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.

West African Bobotie (Lamb or Beef Baked in Curry-Custard)

bobotie

Discover the health benefits of turmeric, while delighting in this national West African dish bobotie-made with turmeric.

How Turmeric Grows

Turmeric comes from a herbaceous tropical plant in the ginger family, Curcuma longa.  Our herb is its dried underground stem, or rhizome-the horizontal, underground stem of this ginger “root”.  This special underground stem structure has been developed for nonsexual reproduction.  In other words, a rhizome can “clone” itself by forming a storage organ that can produce its own roots and stem and become an independent-but genetically identical-plant; this is seen in sunchokes and all ginger “roots” in the ginger family, of which turmeric is one.  In potatoes and yams, these swollen underground stem tips are called tubers.  1

Turmeric’s Preservation Process

Turmeric rhizomes are steamed or boiled in slightly alkaline water, in the making of this spice; this sets the color and precooks the abundant starch; then, these stems are sun-dried.  Though turmeric is usually sold pre-ground, some ethnic and whole foods markets may carry it fresh or as dried rhizomes.  2

Whole Turmeric Likely Provides Different Benefits

This whole turmeric, as found in certain health and ethnic grocers, may provide different health benefits.  Studies of its pre-ground form focus mostly on its constituent curcumin, which is just one of its curcuminoids (the other two being bisdemethoxycurcumin and demethyoxycurcumin).  Turmeric also contains volatile oils, or aromatic terpines, such as tumerone, athlantone, and zingiberene.  All these different substances are associated with unique health benefits.  3

The Flavor Components of Turmeric

Turmeric’s aromatic terpenes of turmerone and zingiberene give this herb a woody, dry earth aroma; it also has a slight bitterness and pungency.  (For detailed information on flavor components found in herbs, see Sage Turkey Delight.  4

The Origins of Turmeric

Turmeric appears to have been domesticated long ago in India, probably for its leading characteristic of deep yellow pigment; the word curcuma comes from the Sanskrit for “yellow”.  (For another reference of words for food, taken from Sanskrit, see Laban Bil Bayd.)  In the U.S., turmeric has been primarily used to color mustards and provide their nonpungent filler; in addition, it also has been used in prepared curry powders, where it makes up 25-50% by weight of these blends.  5

Its Present Popularity Is Based on Its Health Benefits

In whfoods.org, George Mateljan observes that despite the past wide use of turmeric in cooking over several thousand years, now researchers are continually surprised by its wide-ranging health benefits, as a supplement.  He lists some of these as: anti-inflammatory benefits, decreased cancer risk, support of detoxification, improved cognitive function, blood sugar balance, and improved kidney function.  He goes on to claim that it may also lessen the degree of severity in certain forms of arthritis, as well as certain digestive disorders.  6

Some of its strengths as a spice are: turmeric helps retain beta-carotene in certain foods such as carrots and pumpkin, in the cooking process.  Studies also show that turmeric may greatly help prevent the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which have been found to be so damaging, in the grilling of meat.  7

Curcumin Is Best Taken as a Supplement

Today, health experts focus mostly on curcumin, one of the curcuminoids found in turmeric.  It is best to take curcumin as a supplement, rather than to try to absorb its benefits through cooking with it in spice-form.  Consuming curcumin with black pepper enhances its absorption by 2000%, because of the piperine in pepper.  Be sure to check your supplements to insure they contain piperine.  Curcumin is also fat-soluble, so it is advised to take it with a fatty meal.  8

My Past with the Recipe Bobotie

When I was studying food in Peru in 1985, I met a couple from West Africa.  Upon learning about my work, they were anxious to share their personal receipt for their national dish bobotie, but I declined it, saying I already had this in my repertoire back home.  How often I have regretted my quick retort!

Applying Lessons in the Kitchen to Life

As we were exploring in my last entry on nkyemire, everything is about “keeping our kitchens clean”.  We tidy all up, as we go along in the cooking process, as well as in our lives; this way we don’t end up with an overwhelming mess at the end, in either our environments or our beings.

Humility is key to accomplishing the above, as is balance.  In the final analyses, we must admit that of ourselves we are without the power to effect lasting change.  Balance, however, is required, for without our fervent participation, God also is unable to effect permanent change within us.  We can-must-ask for humbleness of mind and stability in our beings, for he loves to help those who seek him.

