Sunday 24 May 2020

#046 A taste of Tanzania and Kenya - Part 2

In part 2, of our culinary journey continues through East Africa.

We begin in Tanzania. A country of superlatives and one which has given so many happy experiences, meetings and adventures. So much so, that I consider it a spiritual home. Each time I arrive, the moment I step off the aircraft, the smell of the red dust, huge sky and heat, makes me unspeakably happy.

Then we head west to the land of a thousand hills, Rwanda.
To some extent still in the shadow of 1994 and learning to live with lessons which all of humanity should never forget.

However, Rwanda is a beautiful country. The capital Kigali is the most scrupulously clean I have seen almost anywhere, including many European cities. This is partly due to Umuganda, held on the last Saturday of every month, where members of the community join together to clean and tidy their streets and towns. This is not a volunteer project, it's compulsory, borne out of the Rwandan tradition for self-help and co-operation.  Rwanda has pioneered laws to reduce plastic waste and was one of the first countries in the world to impose a blanket ban on the import, production, use or sale of plastic carrier bags. Tanzania and Kenya have since followed suit.

We conclude this edition on the Swahili coast, at Kipepeo, just south of Dar. Here a warm breeze mingles with the fresh sea air and light scent of a charcoal braai carries over the golden sands. Perhaps we have just arrived after a long journey along the TanZam highway after a safari in Mikumi National Park and seeking the charismatic African painted dogs (Lycaon pictus) in Ruaha.

Or we may have arrived from the north. After trekking along the Crater Highlands, from the stunning Ngorongoro crater through Masai lands to their mountain of God, Ol Doinyo Lengai.

Tomorrow, we have our alarm set for sunrise. To run along the miles of beach with the local lads, enjoying the stillness and tranquility as the light turns from purple, to pink, then cadmium.

But for now, we turn to the bar and seek another bottle of Kilimanjaro beer.

Sukuma Wiki

2lb   Sukuma greens (collared greens) chopped. I used spring greens
1  Onion, chopped
2  Tomatos, chopped
2 tablespoons   Vegetable oil

1) Heat oil, add onion and saute
2) Add tomato and saute for 2 mins
3) Add greens and saute for 2 mins
4) Add 100ml water and salt, simmer for 5-10 mins
5) Serve with Ugali or Rice

This dish is very simple and quick to prepare. 
Makes a nice accompaniment to a main meal, as seen here with pan fried salmon and saute new potatoes. 

Igisafuliya (Rwanda)
Igisafuliya literally means 'pot' in Kinyarwandan
Timings can be reduced for a vegetarian version, to keep the distinct textures and colours of ingredients.

4   Chicken thighs (I left this out, for a vegetarian version)
2   Onions, chopped
2   Leeks (white and green parts), thinly sliced
4   Green bell peppers, seeded and cut
4   Tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced (I used a tin of chopped tomatoes)
5   Celery stalks, chopped
6   Plantain bananas, sliced 1/4 length ways (I didn't have plantain, just slightly green bananas. So fried these separately until slightly caramelised then added to the top of the Igisafuliya on serving)
10oz   Spinach
3 tablespoons   Tomato paste
4 tablespoons   Vegetable oil
1   Hot pepper (I used a sprinkling of dried chilli flakes)

1) In a pot, heat oil, sear meat on med-high heat
2) Add onion, leeks, peppers. Stir and leave 10 mins, stirring occasionally
3) Add tomatoes, celery, tomato paste. Mix well, medium heat, 15 mins
4) Cover, add a cup of water, salt, pepper. Boil and then reduce to summer, 15 mins
5) Remove meat, place plantains in pot, cover them with spinach, place meat back on top. Add more water if necessary
6) Add hot pepper. Cover, simmer for 25 mins. Should be a lot of sauce left.

Zanzibar Pizza
Not all pizza is Italian. Zanzibar pizza is legendary and very much part of the Swahili coast culinary culture. Similar to a savoury crepe. It is cooked in a frying pan rather than a pizza oven.

