My father spent some six years in an African country called Senegal. It is situated in the Western tip of the African continent, like Gujarat is in India. I got married soon after his African stint came about. My mother and younger brother though stayed back in India for lack of good schools where my father was placed – Dakar for the most part and Darou for some time in between. For the first year or so, my father lived in a hotel. But slowly as it became clear that his stay there would be a long one, he was moved first to a serviced apartment for another couple of years, before finally moving to a small house.
I remember back then, the most common question anybody (and that included me) asked him was about the food. There wasn’t much he could do when he was at Meridien in Dakar. He largely relied on the restaurant at the hotel for all his meals. Slowly he started requesting the chef there to make some simple Indian food, giving him precise instructions written in French (the official language of Senegal. Father used to say that whatever the chef gave him, be it dal or sambhar or rasam, it all tasted the same!
Things became better once he moved into the serviced apartment and at the house still later as he had working, reasonably-equipped kitchens at both places. The biggest problem though was getting the ingredients! In fact, in his bi-annual India trips (he used to visit India twice each year for about a fortnight each time), his luggage consisted mainly of nags of rice and wheat and smaller packs of Indian masalas and lentil. I have saved some of the foodie mails he used to write me every other month.
I particularly remember little nuggets from his attempts at preparing roti for his meals. In one of his mails he talks about using a glass bottle to roll out roti since he couldn’t get a rolling pin there. In another he mentions about how there were dozens of varieties of ‘farine’ (French for flour), but no way of finding out the right one for making the Indian roti. He once came back from the neighbourhood supermarket with a packet of flour that looked like atta, but “it was so brittle, kneading was just not possible.”
At another time, he bought a pack of “blé de sarrasin”, only to have the dictionary tell him later at home that it was buckwheat flour! “Rather than take a risk, I returned it next day for a maida packet (known devil)!” He was never much of a maida roti fan.
I often used to tell him that I’d probably have had a whale of a time trying out new cuisines, vegetables and ingredients there! For all his time in Senegal, my father never got to eat much local food – there was nothing close to Indian food and my father was just too tired of experimenting all the while. This is in stark contrast to the Kenyan cuisine, which has a large doze of India-influenced dishes. Pulao, samosa, chapatti, bhajia, chai etc are not uncommon in Kenya and are known by these names!
When I bought The Global Vegetarian (rem ember the book I talked about in the Feijoada Bean Stew post last week?), I eagerly scanned through to check for any Senegalese recipe. There were none. But there are a good number of Kenyan recipes in the book.
Corn is a staple of the Kenyan diet. In fact, it is estimated that the per capita consumption of maize in Kenya is 98 kilogram. A lot of the Kenyan recipes on my book had corn too. I was actually thinking of cooking up a Kenyan meal based on the recipes in the book, but discarded the idea soon enough. What I finally made from Kenya was a corn-on-cob sabji. The interesting thing about this dish is that it uses the corn on the cob and not corn kernels alone. The base of tomato-onion gravy is similar to the typical north-Indian gravy dish, but the addition of lots of roasted groundnuts sets this one apart. Don’t miss this one!
Kenyan corn-on-cob sabzi
(Serves 4 if served along with another side)
Corn on cob – 1 large, cut into 1 inch lengths
Onion – 1, finely chopped
Tomato – 1, finely chopped
Peanuts – 50 gm, roasted and coarsely crushed
Oil – 1 tbsp
Cinnamon stick – 2-inch piece
Cloves – 3-4
Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp
Green chillies – 1-2, cut into fine rings (use more or less depending on how hot you like it)
Coriander powder – 1 tsp
Cumin powder – 1 tsp
Coriander leaves – a handful, chopped (for garnish)
Cook the corn on cob pieces with the turmeric in 1 inch water in a pressure cooker for 1 whistle. Remove the lid once pressure drops. Extract the kernels from two pieces and crush them coarsely. Retain the other pieces as is
Heat oil in a saucepan and add in cloves and cinnamon
When it turns aromatic, add the cumin seeds
Add chopped onion once cumin seeds crackle. Sauté on medium heat till onion turns translucent
Add tomatoes, coriander and cumin powder as well as chillies. Simmer on low heat till tomatoes turn soft and mushy
Add salt, crushed corn and corn pieces and simmer on low for a few minutes till it all blends well together
Add peanuts and simmer for a couple of minutes longer. Add in a splash or two of water if the gravy seems too thick/dry
Remove from heat and serve with roti or rice
For more recipes from countries starting with the letter K, please check this link: