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book review, recipe

The Round House + Indian Fry Bread

On an Indian reservation in 1988, a woman is attacked but the details are immediately unclear as Geraldine is reluctant to discuss what happened. Both her husband and thirteen-year-old son Joe give her space to recover while still determined to do what they can to bring her justice. Joe strikes out on his own investigation, bringing him and his friends to a sacred meeting place on the reservation, The Round House.

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Louise Erdrich’s novel has been highly praised and is award-winning, but I didn’t like it very much. I thought using the son’s perspective to tell the story was an interesting choice, creating more suspense surrounding the attack. Overall, though, while the central plot was gripping, there was so much extra going on in the story that I found it distracting and was ultimately pulled away from Geraldine and her family’s plight.

Often on adventures around the reservation, Joe and his friends were fed Indian fry bread – occasionally with jam or honey, occasionally in the form of tacos. In looking up the history of fry bread, I found that it also comes with a story of pain and suffering. (You can read more here.) It seemed like the perfect food to accompany this novel.

Allrecipes had a recipe for fry bread that many commenters hailed as authentic and the most like their grandmothers’. I also poked around and found one from The Pioneer Woman that had a few more ingredients and included details on making Indian tacos. I sort of combined the two when making my bread.

First, I combined my flour, salt and baking powder.

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Then, I slowly added my warm water, stirring it with a spoon until it was all added, and then kneading it with my hands. Once the mixture was well combined, I covered the bowl with a dish towel to let it rest for about 45 minutes.

I then separated the dough and rolled it into smaller balls, forming about 12 (which will depend on how large you decide to make your fry bread).

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In my cast iron skillet, I heated a little over an inch of shortening until hot. While it came up to temperature, I flattened each ball into a large disk and created a little hole in the middle of each to keep it from forming too much of a “dome” while frying.

I fried each piece of bread for about a minute on each side, until each side was a nice golden brown.

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When done, we ate them warm with some jam (and tried some honey too). I didn’t make Indian tacos this time but will definitely have to try them out in the future. Check out the finished product, plus a look at my new red kitchen – so happy it’s finally a reality!

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Indian Fry Bread

  • Servings: 8-12
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Ingredients

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1½ cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 4 cups shortening for frying (1-2 inches in the skillet)

Directions

  1. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder. Stir in 1½ cups lukewarm water. Knead until soft but not sticky.
  2. Cover bowl with a dish towel and allow to rest for 35-45 minutes.
  3. Shape dough into balls of about plum-size and then flatten into patties between 4-7 inches in diameter (depending on how large you want them). Make a small hole in the center of each patty.
  4. Fry one (or two) at a time in 1-2 inches of hot shortening, until the bread turns golden brown – about a minute. Flip and fry for another 45 seconds to a minute.
  5. Allow to dry on a paper towel. Serve warm with jam or honey, or use as a base for Indian tacos.

book review, recipe

Behold the Dreamers + Chicken Suya

Jende and Neni Jonga have come to New York City (Harlem) from Cameroon to achieve the American Dream. After struggling to make ends meet for a few years in the States, Jende secures a meeting with Clark Edwards, a high-level executive at Lehman Brothers. In 2007, this seems like another step closer to Jende’s dream.

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In Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue examines the American Dream from both sides – the Jengas’ desperate pursuit of it serves as a stark contrast to the Edwards’ comfortable lifestyle and achievements. Jende is overjoyed at the opportunity to chauffeur the entire Edwards family around the city so that Neni can complete pharmacy school and take care of their son.

In the driver’s seat, Jende is privy to many of Clark’s important conversations in the car but never lets the sensitive information slip. Even when tensions arise between the Jongas and the Edwards, Jende remains ever-loyal, not wanting to upset the careful balance that is keeping him in America. Mbue’s novel is a reminder that even those comfortably at the top should never get too comfortable, and sometimes it’s important to take a step back to determine what will truly make you happy.

Even though Jende and Neni are all too happy to be in the U.S., their kitchen table is filled with foods that remind them of home. One of the first meals we see Jende eat in the novel is African pepper chicken. I found a recipe online for Chicken Suya, commonly found in Cameroon, served with an African Pepper Sauce. Neni also serves fried ripe plantains throughout the novel, so I added those to the menu. Together, I thought it would make the perfect meal to accompany their story.

I started with the sauce and tried to remain unintimidated by the number of hot peppers it required. After cleaning and chopping them, I also roughly chopped the onions and tomatoes. Everything went into the food processor.

It came together pretty easily (as most blended sauces do), and while it simmered on the stovetop, I began prepping the chicken. I trimmed and cut the chicken thighs, dividing the pieces onto the skewers.

