Saturday, December 20, 2014

Bon appetit!

The final class of FRE 124 ended on a good note as we chose to sample French food to end the semester. I was more nervous than excited when I began searching for recipes of French cuisine. Unlike the recipes of dishes from Haiti and West Africa, French recipes had hundreds of variations which made it difficult for me to choose the most authentic French dish. It took me a while to go through the thousands of online recipes, I even watched You Tube videos on how to prepare the dishes. However, I finally settled on two main dishes and an appetizer which I submitted to a class guest to make for the class.

Pork Roast

I love eating pork and so when I discovered it is part of French cuisine, I did not hesitate in choosing this for the main course. In France, stews are more commonly used when cooking pork than roasts. However, French-style pork stew would take me about three hours to prepare and since I knew I would be short of time in the morning, I decided to make the pork roast.
The first step (done the night before) was to debone the pork ribs and insert garlic slivers into the flesh for added flavor. This was followed by tying up the pork to give it a good shape. I then began making a marinade for the pork which consisted of ketchup, mustard, thyme, marjoram, balsamic vinegar and honey. I coated the pork in the marinade and placed it in a plastic container where it would marinade overnight.

Pork in the marinade

The next morning, I was up early and I started out by heating a baking tin on the stove with juice from the marinade along with added herbs like rosemary and basil. I also threw in some diced carrots. This was to prepare the tin for baking the pork and ensure maximum flavor is achieved. Herbs de Provence was a term that frequently popped up when I was searching for recipes. It is a combination of dried herbs used to add flavor in several French dishes. The main herbs being savory, marjoram, thyme and oregano. Unfortunately this exotic blend is not available in Nairobi and so I used the individual herbs that were available locally. Finally it was time to put the pork in the oven to cook for the next forty five minutes. This dish was a combination of several different recipes found online (recipes are at the end of this post) and most of all the making of a professional chef who I helped me make this dish.

The finished pork roast sprinkled with coriander leaves

Vegetable Ratatouille

I enjoyed watching the 2007 animation, Ratatouille, which featured a rat, Remy, that also happened to be a culinary master. In one of the clips in the movie he made this dish which won the heart of a tough food critic. I resolved to make this dish and see if my cooking skills could match Remy's.
I was able to get most of the ingredients required in making this dish except summer squash, which is not available locally however one can substitute it with pumpkin.

I began by preparing the vegetables the night before to make things easier in the morning. This involves dicing up red onions, yellow capsicum, tomatoes and garlic which were put in a plastic bowl and sealed with cling foil then placed in the fridge to maintain freshness. The same was done separately for courgettes or zuchinni with some olive oil and thyme drizzled and sprinkled on them.

From left: Sliced courgettes and diced assorted vegetables in a separate bowl

After, finishing up the pork I began on the ratatouille. First, I fried diced white onion in a pan with oil and added the assorted vegetables after the onions were golden. Chopped herbs were then added. The vegetables for about ten to fifteen minutes and they were ready to be taken out the heat.

Frying the vegetables

Next was to cook the courgettes in low heat for them to be relatively cooked through. I would warm the dish before class and thus I did not want to overcook them.

Cooking the courgettes

My favorite part in making the dish was placing it in the casserole dish in a pattern that gave the ratatouille a layered look. I began with tomatoes at the bottom, followed by the cooked vegetables and lastly the courgettes at the top.

Layering the ratatouille

I chose not to bake the dish as all the ingredients were well cooked. However, if you want your ratatouille to be cooked further you can place it in the oven for about 30 minutes and you can add shaved or sliced cheese on top, prior to baking.

Pumpkin soup

Pumpkin soup is a popular entrĂ©e dish among the French and goes well with sliced baguette bread spread with butter on top. We used butternut pumpkin which is widely available in Nairobi. The process began by dicing an onion and frying it in a sauce pan. Freshly made chicken stock was then added followed by large chopped chunks of the butternut and mixed herbs.  This boiled for about half an hour as I attended to the ratatouille. I then turned off the heat and placed the cooked ingredients into a blender to blend into a smooth sauce. After blending I put the soup back into the sauce pan to cook further and added black pepper and salt to taste. Another twenty minutes and voila!, the soup was ready.

The pumpkin soup served up

It had an amazing time cooking the dishes and unfolding French cuisine practically at home. I would like to acknowledge Greta Hakim, a professional chef and family friend, and Claire Kariuki, my class guest and aunt, for being of invaluable help when making these three dishes. I am eternally grateful!

The three dishes were also eaten along with other appetizing French dishes from Nina and Dr. Wandia. We had Piperade (made by Nina), Aligot and Beef burginion in the main course and also mouth-watering Fruit tarts and Madelines brought by Dr.Wandia and Crepes made by Nina for dessert.


Pork roast:

Vegetable Ratatouille:

Pumpkin soup:

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