image courtesy of http://www.flags.net

Botswana is a stable democratic country with a very high gross national income and the highest standard of living in sub-Saharan Africa, equal to that of Mexico or Turkey. Because of this, there really isn’t much to say about its history that stands out to me. After writing a fair number of these entries I am going to interpret that as a positive thing. Too many countries have gone through revolutions, invasions, and economic downturns over the centuries; an absence of that is a nice change of pace.

There are a few items of interest I came across: one good and one not so good. Botswana is home to the Orapa diamond mine, the largest by area in the world. Not only that, but it produces 11 million carats of diamond per year valued at roughly $1.6 billion, which also ranks first among world mines. Between it and its sister mine, 3000 workers are employed, which explains the onsite hospital and school system for children. And just in case you were curious, the return rate on the ore excavated is less than 1 carat for every ton of rock.

Cattle is also becoming an important source of income for Botswana, however this is leading to quickly deteriorating land and resources. Seventy percent of the country is in the Kalahari Desert, which makes water a precious and precarious commodity. But even greater than the risk of desertification and water shortage is the alarmingly high HIV rate. It is estimated that, as of 2006, approximately 25% of the adult population had the disease. However, through comprehensive prevention programs including free or cheap drugs, the mother to child transmission rate was cut from 40% to only 4%. It is hoped that over time this massive improvement will curtail the spread of the disease.

The most common dish that I could find is called Seswaa (which is a boiled then shredded meat served with a porridge) and because it seemed like every world food blogger cooked this one, I went in another direction. This one I found from the Botswana Outdoor Cookbook and features oxtail, which I just happened to have in my freezer! Over the last few years this is really one ingredient I am willing to splurge a little on. It’s not wildly expensive, but considering a lot of the weight is bone, you might pass over it when shopping at your local grocery store. If you have the time and patience to cook it long and slow, it will make a beef broth so luscious on the lips you might need to take a cold shower.

This recipe is straight forward and at first not very different from perhaps a southern European stew. What really changed it for me is the addition of the butter beans. It is a subtle and delicious element which also thickens the soup and provides protein and a textural contrast. I almost always drain and wash canned beans when cooking, but this is one case where that starchy liquid left clinging to the beans works as a thickener so you don’t have to worry about cornstarch, arrowroot powder, or any other thickening agent.

What continues to strike me after only 25+ countries is how much of the world eats soups and stews. It makes sense: they are easy to cook, able to include whatever is around, and can be a communal meal option. I just can’t help but thinking that the last thing I would want, especially in the heat of the summer in some of these countries, would be a bowl of hot soup. Then again, the desert gets mighty cold at night, so what do I know.

Next time we meet in Brazil, or as I like to call it, “the answer to the trick question about what is the largest Portuguese speaking country in the world?”… here’s a hint… it’s not Portugal…

 

  


 

Botswana Oxtail Stew

4 servings

Ingredients:

oxtail + 1 lbs stew beef

1 onion sliced

1 clove garlic minced

1/2 tsp paprika

1 can butter beans (almost all the way drained)

2.5 carrots sliced

1.5 lbs potatos peeled and cut up

6 oz green beans cut up

1/2 tsp ground cloves

3 bay leaves

2 TBS tomato paste

beef stock

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Directions:

  1. Put the oxtail in a large pot and add just enough water to cover it. With the lid off, cook the meat for about 30 minutes until the water has evaporated. At this point, the meat will start to brown in the fat released by the oxtail. Turn the meat so that it browns on both sides.
  1. Once the meat has browned on both sides, add onions,garlic, and carrots and mix well. Add the oxtail add a cup of stock, add bayleaf and spices, Cover with a lid and cook over a low heat for about 2 hours, until the meat is soft.
  1. Check the meat once in a while to make sure there is still enough liquid in the pot to cover it. Add more if necessary. Add the potatoes and cook till ready, add the beans and cook until the vegetables are soft (about 30 minutes).

 

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image courtesy of http://www.flags.net

So…Bosnia and Herzegovina… yet another place I am woefully ignorant of. The name Bosnia most likely comes from a nearby river, but I find its partner’s moniker more interesting. It stems from the German hereditary title of Herzog, which is the equivalent of “duke”. Thus, it is a dukedom, which it was early on in its history. In antiquity, it was part of the large region of Illyria (the setting of Twelfth Night) which essentially mirrored and rivaled the length and breadth of Italy on the opposing eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea. And as with most forces who were allied with and then turned against the Roman Republic, it was conquered and dissolved into local kingdoms, and those regions which were in opposition were…“taken care of”.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s histories are ultimately not happy ones: marred by large scale ethnic conflict resulting in genocide and war crimes. And even before that there was something called…World War I? Isn’t it weird that they would name it that at the time, almost like they expected more in the future…humm. And of course the long and complicated series of political dominos that ended in war began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip.