Ingredients Dough:
1 cup   All purpose (plain) flour
1 tablespoon  Salt
2 tablespoons  Vegetable oil
1/2 cup   Water

1   Onion, chopped
2   Tomatoes, diced
Cream cheese

1) In mixing bowl, add flour, salt, oil, followed by water. Add enough water to ball the dough. Cover and set aside for 1 hour.
2) Form the base - Oil counter top. Pinch off small piece of dough. Start stretching dough into large disk.
3) Add filling of choice. Include egg, cream cheese, mayonnaise for an authentic Zanzibar pizza.
4) Carefully lift and put into hot pan with a little oil. Cook each side 8 minutes.
5) Serve while or cut into smaller pieces. Serve with chutney.

Zanzibar 'chocolate'
Not chocolate in the European sense. Zanzibar chocolate is more like a sesame bar.

Sesame seeds

Toast the sesame seeds in a hot pan.
Do not add any oil, the sesame seeds will release their own oils on heating.
Keep stirring, careful just to toast not burn the seeds
Add runny honey to the pan. Enough to bind the seeds not so much that the seeds are swimming.
Keep stirring, the honey needs to boil for 5 minutes.
Pour the mix onto grease proof paper and leave to set
Cut the Zanzibar Chocolate into triangles, strips or squares for your preferred style.
Served here with natural yogurt and a black cherry coulis (jam 😉 )

Furahiya chakula chako
Enjoy your food, we'll return in Part 3 with more East African delights for you to cook and taste.

Saturday 23 May 2020

#045 A taste of Tanzania & Kenya - Part 1

There are precious few positives about Covid-19. But one that I have sought out and relished is the time and opportunity to get back to cooking healthy meals. Over winter 2019, I had allowed convenience foods and refined sugars to become too much of a prominent feature of my routine. The saying goes 'you can't outrun a bad diet' is certainly true regarding feeling well and energised.

During lockdown, I looked though pictures of past expeditions and re-lived fond memories and great times in East Africa. I remembered, how well I felt at the end of the longer trips. A month spent in the bush or trekking is great for losing a few kilograms. I would return to the UK and often be able to easily fit my smaller 'post-Africa-set' of clothes.

Trekking, guiding clients and physical work on NGO projects is only part of the story. Manufactured and packaged food with familiar or similar brands are widely available in towns and villages near transport hubs. The simple delight of an Eet Sum Mor shortbread biscuit with Africafe black coffee.

But if you're prepared to source your own ingredients, or look for authentically cooked local food, you can eat very healthily and relatively inexpensively in East Africa.

Tanzanian, Kenyan, Ugandan and Rwandan food has been largely overlooked and passed by on the European table. We're missing out on fresh, amazing, colourful and great tasting meals. Easily prepared and achievable with a handful of ingredients and a few spices.

The spice trade from the Swahili Coast has been a major influence on the region's food style. Later, fusion with European tastes combined to create classics such as masala chips - the Kenyan favourite while heading home after night at the dance club.

So, here's a few recipes to experience a taste of Tanzania and Kenya.

Wali na Maharage (Rice and Beans)

1 cup   Dried kidney beans (Or do what I did and save lengthy preparation time, by buying a tin)
1 tin    Chick peas (my addition) 
2 cups   Long grain rice (I used Basmati)
4 small   Tomatoes, diced
10   Baby carrots, diced
1/2 large   Onion, dices
2 cloves   Garlic, minced
2 cups   Broth (I used two vegetable Oxo cubes in hot water)
to taste   Cayenne pepper
to taste   Salt
1/2 can   Full fat coconut milk
1 large   Plantain (I used an ordinary banana)
1   Avocado, diced
Vegetable oil

If using tins of kidney beans, go straight to number (4)
1) Soak kidney beans overnight
2) Drain water and add new water to fully cover and salt. Bring beans to the boil on high heat then med-low. Cook until tender. Don't need to be completely soft as they will cook in the sauce.
3) Drain off water, rise and set aside.
4) Saute onion and garlic on med heat until translucent
5) Add diced carrots and tomatoes in pan and saute for another 5 mins.
6) Add beans and chick peas to the pan. Add veg broth until the beans and vegetables are covered.
7) Add salt and cayenne, to taste
8) Cook for an additional 30-45 mins until beans are soft and sauce thickens a bit. Add water if it gets too thick
9) Cook rice
10) Slice plantain (banana) and in a separate pan, fry in oil. 2-3 mins each side until slightly caramelised.
11) Assemble - Pour generous portion of beans and sauce over rice. Drizzle coconut milk on top. Thin slices of avocado and slices of fried banana on top.

