Here is a daunting challenge: Cook a meal from every country in the world, one per week, and create a blog so the entire universe can watch as you do it. Oh, and start it right after you’ve had a baby.
That’s what writer, blogger, and foodie Sasha Martin set out to do after giving birth to her daughter, Ava Marie in 2009 and informing her husband Keith a few months later: “I’m going to cook the world.” That middle of the night epiphany evolved into globaltableadventure.com, a popular blog that is a moveable feast of dishes and drinks from Afghanistan to Latvia to Zimbabwe, all dreamed up, prepped, cooked, tested, and eaten in her Tulsa, Okla., kitchen. Along the way, she introduced her family and friends to exotic fare such as Cambodian Grilled Eggs, Fihunu Mas (fire-roasted whole fish from the Maldives), and Muamba de Galinha (Angolan chicken stew). The site has a cool Interactive Map with stars and links to her peripatetic cookouts.
There is a particular genius to Martin’s idea: She satisfied her appetite for exploring the world while never leaving home. It’s an important point for her, having been raised by a single mom, who often couldn’t support her children, so Sasha and her brother Michael lived in foster homes off and on throughout their childhood. Food and cooking became a way to celebrate the times they were reunited, with her mother making Baumtorte/Baumkuchen (German Tree Cake) or Overnight Crepes.
In her new incredibly moving book from National Geographic, Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness, Sasha Martin takes us along on her journey of discovery, through the rough moments of growing up to the many ways she finds the ingredients for personal happiness with her family, all the while including recipes for the dishes that suit the memories she shares.
Sour, sweet, salty, bitter: We experience all of these sensations as we read and cook, wondering if our tears spring from the onions we’ve just diced for the Hot Algerian Lasagna, or from Martin’s revealing words about making peace with her past. In the end, we celebrate, acknowledging a quote Martin uses from French poet Boris Vian: “Life is bitter when there is no sugar at the bottom.”
Scroll down for Martin's recipes for and descriptions of Muamba de Galinha, Hot Algerian Lasagna, and Overnight Crepes, from Life From Scratch ($25; amazon.com).
1. Muamba de Galinha
This spicy Angolan chicken stew presents none of the difficulties of bâtons de manioc. It’s a homey chop-and-simmer, one-pot dinner. The unique red tint and bold flavor come from red palm oil, the oil of choice in West Africa. Expats say it tastes like home, but the carrot-colored paste (that sets up at room temperature, like butter) is certainly an acquired taste. Angolans use the oil with abandon—doubling the amount I used here would not be unheard of—but I find a restrained hand goes a long way. It is available in ethnic grocers, certain natural grocers, and online.
Although this rendition makes my nose sniffle, feel free to add more chilies to taste. Angolans don’t hold back. The stew certainly can be served on its own, but it tastes great with boiled yucca, or served over rice.
Makes: Enough for 4 to 6
Ingredients:Juice and zest of 1 lemon4 large garlic cloves, crushedA generous pinch of salt1 1⁄2 tsp chili powder4 to 5 whole chicken legs1⁄4 to 1⁄3 cup red palm oil2 large onions, chopped3 tomatoes, quartered1 habanero pepper, as desired1 cup waterSalt and pepper1 small pumpkin (about 1 1⁄2 pounds), to make 1 pound cubed 1⁄2 pound okra (fresh or frozen), sliced in rounds
Directions:1. Mix lemon juice, zest, crushed garlic, salt, and chili powder, and rub into the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or overnight.
2. Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the oil, and brown the chicken, 5 to 10 minutes a side. Avoid crowding. Do this in several batches if needed. Next, cook the onions until soft and beginning to brown. Tip in the remaining marinade and tomatoes. Slit the habanero in half (or, for more fire, chop it), and toss into the mix. Splash in the water, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook at a gentle bubble for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the chicken is tender.
3. Meanwhile, peel, seed, and cut the pumpkin into 1.5- inch cubes. Stir the pumpkin and sliced okra into the broth, cover, and continue bubbling until all ingredients are cooked through, a good 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning. Serve hot.
2. Hot Algerian Lasagna
This dish blends traditional Italian lasagna with chickpeas, potatoes, ground lamb, and a healthy dose of cayenne pepper. Although the recipe is an invention of my own, inspired by the work of Clifford A. Wright, Algeria does have strong connections to Italy—not the least of which is the Trans-Mediterranean pipeline, which runs from Algeria, through Tunisia, into Italy.
