16 April 2011

Cross Cultural Cooking Lessons

A few weeks ago, my Nigerien friend R. asked if I would teach her how to bake a cake.  Someone had already taught her how to make a chocolate cake, so she wanted something different.  In return she would teach me how to make sauce.

Considering ingredients are hard to come by here, and I didn't want to use anything she wouldn't be able to get (at least in Maradi or Niamey, if not in Galmi) it took me two weeks of scouring the internet (okay, so two weeks minus outages and blog writing time) to find a recipe that I could alter ever so slightly enough to not effect the cake.  The original recipe hails from The Cake Duchess and is probably the way to go for all of you outside of west Africa . . . but for those of you reading who are 'local' (that would be anyone Sahelian . . . from Senegal to Somalia) I modified things just a bit and then translated it (as best as I could) into French.

We had agreed that R. would come to my house at 10 . . . which, Africa-time was 10:45 (another important lesson I need to learn . . . NEVER be on time!), I would have everything for the cake, and she'd bring the spices for the sauce.  After visiting for a little bit and talking about n'importe qoui we got abaking.  The hardest part was figuring out how to teach her without using too many things she doesn't have at home . . . like a bendy rubber spatula . . . or measuring cups/spoons.  When it came time to use the powdered sugar, she had never seen it before.  I told her she could maybe buy it in Maradi, definitely in Niamey (cause I think that's where I got mine . . . at least, I hope it was!), but if not, she could always take her own sugar and grind it up the way she does her spices . . . surely that would work!

She told me that her oven doesn't have a thermometer.  I suggested making the oven as hot as it would be for . . . cookies??  No, that wouldn't work, she doesn't make cookies.  Muffins??  Nope, that won't work either.  Okay, bread.  Bread, that she knows.

Once the cake was happily baking in the oven, we started the sauce.  R. has no recipe for her sauce.  She just knows it.  Like the French and their meringues, they learn it from their mothers as very little girls.  She took me through step-by-step and in the end we had a pot full of the most yummy African sauce I've had yet!  She said she'd bring me some of the herb seeds and spices that she grinds up to make the spice mix so that I can figure out what they are . . . so far I know it has cumin . . . but there's more, many more, flavors inside!

After it was all done, I made a pot of rice and my neighbor L. joined us in savoring the outcome.  It was FABULOUS!  I sent the cake home with R. for her to enjoy with her family . . . so I hope it's good.

She's already come up with a few ideas for 'next time' and now that I know how to make sauce, I can join the hospital employees in cooking for the 1 May (Labor Day) festivities!

I know my Hausa greetings . . . I know how to make red sauce . . . I'm well on my way to becoming a Galmienne!


Shal said...

Yum! I'm pretty sure I could live on rice and sauce (curry or lentils for me) . . . or at least 4-5 days a week. Must be the Asian in me.

Kari said...

I've heard that you can grind regular sugar in a coffee grinder (or however else you would grind things?:) to make powdered sugar. I learned that from someone who is allergic to cornstarch and therefore can't have store bought powdered sugar.