Sunday, January 21, 2007

Almonds and Bananas in my Stew

Though my cod stew was rich with fresh ginger, za'atar, and sesame seeds, the almonds and green bananas (in lieu of green plantains) stole the show. The almonds swelled but maintained their crunch, and the bananas added a subtle sweetness. This was the first recipe I've tried from The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Food and Flavors of Africa by chef Marcus Samuelsson.

Samuelsson, born in Ethiopia, was adopted by a Swedish couple as a child, and grew up eating Scandanavian food, the basis for his well-regarded restaurant, Aquavit. In this cookbook, however, he returns to the land of his birth and the 250 recipes representt a culmination of multiple years of travel across the African continent. It includes dishes from Morrocco to South Africa, Libya to Senegal. I'm often skeptical when anything claims to represent all of Africa, considering its enormous size and diversity, but in this case I think he's done an admirable job, stating clearly in the introduction the impossibility of truly expressing the magnitude of the continent and its cuisine. Also, it's enjoyable to read a celebration of the food and the people of the region, when so much of what we hear about Africa is negative.

The book opens with many spice rubs and mixes, and includes multiple bread recipes (always a favorite of mine), including the toasted peanut bread I made to accompany the stew. Dense and dark, it tastes like natural peanut butter, making it as fine for breakfast as for dinner. The book's photos pop, and I enjoyed the stories interspersed with the recipes, giving the reader a true sense of place.

Cod Stew with Sesame Seeds
Adapted from The Soul of a New Cuisine Serves 4-5

1/2 c. whole almonds
4 garlic cloves, cut in half
1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
3 tomatos, roughly chopped
2 tsp. Za'atar
3-4 c. chicken stock, depending how stew vs. soupy you'd like
1 c. canned black beans, rinsed
1 lb cod fillet, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 green bananas or plantains, peeled and diced
1 large handful spinach leaves or other greens
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. sesame oil
2 tbsp. sesame seeds
juice of two limes

Toast the almonds in large soup pot over low heat, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, stir constantly until aromatic, about 1 minute.

Add the tomatos, za'atar, chicken stock and 1 tsp. salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce temperature, and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Stir in the beans and the cod, simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the bananas or plantains and the spinach, simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit for about 10 minutes, until thickened a bit.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and sesame oil in a small saute pan over low heat. Add the sesame seeds and saute, stirring the seeds in the pan, until lightly toasted and fragrant, 5-7 minutes.

Swirl the toasted seeds into the stew, then stir in your lime juice. Add salt to taste.

banana photo by mshades


Kate said...

I was able to dine at the Minneapolis Aquavit one time and it was a very unusual and interesting experience. Marcus was even there and came to talk to us since it was my boss at the time who I was with and we were supplying the bread from the bakery where I worked to the restaurant. He personally prepared our food for us too. The aquavit itself was not my style, the food was....interesting, with plenty of unique ingredients.

btw, come and see a disclaimer post on my site about those mangosteens, ok? I don't want to discourage anyone from experimenting if they are so led.

Anonymous said...

Erin, this is new & sounds interesting to me :) I never had bananas in my stews before, I can almost taste the robust flavors of all the ingredients. By the way, Erin, would love to see how the stew looks like though :)

Anonymous said...

You wild woman, you! Sounds like a sexy soup.

Fer said...

This book sounds awesome. I will have to check it out!

Anonymous said...

wow, that stew sounds very interesting. have you checked out the show that marcus narrates on pbs?

Erin S. said...

Kate--yeah, I can't say Scandanavian food has ever been high on my list, but I like this book a lot.

Melting Wok--me too on the pictures, but I need to get my camera back first--I'm working on it.

chubbypanda and fer--thanks for stopping by!

mirthmobile--no, haven't seen the show--will look for it.

Augusta said...

I'd like to try this recipe out. Wondering though, where would I find the spice za'atar? i live in LA too.

Erin S. said...

Hey Augusta--Za'atar is actually a mix of thyme, sumac and sesame seeds. If you google search the recipe, you'll find different ratios to mix. Also, if you click on the za'atar link at the top of my post and it will take you to a recipe for it.