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.

Making the

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.

12 Responses to “Sambusa, mandazi and deep fried love”

  1. bella Says:

    Simply bliss is right.
    I loved hearing of your cooking lesson.
    Can I come?

  2. GailNHB Says:

    If I could choose any household job to give up and not ever do again, it would probably be cooking. I love to eat, but I don’t particularly like to cook. However, this post, this story that you have shared makes me wanna learn how to cook with lots of love and spices. I wish someone on my block would do what you and your housemate did. Yeah for you. That meal looks fantastic. Happy eating and happy cooking love.

  3. Maggie Says:

    Sometimes I really long for that daily camaraderie among women, the era I can only read about in books when women regularly came together for cooking, cleaning, washing. Things feminists like me have now rejected because they’re “women’s work”, and that’s all good and fine — except when I read something like this and I pine for what my generation and the generation of my daughters will never know. Where it really is a village raising each other’s young when the men are nowhere to be found, leaning on one another for nourishment of all kinds. This looks like it was a sublime day.

  4. Laura Says:

    You are so blessed to have these friends with you. The food looks incredible! Hope you enjoyed.

  5. Ruthie Says:

    Oh, women…
    Let’s not just pine for these days. Lets make them a ritual in our homes. Just the name “sambusas” is beautiful. Experiences like this are what DO bind women together, and we need each other much more than we think. I believe that American society would be better off if women would stop running around for what they “think” they want , and return, at least some of the time to what they really need, and to what will nurture them, and that just happens to be the simple things in life…like cooking a meal from scratch, unhurried, taking the time to mix in that ingredient of Love.

  6. Meg Says:

    Ruthie-My thoughts exactly. You said it beautifully. Let us all gather in the kitchen and roll out the dough, pour the tea or wine and giggle ourselves into good health.

    Bella, Laura, Maggie, Gail–Come on over. We have a knife and a cutting board and a drawer full of spices waiting for you!

  7. Laura Says:

    Meg:
    This is very tempting. I do not have anyone around me that I can share this with. I love reading your blog and all the diverness of it. You’re blessed….

  8. Jen Ballantyne Says:

    Meg, like everyone else, I felt such a need when I read this post. A need as you said, that I almost didn’t know I had, this post brought out such a longing in me. Perhaps it is a deep, old knowledge that is left over from generations. My Grandmother cooked like this with her sisters and various others. She always took the time to make things from ‘scratch’ and you could taste the love, it is so different from how we feed our families now isn’t it? I think we should all get together in our respective parts of the world and invite women together for a good cook in at least once a month. It would be healing, and nurturing and such good fun. I love the way you have written this as always your talent as a writer shines through light and bright. I love you, yoursoulsisterontheothersideoftheworld xxxx

  9. angharad Says:

    my mum used to use the word ‘nourishing’ about food. its not a word you hear often – for all our plenty we are rarely nourished but too often we are full to bursting. i love the thought of all cooking together like this.

    my son goes to a youth club where they cook for each other. he came home last time thrilled that his friend had made stir fry for them all. cooking for others is such a simple thing, yet so full of meaning.

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  12. Yvonne in ABQ, NM Says:

    What were they stuffed with? Please share the recipe. They sound and look so good.