Chin Chin of West Africa

plate of chin chin

This last receipt in my African repast is chin chin, or doughnut-like pastries.  Here are easy instructions for making them, as well as the colorful history of various fried pastries.  This chin chin recipe came to me in the early 1980’s, along with the declaration that no Nigerian wedding would be without them; I can see why, as they are so good!

Chin Chin as Found in West Africa

Originally this treat was prepared only for special occasions throughout West Africa and Nigeria, but now it is sold there in supermarkets and on street corners.  In Africa, the texture of chin chin varies greatly from fall-apart-softness to teeth-breaking-hardness; it comes in various shapes, though the most common are one-inch squares.  (My 1980’s receipt calls for wedges, made by rolling the dough in two eight-inch circles, then cutting each into twelve pieces-the quickest method.)  1

Chin chin are known as African croquettes; for example, in Cameroun these pastries are called ross, or croquettes du mboa.  In Guinea, however, they are referred to as gateaux secs.  They come with flavors specific to each country and region, with nutmeg being popular in Nigeria; though, those known as akara in this country are prepared with black-eyed peas-croquettes africaines in West Africa often include this legume.  2

Wikipedia compares chin chin to the Scandinavian snack klenat.  It states that eggs, baking powder, and nutmeg are optional in this fried wheat-flour dough, made up of flour, sugar, butter, and milk.  3

Early World Development of Cooking Techniques

In Consider the Fork, Bee Wilson puts the technique of frying in context, noting that in cooking the development of pots mark the leap of mere heating, to the new status of “cuisine”.  From early times, roasting and barbecuing have been present; this is the direct and unequivocal form of cooking, where raw food meets flame and is transformed.  Boiling or frying, however, are indirect forms of cooking, for in addition to fire they require a waterproof and fireproof vessel.  Here we see that the food only takes on the heat of fire, through the mediums of oil in frying and water in boiling-an advance on crude fire.  4

Doughnuts and Such in America

I am not sure how long Africans have been transforming dough into delectable chin chin croquettes, using vessels of hot oil.  James Beard, however, declares in American Cookery, 1972, that doughnuts, crullers, and other fried cakes have been standard fare in America for centuries.  The New Englanders, the Pennsylvania Dutch, and practically all other settlers adopted the habit of eating doughnuts for breakfast or lunch or as a between-meal snack, during the forming of this country.  (For more information on the history of doughnuts in early America, see 1950’s Butterscotch Cookies.  5

In describing various fried pastries, Beard stated in the 1970’s that cake doughnuts were the most popular of all; he also notes that the Dutch and Germans brought raised doughnuts here.  Out of these raised doughnuts, evolved the famous rectangular shaped ones, with maple icing.  Crullers are richer than cake doughnuts; Beard’s receipt has double the eggs and butter and a third of the milk.  He also gives his version of the great New Orleans dish called calas-fried rice cakes-for which the famous “calas tout chaud” is shouted in this city’s streets early in the morning.  6 (America’s famous The Joy of Cooking calls these calas rice crullers.   7)

Croquettes by Julia Child and Careme

Julia Child gives techniques for making croquettes, in her well-known Mastery of French Cooking, 1961, a decade before Beard provided his teaching on doughnuts.  Her croquettes differ vastly from our above croquettes africaines, for they are various fondues, chilled and cut in balls or squares, rolled in egg and breadcrumbs, then browned in deep fat.  Her fondues consisted of eggs, cream, cheese, ham, or shellfish, and seasonings, thickened with a roux made of several tablespoons of flour and butter.  These are the more standard croquettes, while the doughnut-like chin chin that Africans call croquettes are atypical.  8

Croquettes have been popular in Europe for a long time.  In his first book Le Patissier Royal, 1851, Careme includes such excellent croquette receipts, as Rice Croquettes a l’Ancienne and Chestnut Croquettes.  As related by Esther B. Aresty in The Delectable Past, the first is a concoction of eggs, cream, butter, cheese, rice, and chicken or ham, which has been chilled first, dipped in egg and breadcrumbs, then deep-fried.  The second employs boiling chestnuts and then making a chilled puree out of part of them; this puree consists of eggs, butter, cream, and the mashed boiled chestnuts.  Once this mixture is cold, it is used to encase the remaining boiled chestnuts, which are then dipped in egg wash, rolled in breadcrumbs, and fried in hot oil.  9

