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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Needs more taste - Gluten Free Ugali and Kale

So I'm adventurous in cooking.  I'll try anything (gluten-free) once.  Maybe.  I'm not gonna end up like the girl who has only practically eaten McDonalds Chicken McNuggets since she was 2 years old.  I'm gonna have a balanced, tasty diet of mostly food I cook and know what goes into it.  To that end, I'm interested in trying my hand at staple African foods.  My first adventure was last night, in an attempt to make ugali (African polenta) and kale.

Now, I've had kale before - once I've made this awesome awesome cream of potato soup and some barbecued meat with my buddy Charlie, but it didn't tickle my taste buds when it was a part of the soup.  It was kind of an added filler to it, which was fine, but it didn't make me want more.  The steak, however, was fabooooooooo.

African polenta, or ugali as they call it in the Swahili language in Kenya, is basically mush from corn, and the ingredients made me go "well, that's basically grits..." which are okay and somewhat even tasty when buttered and salted.  Not the healthiest of meals, mind you, but edible and filling on cold days.  Now, I grew up in a rather warm climate, so even during the winter I rarely had hot food.  Most of the time it would be some kind of toasted waffle that I ate on the bus to school, or a bowl of sugared oatmeal with fruit (Quaker Oats Instant Oatmeal was the BEST).  Grits weren't on my meal list.  Once I moved to St. Louis, I started looking for more, ah, temperature appropriate meals to make at home on cold days.  Freeeezing days.  Brrrrrr.  So out came pop tarts and toasted bagels and stuff like that.  When I went gluten free, meal choices became a bit harder to find.  So grits made my list, as well as home made pancakes with chocolate chips... mmmmm! :-D

Anyway, so ugali sounds like butterless grits.  Ehhhhh.  Let's give it a whirl anyway!

Ingredients: (serves 6)

4 cups of water
2 cups of Gluten Free Red Mills Cornmeal from Hyvee

2 tsp of salt (I didn't have plain salt, so I left this out)

Stirfry Kale:
There are a bunch of different stir fry kale recipes out there, but I opted to just do olive oil and kale for this round:
3 tbs of Veggie oil
3 bunches of kale (I didn't want a lot of kale, so I only used one bunch of kale.  I also got it from California! ;-) ).

2 medium size bowls (bigger than 4 qts)
1 pot (4-6 qts)
1 stirfry pan (10-12 inches)
1 wooden stirrer
1 wooden flat headed stirrer
1 cup measurer
chopping block

The ugali takes a while to cook and cool, so I recommend you cook the ugali first then cook the kale.

1) Measure 4 cups of water, put in pot.  Turn on the stove heat for that pot to HIGH
2) Measure 2 cups of cornmeal, set aside.
3) When water reaches a boil, turn the heat down to medium or medium low.
4) Start slowly adding the cornmeal into the boiling water while stirring.  Some instructions say to add slowly by hand, letting it slip through your fingers into the water.  You can also put the cornmeal into the bowl and slowly sift it into the pot.
5) Stir while adding, making sure you eliminate lumps ASAP.  If you don't, the cornmeal starts bubbling and splashing hot cornmeal all over.  It BURNS!
6) Stir for 10 minutes, eliminating lumps, scraping the bottom of the pot and the sides.  You'll get a workout. Trust me, your arms WILL get tired.
7) 10 minutes are up!  By now, the mixture should be very thick, and might not be sticking to the side of the pot anymore.  Take it off the stove, Get that bowl, and scrape out the mixture into the bowl.  Let it cool off a bit, maybe 10 minutes, you don't want to burn yourself when you start handling it.

Now that the ugali is done, let's do the kale.

1) Get your pan, put on the veggie oil, turn pan heat on stove to medium
2) Using the knife and chopping block, chop the kale up into bite size chunks.  The kale reduces a lot, so you don't need them to be small chunks.
3) The oil should be hot by now - you can check by holding your hand up over the pot and feeling the warmth, or by dropping a few droplets of water in the pan in the oil - they should immediately sizzle and evaporate.
4) Drop in your kale.  The oil may get absorbed quickly, that's okay, the kale is very dry.  Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the kale is withered.  Kale is normally a very light color, and when it's withered it's very dark.
5) Take out kale, put into another bowl.

Hopefully the ugali has cooled by this point.  If you're able to handle the temperature of the ugali, I suggest you wet your hands, grab some, form into a ball, then put onto a plate to serve.  Add the kale to the plate.

The idea is to use your hands to get a bite-size chunk of ugali, form into a flat shape, get some kale on it, fold it up, then eat it.  Sound good?

It was edible, but very very very chewy - I almost didn't want to finish my plate.  It was extremely close in taste to grits, and since this was without butter, it was quite bland.  The kale was okay, but there is a bit of an acrid taste to kale that I can taste, so it's okay tasting while plain but it could definitely be tastier.

I was able to finish the last of my ugali by adding some bacon salt to it in the end.  Much better! :-)

Oh, yeah - if you're like me and eating for one, this recipe serves 6 - I cut down on the kale, but I didn't know how to scale down the ugali.  Next time I'll scale that down too so there's less waste. Experimenting!  Also helps to have a chip clip for the cornmeal bag... until next time!

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