Friday, July 27, 2012

Kick-Ass Kenkey Recipe

Think of a slightly sour tamale without the inner filling and you've got a pretty good idea of what this Ghanaian staple is like.

The problem with kenkey is that it takes a while to make on your own and is almost impossible to find (unless you have a West African market nearby). Traditionally, kenkey is a fermented corn mash that takes days to prepare properly. You can ferment it on your own (there are instructions available online), or you can use my recipe, which has an almost identical flavor and takes only a few minutes to prepare.

For a more sour kenkey, increase lime juice by ¼ cup and reduce water by ¼ cup.

This recipe makes roughly 6-8 kenkey “tamales.” For this, you’ll need to purchase both masa harina and dried corn husks (masa is a flour made from hominy). Both are available in the Mexican aisle of virtually any grocery store or any Mexican market.

Kenkey goes great with any type of fish and shito or red-red, all eaten by hand. Though not as traditional, kenkey also goes great with a lot of other African proteins, such as mesir mot. Non-vegetarians would love it with tibs and awaze.

Prep time: 1 cocktail

5-15 corn husks, depending on size
3 cups masa harina
1 cups water
½ cup canola oil
3/4 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
2 tsp salt

Start by soaking the corn husks in a big bowl. Submerge them in hot water and let them soak for at least a half hour. You’ll need something heavy to set on top of the husks so they remain submerged. A brick is what I use.

Now you’re ready to make the kenkey dough. Combine masa, water, oil, lime juice and salt in a large mixing bowl and mix well with a mixer or by hand.

Next, take a fully-soaked corn husk and figure out which is the smoothest side. Set on the counter with smooth side facing up. The stuffing amount will vary depending on the size of the corn husks. But you want to fill the corn husk so that you’ll be able to roll it up.

Roll the kenkey “tamale” like a big hand-rolled cigarette. Tie the two ends securely with string. If you don’t have string, you can tear strips off soaked corn husks to do the job, but this takes a bit longer and the husk strips are easy to tear when tightly pulled.

At this point, you can freeze any kenkey “tamales” you don’t plan on cooking right away. Just stack in a large Tupperware or zip lock bag and place in freezer. You can later prepare frozen tamales by following the steaming directions below (but add a couple extra minutes). Frozen tamales can also be steamed inside their husks right in the microwave (though most purists would pooh-pooh the practice). Cooking times vary on size and number cooked, but ranges from roughly 2 to 10 minutes.

To steam right away, use a bamboo or metal steamer. Stack the tamales so there’s lots of circulation space. Cover and until the masa gets nice and firm and doesn't want to stick to the wrapper when you open it up, which can vary from 45 minutes to two hours, depending on the thickness of each kenkey and how tightly they're packed in the steamer. . Don’t forget to check the water level occasionally!

When done, serve with fish or the protein of your choice and shito.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sexytime XXXtra Bold Boulder BBQ Sauce

If there’s one thing I truly hate in life, it’s social injustice. But almost as much as that, I HATE sweet, thick barbecue sauce. And almost as much as I hate sweet, thick BBQ sauce, I hate paying 5 bucks for a bottle of the stuff only to find out how bad it is. So, as a result, I decided to make my own. It’s big, bold, tangy, smoky, spicy and freaking DELICIOUS! Great on anything from veggie burgers to pork ribs!

Note that I typically use plain, old, commercial, non-vegetarian Worcestershire sauce. If you are going with Annie’s or another non-mainstream brand, keep in mind that these are usually much milder. As a result, I recommend you increase the amount to taste.

And although this is already a massively flavorful BBQ sauce, feel free to sex up this sauce even more by adding beer, crushed pineapple, lemon juice, red wine, chipotle, whiskey, orange juice, tequila, coffee, or cocoa powder. Any of these additions will be delicious!

1 large clove garlic, chopped, NO MORE!
1-2 TBSP onion, finely minced
2 cups ketchup (homemade recipe or store bought)
1 TBSP ground black pepper
½ cup white vinegar
1/3 tsp cayenne pepper
1 TBSP powdered mustard
2 TBSP light soy sauce or tamari
¼ cup Worcestershire
1 TBSP brown sugar
¾ tsp liquid smoke

Combine garlic, onion, and ketchup in food processor and buzz until it makes a nice, smooth sauce.

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer, stirring frequently until all flavors have mingled and you have reached desired consistency, about 30 minutes. Adjust to your personal flavor here by adding in more sugar, Worcestershire, liquid smoke, or anything else you might want to emphasize more. 

Remove from heat, chill, and serve. Will keep a few weeks in the refrigerator or can be canned for indefinite storage. 

When I can this, I quadruple the recipe and process at 13 psi for 20 minutes in hot pint jars with 1/4 inch headspace. Makes 6 pints. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Goat Cheese, Corn, and Sweet Potato-Stuffed Crepes (with Homemade Mole)

After living in Africa for two years, I can objectively say that this recipe kicks more ass than an abusive Ethiopian donkey owner. And I should know. Eat this now and eat it often.

For this recipe, you’ll need a quarter to a half batch of my (or your own) homemade mole recipe.

Prep time: 2 cocktails.

