Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Eat a Real Dinner" Challenge

Mambo? I'm thinking of creating a Swahili page with translations for all these phrases I keep dropping. Stay tuned for that. Speaking Swahili is feeling much more natural as time goes on, which makes me think I'm making progress! I certainly hope I am, seeing as the midterm exam in on Tuesday...

Anyways, in an effort to talk more about FOOD on this here food blog, I want to recap a challenge I set for myself this week. I'm calling it the "Eat a Real Dinner" Challenge. If I recall correctly, Rose and Heather set a similar goal for themselves not too long ago.

Basically, the challenge was as such: eat a real, complete, proper, nutritionally sound dinner every night for one week.

Why? Because I've noticed that I've falling into a pattern of just eating a bunch of different snacks in the evening and calling it dinner. Cooking real meals in my Nairobi apartment is challenging, I'm discovering:
  • I'm often too tired or too starving to cook at the end of the day
  • Keeping a fully-stocked fridge and pantry is challenging, because I share 1 tiny fridge with my 4 hungry roommates.
  • Many of my usual go-to ingredients aren't available here (or if they are, they're imported and prohibitively expensive) and cooking with the same limited ingredients over and over can get pretty boring.
  • My cooking tools are limited- we've got a couple saucepans, a skillet, 2 or 3 knives, a cutting board, and a glass baking dish. Plus plates and utensils, of course.
So, as you can see, to eat a real dinner here requires much more effort than it does at home. But this week, I took the time to cook a complete dinner for myself! Here's what I came up with:

Tofu ricotta and chickpea-marinara sauce served over wagon wheel pasta, serve with sauteed collards, tomatoes, garlic, and onion.

For some reason, these collards (or maybe it was Swiss chard?) are called spinach at the grocery store. However, it's not remotely like any spinach I've ever seen. Regardless of the name, it's only 22 shillings (30-ish cents) for a giant bunch. What a steal.

Tofu ricotta is one of my favorite vegetarian ingredients. To make it, simply squeeze 1 block of tofu through your (clean!) fingers for a couple minutes until it resembles ricotta cheese. Stir in 1 minced garlic clove, a pinch of salt, a splash of olive oil, and a handful of nutritional yeast if you like (optional- I didn't use any because they don't have nooch here). Delicious.

Tofu ricotta "pizza" on whole wheat toast with tomato sauce, served with sauteed collards and snap peas.

Can you tell I like re-using leftover ingredients? Both the tofu ricotta and collards made another appearance on Tuesday night. The pizza toast was DIVINE and vegan to boot! So many wonderful flavors. In fact, I liked it so much that I made another one after I polished off the first.

Zucchini, okra, chickpea, and onion stir-fried with garam masala, cumin, and tumeric, served with oven-roasted balsamic tomatoes and eggplant.

I cubed an eggplant and a plum tomato, tossed them with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt, and roasted them in the oven for about 30 minutes on high heat. Fun fact: our oven doesn't have degree settings, only the numbers 1-10. Makes cooking more exciting, that's for sure! You just have a take a shot in the dark with the number choice.

The spice mixture in the stir-fry really made this meal delicious. Spices are super-cheap here so I bought a bunch at the beginning of the semester and keep them in a rack by the stove. The mixture of textures really made this meal delicious. Oh, and I ate it with ketchup. I love all roasted vegetables with ketchup.

My camera ate the picture! But that's okay, because it wasn't very good. It was a veggie fried rice dish of sorts which I split with a roommate. It ended up being too oily and bitter- I think the eggplant wasn't a good one- they can get bitter if they're too seedy. Oh well.

And on the last day... I cheated. I went out to eat at the fancypants (read: AWESOME) ArtCaffe in the swanky Westgate Mall. And I forgot my camera to boot. Blogger fail. Anyways, I had a divine hummus plate. The hummus was topped with caramelized onions and mushrooms and served with foccacia bread. This was the first hummus I'd had in TWO MONTHS! They just don't really do hummus here. And I can't make any cause I don't have a blender or food processor. Do me a favor and hug a tub of hummus for me today, because I miss it so.

Well, there you have it. With a little forethought and creativity, I was able to eat a nutritious and complete meal every night (if you count Friday). You'll probably notice these meals were very veggie-centric. This is because I don't often get the chance to eat a lot of veggies during the day, and because fresh produce is the cheapest thing you can buy here. I don't think I've paid over 50 shillings (70 cents) for any one bag of vegetables here. And because it's good for you!



Halloween isn't really celebrated here, but that doesn't mean we can't throw a party! My roommates are I have invited some of our friends (both Kenyan and American) over to our apartment(s) for a party tonight. There will be plenty of Tusker consumed and creative costuming galore. Not so much on the candy, though. Sadface. Reeses and Snickers haven't made it over here yet. Have fun tonight, whatever you're doing!


  1. Awesome challenge and it's fun to hear about what things are called over there and how much they cost. 30 cents?! Craziness. I'll eat a snickers and a reese for you tonight! And thanks for the info about tofu ricotta, what a yummy idea it looks so good on that pizza you made.

  2. our first halloween here in the woods without any trick or treaters! I should buy some KitKats just in case...

  3. wow you are eating better than i am an i'm not even in kenya haha

  4. First off, I am SO impressed with your cooking prowess under such difficult/unusual circumstances. Kudos!
    I tried making tofu ricotta once, and it was awful. I might just have to try your method--you make it sound so good!

  5. Impressive and healthy to boot! Do your roomies enjoy cooking too?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.