References:

  1. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 263.
  2. Ibid., p. 430.
  3. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78
  4. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 430.
  5. Ibid.
  6. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78
  7. Ibid.
  8. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-turmeric#section1

finished product

Bobotie  (African Lamb or Beef Curry-Custard Dish)  Yields: 8-10 servings.  Total prep time: 2 hr/  active prep time: 40 min/  baking time: 80 min.

2 tbsp butter

2 med onions, chopped

2 lbs ground lamb or beef  (Organic ground beef is $5.95/lb at Trader Joe’s, and our local Grocery Outlet usually carries ground lamb for $6.49/lb.)

2 lg eggs

1/4 c milk

2 slices bread, broken in small pieces

1/4 c dried apricots, chopped small

1/4 c raisins

1/4 c blanched, slivered almonds, chopped

2 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp curry powder

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 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.)

5 lg bay leaves  (It’s preferable to get these in bulk at your favorite grocery store, so you can choose large bay leaves, if possible.)

Topping

1 egg

3/4 c milk

1/4 tsp turmeric

  1. sweating onions

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. In a large sauté pan, sweat (cook until translucent) onion slices, in hot butter; see photo.  Add lamb or beef, salt and pepper generously, as salting meat heavily while cooking adds greatly to flavor; cook until browned.  Remove from heat.
  3. In a large bowl, combine egg, 1/4 c milk, and bread crumbs; mash bread with a fork.
  4. bay leaves pressed into meat

    Add apricots, raisins, almonds, sugar, curry, lemon, and salt.  Blend well.

  5. Using a slotted spoon, remove cooked meat to the fruit/almond mixture. Mix well and place in a 2-quart casserole.  With hand, spread out evenly and press down firmly.
  6. Gently press in bay leaves, using a finger to make a hole in meat, prior to placing in the bay leaf (see photo above).
  7. custard topping poured over meat mixture

    Bake uncovered for 20 minutes.

  8. Meanwhile make topping in a small bowl, by beating egg, milk and turmeric lightly; set aside.
  9. After 20 minutes, pour topping over mixture in casserole (see photo).
  10. Bake 40 more minutes; at which point, take out bay leaves.
  11. Continue baking until custard is completely set, about 20 additional minutes; see photo at top of recipe.  Serve with rice and chutney and experience heaven!

African Nkyemire (Yams with Mushrooms)

nkyemire

Here we will unfold the mystery behind true yams, American “yams” and sweet potatoes, while partaking in the delightful African yam dish nkyemire.

Background of My Using This African Recipe

This recipe came to me in the early 1980’s, while catering and teaching cooking classes in Billings, MT.  I employed it in a African repast that included bobotie (a lamb dish baked in a curry-custard) and chin-chin (Nigerian wedding pastries), which will be my next two posts.  These outstanding dishes from Africa were among other native delicacies in this colorful dinner, which was one of my most popular classes.

What Are True Yams?

Today’s nkyemire receipt calls for African yams, which differ from what Americans call yams.  Yams, Dioscorea, are a tuber that originated in Africa and Asia, but now  also are commonly found in the Caribbean and Latin America, with 95% being grown in Africa.  Sweet potatoes, Ipomoea batatas, on the other hand, are a starchy root vegetable or tuber, which originated in Central or South America.   1

Columbus introduced the sweet potato to Europe; subsequently it was established in China and the Philippines by the end of the 15th century.  It has now become the second most important vegetable worldwide.  2

True yams differ from sweet potatoes primarily in size and color, for they can grow very large-up to 5 feet and 132 lbs.  These are cylindrical in shape with brown, rough, scaly-textured skin, and their flesh can be white, yellow, purple, or pink.  Their taste is less sweet and much more starchy and dry than sweet potatoes.  3

Sweet Potatoes and “Yams” in America

Sweet potatoes are related to the morning glory family, with an orange flesh, and a white, yellow, purple or orange skin.  This vegetable is sometimes shaped like a potato, though it may be longer and tapered at both ends.  Yams in America differ from true yams, like those found in Africa.  What we call yams here are actually orange-colored sweet potatoes-except those found in certain international food markets.  4

The orange-fleshed variety of sweet potato was introduced to the U.S. in 1930s marketing campaigns.  5  At that time, Americans were only used to the white variety of sweet potato; thus, to distinguish the orange-fleshed potato from this white variety, producers and shippers chose to use an English form of the African name nyami , meaning “to eat”; thus, our word “yam” was adopted.  These yams, however, are vastly different from the true yam, as originated in Africa and Asia.  Yams, as Americans call them, are sweet potatoes in actuality.  6

Importance of Tending to our Memories

One of my catered, African-themed events was a law firm’s employee-appreciation-gathering in Billings, during the summer of 1984; they had imbibed in South African wines and started throwing people in the swimming pool, at which point I gracefully exited the party-my check in hand.

