Weekend Cuisine: Sweet Potato Moussaka!

One of the best ways to ‘visit’ a country is through their cuisine right? I would love to visit Greece someday and since travel is out of the picture for now, might us well familiarise myself with what I will be ordering when I get there! LOL!

The first time I had moussaka was in my uni days, and I fell in love with this delicious layered dish of potatoes, eggplant, mince and a white sauce on top that’s baked till brown and ooh, you have to try it to believe it!

This was my first attempt to make this dish and I did differ a bit from the original. I combined different moussaka recipes online to work with what I had on hand. Also, I didn’t fry the vegetables, I baked them instead. And I used sweet potato instead of usual Irish potato; the meal is still delicious so let’s get started.

Ingredients: one medium sweet potato, I courgette, three small eggplants, one chopped onion, three loves of garlic chopped, two chopped tomatoes, 1 tbsp tomato paste a pinch of dried oregano and dried thyme (if you have fresh the better), I stick of cinnamon, 2 bay leaves, three cloves and one nutmeg, 500 g beef mince, salt and pepper to taste.

You can get started with the mince first. In a large saucepan, heat some oil then add the mince and cook till brown.

Break the clumps and let the meat cook to a dry mix.
Add the onions and mix well till they soften, then add the cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves and oregano. Mix well.
The aroma is so good at this point. Add the tomato paste and tomatoes, cover and let the tomatoes cook completely. You can reduce the heat at this point and let the meat cook slowly till the sauce almost dries.

NOTE; You can add a cup of red wine to the meat mixture of you like, it really deepens the flavour of the meat 🙂

As the meat cooks, you can be baking the vegetables.

Peel and slice your sweet potatoes, toss in some olive oil and thyme, salt and pepper and bake in a 200 degree Celsius oven till ready.
Do the same with the eggplant and courgette.
I added some sliced onion too but it’s not a must.

You can get started on your bechamel sauce at this point. I am no white sauce expert but I am happy with my attempt at this smoothness folks! Here is a nice recipe for the béchamel sauce.

Once sauce is almost ready, add black pepper, grated nutmeg, and salt. Remove from heat.
Add your egg yolks and cheese and mix well. I only had cheddar cheese and it worked ok.
You can mix in a bit of the sauce into the meat mixture. Decadent people, decadent!

Now it is time to start layering the dish.

Get your oven proof dish ready and begin by layering the sweet potatoes at the bottom.

Then add part of the mince mixture.

Try to make it an even layer then add the vegetables.
Yeah, a bit messy I know!
Add the remaining mince mixture and layer evenly on the vegetables.
Add the remaining bechamel sauce as the top layer, and bake for 40- 50 minutes or until golden brown.
I have no idea why it almost burnt ( I swear I was not engrossed online!) Anyway, let cool for about thirty minutes. It will firm up well and you can slice and serve.
You can have it on it’s own as it is really a compete and filling meal. Though I had mine with some garlicky French beans. Just saute them in some butter, garlic, lemon juice and salt and pepper.

This was not an easy dish to make but the efforts and messy kitchen are WELL WORTH IT!

The leftovers were perfect for breakfast the next morning too! But if you have a really hungry crowd I doubt you’ll have left overs.

Moussaka is an amazing dish to make and savour guys, you need to try it out.

Simple Arrowroot and Celery Soup.

Can you ever go wrong with soup?

Soups are a great way to keep hydrated in cold months, immune boosters that help warm the body and stave off colds, and you’re sure all the vitamins and minerals will not go to waste as they are all in the broth.

Arrowroot is a common vegetable here, also known as taro root. It’s one of the things I miss about home too as we are lucky enough to get them right from our shamba. The arrowroots here taste just as good and I have several great recipes lined up using them I can’t wait to share with you guys.

Arrowroots are good for you. They have isoflavones which help in alleviating menopausal symptoms, helps in absorption of calcium and food for the skin too; great anti aging properties, among other benefits.

Celery also had antioxidants, is full of vitamins and minerals and helps reduce inflammation due to its alkaline nature and supports proper digestion. Aren’t those good enough reasons to include them in your diet?

Let’s get started on our soup. This serves 5 full bowls of the hearty soup.

