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Stewed Goat: Finding the Horn of Africa in a Phoenix Strip Mall

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Phoenix New Times — The slow-cooked goat at Waamo in the Somali mall in east Phoenix has been roughly chopped, with some pieces sticking to knobs or lengths of bone. A mound of goat hunks rises beside a plate of yellow rice. The meat is rich and tender. Slivers of onion, peppers, and a simple side salad break up bites of the deeply mineral, faintly gamey goat.

“If you’re going to invite somebody in your home in Somalia, you cook goat,” says Basheir Elmi, owner and host of Waamo.

Elmi, like many people from Somalia, loves goat. Goat is Somalia’s most popular meat (along with sheep). When I sat down at Waamo, Elmi walked over to my booth, lifted his eyeglasses onto his bald head, and explained his menu’s abundance of Somali, Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Mediterranean specialties. I asked him his favorite. His reply: “Goat.”

Reader, we now arrive to a critical juncture. What do I mean by this?

I don’t know anything about Somali food.

There’s a strange tendency among people who write about food to assume an omniscient Godlike persona, to pretend they know everything about everything. They know how native Andeans brew pulque, how fishermen cook cod in Saskatchewan, and at what temperature Mongolian nomads sip koumiss. Right.

The number of world cuisines is indefinable and uncountable. All are in a constant state of flux; many are rapidly evolving with the proliferation of the internet; and most overlap with other cuisines in ways that makes drawing boundaries futile. The world is vast and complicated. Nobody could possibly know everything.

Luckily, people love to talk about what they cook.

Luckily, we live in an era of near-infinite academic resources.

How do I write a story about the food of Somalia, a country that I unfairly associate predominantly with Black Hawk Down and pirates? I live near a library that lets me check out 30 books at once. One of my graduate schools forgot to turn off my database access. There are many ways to learn.

Somalia is a V-shaped country on the actual horn of Africa. It has a long coastline, but fish isn’t really consumed inland, as refrigeration is limited. Meat is very popular. It’s served with rice, injera (flat, fermented Ethiopian “bread”), and even spaghetti (Somalia has a history of European colonization).

Tea is the main beverage, with black varietals from Sri Lanka and India preferred. The brewing typically happens in a large pot, into which heady spices go, the goal being a dusky and disarmingly sweet tea. Elmi’s is both. He dials up flavor with ginger, cinnamon, cardamon, and lemon. He serves the sugary brew cold.

Like most meat in Somalia, a nation of predominantly Sunni Muslims, Elmi’s goat is halal. For his signature goat dish, he cooks “everything except the neck and head.”

Some 15 to 20 pounds of goat braise away in a pot. Salt, pepper, and green pepper are the dominant additions to the braising liquid (water). Elmi adds green pepper by coring out the cone-shaped seedy mass, and floating this white, pithy interior part of the nightshade in the cooking water.

Elmi recalls oven-roasted goat from restaurants in Somalia, waxing about meat that was “falling apart” when it reached his table. He came to the U.S. in the 1980s. Some pieces of his goat have that melting texture, some don’t. With various parts of the animal in the mix, each bite is different.

Look for the marrow inside split bones. Slurping it brings a rush of intense flavor.

The goat is great for that flavor, a window into a far part of the world. It also wicks flavor from the vibes of the restaurant. Elmi, who after expounding on the menu will lovingly explain how he makes coffee and tea, is a peerless host. You won’t likely find this kind of sincere hospitality in a high-end restaurant.

Anyway, if you’re over in Waamo’s neighborhood, stop on in. I’d love to hear from readers about some of Elmi’s other specialties. Ping me at chris.malloy@newtimes.com. And yes, I am enlisting you in my education on Somali food.

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Food

A delicately spiced love triangle

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I first tasted samosas when I was about eight years old. They’re very child friendly. A warm handheld pastry snack is always welcome but when it has potatoes and a mild curry flavour, it’s just perfect on a cold day. I haven’t made them in years but my little girl spotted Fizzy, from Emye Ethiopian food, making vegan sambusas at our local market in Midleton and she loved them. So I’ve started to make them at home now but have been baking them in the oven. So far I’ve been able to cram all sorts of vegetables in.

This minced beef version is delicious though, with plenty of ginger and a fresh burst of coriander. Complete with filling protein-packed lentils, these samosas are a complete meal in themselves. My recipe is a little mild and family friendly so do add extra spices or chili if you prefer. I usually serve mine with sriracha sauce. You can use finely shredded leftover roast chicken to make chicken pies too or use regular potatoes in place of the sweet potatoes.

