Flavor Principles Out of Africa: The Plentiful Permutations of Pumpkin

Africa pumpkin 6The following recipes demonstrate, in a very concrete way, just how taking one ingredient and cooking it according to regional culinary practices changes the whole flavor palette.

North Africa:

Africa pumpkin 1Marak Dar Marhzin (Moroccan Pumpkin Stew)
Serves 4-6

4 T. cooking oil
2 medium onions, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1 t. ground turmeric
1 t. ground cumin
1/8 t. ground coriander
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds
2 baby turnips, peeled and cut into quarters
3 c. water
1 lb. pumpkin (or butternut squash), peeled and cut into 1 ½-inch cubes
1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 ½-inch cubes
1 t. hot pepper sauce
3 T. raisins
1 T. honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Fresh cilantro/coriander leaves, chopped
Lemon wedges

Heat oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When oil is hot and almost smoking, add onion and sauté for about 10 minutes or until translucent and just beginning to turn golden. Add garlic and the spices, stirring constantly for 2 more minutes. Add the carrots and turnips and pour in the water. Bring the vegetables to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add pumpkin (or squash), sweet potatoes, hot sauce, raisins, and honey. Season with salt and black pepper, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes or so, or until sweet potatoes and pumpkin are tender when pierced with a sharp knife.

Serve over cooked couscous and garnish with chopped cilantro leaves and a few squirts of lemon juice.

Southern Africa:

Photo credit: Neal Foley
Photo credit: Neal Foley

Pumpkin Bredie (A Pumpkin Stew from South Africa with Cape Malay Touches)
Serves 6-8

Some cooks include ginger, cloves, and more peppers.

3-4 lbs. lamb (or beef), cut into 1-inch pieces
4 T. cooking oil
4 onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 chile pepper, seeded and finely chopped
6 c. raw pumpkin, cut into 2-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ t. cinnamon
¼ t. nutmeg
1 t. sugar
1 bay leaf
Piece of orange peel, making sure to leave off any white pith

Brown the meat in a large Dutch oven or other pot. Remove meat from pot and set aside. Sauté the onions in the same pot until translucent; stir in the pepper and garlic and cook for another minute or two. Put the meat back into the pot and stir in the remaining ingredients. Pour in about 1 cup of water, cover pot, reduce heat to simmer, and cook for about 1 hour or until lamb is tender. Serve with rice.

East Africa:

Africa pumpkin 3Pumpkin Stew
Serves 4

1 large onion, sliced
1 chile pepper, sliced
½ t. salt
2 c. coconut milk
1 small pumpkin or 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch cubes
½ c. chopped spinach or other greens

Put onion, chile, salt, and coconut milk in a heavy pot and bring to a boil. Add pumpkin/squash cubes and simmer until pumpkin/squash is just about done. Stir in the chopped spinach and simmer until pumpkin is tender. Add more salt if necessary.

Central Africa:

Africa pumpkin 5Beef with Pumpkin
Serves 5

2 T. peanut oil
3 T. palm oil
½ lb. boneless beef
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 large tomato, chopped
3 T. tomato paste
Zest of 1 lime
Hot pepper, fresh, seeded and chopped, to taste
1 medium pumpkin (or butternut squash), peeled and cut into 6 large pieces
Salt to taste
Roasted peanuts for garnish
2/3 c. green peas, for garnished, cooked till young-leaf green
3 green onions, coarsely chopped

Heat oils over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pan. Brown meat on all sides, until crusty; then add the onion: cook until onions are translucent and beginning to turn golden in color. Stir in remaining ingredients except for pumpkin/squash, green peas, and green onions. Add 1 cup of water. Cover pan, reduce heat, and simmer until meat is just about done.

Put the pumpkin/squash into the pot, along with the green onions. Cover and cook until squash is tender when pierced by a sharp knife.

Pile rice on a platter and place meat and squash in center. Sprinkle with the peas and the peanuts. Serve.

West Africa:

Africa pumpkin 4Pumpkin Soup (from Liberia)
Serves 4

1 hot chile pepper (habanero or Scotch bonnet)
1 tomato, chopped
1 cup red palm oil
1 lb. beef roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, minced
1 dried and smoked fish, washed, skinned, deboned, and shredded
½ cup tomato purée
1 cup hot water
2 Maggi chicken cubes (or substitute stock, taking into account water)
1 medium pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste (remember, the fish and Maggi cubes can be salty)

Pound the chile with a little bit of the onion in a mortar; then add and pound the tomato. Set aside.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot. Brown the meat well on all sides. Add onion and sauté until onion is translucent. Stir in the chile paste and fry for 2 minutes. Mix in the fish and then the tomato purée with the hot water. Then add the Maggi cubes. Season with black pepper. Cover the ingredients just barely with more water; cook about 45 minutes. Add the pumpkin/squash and cook until it’s fork-tender and sauce looks thick. Check for seasoning; add salt only if needed.

Serve on top of rice or with fufu.

© 2009 C. Bertelsen


One Comment Add yours

  1. mae says:

    This is a fabulous way to illustrate how one food can become part of many cuisines. I have seen various Carribean pumpkin stew recipes as well — I wonder if they are related to some of these?


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