Friday, October 17, 2008

The Dangerous Business of Cooking Lunch

For people who have never been to Southern Africa, they probably don’t know that one of the staples of our diet is corn meal or mealie meal as it is called. It is cooked to form a hard porridge that is served with meat or vegetables or both, and usually soup. In Botswana it is called paleche; in Zimbabwe and Zambia it is called sadza; and in South Africa it is called pap.

Now cooking this stuff is a very dangerous business. I would like to alert the Guinness World Book of Records folks to come down here and take a measurement of the temperature of paleche. I believe it may very well be the hottest substance on earth.

In addition to being hot, I have a feeling corn doesn’t like humans. There is a commercial on South African television right now showing a potato field with these cartoon potatoes singing about how “I want to be a Simba chippy”. Simba chips are the crisps (potato chips) we have here. I don’t like this commercial. I doubt very much if a potato likes being sliced up and thrown into searing hot oil. I sort of think the same thing goes for corn. They don’t like being ground up into meal and then dumped into boiling water. The difference between the potatoes and the corn is that the potatoes are not fighting back.

When you cook paleche, you first boil the water and then add a bit of meal to cold water in a bowl, mix it up, and pour it into the boiling water. When it comes to a boil again you sprinkle dry mealie meal inside, stirring all of the time, until you get the consistency you want. The dangerous part is just when the water starts to boil again before adding the dry mealie meal. This is when the corn begins its attack.

When it comes back to a boil it shoots out from the pot without warning. You come near and everything looks okay and then -WHAMMO! Out comes a flying piece of steaming hot paleche. The war has begun. When you are trying to deal with the scalding hot paleche on your arm, another one has been launched into your hair, then one on your neck, then down the front of your shirt. You are at its mercy.

There are a few things I’ve discovered along the way to defend yourself from this daily assault.

1) Never cover the pot. I’m not sure why, but this really pisses the paleche off. When you open that lid – YIKES!
2) Wear your reading glasses. There is nothing that will be required to be read during the process, BUT they protect your eyes. I’ve had a hit in the eyes. Believe me it is not nice.
3) Use the pot lid as a shield. With practice this can block about 88% of the missiles. Combining the pot lid and the reading glasses can push that figure to 92%.
4) Add the dry paleche as quick as possible. From my observations, I’ve come to the conclusion that the wet paleche is a bit like excitable teenagers and when they are grouped, as they are in the pot, their anger at humans is exponentially grown. The dry paleche seems to be the adults who come and say something like, “Hey let’s all simmer down and think about this rationally”, except in corn talk. So the quicker you can get the dry paleche into the mix the quicker the assault will come to an end.

I’d be happy to know of any other handy hints in this dangerous business many of us face everyday.
Please feel free to share.


Anonymous said...

I'm not even sure Gordon Ramsay would be able to master that one. LOL.

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