I can’t really claim to be a fabulous Susan Kamau type cook. I could probably be deemed to be her kitchen helper if push came to shove, which basically means that I can just about get by without killing anyone with my cooking skills. What I like to do is to learn techniques and then adapt them into my own recipes so that I can show off and get some accolades for my efforts.
I suppose this stems from the fact that I didn’t learn how to cook well until my 20s and up until then I had typical student cooking skills which entailed eating mouldy bread with beans and if I was going down the gourmet route then I might as well slap on a slice of extra fat, extra processed gooey cheese on top and then if I’m going all out then I’ll just bung that under the grill and VOILA! A hot meal…! Good old student days.
As I grew older (and wiser, if I may) I got a grip with reality and started investing in non stick pans and experimenting with ingredients which formerly I thought went only into exotic shampoos. Kiwi fruit became a topping on an eggless cheesecake and I found out that mint could be grown at home and it was used in other things besides toothpaste and mouth fresheners. Eventually I started enjoying cooking and shocked the aprons off everyone the day I announced and served up a carrot and coriander soup made from scratch i.e. I didn’t cheat with a packet mix or a can of soup. I was proud of my efforts and the compliments I got were fabulous so I decided to perhaps spend more time cultivating my culinary skills.
Then I discovered the wonderful art of barbequing. The only effort required on your part was to marinade the meat at least a day earlier, and then just slap it on a coal fire and everything’s sorted. Ok it’s not as easy as I make it sound but it’s not that difficult either. BBQ’s are actually the best way to entertain especially if you have an informal gathering and you’re supposed to cook. My advice from experience is that do prepare everything the day before and on D-Day all you have to do is toss a salad and everything is sorted.
Indian BBQs are actually sumptuous if you can get the flavouring right. There are no hard or fast rules to prepare but like with any good BBQ marinade you need at least 6 hours for the flavours to seep right into the meats. My all time favourite has got to be chicken tikka. Soft and succulent chicken that has been marinated just right and grilled to perfection, served up with a hot buttery naan and a huge serving of a side salad with a drizzling of spicy tamarind sauce and mint and yoghurt sauce on top. The mouth drools every time I think of that!
So for a good BBQ you will need a jiko to start off with. Make sure you have enough coals before your guests arrive because you really don’t want to be driving up and down looking for your local coalman who will sense your desperation at wanting a bag of coal and then hike the prices. I speak from experience. Skewers and tongs are also helpful and so does a netting that fits neatly over your jiko.
I was watching one of those fancy cooking shows on TV and the mpishi said that the secret in the perfectly barbequed meat was that you don’t keep turning it over and over. Just make sure your heat levels are not too high and you can control the way you want the meat cooked. Try grilling at least 8 minutes on one side and the same on the other and make use of basting to avoid charring. I experimented with these tips and found they work really well and that also avoids you standing too long in front of your jiko and have your make up melt just because a bloke didn’t volunteer to take over the nyama choma section.
Assuming that you’re having a BBQ in the hot season (like one usually does!) make sure you have chilled your drinks the day before and prepared the sauces as well. The only last minute thing you might have to do is toss up a salad or cut a Kenyan classic kachumbari that goes well with anything and everything. Ice cream for dessert is well appreciated after a BBQ or if you’re really going to go all out then a refrigerated dessert like panacotta or any fresh cream pudding goes well with the palate.
Check out my basic chicken tikka recipe and do feel free to adapt it to taste because that is the best way to experiment. Enjoy your BBQ and stay back a safe distance if you are going to experiment with lighter fluid over and open fire. Once again, that’s experience speaking… Enough said!
Ingredients for Chicken Tikka
- 1 kg chicken breasts
- 5-6 tablespoons yogurt
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
- 1 small grated onion
- 1/2-1 teaspoon chili powder, to taste
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- melted butter, for basting (optional)
- Cut the chicken breasts in long strips or cubes.
- In a medium bowl combine the yogurt, garlic, ginger, onion, chili powder, coriander, tomato paste and salt.
- Add the chicken to the marinade mix well.
- Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 6 hours but overnight is better.
- Skewer the chicken and cook under a hot grill, or even nicer cook them on the barbeque, 4 to 5 minutes on each side basting them with butter.
- Serve on the skewers (or remove the chicken from the skewers if you prefer).