Thursday, 23 June 2016

Eritrea Recipes for Refugee Week

Refugee Week is often celebrated between 2- 26 June. It is a unique event as it brings people from all backgrounds together to highlight and celebrate the contributions that asylum seekers and refugees make to the U.K.   

The theme for Refugee Week for 2016 is Welcome.  Throughout this week, my Simple Act through my blog has been to Cook A Dish from Another Country and try and raise some awareness of that particular country through its cuisine.
Today I will share some vegetarian and vegan Eritrea plates, but before I share the recipes, I'd like to begin by admitting that I had never heard of Eritrea until the refugee crisis.  Eritrea's neighbour Ethiopia had been imprinted on the memories of many thanks to Bob Geldof's  'Feed the world' campaign; but Eritrea a small country in the Horn of Africa was to come to our attention in the mid 1990s when many vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees from Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and  Eritrea were being dispersed across the U.K.  

The UNHCR estimates that 5,000 people leave Eritrea every month and account for the largest group of people applying for asylum in the UK.

An asylum seeker is " A person who has left their country of origin and formally applied for asylum in another country, but whose application has not yet been concluded ."

Sadly I have met more Eritrean asylum seekers and refugees in my life than from any other background; and many have made the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean.  

One of the reasons Eritreans are fleeing is forced military conscription, not just young men, but also the elderly and this often results in forced labour.  What should last 18 months is indefinite, lasting decades.  If you do not uptake, then the consequences are arbitrary detention and often torture for the individual and his family.  Many Eritreans have described Eritrea as a Totalitarian state comparing it to North Korea.  Amnesty International are calling on Eritrea to end the system of indefinite conscription into national service and to recognise it as a human rights violation.  

Before starting this blog, I had had Ethiopian - Eritrean cuisine twice in my life.  The first time ever was in 2000, when I went to see my best friend Leah in America.  She took me to an Ethiopian restaurant.  The second time was when I lived in Scotland and I cooked the entire Ethiopian-Eritrean Menu that was featured in Celia BrookWorld Vegetarian Classics cookbook (2005).  I was inspired to make everything from scratch, the Berbere Ethiopian Hot Spice Blend, the Nitteh Kibbeh - Spiced Clarified Butter and the Injera - Sourdough Flatbread,  following the whole fermenting process that took a days.  On the menu wasYe'atakilt W'et - Spicy Mixed Vegetable stew, Yedifin Miser Alicha We't - Mild Lentil Stew with Basil and Yeshiro We't - Stew of Spiced Powdered Chickpeas. 
In the same cookbook that I stumbled upon Eritrean Zigni Spaghetti - Noodles with Hot Sauce.  I wasn't quite sure about it assuming it was more of a recent fusion recipe, but a few years later when I was volunteering for Venture Scotland on a camping trip to Glen Etive, Scotland I asked some of the participants who happened to be from Ethiopia and Eritrea about Zigni Spaghetti , they confirmed to me that this pasta dish indeed actually existed. Spaghetti Zigni hails back to the 1930s when the Italians tried and failed to colonise Ethiopia, however they did  leave behind culinary influences.  Zigni Spaghetti was one of those influences. 
Zigni is essentially pasta coated in a deep rich tomato sauce enhanced with the highly spiced Berbere blend.   Berbere in Amharic means hot.  Berbere is a Hot Chilli Spice Blend that is essential to many Ethiopian and Eritrean dishes .  Its become one of my favourite spice blends. 
I followed a recipe for Spicy Lentil Misir W'et (Stew). that came from Ethiopian cook, Alemtshaye Yigezu.  For the recipe, follow this link. The only thing I did in addition was add both sweet potatoes and chickpeas to the dish, nothing more. 
 D'ba Zigni 
Ethiopian Supper of Tibs 'Soya Beef' with Berbere and Cherry Tomatoes and Caramelised White Cabbage, Carrot and Potatoes. adapted from Mazi Maz in The Guardian
Not authentic, but as I had some Injera - Sourdough flatbread left over from a meal, so made some Injera crackers.  I am still waiting for an Eritrean acquaintance to show me how to make Injera from scratch, watch this space!