You can make the filling mixture the day before if you want and assemble them at the last minute. Folding them can be a bit of a skill but once you start it’s easy. Just keep folding the triangle in towards itself so that each side is sealed and no filling can escape.

Many cultures have their own version of this. From Indian Samosas to Ethiopian or Somali Sambusa. There are also Turkish and many more Middle Eastern versions with cheese and vegetables. It’s a delicious way to serve tasty savoury fillings and perfect for packed lunches or picnics.

Ginger, beef and lentil samosas
Makes 8

1 tbsp coconut oil
1 red onion
1 thumb sized piece of ginger (2 tbsp once grated)
400g minced beef
1 heaped tsp garam masala or similar curry spices
150g sweet potato
400g tin bijoux verts lentils, 240g once drained
20g fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
150ml water
1 pack filo pastry sheets, defrosted
1 tbsp nigella seeds

Melt the coconut oil in a wide pan and add the finely diced onion. Cook on a medium heat for five minutes, add the ginger and stir, moving around the pan for a minute. Add the minced beef and garam masala. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add 150ml water, the finely diced sweet potato and the lentils. Mix well. Lower the heat and leave to simmer for 10-12 minutes until the sweet potato is cooked and the mixture has reduced a little and is drier. Remove from the heat. Fold in the chopped coriander, season well with salt then leave to cool. Spread it on a large baking tray to cool it quickly if you’re short on time.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Cut each long sheet of filo pastry into a long rectangle. Lay one on the countertop and spoon 1/8 of the cooled filling into the top corner. Brush the pastry with water and fold it diagonally to create a triangle shape, continue to fold, retaining the triangle shape and seal the dampened edges. Repeat with the remaining filling and pastry till you have made eight. Lay the samosas on two baking trays lined with greaseproof paper. Bake for 10 minutes then turn each one over. Brush each one with a little water and sprinkle with nigella seeds and return to the oven for a final 10 minutes till golden and crispy. Leave to cool for five minutes before serving with salad and hummus or yogurt.

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Food

Take a new approach to holiday leftovers with this sweet Somali tradition

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The joy of sharing food with friends and loved ones lies at the heart of the festive season. A longstanding Somali tradition can help guests give back.

Given the communal nature of African families, holiday celebrations often involve a large number of relatives and distant cousins trickling into homes from far away. The families receiving them cook ample food, with the dishes, ingredients, spices, and flavors varying depending on the culture. Despite the fact that everyone is expected to finish what he or she is served at the lunch or dinner table, even after second or third helpings, copious amounts of food often remains.

Among the Somali community, food is never thrown away. Leftovers are stored to eat for breakfast or lunch the next day. Another custom is to pack the food into containers and send them away with guests. Often, guests will return this kind act by sending the containers back filled with sweet delicacies and desserts.

One of these delicacies is the halwa, a Turkish delight-like sweet dish made with sugar, cornstarch, oil, nutmeg. and cardamom. There are variations of halwa across the world—the word itself means “sweet” in Arabic. Another desert that is gifted is kac kac, or Somali donuts, sprayed with powdered sugar. These are often eaten as snacks with sweet Somali tea.

This practice of giving back after receiving something is an extension of the traditional code of hospitality known as martisoor, which ensures that strangers and travelers are welcomed and never leave empty-handed. The expectation is that this would be reciprocated the next time your family is caught in a difficult situation, whether it’s a simply undercatering for guests at holiday time, or something more drastic, like escaping a famine or drought.

If you’d like to go one step further and give halwa a try yourself, here’s a recipe courtesy of the blog My Somali Food.

Bring two cups of granulated sugar, two cups of light brown sugar, and four cups of water to boil. Mix cornstarch, saffron and half of cup water, and allow it to dissolve. Add the one cup of cornstarch to the mixture. Cook the mixture over medium heat while stirring. As the mixture turns thick, start adding one cup of ghee or oil. This might take about 30 minutes. Continue adding oil when it sticks to the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring until the mixture gets separated. When it starts to leave the sides of the pan, add two teaspoons of cardamom and one teaspoon of ground cloves. Put the halwa on a baking sheet. Let it cool. Cut and serve. Sprinkling cashews on top is an option.

And here’s a recipe for Somali donuts from Somali food blog Xawash that yields 24 donuts:

Combine two cups of flour, half a cup of sugar, and one teaspoon of baking powder. Mix well. Add all the wet ingredients: two eggs, half a cup of unsalted, melted butter, and two tablespoons milk. Mix well. Knead well for three minutes. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Roll out the dough to ¼ inch (½ cm) thick. Cut into 24 pieces, then mark the surface by pressing a knife lightly on the dough. Fry in canola oil (at any other time) at 375 ° F / for three to four minutes until golden brown. Use medium heat.