Carame also notes in Le Patissier Royal that rum-banana fritters were made by Napoleon’s cook on the desolate island of Saint Helena.  Aresty elaborates on Careme’s sketchy recipe, with detailed instructions of a banana dipped in batter, fried in oil, then drizzled with a rum sauce and finally baked in an oven.  10

Lesson Learned by Moderately Indulging in Sugar Treats

There is nothing health-redeeming about the above African chin chin croquettes, but oh how addictive they are!    This fried sweet is loaded with the wrong kind of fats (for more information on healthy and unhealthy fats, see Balsamic EggsNutty Coconut Pie, and 1880’s Ozark Honey Oatmeal Cookies .

Indulging in these fried pastries makes me think of the old saying: a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.  Indeed, there is a proper way to eat sugar: infrequently and gratefully!  We must apply moderation with the intake of this food, allowing for it only on special occasions (according to your medical requirements, of course), but when allowed, how we savor this treat!

Likewise in life, troubled feelings resulting from correction can be balanced with the sweetness of proper thoughts and words.  Always, we need to slow down carefully and be led by the Spirit, when either receiving or giving corrective direction.  (Webster’s definition of correct is to make things right.)

When correction comes to us, it may not feel like there was a spoonful of sugar in the mix.  We, however, have authority over our minds, wills, and emotions, which together make up our souls, with its voice our thoughts.

We need humble ourselves, in this restorative process.  Of most importance, we must forgive the deliverer of this needed direction, taking no offense, which is critical for our optimum mental health.  This also includes forgiving ourselves, if any mistakes are made in our delivering help to others.

Receiving healing directives readies us to grow exponentially, best equipping us for our ordained service here on earth.  Note: only when our obedience is fulfilled, are we wise enough to correct our fellows, applying all this sweetness to their given situations.

May we learn to live this way, receiving and giving correction with a spoonful of sugar, with all the freedom this brings.  In like manner, may we indulge with proper moderation in the spoonfuls of sugar in our physical diet, as we enjoy these incredible chin chin to the maximum!

References:

  1. https://www.africanbites.com/chin-chin/
  2. https://www.196flavors.com/nigeria-chin-chin/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chin_chin
  4. Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork (New York: Basic Books, 2012), p. 3.
  5. James Beard, American Cookery (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1972), p. 799.
  6. , p. 801.
  7. Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, The Joy of Cooking (New York: The New American Library, Inc., 1931, 1936, 1941, 1942, 1946, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1973), p. 707.
  8. Julia Child, Louisette Berholle, and Simone Beck, The Mastery of French Cooking, vol. 1 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961), pp. 201-204.
  9. Esther B. Aresty, The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964), pp. 139-144.
  10. , p. 144.

finished product

Chin Chin (Nigerian Wedding Pastries)  Yields: 24 wedges.  Total prep time: 40 min/  active prep time: 20 min/  cooking time: 20 min.  Note: a fryer, electric frying pan, or thermometer will be helpful to regulate temperature, while frying.

2 2/3 c unbleached white flour

2/3 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco for $4.95 for 5 lbs.)

1/2 c sugar  (Organic sugar is available at both Costco and Trader Joe’s.)

1 tsp nutmeg, optional

1/4 c butter, at room temperature

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 c milk

48 oz oil, for frying  (May use any vegetable oil, such as canola, which is inexpensive.)

  1. kneaded dough

    Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl; cut in softened butter with a pie cutter or two forks.

  2. Heat oil to 350 degrees.
  3. Stir eggs and milk into dry ingredients, until all flour is incorporated.
  4. cutting dough in wedges

    Knead dough on a floured board for about five minutes, until elastic and relatively smooth, adding more flour as needed (see photo).

  5. Divide dough into two balls. Roll out one ball into an eight-inch circle; cut into twelve pieces, see photo.  (Note: the more traditional way to make chin chin is by cutting dough into small one-inch squares; this takes more time.)
  6. three chin chin turned over, the rest ready for turning

    Cut off a third of one pastry and place in oil, to test for proper heat; if dough floats immediately, oil is ready.  (If dough quickly turns dark, oil is too hot.) When temperature is right, fry other eleven pieces.  Edges of dough will be light golden and dough slightly wet in center, when it is time to turn pastry over; drain on paper towel.  (See photo.)