Mchuzi wa Samaki (Tanzanian coconut fish curry)

250g   Salmon cubed
250g   Hake cubes
(Instead of the above. I used Basa, a river fish, as a easily sourced alternative to East African Nile Perch).
1   Onion, sliced
2 tablespoon   Curry powder
1/2 teaspoon   Chilli powder
1 teaspoon   Tumeric, ground
1/2 teaspoon   Coriander, ground
2 tablesooon   Ginger and garlic paste (I used fresh finely grated ginger and mashed garlic)
6   Plum tomatoes, chopped
400 ml   Coconut milk
1 tablespoon   Tamarind paste (I didn't have any of this, so left it out)
A few    Coriander leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons   Vegetable oil
Rice (I used Basmati)

1) Heat oil in pan, add onions, curry powder, chilli powder, tumeric, ground coriander. Saute on low heat until softened for about 7 mins
2) Stir in ginger and garlic paste and cook for another 2 mins
3) Add chopped tomatoes and cook for 5 mins. Stirring so they don't stick to the pan. Add coconut milk and simmer for 30 mins.
4) In separate pan, prepare boiled rice
5) Add tamarind paste and fish, submerge in sauce. Cover and cook, 7 mins.
6) Serve fish and sauce, next to boiled rice
Note: I added a few thin slices of fresh green chilli as a garnish
Note: The side dish is Bombay potato and mushroom bhajee


Kenyan Masala chips

2 tablespoon   Vegetable oil
1/4   Medium red onion, finely chopped
1   Tomato, diced
1   Serrano chilli (I used a medium green chilli) seeded and finely chopped
2 cloves   Garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon   Garam Masala (I didn't have any of this, so used all spice and cumin)
1/4 teaspoon   Tumeric
1/2 teaspoon   Ground cumin
1 teaspoon   Lemon juice
2 tablespoons   Coriander fresh, chopped
1 lb   Chips, cooked, hot
To taste   Salt

1) Heat oil in large pan med-high heat. Add onion and cook for 5 mins until brown
2) Add tomato, coriander, garlic, stir well, cover, cook 5 mins until tomato is soft
3) Add garam masala, tumeric, cumin. Stir, reduce heat, cook for another 10 mins or until sauce clings
4) Stir in lemon juice and coriander
5) Add chips, salt. Toss well to coat. Serve immediately


2    tomatoes, sliced
1/2   Red onion, large, diced
1 or 2   Jalapenos (I used medium green chilli) seeded, diced
1   Cucumber, medium, diced
1 or 2 cloves   Garlic, minced
Juice from 1 lime
To taste   Chopped fresh coriander or parsley
To taste   Salt and black pepper
Optional: 2 beef tomatoes, thickly sliced
Optional: 1 or 2 Avocados, mashed, diced or sliced. Add lime to retain colour

1 clove   Garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup   Olive oil
2 tablespoon   Lemon juice, fresh squeezed
2 tablespoon   Balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon   Honey
2 tablespoon   Fresh parsley and basil, chopped
Salt and Pepper
(I didn't have enough ingredients for the above dressing, so used mayonnaise)

Ice and Africa Fusion dessert

1 tablespoon   Vegetable oil
1   Banana, sliced and fried until slightly caramelised
1 tub   Icelandic Skyr natural unflavoured yogurt
1 scoop   Paul Wallis' East Yorkshire, set honey

Furahia chakula chako

Tuesday 12 May 2020

#044 Recreating the Star Carr Mesolithic pendant

Following my recent archaeology blog topics and as Covid-19 lockdown is unfortunately still with us, I have continued my studies with a short course on the Mesolithic hunter gathers of Star Carr, by Future Learn / University of York.

