HI Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - STORY AND PHO­TOG­RA­PHY SALEM AFIFI — salim@time­so­fo­

Ev­ery­thing you need to know about pre­par­ing the ul­ti­mate Swahili mishkak.

It’s that time of the year where plan­ning a fam­ily gath­er­ing and host­ing a back­yard cook­out is on your list of things to do. Yes, win­ter has come, and we are all set and ready for bon­fires and some fire-kissed grills, out in the open air, amid the smoky aro­mas of mishkak. Though in our house­hold, we love our meats spiced up with hints from the Swahili coast, and as you’d guess, it’s as de­li­cious as bar­be­cues get. This week I’m invit­ing you to my kitchen to show you the way we mar­i­nate, grill, and have our bar­be­cue cuts.

I can­not help but get cre­ative with the spices when­ever I’m in close prox­im­ity to a dish, I can eas­ily mix ketchup, honey, and a whole load of other things into the mari­nade for the sake of ex­per­i­ment­ing with flavours. So to be fair with you all, I have in­vited two of my ab­so­lute favourite cooks who know how to put on a food show and en­ter­tain your taste buds. Meet Swahili food blog­ger Vanessa Mehri and foodie-at-heart Samiya Saud, two lovely ladies who know how to cook up a storm and serve you lip-smack­ing del­i­ca­cies from East Africa and the re­gion.

After meet­ing the ladies, I got to find out great tips on Swahili-style bar­be­cue to take my cook­out party to the next level. So, with­out fur­ther ado, let’s get this party started.

The Mari­nade

In the Swahili cul­ture, mar­i­na­tion is key; how you soak and mix your meats is what sets the Swahili mishkak apart from that of lo­cals. Vanessa likes to keep it sim­ple with a bar­be­cue sta­ple

tamarind sauce and a gen­er­ous pinch of salt and pep­per, keep­ing the taste more meaty and full of juicy flavours. Samiya loves to add a bit of yo­ghurt to the mix­ture, as it ten­derises the meat. In­gre­di­ents such as gar­lic cloves, chopped green pep­pers, onion, lime or lemon juice, and African chilli (also known as Pili Pili) can be found in the list of in­gre­di­ents. After the mix­ing, let the meat min­gle with the spices for a bit be­fore grilling. Some foodlovers keep their meat in the mari­nade for a whole day, oth­ers like to have it fresh. It’s best to try both meth­ods to see which one suits your taste buds.

The Pro­teins

When it comes to the meat, lo­cals love their beefy es­capades, but in the Swahili coast the bar­be­cue game has quite a bit of va­ri­ety. Though beef or lamb re­mains the king of char­grilled ses­sions, chicken, prawns, squid, and fish can be found in the list of items to bar­be­cue, too.

Omani-style mishkak that’s sold by the road is usu­ally served on a skewer, by it­self. For me, that’s a treat; I get to taste the juici­ness of the meat in all its fatty glory. Vanessa on the other hand, likes to be­daz­zle her skewer and add flavour to the mishkak. There’s ei­ther bell pep­pers, toma­toes, or onions tucked be­tween the meat. The taste is im­pec­ca­ble.

The Sides

Now, for those who like to have their mishkak with some­thing a lit­tle ex­tra on the side, we got you cov­ered. In Oman, we en­joy hav­ing it with crispy Omani flat bread (which re­minds me of Eid), but at our house­hold we kick it Swahili-style all the way with sta­ple sides. The first is the most im­por­tant, which is Kachum­bari, a spicy onion and tomato salad mixed with cubes of cu­cum­ber, gar­den-fresh co­rian­der leaves, red chilli, and a dash of salt, served with a lime wedge. This is the pin­na­cle of all sal­ads in East Africa, it works with rice-based dishes, as well as sand­wiches, but savour­ing it with mishkak is a match made in heaven.

For bread lovers, you can en­joy the meat with cha­p­ati flat breads, which are mas­sive in size, and rougher in tex­ture com­pared to parathas. Or, you can even have it with a loaf of bread. Al­ter­na­tively, you can in­dulge a home­made ugali, a sim­ple starch made from corn­meal, corn flour, or cas­sava flour. It’s a doughy del­i­cacy that looks like cream of wheat. Just like breads in West, it’s a filler treat that ac­com­pa­nies al­most any main dish. Hav­ing it with mishkak is a tra­di­tion that Swahili food lovers en­joy. It’s a must-try.

The Condi­ment

To bal­ance out the bar­be­cue crispi­ness that comes with the meats, you need a proper condi­ment, and I am not talk­ing ketchup and may­on­naise kind of dips. In this cul­ture we love our tamarind sauce a bit too much. It’s a pop­u­lar op­tion for a condi­ment when hav­ing bar­be­cue, but there are va­ri­eties to how it’s served. Vanessa likes to have it blended with dates and chilli, which has an in­ter­est­ing zing to it. The sweet taste of dates min­gle well with the mildly spicy chilli. The taste re­minds me of Omani tra­di­tional dish of Or­siya (or as it’s called in Swahili, Boko Boko). Just per­fect. Samiya is an­other hard­core fan of tamarind sauces. Her take on the sauce in­volves a bunch of gar­lic, black pep­per, a hint of Nando’s mild Peri Peri sauce, and a splash of jalapeño Tabasco sauce. This is a killer dip, an ab­so­lute favourite of mine; the jalapeño mixed with the Nando’s sauce adds a tonne of char­ac­ter to the dip, mak­ing it the bomb of all mishkak sauces, lit­er­ally. Oth­ers like to play around with their dips and ex­per­i­ment with dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ents as well. In short, tamarind has to be on your shop­ping list be­fore any­thing else. Now, go ahead and give it a try this week­end; you’ll thank me later.

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