had boiled 4 small chopped potatoes and started a large pot of water to boil the penne in.
I chopped one shallot and two more garlic cloves. I added them to 1 tbs hot olive oil with 1/2 cup sliced almonds and sauteed them until the almonds were golden brown.
And then I let them cool for a few minutes before putting them in the food processor with the harissa paste.
And then I gave it a good whir.
But looking at the recipe now as I put this post together, I realize I made yet another mistake with this recipe. I was also supposed to add the juice of one lemon at this point. I totally did not do that.
I proceeded to mix this pesto with the penne and potatoes as well as 2 tbs chopped arugula. I was also supposed to stir in some chopped basil but guess what? I didn’t have any! I had pretty much every other herb on hand EXCEPT basil. I am a very flaky cook, I’m sure you are now realizing.
And then I put it, imperfect as it was, into bowls so we could eat it. Samuelsson recommends parmesan on top. I tried that and it was surprisingly tasty. I didn’t expect it to be so because of the mixture of flavors.
Anyway, this was quite spicy (I like that!) and good, but not great. I made SO MANY MISTAKES, though, that I plan to try making it again, but correctly.