Star Carr is a unique archaeological site of world heritage importance in North Yorkshire, dating back 11,000 years. It was continuously, or near continuously, occupied for 800 years.

Antler frontlet headdress
The artefacts at Star Carr have redefined preconceptions of hunter gatherer life in the middle stone age. Enigmatic finds such has red deer antler headdresses (the frontlets are displayed in the Rotunda Museum, Scarborough) and an exquisitely carved pendant, indicate a society which had capacity to  devote time and energy to creativity and ritual. A group, or tribe, which did so much better than living on the edge of existence.
Star Carr today
I visited Star Carr a couple of years ago. The area nowadays is an unassuming area of arable farmland. But back in the Mesolithic there was a large lake, left as glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age. It was surrounded by birch and willow forests, with reeds at the shore edge. Undemanding, pioneer species which thrived on thin, poor soil. The hunter gatherers shared their wild environment with aurochs (wild bovines), roe and red deer, elk, boar, bear and wolf. On the lake people fished for perch and pike using barbed point harpoons.

This superb atmospheric CGI reconstruction of Star Carr, by Anthony Masinton, was created for the Star Carr Archaeology Project:

Yorkshire 9000BC

At that time, with ice still locked in the receding glaciers, the sea level was much lower than today and the British land mass was connected to the continent, by a vast plain we call Doggerland. As more ice melted and sea levels rose, Doggerland became an island surrounded by salt marsh. A recent hypothesis suggests much of the remaining coastal land was flooded by a megatsunami around 6200BC, caused by a submarine landslide off the coast of Norway, known as the Storegga Slide.

Doggerland - Picture credit
Tony Robinson discusses this in the 2013 Time Team Special:
At 35 mins, features Star Carr artefacts presented by Director Of Archaeology, Dr. Nicky Milner and Time Team's Phil Harding.

Britain's Stone Age Tsunami

Star Carr was too far inland to be affected by the tsunami. But over time, Lake Flixton became a paleolake. As plants at the lake edge lived and died, hydroseral succession took place; peat formed and detrital muds accumulated. The shore of the lake edged inward and the depth became shallower, until it was little more than a swamp.

This peat, with its high water content, low oxygen levels and slightly acidic pH, prohibited biological decomposition and preserved the wood, antler and bone artefacts which were deposited into the lake. Items which under normal conditions would have been broken down by bacteria, microbes an fungi in just a few years. It is this rare combination of circumstances which makes Star Carr so special.

Star Carr beads
But, why did our ancestors place such importance upon deliberate deposition of their possessions into the lake? We can only guess, but it seems likely this was associated with a belief system where items such as the deer head dresses, harpoon points, bow and digging sticks, must be returned to water, by votive offerings. The surface of the lake perhaps represented a membrane to a spiritual realm. Not all of the artefacts had been used. Laboratory examination showed no signs of wear on some.

Star Carr pendant - picture credit
Among the artefacts found at Star Carr was a number of beads and an incredibly rare pendant, engraved with a barbed line motif. Mesolithic art worldwide is extremely uncommon, the nearest comparison is a style found in Denmark.

Star Carr pendant - illustration Chloe Watson /
This itself is remarkable and suggests some form of trade or exchange of items or ideas even before the Neolithic revolution. However, geographically, let's not forget that at that time there was the Doggerland connection across what is now the North Sea.

Lochbuie, Isle of Mull
I was aware of the Star Carr pendant before I began the Future Learn / York University course. I had it in mind to attempt a recreation of my own (to compliment my series Stone Age Crafts) when I visited the Isle Of Mull at Christmas.

Walking along the sea shore near Lochbuie there are a series of caves, with fresh water cascades nearby. In the Mesolithic, the shore would have been much further away. But, with a little imagination one could picture a scene of strandloping hunter gatherers using the caves as a temporary seasonal camp. Further along I came across a beach of small, flat, pebbles.

Lochbuie pebbles
This was good, the Star Carr beads and pendant were made from pebbles of Lias shale which eroded out of nearby rivers and found along the Yorkshire coast around Robin Hood's bay and Ravenscar. I selected a handful of pebbles, of the right proportions and kept them ready for this project.