  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6, until all chin-chin is fried.
  8. Enjoy this delicious treat.

Ropa Vieja (Omelette)

ropa vieja (omelette)

Here we examine the historical and botanical make-up of tomatoes, the importance of Africans in the forming of southern cuisine, and details about the publication of cook books in the American south.

America’s Food Heritage

Our typical American cuisine was inspired by the familiar recipes brought over by English, French, Spanish, and Dutch settlers, as well as those of Scotch-Irish and German colonists, who followed these early immigrants; all of this European influence merged with the available foods of the Native Americans present on this continent.  1

Southern Cuisine Developed by Africans

African slaves played a broad part in fashioning our distinctive southern cookery.  The mistresses of these slaves initially taught them-our people-receipts recalled from these mistresses’ individual heritages, as listed above; then, prized dishes were developed, with the Africans’ natural appreciation of and aptitude for cooking.  These foods were used in the strong social competition among the plantations.  Such delicacies, which in large part formed this region’s cuisine, were not initially compiled in books for the public, but rather closely safeguarded within each family, due to the rivalry among these established settlements.  Thus, there were no Southern cook books until the first quarter of the 19th century; a few recipes from this geographic area were preserved, however, in some American cook books, mostly those published in and around Philadelphia.  2

Mrs. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife, printed in 1824, in Washington D.C., is part of the advent of cook books specializing in foods from the South.  It also includes some Northern recipes, as well as a few Spanish dishes, of which our Ropa Vieja omelette is one.  This promising recipe boasts of only five ingredients, one of which is the garden tomato, and just a few succinct instructions; its simplicity makes it exceptional.  3

Botanical Make-up of Tomatoes Produces a Powerful Food

In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee explains why this sweet-tart, botanical fruit tomato, which is used as a vegetable, has such great appeal.  He attributes this attractiveness to the unique flavor brought about by its low sugar content-3%; other great features are its large amount of savory glutamic acid-as much as 0.3% of its weight-and its ample quantities of aromatic sulfur compounds.  These two latter ingredients, present in ripe tomatoes, predispose them to complement the flavor of meats.  This is because these two substances exist more commonly in animal flesh than fruits; thus, their rich presence in tomatoes allows for added taste to meat dishes.  Savory glutamic acid and sulfur aromas likewise bring out great depth and complexity in sauces and other food combinations; therefore, this particular produce can even replace meat in flavoring vegan dishes.  4

American Origins of Tomatoes and their Slow Acceptance in Europe

Tomatoes originated in the west coast deserts of South America.  Extensive varieties existed in Mexico, by the time Hernando Cortez and his 400 Spaniards discovered this land in 1519.  The tomato was incorporated in American (and later European) cookery in various ways.  At the time of Cortez’ arrival, Mexicans used thin shavings of this green, unripe fruit in many dishes; they also mixed ripe tomatoes with chillis in a sauce to top cooked beans.  Subsequently, the Spaniards in Europe readily adopted this fruit in their cuisine.  5

When Francisco Pizarro began his bloody attacks in Peru in 1532, this South American land, with all its royal Incan wealth, was eating mostly a vegetarian diet of maize, potatoes (including sweet and manioc potatoes), squash, beans, peanuts, avocados, chillis, and our beloved tomato.  6

Some time later, the Italians were adding it to broths and soups, as noted by the Quaker merchant Peter Collinson in 1742.  Tomato sauce for pasta followed several decades hence.  7

Britain lagged behind Italy, in accepting this item, due to their long-held mistaken viewpoint, which had originated on the Continent, connecting it with a deadly nightingshade, being it was of this same family.   Not until the 20th century did the English acquired a taste for tomatoes, particularly canned tomato soup.  8

Popularity of Tomatoes Grew Slowly in the United States

North America was almost equally slow in receiving this fruit, probably due in part to these same European misconceptions; they considered it to be lacking in nourishment and substance, as well as a cause for gout.  9

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the U.S began what was to become a wide acceptance of tomatoes, primarily due to the strong influence from the great Italian immigration then.   Nevertheless, their first appearance here was when Thomas President Thomas Jefferson brought back seedlings from a diplomatic trip to Paris.  There the Parisians had just accepted this “love apple”, believed to be an aphrodisiac; their acceptance directly resulted from the effect Italian cooking had on French troops during the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century (see Spicy Sausages with Tomatoes & Turnips).

