Recipes from the experimental kitchen

Upon arriving in Macha, I discovered that I am not, in fact, living in The Ark. I’m living in The Wooden House, which has a similar set-up, but is broken into smaller apartment-type units, has bigger rooms, and is closer to where I’ll be working. I share my unit with a guy from Zimbabwe named Moses and a woman named Claire, whose existance I have not personally verified. There are a number of boxes adorning the common area that are aparently Claire’s, and Moses says she’s around. She’s also possibly moving to Lusaka sometime in the near future, but since I haven’t yet seen her, this would have little direct impact on my life. Moses is very nice, and this morning he and Maritt (a dutch gal doing research at the ART clinic) showed me the market so I could get my bike tire fixed. I also managed to persuade him to tell me, after some prevarication, that yes, it would be a terrible thing to brush my teeth in the kitchen sink, and I should go out to the washhouse to do so. (There are flush toilets. There are not toilet seats.) My life would be easier if I could wash my teeth in the kitchen sink instead of trudging out in the dark to the washhouse, where the light isn’t working, but I don’t recall making my life easier to be one of the things motivating me to come to Zambia.

I got here yesterday morning, but we had lunch yesterday at the one restaurant, there was a sort of neighborhood potluck last night, and I concocted breakfast and lunch today from things that required little preparation, so tonight was my first night actually cooking for myself. I wore myself out this morning with the trip to the market, which involved some walking, a lot of sunlight (there are trees here, but no shade), and hellos to everyone — I mean EVERYONE. You greet people who bike past you as you’re walking to the market. It did help me learn more Tonga (“Mabuka botin” is “good day”, and then they say something vaguely like “Kabut mabuka botin,” and you say something that might be “kabut”), but also meant that it was late in the afternoon before I got around to one of my other chores for today: wiping out my dresser so that I can feel reasonably comfortable putting my clothes into it (and the water was FILTHY afterwards. I’m sure some of that was just dust from driving, but some of it was traces of previous inhabitants). So the sun had gone down, a great glowing red globe in a watercolor washed gradient of sky, by the time I got around to making my supper.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to make for supper, but I knew that it needed to be in one pan, that it should use sausage and greens and tomatoes, because those are the perishables I have that should be eaten most pressingly, but not ALL of the sausage, greens, and tomatoes, because I won’t have much in the way of meat or vegetables after they’re gone. I also wanted it to be fairly easy, because as you might have guessed from the fact that I was only cleaning out my dresser this afternoon/evening, I am not remotely unpacked (I might be more unpacked, but I wanted to clean the dresser, and my shelf is infested with roaches and is currently sitting outside waiting to be sprayed on Monday, and there’s only so much unpacking one can do with a bed, a refrigerator, a desk, two chairs, two suitcases, and several boxes).

I had located rice, lentils, tomatoes, greens (maybe kale. If it’s not kale, it’s related), tumeric, sausage, and a pan, and was in the process of deciding how much water and how much time each of these things required when the electricity cut out. I fished out a candle and box of matches (two of the few things that I very intentionally unpacked to somewhere that I could find them) and made a makeshift candle holder out of a mug. So, I present:

No ZESCO Rice, Lentils, and Sausage

After you have finished fiddling with the candle, read your package of lentils and decide that the lentils and the rice probably need about the same amount of time.
(The electricity just cut out again, but only for a second or two before it came back, and now it’s properly back and the lights are no longer flickering, which is reassuring.)
Add one part rice, one part lentils, and four parts of water to your pan. Collect the other ingredients and go out to the kitchen, where you may light the second candle if desired.

Decide that the gas stove does not appear to work at all and wonder how you’re going to cook your supper, and how long it would take a fire to get from one candle and no wood to something capable of cooking your supper. As you are pondering this, notice that the light on the outlet on one wall is on, and wonder if the outlets are secretly attached to the generators when the lights clearly aren’t. When the lights start flickering, decide that the power is coming back and hurridly put your pan on the stove. Add about one part sausage, sliced open, and cover.

Wash greens and begin chopping the stems, then realize that you’ve neglected to flip the switch on the wall that powers the stove. Turn the stove on and finish chopping stems. The water should be coming to a boil. Add stems and poke at your supper with a wooden stirring stick that you found in the communal kitchen. Cover pan again and finish chopping the greens. Dump the greens into the pan, along with some turmeric. Chop two small tomatoes and add them too. Consider stirring again, decide that this is more like paella than like plain rice, and do so. Cook a few minutes more, salt, and serve.

For something I just made up, it was pretty good. It might have benefited from more spices, and the lentils either needed more water or more time or both, but I enjoyed it.

While I was waiting for the rice to cook, I installed a hook and a string to keep my door closed (it locks, but it doesn’t latch). I was going to just deal with it and maybe pick up some hardware in Choma next week, but after I saw the rat today, I decided that as long as the rats aren’t currently in my room, I would like to take available steps to keep it that way. I think the string bothers Moses, though; he says he’ll try to fix my door tomorrow. Probably I could have just asked him to fix the door, but that didn’t occur to me. I could fix it myself if I had some tools, and I didn’t know that anyone else has tools and is handy with such things, so I didn’t think to ask. Possibly thinking to ask is one of the cultural differences that I’m here to learn.