For the rub, I combined all of the spices, peanut butter and bouillon, working it into a paste of sorts. It ended up being extremely thick – to the point that it was nearly impossible to “brush” on the chicken as directed. I thinned it out a bit with water and ended up forcefully painting it onto the chicken with a rubber scraper.

It’s up to you, but it might be worthwhile to thin it out a bit more (either with oil or water) so that you can cover your chicken more thoroughly – mine ended up rather blotchy.

While the chicken baked, I let my oil get up to temperature for the plantains. The sauce was done by this time, so I removed it from the heat, allowing it to cool off a bit before we ate.

For the fried ripe plantains, I tried to find as a ripe a plantain as I could at the store. Thinking it would be similar to peeling a banana, I ended up having a difficult time. I would’ve benefitted from a handy guide, like this one. (Hopefully your peeling experience will be much easier than mine!) Once the pesky peel was off, I sliced it on the diagonal into large oblong coins.

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Frying them proved to be much easier than peeling them, thanks in part to my adventures in frying the johnnycakes the week before.

After a few minutes, they were a nice golden brown. I scooped them out onto a paper towel and sprinkled with salt. They proved to be not only a nice complement to the seasoning of the chicken and the spiciness of the sauce but a break from the heat as well!

I was happy to be able to make a dish that paired so well with such an enjoyable book, but truth be told, this wasn’t something I would make again. Not one for super spicy foods anyway, I could only use about a tablespoon of the pepper sauce over two skewers of chicken. My boyfriend (who loves spicy food) thought the sauce went well alongside the chicken but probably not something he’d eat without it. And, heads up, the recipe makes a decent amount of sauce – at least 4 cups.      

Chicken Suya with African Pepper Sauce

  • Servings: 4-6
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From: African Bites [Annotations from me]

Ingredients

    Suya Chicken

  • 3 pounds skinless chicken thigh
  • 4 tablespoons peanut butter or groundnut paste
  • ½ – 1 tablespoon cayenne (depending on heat preference)
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Bouillon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 – 8 wooden skewers
  • African Pepper Sauce

  • 10 peppers (habenero or scotch bonnet)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoon bouillon powder [I used chicken]
  • 2 basil leaves [I used 1 teaspoon dried basil]
  • 2 tablespoon parsley [I used 2 teaspoons dried parsley]
  • 1 – 3 roma tomatoes (adjust for spiciness)
  • ½ – 1 cup vegetable oil
  • salt

Directions

  1. Coarsely chop the tomatoes, onions, and discard stems of the peppers. Put the tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, parsley, basil, bouillon in the food processor along with as much oil as desired. [I used ½ cup, which seemed to be enough for my sauce.]
  2. Pour the pepper mixture into a small sauce pan bring to a boil and slowly simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burns. Add salt and adjust as needed.
  3. While the sauce is simmering, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Soak the skewers for at least 20 minutes totally submerged in water before using it to prevent burns.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, white pepper, cayenne pepper, peanut butter and bouillon. [Mine formed a pretty thick paste, making it difficult to brush/spread on the chicken. I would suggest adding some water or oil as needed to thin it out a bit.]
  5. Pat the chicken thighs dry with a paper towel. You want to have a completely dry chicken before cooking. Trim and slice the chicken into thin slices or bite size cuts (suggest cutting on a diagonal).
  6. Lightly spray or oil baking sheet or roasting pan to prevent the suya from sticking to the pan. [I covered mine with foil to make cleanup easier.]
  7. Thread the chicken onto the skewers (about 4 per skewer), making sure the skewer is fully covered with slices of chicken.
  8. Brush the chicken skewer with spice mixture on both sides. Place skewers on the sprayed/oiled roasting pan or baking sheet.
  9. Drizzle with oil and bake for about 20-25 minutes, flipping halfway through baking until chicken is fully cooked through. Towards the last 3 minutes of baking, switch to broil to get a nice crisp brown on the outside.
  10. When the pepper sauce is finished, let it cool. Pour in a mason jar or a container with a lid and store in a fridge for about a week. In order for your pepper sauce to last longer, make sure it is fully covered in oil.
  11. Serve chicken suya warm with a side of African pepper sauce [and fried plantains, if desired].

book review, recipe

The Joy Luck Club + Pork Dumplings

Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club is about four Chinese-American mothers who immigrated from China to San Francisco and their daughters. Like a mahjong game, the novel’s sixteen chapters are organized into four parts, each with four sections. Two sections focus on the Joy Luck mothers and two sections focus on their daughters, with one chapter devoted to their childhoods and one chapter devoted to their lives as adult women.

