23 June 2007

Dinner with Baaba

The other day, a song came on the radio I hadn't heard in years and I was immediately transported to a younger version of myself, when dancing and stiletto heels seemed less a recipe for pain and more part of an average Saturday. It got me thinking about the music that shapes our experiences, if your life had a soundtrack what would be on it?

Chances are, a lot of your favorite music, but also a lot of things you might not have picked yourself. Me, there'd be the Rolling Stones and Johnny Cash played loud on an early summer evening in a beach house, dancing in the kitchen with still-sandy bare feet. Tom Waits would show up, with Nina Simone and Ali Farka Toure. Absolutely anything by J.S. Bach, but particularly the cello concertos for a rainy Sunday afternoon. My days as a dancer would bring along Arvo Part and Conlon Nancarrow, a high school project on Hildegard von Bingen. Trundling in a bus through the desert, Fairuz and Amr Diab would keep me company. An ex-boyfriend or two left behind Blur, M, the Black Dice; a trace of my Argentine roots in Mercedes Sosa.

It's my mother who cultivated a lot of my tastes, and she's the one who found Baaba Maal. I grew up listening to this Senegalese singer, I've heard the song "Koni" a hundred times and could listen a hundred times more. And it was that infectious rhythm and unique voice which piqued my interest in Senegal, the scars of slavery, the Sufi mystics, the writings of Miriama Ba. And who couldn't love a cuisine heavy on peanut butter?

So it was my love of Baaba Maal that lead me to pick up an African cookbook at the library. Written by Marcus Samuelsson, a chef whose background appeals to my own multi-cultural tastes, though the recipes here are my liberal adaptation inspired by Samuelsson's book. I broke out the grill for the beginning of summer and made tamarind-glazed salmon. It took P. to point out the obvious, that salmon probably isn't a traditional African ingredient, but this example of fusion cuisine was delicious. Tamarind is a sweet-tart fruit popular in India and Africa, it comes from the Arabic "tamr al-hind," which means Indian date. The fruit often comes smashed together in plastic wrapped-blocks or in jars of tamarind concentrate and is available at Whole Foods.

But the star of our dinner was the cabbage-citrus salad with it's nutty peanut dressing. Don't be put off by the fancier blood oranges I used, the original recipe actually called for grapefruits, and oranges could also work in what is essentially a slaw. I've modified the dressing so that it comes together in minutes in the blender, and with thin slivers of cabbage and citrus, this is so easy, you'll do it again.

In the soundtrack of our lives there are a lot of memories and an ever-growing playlist that chronicles our experiences, but there are also opportunities for new learning and discovery. If it weren't for Baaba Maal, I doubt I would have picked up an African cookbook or made this meal. So put on some good music, stir up a dinner, and I'd highly suggest a peanut butter pie for dessert.

Tamarind-Glazed Salmon Skewers
Although the recipe specifies skewers, we found that this is equally good when made with slices of salmon fillet or salmon steaks, adjust the cooking time as necessary. Tamarind is a sweet-tart fruit that often comes smashed together in plastic wrapped-blocks or in jars of tamarind concentrate and is available at international markets and Whole Foods. If tamarind is unavailable substitute minced dates.

2 lb salmon fillets, skin removed and flesh cut into 2 inch pieces
1/4 cup peanut oil
1 yeloow onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tbl curry powder
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbl cornstarch
3 tbl tamarind paste
2 tbl sugar
pinch salt

1. For the marinade: Heat 2 tbl of the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and saute until golden, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, dissolve the cornstarch in 2 tbl of the wine. Add the curry powder, wine, vinegar, cornstarch mixture, and tamarind to the pan. Season with sugar and salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, until slightly thickened. Let cool slightly, then puree the mixture in a blender until smooth.
2. Marinate the salmon: Rub the salmon pieces with the remaining 2 tbl oil. Combine the salmon with half the tamarind sauce and set in the refrigerator to marinate for 30 minutes while you preheat the grill.
3. Grill salmon: Preheat a grill. Brush the excess marinade off the salmon and thread onto skewers. Grill the skewers for 3-4 minutes on each side, brushing frequently with the reserved tamarind sauce. Serve the salmon drizzled with remaining sauce, if desired.

Cabbage-Citrus Slaw

for the dressing:
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 tsp ginger
juice of 2 limes (or 1 lemon)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup peanut oil
for the salad:
1/2 head napa cabbage, shredded
3 scallions, sliced
2 blood oranges or 1 grapefruit, sectioned
1 tbl sesame seeds or chopped peanuts, toasted

1. Combine all dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until combined.
2. In a bowl, combine cabbage, citrus, and scallions. Toss with the dressing. Sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds or peanuts and serve.


MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Mercedes, this is totally inspired! Gorgeous photos. I must try the slaw.
What an interesting question about a soundtrack.

Dolores said...

I love your story, your recipe -- and your soundtrack question is going to have me reflecting for days...

Hilda said...

the beautiful pictures make me want to try this recipe as soon as possible. And I'll try to be less shy about commenting from now on. =)

Anonymous said...

bach didn't write cello concertos but rather suites. that food looks good.

cheerytvgal said...

wow! i love the pictures that you posted...i especially liked the chocolate bunny next to the carrot cake that you made! lol :0)

Ainistacy said...

this look delicious! you take good photos and make the dishes look tempting to try !