It all started when Violet, who cleans my house, wondered if I could show her how to fix some of the dishes that Muzungus like to eat. She had been asked to do some cooking for another international volunteer she worked for. And she had tasted some of the food I prepared for lunch when she was here and liked it. So began our Saturday or Sunday afternoon cooking classes.
We began with mostly simple and often traditional dishes--pot roast with potatoes and carrots, homemade spaghetti sauce, chicken breasts with lemon-butter sauce, chili, baked stuffed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, roasted vegetables, lentil soup, shepherd's pie, baked chicken with rice, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and orange and onion pork chops. We got a little fancier with cauliflower with cheese sauce, ratatouille, and baba ganoush.
Sometimes other Zambians would ask how we prepared vegetables they seldom have tasted. (Greens, tomatoes, and onions seem to be the dominant ingredients in the side dishes that accompany meat and nshima or rice, the typical lunch and dinner staples.) After I demonstrated baba ganoush (eggplant baked until soft, the inside scooped out, seasoned with garlic and mixed with tahini or mayonnaise), Mwiinga invented a version mixed with ground peanuts in place of tahini/mayonnaise. It works!
It is possible to find cauliflower, zucchini, broccoli, bell peppers, purple eggplant, sugar peas, cucumbers and other vegetables in the market--but they are scarce. Sometimes they have been imported from South Africa and are only found in the supermarket. Besides tomatoes, onions, and different greens, Zambians seem to use okra, carrots, potatoes, green beans, cabbage, and a kind of local white eggplant that can be bitter. All of these are available in abundance in the outdoor market, as well as avocados and fruit.
In June, just before final exams, I thought about how I had always brought homemade cookies to my ASU students at exam time and decided to do the same here. I made chocolate chip cookies, having brought the essential brown sugar and chips from home, plus two kinds whose ingredients are readily available here, peanut butter and oatmeal cookies. They were popular, and the cakes I have baked have also been appreciated by all the Zambians who have tasted them. So soon students were asking how to make cookies and cakes. More demonstrations.
Of course, the cooking experiments and classes are becoming more and more a mutual exchange. Margaret from Kenya has taught me how to make chapati, the flat bread that is a bit like tortillas. We make it with whole wheat flour, though, and it is really delicious. I have learned how to stir nshima with a big wooden paddle, and what kind of leaves can be cooked as greens. (Who would have guessed that pumpkin, sweet potato, and even broccoli leaves are delicious?!)
Sharing different cooking traditions, and eating new foods, is a delightful way to interact and learn about each other. Enjoy!