Marked up in pencil ready for working
Even with more time on my hands due the Covid-19 lockdown. I still would not have the time available to bore the hole in each bead with a flint burin, as our Mesolithic ancestors would have done. Time would have had a much different meaning in the Mesolithic. The nearest contemporary equivalent that I have experienced is life in remote, subsistence economies in East Africa.

Bush camp in southern Tanzania
For example, the cooking process, from preparation - over an open flame - to serving, takes a very long time. Far removed from the instant electricity and gas hobs we're used to in the UK. It seems no sooner has one meal finished it's not long until it's time to start preparing another. For women in traditional gender based roles, their day starts early, rekindling the fire. Then in between preparing meals, spending time in the fields or at the market, gathering food. Day after day, not an easy life.

Beans for wali na maharage, 24 hours preparation required
It's not too far a leap of imagination and probability that such roles were none too different in the Mesolithic. Where many tasks undertaken by males and females took much longer than we are used to. Add to this the very real danger of broken bones, septic trauma, or a painful death while hunting dangerous animals such as wild aurochs.

Cutting using rotary tool
For my version of the Star Carr pendant, I selected the finest tip cutter for my rotary tool. But even before I started cutting, the marking up process highlighted what exquisite, detailed work had been accomplished on the original pendant. I realised, I could not exactly reproduce the flint etched lines as even the 0.5mm finest tool cutter was too big.

While etching the pendant, even with reading glasses on and being extraordinarily careful, I struggled to see the fine lines.This made me think of a number of inferences and practicalities when the Mesolithic pendant was created...

  • Was it was etched during day rather than night, as the human eye functions better in daylight?
  • Was the creator very short sighted, giving them the aptitude to work the almost vanishing micro-detail with such precision?
  • Was the creator a younger person, with better eyesight than an older person who's eyes with age tend toward long sightedness?
My version of the Star Carr pendant. Length 33mm
In comparison to the original, my attempt is rather crude, however it was fun to do and it raised some interesting and worthwhile questions. What I can say is that the time to burr the hole was several hours quicker than in the Mesolithic. Hoorah for power tools (sometimes)!

So what do the patterns mean? Several possibilities have been proposed: A leaf, map, similarities to Medieval Ogram script (although way, way, too early). Here we step into the realm of speculation.
Windmill Hill etched chalk motifs
For me, the etchings on the Star Carr shale pendant are tantalisingly reminiscent of motives on chalk, dated to the Neolithic, found at Windmill Hill, not far from Avebury, Wiltshire.

In the book 'Inside The Neolithic Mind' the authors (David Lewis-Williams & David Pearce) discuss Neolithic geometric rock cut art and how similar patterns have been produced by modern subjects under a range of psycotropic drugs. The authors go on to discuss that Neolithic imagery is connected with communicating the memory of a shamanic experience.

Credit: Inside The Neolithic Mind - Lewis Williams, Pearce
The etchings on the Mesolithic pendant are similarly geometric, perhaps also reproduced from a shamanic experience. However, I suggest the work here is so fine that it too must have been done after ritual, rather than during it.

The repeatable patterns of consciousness from modern, Neolithic and Mesolithic examples are not 'exactly' the same. But this variation is (using Williams & Pearces's argument) due the individuals brain and influences of cultural cosmology of the time.

"Certain distinctive motifs are complexly derived from the structure and function of the human brain. This shows that human beings are not unthinking photocopiers. Cultural expectations control what people make of their hallucinations"

Similarities in archaeological petroglyphs have been noted from around the world, in civilisations and groups across continents which had no cultural connections. Thus lending further weight to the proposal that these geometric patterns are an artefact of the human brain rather than purely cultural.

Modern Star Carr bead and pendant set.
It's unlikely that we will ever be wholly certain what the markings on the Star Carr pendant represent. However, it is a tantalising glimmer into the creative minds and beliefs of our Mesolithic ancestors.

Stu Westfield
Ranger Expeditions

Star Carr Archaeology Project
Future Learn
Yorkshire University - Star Carr Research