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Columbus, Ohio

Hoyo’s Kitchen Wants To Be Columbus’ Gateway To Somali Culture

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At Hoyo’s Kitchen, Angie Sharkey says she likes a little of everything.

Sharkey, who came with two colleagues from the Columbus Metropolitan Library, says they’re regulars here. When owner Abdilahi Hassan comes around to take her order, she tells him, “Surprise me.”

Tucked into a nondescript Cleveland Avenue strip mall, between an Irish pub and “Waterbeds and Stuff,” Hoyo’s Kitchen has the curious honor of being the city’s only “fast casual” Somali restaurant.

In fact, it’s one of the few Somali restaurants here at all – surprising for the city with the second-largest population of Somali refugees in the country.

In the three years since it opened, though, Hoyo’s already earned a devoted following in Columbus – and expanded a lot of appetites. The food website Eater recently called Hoyo’s one of the “Midwest’s 38 Essential Restaurants.” It was the only Columbus establishment to even make the list.

Mother’s Kitchen

Over the past decade and a half, tens of thousands of Somali refugees settled in Columbus, mostly on the city’s North Side. Hassan, 29, is one of them, after moving with his family to Columbus from the D.C. area 14 years ago.

But food’s always been on his mind.

“I love my mother’s cooking,” Hassan says. “I grew up basically hyping my mom up. Every time she would make something different, I’d be like, ‘Yeah, if only you’d open up a restaurant, people would be flocking.'”

After graduating from Ohio State in 2014, Hassan convinced his mother to open a restaurant with him. Quickly, it became a family endeavor.

“Everyone from my nieces and nephews to my grandparents jumped into the kitchen when we really need them,” Hassan says. “From the very beginning, this was an homage to my mother’s kitchen.”

“Hoyo,” Hassan explains, means “mother” in Somali.

Hayat Dalmar, 56, is the mother of restaurant owner Abdilahi Hassan and the head cook of Hoyo’s Kitchen.
CREDIT GABE ROSENBERG / WOSU

Not So Scary

Just after the lunch rush, Hassan’s mother Hayat Dalmar, 56, is back in the kitchen. She pulls from the oven a large pot of rice, bright orange from the spices.

“I brought my kitchen from my house to this restaurant,” Dalmar says, laughing.

Of all her dishes – goat, chicken, chai – she says rice is by far her favorite to cook.

“I like rice because my mother, she used to be a great cooker and I think I took it from her, and I have the passion,” Dalmar says. “I like to make rice.”

Hassan says certain aspects of Somali food still seem “exotic” to Americans. Goat, especially.

“There’s a lot of people that are scared of Somali food,” he says. “Or just scared of trying something different.”

But a lot of Somali food might be more familiar than people think. Hassan explains Somali food is an “organic fusion,” combining flavors from Indian, Middle Eastern and East African cuisines. Dishes like chabatti, a flat bread, or ugali, a sort of corn porridge, have versions all over the world.

Hoyo’s Kitchen serves a Somali chai tea, flavored with cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, spicier than the kind served in most coffee shops. And they’re well-known for their sambusas, the Somali version of an Indian samosa: fried and triangular-shaped pastries.

“Everybody loves sambusa,” Hassan says. “That’s like our gateway drug. That’s our gateway into Somali food.”

The main difference between sambusas and samosas, Hassan says, is beef.

“Somalis are meat eaters, so ours has meat in it,” he says. “We don’t mess with veggies.”

Around Columbus, Hassan has graduated from hyping his mother’s food to hyping Somali food in general. He wants Hoyo’s Kitchen to be a sort of ambassador, which is also why he embraced the label of “fast casual.”

Columbus boasts a glut of “fast casual” restaurants, which split the difference between fast food and casual dining. Chipotle is the most famous, but Columbus has plenty of local “fast casual” chains like Fusian, 6-1-Pho and Bibibop.

“I’m a student of the game,” Hassan says. “You know, I studied the industry.”

By breaking down Somali dishes into parts, Hassan hopes to make it more approachable – for white people, for African-Americans, and just for everyone who hasn’t encountered this particular cuisine. They’ve made headway on that part, something Hassan credits to Columbus Food Adventures, which brings a tour by every Friday night.

Hassan, though, has big ideas for what Hoyo’s Kitchen could be.

“We want to be the bridge between our Somali community and the larger American population,” Hassan says.

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