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9 responses to “Recipes from the experimental kitchen

  1. Dottie Baumgarten

    Next time I make lentils and rice, I’ll be thinking of you. Cheers! Dottie

  2. Depends on the gas stovetop, obviously– But sometimes the gas will come out fine when the stove/electricity is off, but there’s no sparker to ignite. So you can either ignite with a (long) match, or if you turn it on and leave it on, you can fill an area with gas that will blow up your apartment later.

    In the US, the gas is artificially scented to avoid blowing yourself up. Not sure about near you.

    • No, there isn’t any gas. This area doesn’t have it piped in, obviously, and there’s no tank of gas attached to the tubing. I verified this after the electricity came back on, but I was pretty sure that the stove wasn’t working after I’d been holding my candle next to the burner while the burner was ostensibly on, and could not discover any signs or sounds of gas.

      We just use a regular kitchen match at home. The whoosh of flame is visually impressive, but I’ve never gotten scorched; I think it’s the same principle as burning a dollar bill dipped in alcohol.

      I always thought the gas was scented to avoid asphyxiating yourself. Though I guess blowing up the apartment would also be a side effect.

  3. cmoore

    Sounds like a headlamp would be handy for after-dark tooth brushing.

    What kinds of spices are readily available there? (Probably you don’t know yet, since you haven’t had the chance to grocery shop much.) Did you learn in orientation what sorts of dishes are typical to your area?

    • I have one, and I’m VERY glad of it. It definitely beats trying to juggle a flashlight along with everything else.

      Off the top of my head, I know that I have (dried) basil, coriander, chili powder (which isn’t available here; Kathy says that if they sell something called chili, it’s the same as cayenne, which I also have, but Kathy got a BIG container of chili powder sent from Canada, and she shared some with me), paprika, curry, garam masala, cinnamon, thyme, I think marjoram, turmeric, oregano, ginger, and probably some others. I’m all set for spices, basically; I think the only things I wanted but couldn’t find were cumin and dill, and in addition to the spices I considered necessary for the operation of a kitchen, there were eight or ten other spices that previous MCC families had left behind and Kathy already had some of, so she asked me if I wanted them, and I wasn’t about to turn down spices. I don’t know if any of them are from the area, but they’re available, at least in Lusaka, where we did a big set-up grocery run.

      Local dishes are nshima (cornmeal . . . dough, tastes like mush or polenta, has the consistency of play-dough, and is white; you roll it into balls and then smoosh them into a sort of spoon-utensil), nshima, nshima, nshima, relish (vegetables or meat in sauce, and boy is the meat tough. Apparently Zambians like “village chicken.” The relishes I’ve had are tasty (try pumpkin leaves in groundnut flour sauce, if you ever have a chance), but the meat is whoa hard to chew). I had offals at the traditional restaurant we ate at last week, and they were fairly tasty, but also at least 80% fat, or so it seemed to me.

      Do you think ground corn is whole grain?

  4. What an adventure! I’m glad you were able to get your supper cooked and that it was good. Ground corn sounds like it would be whole grain–grits in southern terms, but commercially prepared grits are not whole grain. It sounds like your supplier of ground corn would be of the whole grain variety. You ate offal? Ewww.

    Taking care of things oneself is a good quality, but often misunderstood by others. Is Moses just a guy or is he another SALT worker? I’m sure he will get to know you and you him and all will work out.

    Can you keep a small cup of water in your room for late night tooth brushing? You could use it to water a plant or something. I’ve always wondered if other people thought it was gross to brush one’s teeth in the kitchen sink–I’ve done it at work, but only when no one was around. I do it all the time at home and no one has died. Bet you’re glad you won’t be eating at my house any time soon.

    • Moses is one of my neighbors. He’s from Zimbabwe and also works at LinkNet. (So, just a guy. The SALT kids are in other cities/towns/villages.)

      The issue with tooth-brushing is more getting rid of the toothpaste foam. I’ve done the spray-suds-into-the-woods thing while camping, on occasion, but I don’t really want to make it a permanent habit somewhere I’ll be living. And I don’t really have a windowsill appropriate for plants, though I suppose I could use the porch instead. We brush our teeth in the kitchen sink at home; there are even discreet toothbrushes and toothpaste. No one’s died there, either. I think it’s one of those things that goes by personal squeamishness, like washing your hair in the kitchen sink (but it’s deeper than the bathroom sink, and you’re much less likely to brain yourself on the faucet, assuming you can even fit your head into the bathroom sink).

      • Vorindi

        Wait, people wash their hair in the _bathroom_ sink?

      • I’ve done it on occasion, when there wasn’t a kitchen sink available, or the owner of the available sink was squeamish. It’s not very comfortable, even if you manage to avoid slamming your head into the faucet, and there’s a certain tendency to drag your hair on the sink bottom. It’s probably worse when one has more hair.

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