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The story Tan tells is at once distinctive and familiar. While I couldn’t directly relate to what they faced as immigrants in a foreign country or more specifically as Chinese-Americans, I easily related to the growing pains they experienced through childhood, their struggles within relationships as they matured, and the ongoing, ever-changing connection between mothers and daughters.

Every week the women of the Joy Luck Club meet to play mahjong (one woman for each corner of the game table), raise money and feast. The hostess always served special foods to bring good fortune – “dumplings shaped like silver money ingots, long rice noodles for long life, boiled peanuts for conceiving sons, and of course, many good-luck oranges for a plentiful, sweet life.” The women would play all through the night and into the morning, until the sixteen rounds of mahjong were finished, and they would feast again.

I was quite excited to be able to make dumplings to go along with this novel. I found a recipe that sounded promising (The Only Dumpling Recipe You’ll Ever Need) and got a great Asian market recommendation from my coworker. I paid a visit to 168 Asian Mart one evening and picked up all the ingredients for the dumplings + some cute little sauce dishes I couldn’t resist + some mochi for dessert.

 

I assembled all of my ingredients and got to work.

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I wrung out each of the three thawed packages of Shepherd’s purse and chopped them as finely as I could. Then, I spent 7-ish minutes combining the greens with the pork and vinegar, wine, soy sauce and spices. Look at all that green:

I used water to wet the edges of my first dumpling skin, I plopped a generous dollop of filling onto it, and I realized I didn’t remember how to fan fold them. (Side note: I once worked as a “dumpling girl” at a restaurant folding several different kinds, each with their own unique fold. Over two extremely long weekends, I mastered all of the folds and made thousands of dumplings.) I watched some YouTube videos to jog my memory before deciding to stick with the simplest fold.

I boiled two of them to try out the filling. They passed the test, so I enlisted the help of my boyfriend and together we made about 90 before needing a break. A break meant it was time to eat! We pan-fried and then steamed them before enjoying the fruits of our labor.

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They were very vegetable-y but still quite good. If I made them again, I’d probably reduce the amount of greens or increase the amount of pork until I got the ratio I prefer. Since we’ll be eating these ones for quite a while, I’m not sure when that will be!

Pork Dumplings

  • Servings: Yields approximately 150 dumplings
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Ingredients

  • 3 lbs green leafy vegetable (like shepherd’s purse, baby bok choy, napa cabbage, or Chinese chives)
  • 1½ pounds ground pork (or ground chicken or beef, as long as they aren’t too lean)
  • ⅔ cup shaoxing wine
  • ½ cup oil
  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper
  • ⅔ cup water, plus more for assembly
  • 3-4 packages dumpling wrappers

Directions

  1. Wash your vegetables thoroughly and blanch them in a pot of boiling water. Transfer them to an ice bath to cool. [If using frozen shepherd’s purse, make sure it is fully thawed before continuing.] Ring out all the water from the vegetables and chop very finely.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the vegetable, meat, wine, oil, sesame oil, salt, soy sauce, white pepper, and ⅔ cup water. Mix for 6-8 minutes, until very well-combined.
  3. To wrap the dumplings, dampen the edges of each circle with some water. Put a little less than a tablespoon of filling in the middle. Fold the circle in half and pinch the wrapper together at the top. Then make two folds on each side, until the dumpling looks like a fan. Make sure it’s completely sealed. Repeat until all the filling is gone, placing the dumplings on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Make sure the dumplings aren’t sticking together.
  4. If you’d like to freeze them, wrap the baking sheets tightly with plastic wrap and put the pans in the freezer. Allow them to freeze overnight. You can then take the sheets out of the freezer, transfer the dumplings to Ziploc bags, and throw them back in the freezer for use later.
  5. To cook the dumplings, boil them or pan-fry them. To boil, simple bring a large pot of water to a boil, drop the dumplings in, and cook until they float to the top and the skins are cooked through, but still slightly al dente.
  6. To pan-fry, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a non-stick pan over medium high heat. Place the dumplings in the pan and allow to fry for 2 minutes. Pour a thin layer of water into the pan, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low. Allow dumplings to steam until the water has evaporated. Remove the cover, increase heat to medium-high and allow to fry for a few more minutes, until the bottoms of the dumplings are golden brown and crisp.
  7. Serve with soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar, chili sauce, or other dipping sauce of your choice!


Find the dumpling skins fresh at the Asian grocery store. Look for the white, round ones. If they start to dry out, wrap them in a damp paper towel and put them in a sealed plastic bag for a couple hours to soften back up.

Freeze any unused dumpling wrappers in an airtight sealed plastic bag for later.