Monday, June 23, 2008

Make Falafel Not War

Tonight we made Falafel.

We have a good menu here at Red Chilli, and a varied one. For a small kitchen, we serve up to 60 meals a shift. And they didn't even have a microwave when I got here.

But even with a variety of dishes that are all pretty well cooked, I run out of stuff to eat.

I can't eat Pizza every day. I came to Africa to lose weight, not pile it on.

I'm not meant to eat red meat as it's actively been linked to breast cancer. So the meat chilli, the spag bol, the beef stew, the burgers, they're all out too.

Truth is, it leaves me with a limited variety of dishes to choose from, day in, day out. So every so often I have the urge to invent something new and add it to the menu.

I generally do this by looking at the ingredients we already have and thinking of new things to do with them.

Now we make our own veggie burgers rather than buy the over-priced and glutinous slabs you get in the local supermarket's deep freeze that are flown in from South Africa. They're carrot burgers and they are delicious. Carrots are plentiful around here and the only non-local ingredient is a cup of Kellog's Cornflakes.

Sadly I cannot take credit for them. It was up in Murchison I discovered them - my equivalent there found the recipe online and introduced it last year and never looked back. Now we serve them at Red Chilli's everywhere. Well, Murchison and Kampala that is.

In a similar vein, I've taught the chefs how to make their own pizza bases and topping sauce, rather than rely on the nasty pre-fabricated bases you can get in the frozen section of the supermarket. So home-made pizzas are now on the menu. We still freeze ours but they are a nice thin home-made base and a rich tomato sauce on top rather than some orange puree.

Sadly it's not always easy to get the staff to follow through on recipes. They are all convinced that pizzas should be grilled, not baked in the oven like I keep encouraging them to do. So our bases come out of the freezer and get slapped under a piping hot grill. The toppings melt and brown quickly enough, the only trouble is the bases come out with the consistency of an undercooked chapatti. It does not matter how many times I suggest the oven would cook the pizzas better, they always end up reverting to the grill when I'm not looking. Old habits die hard and it's how they've always cooked... So when I get back from the UK next week I'm going to lead a little pizza masterclass in the kitchen and demonstrate the difference between a soggy bottomed pizza and a properly cooked oven-baked base.

Anyway, back to the Falafel. Today I investigated a Lebanese shop I saw on my travels and discovered they had falafel mix and jars of some weird pre-mixed hummus. An hour or so in the kitchen later and we have ourselves some fresh falafel balls, with a salad made of grated cucumber, chopped coriander, chopped iceberg and lemon juice and a generous dollop of hummus (the stuff from the can mixed in with fresh garlic, ground cumin, oil and lemon) and some toasted pitta bread.

It may be from a packet in a box, but this falafel tastes like the most exotic and decadent eastern feast.

If the tourists like it too, and it sells, we will add it to the menu and then we can grow to be bored of it like everything else....

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