Citizens! Today is the first in a five- (or will it be six-?!) part recipe focus on African dishes and I have chosen to open with one that represents an amalgam of African and European ingredients and styles due to colonialization (something that was all too common throughout 19th and 20th century African history). By way of reference: the only countries in Africa never conquered by the Europeans were in fact Ethiopia and Liberia, and even they suffered from temporary occupation and/or exploitation!
This particular recipe comes from the proud country of Mozambique, which has gone through much hardship these last decades and before that was taken advantage of for centuries by Portugal as well as roving Arab slavers. These incidents have left an indelible mark upon Mozambican history and culture – a few for the better, most for the worst. I can think of no better psychopomp to lead us through the hell of Mozambique’s civil war and struggle to move past it than Anthony Bourdain – his episode on Mozambique is a must-watch!
Mozambicans have not let these struggles define them and food has in fact been a cornerstone of their resolve to not allow the past to haunt the present and to take the best parts of Portuguese influence to use in the country’s native cuisine. By way of example, this particular recipe is beloved not only in Mozambique, but Portugal as well and includes a fusion of African and European sensibilities – but let’s first look at the history and culture of the region, shall we?
The cuisine of Mozambique has deeply been influenced by the Portuguese, who introduced new crops, flavorings, and cooking methods. The staple food for many Mozambicans is xima (chi-mah), a thick porridge made from maize/corn flour. Cassava and rice are also eaten as staple carbohydrates. All of these are served with sauces of vegetables, meat, beans or fish.
Other typical ingredients include cashew nuts, onions, bay leaves, garlic, coriander, paprika, pepper, red pepper, sugar cane, corn, millet, sorghum and potatoes. The following deep dive into Mozambique and its food scene was originally found on mozambique.co.za:
Mozambique has an interesting and flavourful cuisine that has been strongly influenced by the Portuguese who colonised the country for 500 years.
Many of the tourists to the country visit Mozambique’s beautiful coastline to enjoy swimming and diving in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. What many tourists take away from their holiday are the tasty seafood dishes Mozambique has. Many consider their shellfish such as prawns and crayfish to be the best in the world. In fact, one of the best known Mozambique dishes is Shrimp or prawns done Peri-peri style. Seafood also forms a large part of the local diet, as it is abundant and cheap.
A local dish without any Portuguese influences is Matata which is a seafood stew, usually made using clams in a peanut sauce. Grilled seafood often liberally basted in peri-peri sauce is commonly served along with rice and chips (fries).
Mozambique is justifiably famous in Africa for its cuisine. With its long coastline and rich fishing grounds, it’s no wonder that many of its famous dishes revolve around fresh seafood. The colonial history of the Portuguese is also seen in the use of spices such as chilli the fiery Peri Peri chicken.
Mozambican food is decidedly spicy due to the chilli peppers, garlic and lemons that are liberally used. Peri-peri means “spicy-spicy” and it is a standard accompaniment to just about all meals. It is one of the most characteristic flavours of the cuisine. Traditionally it is made by pounding red chillies, garlic, salt and olive oil and lemon juice together.
The History of Arab Influence over Food in Mozambique (is quite profound). The traditional ethnic food of Mozambique is rich and varied. The traditional, spicy cooking of Zambézia, Mozambique is highly regarded. Zambézian chicken, grilled with palm oil, is a particular delicacy. The original inhabitants of the country lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle before becoming farmers.
Around the year 700, Arab slave merchants set up trading posts throughout Mozambique and introduced the local population to salt as a means of preserving food. The Arabs also introduced various spices and Arab pastries such doughnuts. In the 15th century, the country was colonised by the Portuguese who brought with them ingredients from their other colonies in America They introduced a lot of seasonings that were incorporated into the local cuisine of Mozambique.
Among the ingredients that the Arabs brought with them were onions, bay leaves, garlic, fresh coriander, paprika, chilli peppers, sweet peppers and wine. They also introduced maize, rice and potatoes which became staple foods. These ingredients were melded with traditional African ingredients to create unique and delicious cuisine.