3 large eggs
1.5 cup whole milk
3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 c white flour
1/2 cup masa harina
3 TBSP melted butter

Combine all in a medium-sized mixing bowl and whisk very well by hand or with mixer.

¼ cup corn or canola oil, divided
1 Anaheim pepper or 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped fairly small
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 cup fresh or frozen corn (don’t even think of using canned!)
6 ounces goat cheese (chevre), crumbled

Homemade mole, served warm

Bake the sweet potato in the oven or microwave until it's just soft when poked deeply with a fork (everybody loves a good deep poking, right?). Be very careful not to overcook it. When it cools a bit, cut it into 1/2-inch cubes.

Heat 2 TBSP of the oil in a small frying pan and heat over medium-high heat. Add potatoes and sauté until the edges become just a bit crisp, about 4 minutes. Add pepper and continue to sauté until peppers become just a tad softened, about 5-6 more minute. Add corn and remove from heat.

Once mixture has cooled enough so it won’t melt the goat cheese, stir it in as well.

To prepare the crepes, heat a nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Add a teaspoon or two of oil and ladle about ¼ cup of batter into the pan in a spiral motion. Now lift the pan and rotate it in the air to further spread out the batter. Remember crepes should be quite thin. Next, place about 3 TBSP of filling in one half of the crepe and once the bottom has just barely begun to cook to firmness, fold the unstuffed half over the filling to create a calzone-shaped crepe. If your timing is correct, the bottom of the crepe should be cooked almost to perfection, but the top will still be moist and will fuse to completely enclose the filling. Continue cooking another minute or so, then gently flip and cook a few more seconds until each side has just a kiss of golden color, but is still moist.

Remove from heat and place on a plate. If you’re making more than a few, I recommend turning your oven up to 150 and placing prepared crepes in there to keep them warm. Add another teaspoon or two of oil before preparing each additional crepe.

Once all your crepes are done, ladle some of the warm mole over the top. Delicious!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Mole Negro

This traditional Oaxacan sauce is great with tamales or in mole-specific recipe for goat cheese, corn, and sweet potato crepes. And for any carnivorous folks out there, this recipe will go great with chicken as well. Soooooo delicious!

Note that this recipe makes a fairly big batch, so if you’re cooking a small meal, reducing the proportions is recommended. However, mole freezes and cans well, so I recommend just saving what you have left over. 

Some of the ingredients here are a bit obscure, but you can find most of them at any large supermarket or Mexican market. 

Regarding the Mexican chocolate, there are a few varieties out there, but the one I most highly recommend is Ibarra (pictured above). 

Prep time: 1 cocktail

Spice and seed mix: 
2 TBSP shelled pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas)
1/3 cup peanuts
2 TBSP sesame seeds
½ tsp dried chipotle powder
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp cardamom
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp thyme
1/2 of a star anise pod
10 cloves
8 peppercorns

Other ingredients:
4-5 dried Ancho chilies
4-5 dried Guajillo chilies
4-5 dried Pasilla chilies
3 medium tomatoes, whole
3 tomatillos, peeled and left whole
3 TBSP corn or canola oil
3/4 medium onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups vegetable stock, store-bought or homemade
1/2 almonds
1/3 cup raisins
1 wheel of Ibarra chocolate 
2 tsp salt
Sugar to taste

Preheat oven to 350.

In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients for the spice and seed mix and set aside.

When oven is hot, toast anchos, guajillos, and pasillas directly on the rack for about 3 minutes, or until they become fragrant and just start to give off a bit of smoke when you open the oven door. Remove from the oven and combine the peppers with the boiling water in a bowl. Let soak for at least 20 minutes. You’ll want to place a weighted plate on top of the peppers to keep them submerged. Remove from water and drain. Remove stems and seeds and set aside.

While your peppers are soaking bring a big pot of water to a boil and throw the whole tomatoes and tomatillos in the water. Boil until the skins start to wrinkle, about 4 minutes. Then drain, and let cool enough to handle. Then core the tomatoes. 

In large saucepan or large frying pan, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat. When hot, add onion and sauté until translucent, 5-7 minutes. Stir in garlic and sauté about 45 seconds. Stir in almonds and sauté 2 minutes. Then stir in the spice and seed mix and sauté 2 more minutes. Transfer the contents immediately to a food processor or blender.

You'll likely need to work in batches, but you'll want to process the onion/spice mixture with the chilies, tomatoes, tomatillos, vegetable stock, and raisins. Process until it becomes a totally smooth sauce.

Pour your sauce into a saucepan and over medium-low. Stir in chocolate, salt, and a couple pinches of sugar. Stir almost continuously until the chocolate melts completely.

Now comes the adjustment part. Mole is a delicate balanced sauce, and following any recipe will yield differing results at different times. So you will likely need to adjust with a bit of sugar, salt, almond butter, and/or chocolate to get it to be just perfect. You may also have to cook off a bit of water or add some to get to the right consistency (it should be a little runnier than ketchup).

Cook for one more minute and remove from heat. Serve hot over the tamales or goat cheese, corn, and sweet potato crepes.

(Mole is also great if you do any home canning. A single batch will make about 5 pints. Process pints in a pressure canner with 3/4-inch headspace for 20 minutes.)