2017 Food Trends: The Flavors of Africa Part 3, Southern Shores
By Piet E. Jones
Wrapping up our look at African cuisine, we move south and to the islands off the eastern coast. The flavors get a little lighter but are no less unique and exciting.
Fish is abundant in South Africa and one of the preferred methods for cooking fish is in banana or plantain leaves. Either a whole or filleted fish can work, score the skin if whole, salt generously, add lemon or sliced leeks or onions, maybe a splash of wine, then wrap tightly—no steam should be able to escape. An oven can work, but to really exploit this method, low burning coals are the best. A little charring is okay, but don’t let the leaves burn. The result is an intensifying of the flavors without it becoming fishy, not to mention the wrapped fish looking stunning on the plate.
As a comfort food, few dishes beat Shepherd’s Pie. Savory meat covered with a thick layer of mashed potatoes to lock in the goodness. The problem is many people are eschewing potatoes these days. A way around that is the South African national dish, bobotie. Ground beef and lamb, browned, add onions and garlic, spice with curry and turmeric, then mix in chopped apricots, apples, raisins, and almonds along with the zest of a lemon and a beaten egg to hold it all together. Cover and bake. Just before serving, uncover and pour beaten eggs with milk over the top, then return to the oven to finish baking. The result is a protein heavy dish that is deeply satisfying without all the empty starch.
Cassava leaves, from the plant where the manioc root originates, are a common ingredient in many African traditions. Especially in Malagasy where ravitoto is a ubiquitous offering. Chunks of meat, often pork, are slow cooked in pounded leaves with garlic and coconut milk. The result, however, isn’t very visually appealing and the propensity for leaf fibers to get caught in teeth might not make it popular here. Pureeing the cooked leaves can result in a much smoother sauce that would be more appealing to American palates.
Eating styles in the US are shifting, one trend is towards shared dishes, couples or groups of friends huddled over a single dish to share while having a craft beer or two. Khimo is the perfect dish for that group. Minced beef, chopped onion and diced tomato softened in red palm oil with fine chopped peppers of appropriate heat, cumin and turmeric, all simmered in stock with a little lime and cubed potatoes until thick and hearty. Serve with flatbread, perfect for dipping and ordering more beer to wash it all down.
While most of us love shrimp, all too often their delicate flavor is overwhelmed by heavy sauces or spices. The people of Tanzania, especially out on the islands like Zanzibar, have found just the right balance with kamba wa nazi (you might want to not use the Swahili name on your menu). Start with onions and garlic sautéed in red palm oil, a pinch or two of saffron, diced red bell pepper and coconut milk. Toss large shell-on shrimp into the sauce and finish with fresh chopped cilantro. It’s quick and easy with rich flavors that still allow you to enjoy the shrimp—or crab or lobster if you care to mix it up a bit.
Competition for diners is fierce. Keeping ahead of the curve and identifying the next big trend is key to your success as a restauranteur. As we move into 2017, the flavor profiles and cooking techniques are trending into the imagination of chefs across the country. The upside of this trend it is so broad and expansive, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a few new ideas for inspiration as you write up your next menu. Which leaves us with a final, pressing question: how exactly do you make this work for your menu? We’ll ponder that in our next exciting installment!