Harissa and cayenne pepper provide the punch for this dish. Dried harissa mix can be found in the spice section of some supermarkets, whereas wet pastes are more often sold in Middle Eastern markets. A teaspoon of cayenne makes the lasagna mild—double this for good burn. Cayenne pepper’s heat is rated in “heat units.” This recipe was made with a 35,000 cayenne, which is on the low end of the scale. With a 90,000 cayenne, only 1⁄3 of the cayenne pepper will be needed for the same kick. Most spice companies include this information on their spices.
For a more budget-friendly version, ground chicken or beef may be substituted though the result will be leaner, too.
Makes: 8 servings
Ingredients (for filling):A few glugs olive oil1 medium onion, chopped1 pound ground lambA couple cloves garlic, crushed1⁄2 tsp ground cumin1⁄4 tsp ground caraway1 tbsp harissa, prepared1 tsp cayenne pepper, or more to tasteSalt1 heaping tbsp tomato pasteOne 15-ounce can tomato puree or sauce, plus an 8-ouncecan (21⁄2 cups total)One 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and 1⁄2-inch diced(about 2 cups or 10 ounces diced) 1⁄2 cup water, or as needed
Ingredients (for assembly):15 ounces ricotta2 eggs2 cups (1⁄2 pound) shredded Gruyère 2 cups shredded mozzarella1 pound no-boil lasagna sheets
Directions (for filling):1. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, sauté the onion in a couple glugs of olive oil until golden. Add the lamb, and brown for a good 5 to 10 minutes, breaking it into small chunks with a wooden spoon along the way.
2. Reduce heat and stir in the garlic, cumin, caraway, harissa, cayenne, and salt. Cook for a few minutes, until fragrant.
3. Add tomato paste, 15 ounces of puree, chickpeas, cubed potatoes, and 1⁄2 cup water. Increase heat to bring to a bubble. Cover and simmer until potatoes are just tender—about 15 to 20 minutes, adding extra water if needed. Check seasonings, adding more salt and cayenne if desired.
Directions (for assembly):
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a small bowl, mix ricotta with eggs and 1 cup Gruyère cheese. Add salt to taste.
2. Spread a glug of olive oil and half the remaining tomato puree on the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch (3-quart) casserole.
3. Add a layer of lasagna noodles, a quarter of the ricotta mixture, a quarter of the lamb mixture, and 1⁄3 cup mozzarella cheese. Repeat three times.
4. End with a layer of noodles and remaining puree sprinkled with remaining Gruyère and mozzarella. Cover with aluminum foil, and bake 55 minutes. Remove foil, and bake 5 minutes further to brown. Let rest a good 30 minutes before slicing.
3. Overnight Crepes
Even though she’s half Hungarian, Mom calls these thin pancakes crepes instead of “palacsinta.” And perhaps they are crepes; most palacsinta are prepared with carbonated water to lighten the batter. Mom omits this trick, instead relying on an overnight rest to make a silkier batter. Like magic, all the lumps are gone in the morning.
Still, like any good Hungarian, Mom makes an art of rolling up the crepes with a wide range of sweet and savory fill- ings. Her simplest preparations are smeared with apricot jam, sprinkled with crushed walnuts, and stacked under a dusting of powdered sugar. Sometimes, they’re rolled around leftover chicken paprika and reheated in a warm oven. My favorite is a Hungarian-American hybrid: sliced fruit (whatever is on hand), a spoon of yogurt, and a drizzling of maple syrup. Speaking of syrup—traditionalists will say to keep the batter fluid; it should pour like cold maple syrup. Thin as needed with extra milk.
Makes: 8 crepes
Ingredients:2 large eggs1 cup milk1 cup flour1 1⁄2 tsp almond or vanilla extractPinch of saltButter, for cookingFillings: seasonal fruit (bananas, pears, apples, peaches, berries), apricot jam, maple syrup, yogurt, powdered sugar
Directions:1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, flour, extract, and salt. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
2. In the morning, whisk the batter smooth.
3. Preheat a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat with a little butter. When it sizzles, ladle in 1⁄4 cup batter. Lift the pan a few inches and slowly twist your wrist until the batter spreads evenly over the surface to fill the entire pan. Return to the burner and cook until the top of the crepe changes from shiny to dull, then flip. Cook a few more seconds, or until done. (The first one is always a mess. Eat it, and carry on with the rest.) Store cooked crepes in a warm oven until they are all cooked.
4. Roll each crepe with desired fillings.