Cooking Lessons

I showed up promptly at 5:30 pm for my Sierra Leone cooking lesson with Andrew. He had the sockeye we caught with Keith on the Kenai River last summer cut to size in a bowl. He then showed me the magic spices he brought back from Sierra Leone after Christmas, of which he’d brought me an ample supply. He used two packets of one type that he actually gets in Juneau on the raw fish, along with cayenne pepper from Sierra Leone,  and then flipped the fish in the bowl to coat all the fish. He let it sit for awhile while he heated up a pan of corn oil to fry the fish. He said he would use red palm oil if he had enough, but he did not, so he used the corn oil.  In another pot, he had pieces of beef steaming.  He cut up an onion, and showed me a pepper that he said was hot (and if he says it’s hot, that means nuclear to you and me). He cut about half of it and put that in a blender with the chopped onion.

He then tested the oil temperature by putting in a piece of fish, and the oil was at temperature. He filled the frying pan with the bright red salmon pieces. At about this time, the aromas were getting to Samuel, and he started to pace. When was dinner going to be ready, he wondered. He went to his room to read, but he could still smell the fish frying, and he was getting cranky.

Andrew had sausage-shaped bags of finely chopped cassava leaf he’d bought in DC on the way home. These he had thawing on the counter top.

Andrew pulled the first batch of cooked fish out of the pan, and put the second round of fish in.  By this time, the beef was getting done, and to the steamed beef he added more spices, and then added the onion with pepper to the pot. To this he added 3 cubes of maggie and one of white maggie.  He let these cook for quite awhile as the second round of fried fish were ready and stacked in a bowl with the first batch. He doesn’t add the fish to the sauce until the end so the fish doesn’t get broken up with all the stirring of the sauce.

Andrew added some red palm oil to the pot of meat/onion/pepper and the cassava leaf. Cassava leaf has to be cooked thoroughly or it can cause gastric distress. Andrew also added a little water to hydrate the cassava leaf a bit, and later added in the oil the fish had cooked in. Rice was cooking in the rice cooker.  Samuel was even more antsy. Finally, Andrew put the pieces of fried fish into the pot, and continued stirring. When I looked into the pot, there was the familiar aroma of cassava leaf sauce, and the beautiful sight of the reddish black liquid of palm oil mixed with the corn oil and oil from the fish.

When the rice cooker sounded that the rice was done, Samuel hurried to the kitchen and grabbed a plate. His dad said you don’t help to cook but are always first in line. He’s 11 and that’s about right.  Emmanuel is next, and then I dish up some rice from the cooker and then turn to the pot of deliciousness and spoon sauce over the rice.  My mouth is watering.  Cassava leaf, cooked right, with our salmon is a dish hard to beat. And this was cooked just right. Every bite was sensational, and every time I eat this dish my mind turns back to the days I sat in the hammock on the porch of my mud brick thatched-roof house and ate these meals as the children played soccer in the school field across from my house, and the women and children carried buckets of water on their head from the spring for the evening meal bathing.

We watched two episodes of Ellen’s Game of Games on the boob tube. I don’t watch much TV, but I like her show. We decided for the next lesson I would do all the cooking and Andrew would just instruct. I see a weekly tradition starting here in retirement.

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