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Zimbabwean Squash Stuffed with Pulled Jackfruit 'Pork"

One of the aims of Refugee Week is to promote positive encounters between asylum seekers and refugees and members of the receiving communities, as well as raising awareness.   The theme for Refugee Week for 2016 is Welcome.  As my blog is a vegetarian food blog my Simple Act is to Cook A Dish from Another Country and try and raise some awareness that way among some of my readers.
Today I will share a vegetarian Zimbabwean Butternut Squash recipe.  But before I share the recipe, I would like to shine a little light on Zimbabwe.  Since 2000, the scale of state violence, the political instability and economic deprivation  in Zimbabwe has seen the UK receive refugees from there. 

A refugee is someone whose asylum application has been successful and who is allowed to stay in another country having proved they would face persecution in their homeland.
Zimbabwe's human rights record under Robert Mugabe has been criticised by the international community, including the European Union, UN, US and other countries. Mugabe's authoritarian regime has used force and torture to oppress political opposition. But not all Zimbabweans in the UK are refugees.  The NHS has attracted many Zimbabwean doctors and nurses, so it is important to recognise and embrace the positive contributions made by Zimbabweans too. 
Zimbabwean cuisine is heavily meat based.  However there are some crucial vegetable based dishes, but they are staples and are often served as accompaniments such as covo, maize and sadza.   Sadza is made from maize.  It is described as a across between mashed potato and rice. Covo is a green vegetable similar to spring greens and is often served with sadza, meat and sauce.  

After speaking to two of my colleagues, both of Zimbabwean heritage, they both recommended a Pumpkin dish, a change from the traditional Peanut Stew known as Haku ne dovi, but like true African men neither cooks.  One relying on his mothers cooking ;and the other on his wife's, neither were not able to give me a recipe.  I did a little research and got their approval on the authenticity of a vegetarian dish made with Gem squash.  The only comment was that they had had this dish, but it wasn't filled up so much with additional ingredients.   I went ahead and adapted the recipe with the more readily available butternut squash in the UK.  The roasted butternut squash was really delicious.  It was cooked well that you could literally spoon it from the glossy skin like mash lifting upon your fork popping sweetcorn and melty cheesy goodness.  The original recipe states that you could make it with your choice of protein, instead of some cooked beans like kidney beans, I decided to add Jackfruit.  It was truly one of the best dishes I have made without the addition of spices, just some fresh herbs and seasoning.  This is made with cheese, but is very easy to veganize. 

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Somalian Shahan Ful (Fava Beans in Xawash Tomato Sauce)

Refugee Week is a continuation of World Refugee Day and marks a collective acknowledgement across the world to raise awareness  of the plight of refugees and asylum seekers across the world.   

The theme for Refugee Week for 2016 is Welcome.  As my blog is a vegetarian food blog my Simple Act is to Cook A Dish from Another Country and try and raise some awareness that way among some colleagues and some of my readers.
Today I will share a vegetarian Somalian dish, that also happens to be vegan.  It is Shahan Faul, Ful Sahan.  This is a bean dish that is also very common in Eritrea, Ethiopian and Sudan.  But before I share the recipe, you may be interested to know that Somali's have been in the U.K for over a century, arriving here as merchant seamen and settling in port cities like Bristol, Liverpool and Cardiff.  However, it was in the 1990s following famine and further conflict in the region in 2011 that many Somalis began to arrive in the UK after being granted with a refugee status.  


A refugee is "a person who owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of 'race', religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it" 

The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. 
So back to the recipe...when I originally asked a Somalian colleague in my workplace could he give or suggest to me a vegetarian recipe that I could cook at home and he immediately put his hand to his mouth and tried to contain the roar in his laughter - we are big meat eaters.  

This is true, Somali cuisine is meat orientated.  Vegetarianism is quite rare.  Vegetables appear to largely be side dishes, or a combination of meat and vegetables.  By the way, you may be interested to know that in Somalia pasta features quite a bit a part of their cuisine. This arrived with the Italians n the 1880s and sweet dishes came with the Arabs.
Anyway, after musing at my question he mentioned this fava bean dish and here it is a bronze gold bowl of loveliness.  Ful Sahan is often served with anjara, injera bread or Sabaayad which is made with a sourdough starter, but we had it with chewy brown rice.  The slow cooking of the sauce intensified the flavour and made the beans soft inside, but still retaining its wholesome shape.  I totally loved it and could have just easily eaten this from a bowl.