Today many of Mozambique’s inhabitants are very poor. The country is recovering from wars and natural disaster and many people do not eat hearty meals every day. This is especially the case further inland in the rural communities, where people’s daily diet is less varied. However, along the coast, the cuisine is largely based on fresh seafood. The staple food of Mozambique is maize porridge and meat or vegetable stew. However many different styles of cuisines are enjoyed in the country.
Breakfast is usually a light meal such as an egg sandwich, maize porridge and tea. The main meal is normally eaten at lunch which is called (almoço). In towns and cities lunch is often purchased from street vendors. Favourite lunch dishes include Pregos (steak sandwiches) fried chicken and stews or curries served with rice. Dinner (jantar) may be the main meal for Mozambicans living in the cities.
A formal Mozambican dinner is a unique experience as it combines Portuguese and traditional African influences. Unlike many African countries the dinner will be served with guests seated at the table. The table will often be dressed with a table cloth and the meal served on plates and eaten with knives and forks. This shows the European influences of the Portuguese as in many African cultures you eat with your hands.
In more affluent homes there are usually three courses, a soup or starter, a main and a dessert. Portuguese wine is the most common accompaniment. Although many of the country’s people practice traditional beliefs, there is a strong Catholic influence in the country and meat is often avoided on a Friday. Consequently Christmas is often a big celebration and Mozambicans will celebrate by making a Cashew nut and Potato cake called Bolo Polana.
It’s no joke or exaggeration to note that Mozambicans REALLY like spicy food – with no further evidence needed than the fact that they helped invent the now world-famous hot sauce known as ‘peri-peri’! This incendiary condiment is believed to have been created by Portuguese explorers in Mozambique in the 15th century who discovered the African bird’s eye chili pepper and made a marinade with garlic, red wine vinegar, paprika, and other European ingredients.
It then expanded to other Portuguese territories under the spelling of ‘piri-piri’. Like all chili peppers, Peri-Peri is descended from plants from the Americas, but it has grown in the wild in Africa for centuries and is now cultivated commercially in Zambia, Uganda, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda. It grows mainly in Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Portugal. These chili peppers typically register up to 175,000 heat units on the Scoville scale.
The name ‘peri-peri’ is derived from Swahili and means ‘pepper-pepper’. It has several alternatively iterative spellings, including ‘pili-pili’ and ‘peri-peri’ – but the one constant is the HEAT – this dish is spicy hot indeed and piquant to the max – consider yourselves warned, Citizens! Fear not though – my version (while hot!) is also supremely flavorful thanks to my unmatched spicing thaumaturgy! BTW, I use a classic Malawi-style curry powder in my recipe for authenticity, as opposed to Indian.
While you can certainly use a commercial peri-peri sauce, it is FAR superior when homemade (my version developed for this recipe is transcendent and here is another version to try, if you so prefer!) and it is not difficult to make with the proper WILD African Bird’s Eye peppers – you can buy them dried from here, live plants from here or you can just substitute fresh red Thai ‘rat’s dropping’ chilies for even more spice!
Use whatever pepper/heat level suits you, but it should be HOT at whatever level you choose! If in doubt, use less than you think and make extra sauce available at the table.
You’ll also need palm sugar, Madras curry powder and red peppadew peppers to make your own peri-peri sauce – if you’re a chilihead, trust me, this is going to become your new favorite hot sauce, I promise you! The use of the Malawi curry powder (plus Madras curry powder and many other spices and herbs) adds a complex flavor profile, and beer in any recipe always adds savor, IMHO – you’ll want a decent lager for this one. The freshest shrimp possible are of course mandatory!!!
My Citizens, this first example in our gustatory tour of Africa deserves a premier place on your table – and remember the good people of Mozambique who have suffered so much these last 30+ years as well as the proud people of Portugal whom today consider this to be one of their national recipe treasures! It truly is that good and I hope you find it a worthy addition to your personal recipe canon – just remember to keep your powder dry and the can(n)on aimed away from you! 😉
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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