My walk through Somalia / Mi Paso por Somalia

Map taken from the web
I’ve been on an international quest, culinarily speaking. My friends and coworkers are helping me achieve my goal.  I have already ventured through India with malai kofta and methi rice, through Italy with some pasta dishes and focaccia bread. I have been to the Middle East with stuffed eggplant in tomato sauce and basmati rice with vermicelli. And, of course, I have made many Mexican dishes. My new adventure is with Somali cooking. Wow, this one is different! 

I hooked up with my friend, Samira, who taught me how to cook some Somali dishes. I also learned traditions from Abdi, another coworker. I inundated them with my questions and they have been very generous and they graciously shared their recipes, traditions and little anecdotes with me - I am very grateful for that. 

I asked Samira what Somali people eat in their homes. I wanted to learn a dish from her country, something with history and tradition. She said that, since Somalia was colonized by Italians, they eat a lot of pasta dishes, but when Somalis want to preserve meat, they prepare a dish called oodkac, which is a jerky-style meat preserved in butter. This way of preservation has been used by ancient nomads as sometimes the only way to have meat available to them. Oodkac has many uses; it is often prepared when going on a long journey. It is also prepared for wedding ceremonies. This is the tradition that Samira shared with me which I will be sharing here with you.

When oodkac is made for a wedding, they use the Xeedho as part of the ceremony. The Xeedho is a decorated basket shaped like an hourglass. It holds a vessel full of oodkac and dates. Samira told me that this dish is prepared by the women of the bride’s family. The Xeedho containing oodkac is secured with a rope that has complicated knots hard to untie, and it is covered with a white dress representing the bride. On the seventh day of the wedding ceremonies the Xeedho is presented to the family of the groom. They perform a ritual where the men in the groom’s side try to untie the rope. In the old days, if the men were successful untying the knots, they claimed the bride as part of their family and everyone was happy. However, if the knots were not untied, this meant that the groom would not have means to support his new wife and he could not take her as part of his family. Nowadays, especially among Somalis living in the United States, the tradition takes a different form, more like a game, in which the two families enjoy a fun time together – the bride is welcomed into the groom’s family regardless of how successful they are at untying the knots and then they enjoy the oodkac.

Aliyah, Samira's daughter

I learned how to prepare oodkac which can be made with different types of meat, but it is traditionally prepared with camel meat. The meat is cut into long, thin strips that are left to dry in the sun, and when completely dried, it is cut into tiny pieces and preserved in butter. It is hard to find camel meat in the United States so I used beef. I also made this with some variations to the original method of preparation. Before I start the recipe, let me tell you a little about Samira and Abdi, my two coworkers from Somalia. 

Samira was born in Kismaayo and Abdi was born in Mogadishu. They both were forced to flee their native country when the war in Somalia started in 1991.  Their families relocated to Eastern Ethiopia where Samira and Abdi spent their younger lives. Samira was only 8 years old when her family came to America, “I remember that day”, she said. “It was February 6, 1996. My first fascination with America was the tall buildings, and I remember the incredible feeling when we arrived at the airport.” Abdi was 13 when his family brought him to America. He also said the tall buildings were mind-boggling to him. As little kids, they enjoyed everything and they rapidly adapted to their new home. They went to school, learned English, and did all the things kids do when growing up in America. They are both college graduates and now work in my office. 

Abdi has never been back to Somalia or Ethiopia but Samira has. She was back on a trip visiting her extended family, which she barely knew as she was so little when she left them. I asked Samira and Abdi what their favorite Somali dish was; Samira said Canjeero with Shaah, which is bread and tea. Canjeero is the Somali version of the Ethiopian Injera which is made with teff flour as opposed to wheat flour used for Canjeero. Shaah is an infusion made with cinnamon and milk. I have tried both and they are delicious! Abdi’s favorite dish is Bariis which is rice cooked in canola oil and has different spices. He says it is very flavorful. I have to try it. He also likes oodkac but he likes it with camel meat. “We cannot get camel here but people sometimes bring it from home. They smuggle it in their suitcases because they miss it so much,” he said in a conspiratorial tone. 

