Cooking in (Burundi) Style

The hardest part about moving here was getting used to cooking. At first, I had no idea how to clean my vegetables, where to find oil and spices, if I should use filtered or tap water, how to make simple things like beans, and how to find variety in what I could cook. The longer I have been here, however, the more I appreciate the adventure, creativity, complexity, and enjoyment that are found in the simple task of making a meal. Because literally every dish I make comes with a side of adventure, that is a pretty good place to start.
One evening, I was making a very simple quinoa salad with lemon, sautéed green peppers, roasted potatoes, raw tomatoes and olives, with a honey mustard dressing. Simple right? I started cooking at around 5:30 pm, you know, to get a head start. I turn on our amazing and electric oven to roast the potatoes. Boom, the power goes out. Shoot. I text a neighbor to see if I can use their gas oven and they graciously oblige. I run to put the potatoes in to roast, then start getting ready to go to an empty house to use the gas stove for the rest of the meal. Boom! Power is back on, what a nice surprise. Thankfully, I get through all the stovetop cooking and then...bam, no power again! Where's my flashlight? No idea, its totally dark, and time for me to check on my potatoes. I finally find my light and head outside for the darkest 10 second run of my life. I make it to the house, the lights come back on, I check the potatoes, and the lights turned back off. They need a few more minutes, so I race home quickly to avoid the darkness. As I am cleaning the kitchen and setting the table, the power comes back on again, and the wind starts to howl outside which can only mean one thing, rain. I'm not talking a Seattle type of mist your face rain, I'm talking a downpour, soak your potatoes in three seconds kind of rain. I run back over, get my well enough cooked potatoes and run home JUST as the rain starts to pour, and quietly thank the Lord for saving my potatoes.
And now for the main courses of complexity, creativity, and enjoyment.
A good place to start is milk. It comes straight from the milk man and then needs to be boiled. Once that is done, you let it cool and skim off the film th that forms on the top. From there it goes into a jar and into the fridge.
The next day, when you pull it out, there is a layer of cream that has formed on the top. You can see it in the above picture, if you look closely. Some people use this in their coffee, but I scrape this off, and put it in a jar in the freezer to make butter with later. Now, if we drink all our milk that week, great, but if not, it is a great opportunity to make cheese!
The kind of cheese I learned to make here is made with herbs, garlic salt, and red pepper flakes. It is delicious! Homemade cheese and crackers are a special treat and a ready to eat dinner (if you make them ahead of time of course). As I mentioned before, the cream on top of the cooled milk can be stored in the freezer and used later to make butter. It just needs to be put into a blender or food processor and blended until a cloudy liquid separates from the butter! Yummy!
About six months into living here, I switched to a malaria medication that gave me really bad stomach pains (I have since switched back, thank goodness). In my ignorant opinion, the reason it was causing me pain was because it was an antibiotic, and my diet is lacking in probiotics. So, after some research, I learned that the whey left behind in cheese making can be mixed with honey and lemon to make a delicious probiotic lemon soda!
It took some time to ferment, so I figured I would ferment something else along with it. I really love sauerkraut, but of course, I haven't found it here. However, we have tons of cabbage. I tried it and it was delicious!
Because the nearest place to buy bread is 3 hours from my house, my bread making skills have gotten a lot better over the past months. And it's so tasty!
Although you can buy peanut butter here, it is not my favorite. But we can get peanuts! So, I started making my own peanut butter a little while ago, and let me just say, I will never go back, and neither will my roommates.
Now that we have covered some of the basics, there is also the understanding that if there is any fun or special meal I want, I have to make that too from scratch! Pizza?Ravioli? Potato chips? Sushi? Pot Stickers? While I've made all of these, let's just say, we only eat them on special occasions.
Sometimes it can get overwhelming thinking about all that needs to be done in the kitchen around here. But overall, I look forward to the days when I have time to spend in my favorite room in the house.


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Eric Selle said...

I absolutely LOVED reading your post. About 15 years ago (a LIFETIME ago) I lived on an organic farm in Central Minnesota called Camphill Village. It was there I dabbled in the art of making fermented foods. I used a couple books as resources: Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. I tried cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, apple cider, kimchee, and sour dough bread. My housemates called me a mad scientist. So fun to see you making fermented foods from scratch in Burundi!

Sandy said...

I'm so impressed! Making your own butter... I can see how one appreciates each meal, a gift of time and talent.