Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Koo koo for Kuku Paka

I've been reading The Settler's Cookbook: A Memoir of Love, Migration and Food by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Yasmin was born in Kampala, Uganda, and her parents' families were originally from South Asia. She writes about coming of age in the 1960s, the era of decolonization and youthful rebellion. It's a great book, a peek into the life of the south Asian settlers who lived in East Africa for generations before they were harassed into fleeing Kenya and Uganda. Yasmin tries to be fair to the settlers, who attempted to find a place between the exploitative British and the resentful Africans, but ultimately made allies with neither group. It's a great first-person story about how colonialism divides people who should be able to find common ground.

She remembers her mother as an amazing cook who kept her family together in tough financial times.  Yasmin shares some of her mother's recipes, but also some of her own, made in Britain but recalling her former home. She writes so evocatively, I've been excited to try one of her recipes since I first started reading the book.

Here's my vegan version of Kuku Paka, a coconut milk and chicken stew, made with what I had in the fridge. Yasmine writes "Sometimes Mum bought a kuku paka and on those nights I went to bed with my nightdress splashed with pale yellow sauce and smelling of coconut, dreaming of the next time, possibly!"

I can understand why young Yasmin would dream of the next time, kuku paka is spicy, creamy, tangy, tasty delicious! I think this would be great with a lot of different vegetables: Squash, broccoli, peppers, zucchini, mushrooms.  See where it takes you!

Disclaimer: as this recipe is written it is not hot!  It is very flavorful and spicy in the full of spices sense.  If you want it hot, throw a couple more chiles in!

Kuku Paka
Makes 4 servings
Takes 2 hours

1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
1 giant garlic pod, minced fine
1 inch piece ginger, peeled and minced fine
juice of 1/2 lime
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 carrot, cubed
1 block of tofu, cubed (all should be the same size)
3 potatoes
1 large onion, diced
1/2 cup raw cashews
1 stick of cinnamon
2 cloves
1 cardamom pod
1 dried red chili (or fresh)
1 tsp. tumeric
1 14 oz. or 400 ml can tomatoes
1 14 oz. or 400 ml can coconut milk

In a bowl, mix together half of chopped cilantro, all of garlic, ginger and lime juice.  Add about a tablespoon of oil and toss the sweet potatoes, carrots and tofu with the marinade. Let soak together while the oven heats up.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit.

On a baking sheet, spread the sweet potatoes, carrots and tofu out evenly. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Lower the oven to 325, turn the veggies/tofu over and bake for 10 more minutes.  When they are finished, put them on paper towels to drain the oil.  Save the marinade, and keep the heat on!

Parboil potatoes.  Cut them into even-sized quarters and put them in a pot with salted cold water.  Bring to a boil and boil for 6 minutes.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  Cut them into cubes that are about the same size as the roasted veggies/tofu.  Set aside.

In an oven proof pot, saute onions on medium high heat until they are nice and browned (stir occasionally so they have time to brown but do not burn).  Turn heat down to medium, add cashews and spices and saute for about 10 minutes, until it is really sizzling.  Add tomatoes and cook for a further 10 minutes, until the tomatoes are completely broken down and it is a thick paste.  Add coconut milk, turn down heat to a low simmer and let everything come together. Add salt to taste and Indian red chili powder or cayenne if you want it spicier.  Turn off heat, and stir in the roasted vegetables/tofu and parboiled potatoes.  Top with remaining marinade. 

Put into hot oven, and cook for 15 minutes.  Turn oven to broil and brown the top for 5 minutes.

Sprinkle the remaining cilantro over it.  We ate this intense curry with simple steamed spinach and rice.  And hot sauce!  I'll bet it would be good with Aloo parathas too!


  1. yummy Radhika! I can't wait to try this! I may have to try it next week with matzos though!

  2. Tried this and the cinnamon was divine! I loved the way I was able to keep everything well formed and the texture really came through