There is a big Somali community here in San Diego, but Samira and Abdi think it used to be bigger. They said people have moved to other states - especially to Minnesota which has the largest congregation of Somali people in the United States. They said they go there because the cost of living is lower and the job market is better than in San Diego. I can understand that, but I’m very glad I have a chance to work with and meet so many Somalis. I’ve always thought they are very happy and generous people - smart and beautiful! 
Here is the recipe:
To prepare the meat:
2 lb. lean beef (use your favorite cut), cut in very small cubes 
1 cup canola oil, for frying
2 garlic cloves (this is my addition)
1 large bay leaf (this is my addition)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cook the meat in a pot over medium heat for about 10 minutes. When the meat releases its moisture, drain and discard the water. Return meat to the pot and add oil, garlic and bay leaf. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Fry for about 15 minutes stirring continuously. When meat is well fried, drain the oil and set the meat aside.

To prepare the butter:
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup canola oil 
1 teaspoon ground cardamom

In a sauce pan, melt and brown the butter over medium heat. When the foam starts to subside, add oil and stir in the ground cardamom. Cook for a couple of seconds longer and then set aside. 

To prepare the dates for the Xeedho:
1 lb. dates, seeded
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

Place dates in a bowl and mash them down with the back of a spoon forming a paste. Stir in pepper and cardamom until well combined. *Form small balls and set aside. 

To put it all together:
Place the meat in a container to be preserved (I used a sterilized jar). Cover with the melted butter and top with the date balls. Store in the refrigerator or in a dark cool place in your kitchen until ready to use. 

*The date paste is used to form a dome over the meat when preparing the Xeedho. This protects the meat. I only made a small quantity of oodkac and did not prepared the Xeedho so, I formed small balls and placed them over the meat.
Somalis eat oodkac over canjeero for breakfast. I stuffed dates with the oodkac and served it as an appetizer. It was very yummy!


- Especial thanks to Halima, Samira's mom, for letting me borrow her Xeedho and for sharing tips that helped me prepare this dish.-


Winter Soup / Sopa de Invierno

I’m making a quick stop to write a recipe for a soup that some friends asked me for.
After the Halloween celebrations we usually end up with leftover pumpkin and winter squash and so, I like to make this soup which is great for these winter days. It warms the body and the spirit, and is delicious!

Winter Squash Soup
2 small winter squash, peeled and diced (I used a combination of butternut and white pumpkin)
½ white onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 sprigs of thyme (or your favorite herb)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup chicken broth (to keep this vegetarian, I used vegetable broth)
2 Tablespoons cream (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a large baking sheet, toss first 7 ingredients together. Spread on a single layer and bake for 30-40 minutes or until vegetables have softened and are brown in places. Remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly.
Add vegetables to a food processor or a blender. Add the cinnamon and blend to a smooth puree, adding the broth as needed to help the blender and to obtain the desired consistency (thicker soup would need less broth).
Pour the soup into a pot and simmer over medium heat. Add more salt and pepper to taste. At this point, if using, add the cream and cook until soup is heated through. Serve hot and garnish with a sprinkle of smoke paprika.


Green Drinks / Bebidas Verdes

Green drinks are very popular nowadays and in addition to being very good for our health, they taste great!

I'm not very good at describing the health benefits of these drinks but I can tell you that since I started preparing and consuming a green smoothie every day, I feel less tired and less hungry during the day. I usually prepare mine in the morning to take to work. I drink a small glass for breakfast and a bigger glass for lunch. This fills me up and I'm not hungry until is time for dinner. But I snack on a piece of fruit  and drink water in between meals. One can't forget to drink lots of water during the day.

I get very excited about my smoothies. When I open my jar of green smoothie, and after I take the first drink, you could hear me said "yum, this is so good!". Some of my coworkers cannot understand how I can get so excited with an ugly looking drink and when I tell them what's in it, well... this is just mind-boggling to them.  So, let me tell you how I made today's green drinks.