Rather than get into all that detail (which you can look up pretty much anywhere), I will simply say that there are many ethnic groups living within the same borders (Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, etc). Following WWI and the fall of the Ottoman Empire (which lasted much longer than the Roman Empire…I’m just saying, we’ll probably address that when we get to Turkey…in a few years…), the large Austro-Hungarian Empire was divided into many of the Balkan countries we know today.

So often in our history, land was divided up seemingly appropriately at the time, with less than adequate regard for where certain ethnic groups ended up. This notion of separation is so accepted, one of the houses of government is the “House of Peoples”, with five representatives each from the Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats. Can you imagine if in America congress was divided between the Irish, Italians, Germans, English, etc? This is still progress, as prior to the acceptance of this format, certain peoples were being subjugated and discriminated against for centuries, and given enough time… genocided against. The ethnic cleansings of the 1990’s forced NATO to carry out two bombing campaigns in ’95 and ’99. The first was named “Operation Deliberate Force”, which I feel is a little a less subtle then these titles usually are. But what do they eat???

I’m glad you asked; sometimes I forget this is a food blog. The cuisine of this region is actually very interesting. It is situated perfectly between East and West, North and South, and has been ruled by the European Austrians and the Arabic Turks. It would not be uncommon to see Baklava and Kefir, which are so heavily associated with the Middle East, next to potatoes and other continental fodder. The dish I picked is amazing. It is a Creamy Zucchini Soup… with no dairy. That’s right… a creamy soup with NO dairy. I’m not one of those adamant proponents of eliminating all dairy from one’s diet, but I have to say, the less dairy I find myself eating, the better I generally feel, so there is probably something to that.

One of the goals of this undertaking has been to familiarize myself with global ingredients. This is a task that would not have been possible even 20 years ago. The selection and assortment of imported spices and other foods is truly a wonder if you think about how far they have traveled to get to your plate. So when I saw Vegeta listed as an ingredient two things crossed my mind: “Oh man, I really need to go back and watch Dragon Ball Z it’s been too long”, and “where am I going to find a Croatian spice blend in central Ohio?” Now I should add the words “easily” and “affordably” to that sentence because I am doing my best to cook within our means and not spend a lot for one ingredient for one dish. This is especially true when the recipe even points out that you could use vegetable broth instead. But I always try.

So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I found a canister at my local supermarket. It is now my go-to bouillon base when I need to make vegetable broth or season any dish, it is flavorful and unique and kicks regular vegetable broth’s butt. So next time you are at the grocery store, poke around and see if you can find it, you might be surprised. Ingredient interlude over.

This recipe is beyond easy and the only tool you need is a stick blender (though I guess any kind of blender would work on low). It is a one-pot wonder and has practically no fat, two criteria for my favorite dishes. I will say that in other recipes I might leave the bacon garnish off, and of course that is an option for anyone, but I do feel that in this dish, with the otherwise lack of meat, it is well worth it for the accompanying flavor and texture. You don’t have to use a lot to get a huge improvement overall and the same goes for the feta on top. I know I will be making this many times next winter: a giant steaming bowl of creamy goodness.

Bosnia and Herzegovina. I’ve typed it so many times in writing this and still can’t seem to spell it right and that is my cross to bear. I will see you next in Botswana which is roughly the size of France… so I assume their culinary history is just as impressive…

 

  


 

Bosnian Creamy Zucchini Soup

4 servings

Ingredients:

1 large Zucchini, peeled and diced (about 4 cups)

1 Onion, chopped
2 large Carrots, diced
1 Garlic clove, minced
3 large Potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoon olive Oil
1 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 teaspoon Paprika
Goat Cheese (optional)
4 -5 cups Vegetable Broth (can be substituted with water and 1 tablespoon Vegeta, Bosnian spice mix)
Salt and Pepper
a little crumbled Bacon (optional)

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Directions:

  • Heat the olive oil and paprika in a large pot over medium heat.
  • Add onions, garlic and carrots and saute until onions start to lose opaqueness
  • Mix in diced potatoes and vinegar and saute, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are translucent.
  • Add zucchini and enough broth to just cover the vegetables then bring to boil. Lower the heat and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked.
  • Using an immersion blender blend the soup until creamy, you can leave some potato and zucchini chunks for texture if you want.
  • Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste.  To serve, top the soup with feta and some bacon bits.