One tbsp cooking oil, one large arrowroot, peeled, cleaned and chopped, three stalks of celery chopped, one small onion and two cloves of garlic chopped, three cups of chicken broth (not in pic) or water and salt and pepper to taste.
Heat your sauce pan and add the oil. Sautée the onions till soft and a bit brown and add the garlic and celery.
Add the cubed arrow root and mix well. Let them cook a bit.
Add your stock of choice, or water until it covers the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper keeping in mind your broth has salt too.
Cover and bring to the boil, then simmer for 15-20 minutes till the arrow root is fully cooked. Let cool a bit then blend to your preferred consistency.
After blending return soup to your sauce pan to heat it through and check your seasoning too.
Garnish it as you wish. I used crushed celery leaves, sesame seeds, a pinch of nutmeg and a dollop of fresh cream. Yum!
Doesn’t it look delicious?

You can have this soup on its own or with some buns on the side. Works well either way. This arrowroot soup is delicious, healthy, filling and warming.

Try it for breakfast on a cold morning, as a filling lunch option or light dinner. Either way, you’re bound to enjoy it!

What I love about Uganda.

In no particular order here we go:-

It is a beautiful country. It’s lushness and fertile soils never fail to take my breath away. Whether it is the green rolling hills, the vast banana plantations, the delicious pineapples, the dark forests filled with indigenous trees and wildlife, and the sight of Nam Lolwe (Lake Victoria), the majestic Murchison falls, All of it.

Garuga Beach

Fun Fact: Did you know Uganda has the potential to feed over 200 million people; if this was taken up seriously, it could feed the whole of sub- Saharan Africa! Yep, it is that fertile. Also, It rains here 9 out of 12 months of the year.

Beautiful Ugandan sunset
Tall trees, blue skies and lush greenery.

Ugandans are very friendly and helpful. I have gotten lost a few times and never been misled or taken advantage of. They are not perfect, I mean we have had a few distasteful experiences; but overall, you feel welcomed here. Very polite. They take time to greet you properly, a simple ‘hi’ will not suffice folks, it is a proper ‘good morning, good afternoon, good evening’.

You know the saying “There is no hurry in Africa” I believe it was coined by someone who lived in Uganda. I do not mean it in a derogatory way, but folks here and life in general is more chilled out than back home. This takes some getting used to, but i think I’ve adapted to it quite well. LOL. Also there is the usual time and ‘Ugandan time,’ it takes some getting used to to arrive on time and wait for others to arrive because you did not specify whether it was exactly 1pm or Ugandan 1 pm. Ugandans also love having fun and parties last really long. Nobody can out party a Ugandan in Eastern Africa!

When driving in the city here on a busy day; it is noisy, crazy, crowded, lots of hustle and bustle, a full sensory assault that still cannot be compared to downtown Nairobi. Back home, you could have the matatu touts banging the side of your car in traffic, shouting and urging you to move inches closer to the car around you. Here traffic is crazy, but no banging and shouting, lots of hooting yes, crazy motorcyclists, yes. But no shouting and banging! Interesting difference right?

You also have to be patient here. Do not be surprised if the person serving you suddenly pauses to engage another client while you’re still there. Oooh and that supermarket cashier taking her sweet time serving you super slowly as she chews gum and chats with her colleagues? Do not even bother asking for the manager, you will be told ‘he’s out for lunch’, even if he or she is right there. Or woe unto you if you end up staying at a hotel where the breakfast buffet food is suddenly finished and the chef cannot be bothered to make sausages or eggs as ‘he’s not in the mood’. Hahahahaha!

The language. Ugandan English,(Uglish) is very interesting. E.g when making ugali, do not be surprised to hear someone say they are ‘mingling the posho’, which is the local name for ugali. And when someone wants to tell you to move over, do not be surprised if they tell you to ‘extend’. Potatoes are called ‘Irish’ and public transport minivans are referred to as ‘taxis’. a real taxi is refereed to as ‘a for hire‘. And when you order tea, there is ‘African tea, or ‘mixed tea’, you have to specify if you want it to come with milk or not. There are even whole facebook pages dedicated to the Uglish language filled with hilarious examples.

Driving in Uganda is quite adventurous; from potholes, to motorbikes too close to you, to the drivers who do not use their turn signals. The other day, someone was in front of me indicating left to turn onto the road home, but he was not moving, I hooted twice before overtaking to find out he was on phone the whole time and was not even turning in the direction indicated! Dude couldn’t even bother to park on the side of the road. Once you are behind your steering wheel you have to be on full alert! The person in front of you may decide to stop or take a sudden turn without indicating, and a motorbike is speeding to overtake both of you and the driver behind you is hooting impatiently wondering why you just won’t drive, add to that the pedestrian walking on the road with their earphones on! Men! always be en garde.