It is interesting to note that our third president had an extensive garden of 170 varieties of fruits and 330 varieties of vegetables and herbs; his grand kitchen utilized most of this produce, even producing ketchup for our epicurean leader, who primarily chose a vegetarian diet.  Ketchup at this time, however, was a vinegar-based condiment made from such ingredients as walnuts and mushrooms, not tomatoes.  10

Be sure to access my other tomato recipes: Parmesan Dover Sole and Rosemary Eggs.

References:

  1. Esther B. Aresty, The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964), p. 181.
  2. Ibid., pp. 182, 183, 193.
  3. Ibid., p. 193.
  4. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 329, 330.
  5. On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: The Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), p. 206.
  6. Ibid., p. 214.
  7. Ibid., p. 207.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/historic-gardens

ingredients for ropa vieja

Ropa Vieja (Omelette)  Yields: 2 servings.  Total prep time: 25 min.  Adapted from an 1824 southern recipe found in Esther B. Aresty’s The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1964).

2 lg firm ripe tomatoes, cut in eighths, seeds and juice removed

2/3 c shredded leftover chicken, ham, or beef

4 lg eggs, beaten lightly  (May use 3 duck eggs, which are bigger than chicken eggs; for info on duck and chicken eggs, see Rosemary Eggs.)

2 tbsp butter

1 tbsp chopped parsley, optional

Salt, to taste  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

Fresh ground pepper, to taste

  1. cooked tomatoes

    Spray the optional parsley with a safe, inexpensive, effective produce spray (mix 97% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide); let sit 3 minutes: then, rinse well and chop fine.

  2. Cut the tomatoes in eighths, gently scoop out liquid and seeds with a spoon (it not necessary to peel the tomatoes), place in a bowl.
  3. Shred and measure the meat, set aside.
  4. Beat the eggs, only until whites and yolks are lightly blended.
  5. Over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a non-stick skillet; mix in meat, heating for one minute.  Add tomatoes and cook for six minutes, or until mixture is hot and tomatoes are somewhat softened, stirring occasionally (see above photo).
  6. Reduce heat to med/low; sprinkle parsley over cooked tomatoes and meat; pour beaten eggs over this mixture, quickly distributing the meat and tomatoes evenly in eggs.
  7. finished product

    Salt and pepper generously before covering; cover and cook slowly, until eggs are set on top (see photo).

  8. When done, you may remove any loose pieces of skin from tomatoes that appear on top of omelette; fold it over; cut in half to serve two people.

Spicy Sausage with Tomatoes and Turnips

spicy sausage with tomatoes and turnips

Nothing pleases the palate as much as tomatoes fresh from the garden; how I love this time of year, as it explodes with their bounty.  Nevertheless, at times the question is what to do with them all.  When faced with this dilemma recently, I mixed this fruit with turnips and my favorite Aidells Spicy Mango with Jalapeno Chicken Sausages, both of which I had on hand; thus, this relatively quick and easy recipe evolved.  Enjoy.  (For another delicious Aidells sausage recipe, see Sausage with Zucchini and Eggplant .)

We think Italian cuisine, when tomatoes are mentioned, as we readily do with references to sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, potatoes, turkeys, and corn (in particular polenta).  None of these foods, however, were present as part of this country’s heritage, until after the discovery of America.  1

The tomato, Lycopersicon esculentum, along with its relatives the potato, chilli, and tobacco, are part of the nighingshade family; tomatoes were domesticated first in Mexico, long before Christopher Columbus’ arrival here.  2

In 1519, twenty-seven years after Columbus’ first voyage, this fruit was officially discovered in Mayan towns by Spanish adventurer Hernando Cortez.  In 1527, conquistadors brought it back to Spain, along with the avocado and papaya.  Nearly three decades hence, in 1554, an Italian chronicle listed the first identifiable description of this yellow cherry tomato as pomo d’oro (golden apple).  By the end of the 16th century, both red and yellow tomatoes were present in European gardens, but only as exotic ornamental plants.  There was a long period in which great suspicion was attached to them throughout this continent, due to their close resemblance to a deadly nightingshade.  Circumstances of the French Revolution, at the end of the 18th century, however, established them as an acceptable food.  3

