Thursday, June 25, 2009

Morning at the market

This morning, we decided to go out for breakfast. The place we'd driven by a few times, which has cafe tables attractively set up along the roadside, told us that in fact, they had no food, so we did what any hungry person in Africa does who doesn't want to eat doughnuts for breakfast. We went to the market.

First off, no one bothers white people here like I'm used to being bothered in African markets, so there's no need to avoid eye contact or mentally block out kissing noises. People watched us curiously, but more because there wasn't much going on.

The market is an open area with low whitewashed walls roofed with corrugated tin. Women divided themselves according to what they were selling, with bags of beans, lentils and rice towards the entrance, various vegetables and foodstuffs towards the front, fufu and assorted cassava products to the back left, and assorted protein products including bones, pork cubes, chicken thighs, pig's feet, chicken's feet, prawns and smoked forest antelope to the back right, and greens just out the back.

At one point, I saw what looked like a block of clay, was encouraged to try it, and found that it actually was clay. Pregnant women here are known to crave and eat dirt, but I suspect it's also a poverty thing: the woman who wanted me to buy some told me it was for appetite, perhaps like the mud pies in Haiti. It did suppress my appetite, but also made me feel a little nauseous for a couple of hours. I look forward to spending more time in markets and figuring out what everything is.

Here's what we found for about $10:

* enough baby eggplant to fill a roasting pan and make baba ghanough (recipe below)
* black-eyed peas and whole lentils, which I'm sprouting thanks to the advice of my friend Cathleen
* okra for a South Indian thoran
* a huge pumpkin, which we're making into both curry and pumpkin raisin bread with yoghurt frosting
* bananas which we froze for future smoothies
* handfuls of onions and a bulb of garlic
* local peanut butter, unsweetened and without salt
* plantains, for roasting or frying
* limes, for our water
* 15 eggs, since our chickens are sitting on theirs
* small prawns, which I cleaned and took the heads off of, then made into a scampi with butter and garlic

As you can imagine, I'm pleased with our excursion and figuring out how we can eat locally quite well.

Here's how to make proper Egyptian baba ghanough. It keeps as long as hummus, is less filling (as it's full of mashed eggplant instead of chick peas), and can be used in exactly the same way.

Eggplants, enough to cover at least half a baking tray when cut into thick slices, the younger the better as the older ones tend to be a bit bitter
Tahini paste, a couple of big tablespoons full
Lemon or lime juice, without the seeds as they make it extremely bitter
Salt to taste
A few cloves of raw garlic

Slice the eggplant into two-finger thick slices and lay them on a baking sheet or roasting tray. Broil or bake them in the oven until they're browinsh and soft -- the length of time will depend upon the settings of your oven, the eggplants and your patience. I've broiled eggplants in 15 minutes before, but often prefer roasting them at 350F for about half an hour.

Add the cooked eggplant, tahini, lemon or lime juice, salt and garlic to a food processor or, if you don't mind a bit of prodding, a blender. Pulverize until the skin of the eggplant has blended with the pulp. Add water as needed to thin the baba ghanough, especially if you're trying to do this with a blender.

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