Green Smoothie

2 large kale leaves, washed and stems removed
2 large Swiss chard leaves, washed and stems removed
1 small unpeeled cucumber, washed 
1/2 unpeeled apple, core and seeds removed (make sure to remove all the seeds, they are toxic!)
1/2 riped persimmon
1/4 inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled
1 heaping tablespoon wheat germ
3/4 cup water

Tear the leaves in small pieces and add them to the blender jar. Cut the fruit in small pieces and add it to the blender together with the ginger and wheat germ. Add the water and process in the liquefying setting to obtain a smooth drink. Done!

I don't use sweeteners because I don't like mine very sweet, the fruit is enough sweet for me. But if you prefer yours sweet, add more fruit or some honey (do not add sugar). Also, add or delete water to get the consistency you like. I place mine in jars and take them to work in a cooler. But if you are going to drink it right away, you can add ice to the blender, it taste great when very cold!

These drinks are very versatile. You can prepare them with many different vegetables or fruits according to your taste. I usually use what I have in my fridge. Here are some options:

1. Romaine lettuce, spinach, parsley, celery, apple, carrots and flax seed.

2. Swiss chard, nopalitos (cactus), spinach, celery papaya, cucumber and wheat germs.

3. Spinach, beets, celery, blueberries, apple and raw almonds (5-6 seeds).

The possibilities are endless, you just have to use your imagination. Just remember to use at least  1/2 of raw vegetables with your fruit.


"When in Rome, do as the Romans do."... / "A donde fueres, haz lo que vieres."...

… Or bring your own traditions. Halloween is widely celebrated in the United States but its origins are from Ireland. I won’t go into the details or history of this holiday but, if you want to know more about it, follow this link

The modern Halloween has influences from many sources - religious, political, horror literature and films, death, and ghosts. Trick-or-treating is a customary celebration for children. They walk around the neighborhood wearing costumes and go from door to door asking for candy. The Irish carvings were made of turnips but in North America, the native pumpkin is used, which is softer and larger and much easier to carve than a turnip.

Halloween is not a common celebration in Mexico - we celebrate the Day of the Dead but Halloween is sometimes celebrated in the border towns. Since I live in the USA, I like to follow the customs and traditions of this country but I also like to share my Mexican traditions. We celebrate Halloween every year in my office with costumes and pumpkin carving contests, candy and, of course, food. Since Halloween and Día de Muertos are so closed to each other, in the last few years I’ve tried to combine both celebrations. I build my Altar de Muertos in the office to share with my coworkers.

Here are some pictures of our Halloween/Día de Muertos celebration in my office:


Pily and Cosas Bellas de Mexico

There is no one better than Pily to show las cosas bellas de México. She has a blog called La Cocina Mexicana de Pily in which she delights us with authentic Mexican food recipes. The photographs she posts to show us her dishes are spectacular. And the way she shares her love of Mexican cuisine and  the love she has for our México are unmatched. Pily definitely makes me proud to be Mexican!

In this patriotic month, Pily invites us once again to help her show the beauty of México. It is a very original and beautiful way to share our recipes. Follow the link to Pily's blog. I know you are going to like it.

So, here is my recipe for honeyed figs. They are in season now but I prepared this preserve so I can continue enjoying them when the fig tree stops bearing fruit.

Honeyed Figs

3 pounds fresh figs
5 cups light brown sugar
5 cups water
1 lime, peeled and thinly sliced
4-6 green cardamom pods
1 stick of cinnamon
4 whole cloves

Wash figs leaving part of the stems intact. Place figs in a big pot with a heavy bottom, add sugar and cover with water. Add lime and spices. Let simmer over low heat until syrup thinkens and it can coat the back of a spoon, about 60-90 minutes. Place figs with syrup in previously sterilized jars and seal. You can store this in a dark cool place but I like them cold so I keep mine in the refrigerator.

If you ask me, the most beautiful thing in México is its people. So, I will leave you with some pictures of my people.