a pile of sambusa ready for the frying pan
The day my housemate and I delivered mandazi to many of our beloved neighbors, we were sitting in Jackie’s kitchen. “I need to learn how to make these,” Jackie said.
And so, our idea for my housemate’s cooking classes began. She is a trained chef from Central Africa and cooks amazing and beautiful meals. She is so powerful in the kitchen. While she is there, working and singing I want to sit at her feet and listen to her lilting voice, listen to the chop chop chop of her knife. She transports me back to a time and place I never knew I missed, but now I long for like a child separated from home.
On Saturday night we piled into the house–6 beautiful women. She gave us each a chef’s knife, a cutting board and instructed us in proper technique. We giggled and gossiped and the kitchen started to smell of ginger and curry and garlic. The spices were as thick as the laughter.
Sambusas are fried meat dumplings and are, when made completely from scratch,complicated affairs. There is the meat which must be cooked and seasoned and then the envelopes that must be made–flour and water mixed to the right consistency, kneaded until stretchy and soft, rolled out to the perfect thickness, cooked but not too much, trimmed, cut, folded and stuffed before they are dropped in oil and fried.
Making sambusa is a kind of meditation. And an expression of love. To stand in the kitchen and go through so many difficult steps to arrive at the perfect meat dumpling is something you would only do for love. For love of the diners perhaps, or love of cooking itself. But it is not a task one takes on lightly.
My mother-in-law lives in rural Oaxaca and cooks this way. Each tiny step executed patiently in its own time. There is no rush to get the food on the table. The grinding of the chilis, the crushing of the tomatos, so much better done by hand. “That is how the love gets in,” she would say. “Love is the most important ingredient.” It seems like in our rush rush rush convenience society it is a critical nutrient that too often gets left out of our diets. No wonder we are so malnourished these days.
As we sat down to dinner at 10 pm, a luxury for all of us with small children, the love seemed to seep out of the food. Each bite was glorious. I sat back from the table full and yes, completely nourished.