Exposures to food become etched in our minds, as do certain life experiences, such as the one above.  We must be careful as to what we allow our minds to dwell on, as memories surface.  We can override poorer impressions left on our hearts, through purposeful practice, much like we can train ourselves to banish certain distastes, for ailments that were initially displeasing.  All must be properly tended to with diligence.

In this way, we can habituate our beings to let go of unpleasant, reoccurring thoughts, about either ailments or activities.  Indeed, we are responsible to hush these tendencies to recall negative, experiential occurrences created by either food or life.  Note: perhaps this can only done with the mighty help of God; thus, we ask for his gracious, omnipotent assistance.

Enjoy this simple receipt made with American “yams”-sweet potatoes.  If desired, go to an international market to get true yams and thus experience the accurate taste of this native dish.  For other sweet potato recipes, go to Sweet Potato Pie and Sprouted Quinoa and Yam Salad.

 

 

References:

  1. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/sweet-potatoes-vs-yams
  2. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 304.
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/sweet-potatoes-vs-yams#section3
  4. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/ask-a-health-expert/yam-vs-sweet-potato-which-ones-healthier-and-whats-the-difference/article4102306/
  5. Harold McGee, On Food and History  (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 304
  6. https://ncsweetpotatoes.com/sweet-potatoes-101/difference-between-yam-and-sweet-potato/

yam slices cooked to a golden brown

African Nykemire (Yams with Mushrooms)  Yields: 6 servings.  Total prep time: 1 hr,  plus 1 1/4 hr ahead of time for baking yams.  Note: if refrigerating yams baked ahead, bring to room temperature several hours before preparing recipe.

3 med/lg yams, or sweet potatoes, about 2 1/2 lbs  (A 5-lb-bag of organic yams is available for $4.95 at Trader Joe’s, or 3 lbs/$3.95.)

2 tbsp lemon juice  (Organic lemons are only $1.69 for 4-6 lemons-1 lb-at Trader’s.)

1 bunch green onions, finely chopped, including green part  (Organic is only slightly more expensive.)

1 small green bell pepper, seeded and diced fine  (Organic is important, as peppers absorb pesticides readily.)

10 oz mushrooms  (A 10-oz-package of small, white mushrooms is available at Trader Joe’s for $1.79.)

6 tbsp ghee or butter  (Ghee will give the best health benefits and flavor; for easy recipe, see Ukrainian Spinach with Noodles.)

Salt and pepper to taste  (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. wrapping yams so juices don’t spill out

    This step may be done ahead of time.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare yams as follows.

  2. Spray yams with a vegetable spray (for an inexpensive, effective spray, combine 97% white distilled vinegar with 3% hydrogen peroxide); let sit three minutes and rinse well.  Wrap in tin foil, carefully gathering the foil at the top, so all the ends point upward; this insures that the juices don’t spill on your oven (see photo above).
  3. Bake yams for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours; watch carefully so yams are rather soft, but not mushy!  Remove from oven and cool.
  4. Peel and cut cooled yams in 1″-thick slices.
  5. Squeeze lemon juice, set aside.
  6. Chop bell pepper and onions-including green part-into small pieces.  Set aside together in a bowl.
  7. cleaning mushrooms with mushroom brush

    Clean mushrooms, by brushing with a mushroom brush (see photo).

  8. Heat 4 tbsp butter, or better yet ghee, in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Quickly cook mushrooms, after distributing oils evenly throughout; stir frequently and cook just until they are becoming tender.  Remove to a bowl, with a slotted spoon.
  9. Add onions and green pepper to hot liquid, cook for 2-3 minutes, or until limp.  Remove pan from heat.
  10. In another skillet, heat 2 tbsp butter or ghee.  Place yam slices in hot fat, salt and pepper to taste, and cook on both sides, until golden brown (see photo at top of recipe).
  11. Meanwhile, return mushrooms to pan of onions and peppers and add 2 tbsp lemon juice.  Place over medium heat, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste, and heat thoroughly.
  12. Put browned yams on a plate and cover with hot mushroom mixture, see photo at top of entry. Serve immediately and enjoy!