When shopping, take your time to select what you want, nobody will rush you. And do not be surprised when helped to carry stuff out when done. This has taken a lot of getting used to on my part as back home you always feel like the shop assistant wants you to select what you want and leave; I never quite understood why I would be a bother when I am the client. *shrugs*

I like the fact that there are many supermarkets. Interestingly enough in this lockdown time, I have found the smaller supermarkets well, even better stocked, and with as much variety as the bigger chains. Also the price difference is negligible in most cases.

Ah! The food! Do you love pork? Ugandans make a mean pork bbq that is unrivalled. There is a way they prepare it that is not fatty, it is tender, smoky but not dry; I do not know how it is done but it is some of the best pork I have ever had. They make a mean cup of ginger tea too, and their coffee is among the best you will ever taste as a coffee lover. Their pineapples are the best in the world, you can take that to the bank folks! Their trademark matooke in groundnut sauce, the smoked fish luwombo, mmmh, the world famous Rolex. Not the watch, but the chapati egg roll that does not taste the same when you attempt to recreate it. You need to try it from a proper Ugandan ‘kafunda’ (that is, roadside food stall). The kabalagala, a cassava flour banana pancake, the plantains, the fresh fish from the lake, the ‘muchomo’ (bbq meat skewers), Ugandan cuisine is a complete foodies paradise.

This is not exhaustive folks. There is a lot to do and experience here, but obviously with the current pandemic we can’t move around much. Uganda is indeed the Pearl Of Africa; friendly people, fertile soils, rich in its natural beauty, cultural diversity and even the peculiarities. This is a place that has to be experienced at its pace, after all, there is no hurry in Africa right?

Easy Sweet Potato Bread.

I know I am not the only one baking A LOT in these lockdown times. By now, you all know my love for sweet potatoes. So here is a family favourite that’s also great for the kids’ snack boxes.

I do not use a lot of sugar as the sweet potatoes here are very sweet. Here is the recipe I used to use back home:-

Of course, the brands used are different now but still worked as well.
Mix your dry ingredients
Mix your wet as per the above recipe
Combine the two and put your batter in the pan.
The batter is thickish, so use a spatula to scrape all from the bowl; nothing goes to waste.
Let is cool.
The aroma as it cools. mmmhhh!
Serve is as you wish once cooled.

It is great with coffee, masala tea or as dessert with some warm custard. Yum!

Weekend Recap: Visit to Entebbe Botanical Gardens.

The Entebbe Botanical Gardens are a 40 hectare big and fun way to experience the jungle without having to go to the forest.

It is a vast, beautiful ground full of tall trees, vast birdlife, plants species that are both indigenous and exotic and monkeys too!

Pros: It is beautiful, quiet, vast; so many places one can hide away. You can have a picnic, photoshoot and even wedding receptions. It is right on the shores of Lake Nam Lolwe (aka Lake Victoria), abundant plants and shrubs of medicinal value and nice springs flowing through some sections. It is safe; folks just minding their own business. There is lots of space for kids to run around and kick a ball or play hide and seek, you can also walk your dogs there. You can choose to drive around or walk around.

Cons: Not well kept. There were absolutely no dustbins-so there was littering in some sections. No signage on the paths. No usable ablution blocks.

This spring flows from underground to the lake. Peaceful and calming.

Fun fact: Some backdrop scenes from the 1955 Tarzan movie “Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle” were shot in these gardens! Yep!Look it up.

Look at the size of this African Grape tree!

It was not very busy when we visited, maybe as we are still coming out of lockdown here. Entrance charges came to 10,000UGX for two adults, two kids (less than 3 dollars)! Which is pretty affordable.

You can walk or drive slowly around the place. There are plenty of choice spots you can pick to park, stretch your picnic blanket and enjoy your lunch before or after exploring the place a bit. I do not know if they allow cyclists as there was no signage but it would be worth looking into.

There are also some small bandas with benches one can sit on but they are not clean or well maintained.

A bush candle tree, I think.
The weather was also perfect for a walk in the gardens.
There was a private photoshoot down this path so we didn’t go down there. It would make a perfect scene for a movie set in the jungle.
It would be nice to have some signage on the paths.
There were some dogs chasing a squirrel. Kids found this so exciting. The monkeys were quite shy though, I didn’t manage to get some clear photos.
So serene.

We were not able to explore the whole place well, so will definitely be back.

The gardens are a must visit in Entebbe, and I really hope they make more effort in maintaining the beauty and cleanliness of the place.