Outside of America, Italy was first to heartily incorporate this fruit in its food preparation; inadvertently it became a leader in this adaptation.  The story unfolds with the French region Provence, whose cuisine was closely related to its Italian neighbor; these men from Provence formed the Marseillaise legion during the French Revolution.  Being richly exposed to Italian cooking, these soldiers had adopted the Italian “love apple”, as it was called, for it was considered an aphrodisiac.  In turn, this Marseillaise legion introduced this treasure to the Parisian troops, who took it back to their great city; thus, skepticism concerning tomatoes ceased in Paris.  Acceptance followed throughout Europe and subsequently the whole world.  4

The week after next, I will post a Spanish recipe Ropa Vieja, from a 19th century American cook book; this is an omelette using our prized tomatoes and leftover meat; it doesn’t get any simpler, but oh so taste-provoking!

References:

  1. Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa, A Taste of Ancient Rome (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 11.
  2. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p.329.
  3. James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), pp. 86, 88, 96, 97.
  4. Esther B. Aresty, The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964), pp. 129-130.

Spicy Sausage with Tomatoes and Turnips  Yields 4-6 servings.  Total prep time: 1 hr.  Note: leftovers taste even better, as flavors meld.

5 1/2 tsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best; olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

1 medium yellow onion, cut in even 1/8″ slices

12 oz Aidells Spicy Mango with Jalapeno Chicken Sausages  (May use any hot sausage of your choice, though this particular Aidells sausage is ideal; available at many supermarkets, including our local Winco and Fred Meyer-Kroger-stores.)

preparing turnips

1 lb turnips, cut in small 1/2″ dice

1 1/4 lb fresh tomatoes, chopped

3/4 tsp dried oregano  (Trader Joe’s has an excellent organic dried oregano for $1.99!)

1 tsp dried basil  (Also available reasonably at Trader’s.)

1 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco for $4.95 for 5 lbs.)

1 tsp fresh ground pepper

cooking turnips

Avocado slices  (These are high in potassium and other powerful nutrients.)

  1. Spay vegetables with an effective, inexpensive spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide); let rest for 3 minutes; rinse really well.
  2. To caramelize onions, melt 1/2 tsp oil in a sauté pan over medium heat; when a piece of onion sizzles in pan, lower heat to med/low; add rest of onions (do not crowd or they will sweat, taking much longer to caramelize). Stir every several minutes, until they began to change color; then, stir every minute, until dark brown; set aside.  Watch carefully while proceeding to next steps.
  3. In another frying pan, heat 2 tsp oil over medium heat; when small piece of sausage sizzles in pan, add the rest; cook quickly until browned, watching closely so as not to burn; place in a bowl, carefully saving juices in pan.
  4. Deglaze hot pan with 2 or more tablespoons of water (scrape fond, cooked-on juices, off bottom); set pan aside.
  5. Peel turnips, dice in small 1/2″ cubes, place in a large bowl, see photo in list of ingredients.
  6. Over medium heat, heat 1 tbsp more of oil in the above pan with juices. When a piece of turnip sizzles, stir in the rest, coating well with oils.  Cook covered until soft, about 10 minutes; stir every few minutes, deglazing pan each time you stir, by adding 2-4 tbsp of water; this additional water will steam the turnips; see above photo.  (Be sure to cover while cooking.)
  7. cooking tomatoes

    Meanwhile chop tomatoes; set aside in a bowl.

  8. Mix tomatoes into soft turnips; sauté uncovered, over medium heat, until they are cooked down-about 15 minutes-at which time a chunky sauce will be formed (see photo). When tomatoes initially begin cooking, stir in oregano, basil, salt, and pepper.  Be sure to cook this uncovered.
  9. Mix in sausage and onions after a somewhat-thick sauce has formed, having chunks of tomato in it; adjust seasonings (see photo).
  10. finished product

    Serve topped with avocado slices, for added health benefits.