Before I go any further, let me just say that as someone who never wins anything, really, I was very happily surprised, especially as the winner was getting picked by the blog’s author rather than a random number generator, which is very flattering! But all this aside, I was excited because I have never really encountered African food (other than Moroccan) up close and personal – and here it was, about a week later, delivered to my door in a neat little box. With a card of pretty English landscapes which now sits on my refrigerator!
So what is the deal with the African sauces you ask? Well, as the story goes, Juls met the proprietoresses of the rather new business Pepper&Stew at a food show, and heard their story – and the idea that they would make homemade-tasting no-funny-ingredient sauces and try to bring African food to the mainstream more, which she figured was a good enough reason to try and also to promote them, and besides she liked the name. I would have, too.
So, onwards to the sauces! – I have now tried both of the sauces that Juls sent me. The African Fish sauce has been opened and tried and declared by T and a friend to be “more up my alley than theirs”, which is to say – bloody spicy or gloriously warming, depends on who you ask. If you ask me, I loved it – and while I am not one of those fire-eaters that love to chomp on scotch bonnets fresh, I do love spicy food and I do love the almost tangy and earthy flavor that the fish and shrimp base gives this hot sauce. Think harissa but refined into a silkier, more glamorous and sophisticated dish, and you are nearly there. So yes, I heartily recommend this to anyone who loves their food spicy, and who loves to have something spicy like Sambal Oelek or the Prik Nam Pla on the side with their restaurant offerings. Their African cousin certainly does not disappoint! I sincerely hope they ship to Sweden, because when my little jar is out, I am going to want more of this, oh yes!
The Egusi (melon seed) stew sauce got used last night to make (unsurprisingly) Egusi and beef and spinach stew. That was the suggested use of it, and the traditional dish it was meant for so it seemed only right. First of all, as Juls mentioned, there are no suspicious ingredients in this sauce – no E numbers, no starch to thicken it, no water, no other signs of industrial shortcuts. No, it was composed largely of tomatoes and hot peppers and a few other things.
And you know what? It did taste homemade! It did not have the telltale whiff of “factory sauce” when you crack the jar seal, and it tasted like something I’d literally make at home in my own blender if I went crazy with chili peppers (which I often do).
What did I do with it?
I fried some onions till golden and a bit crinkly, added them to the pot, tossed in a little chopped garlic and let it turn aromatic, and then browned some good-quality stewing beef in small cubes, and that went in as well. Then I poured in the sauce, about 1 dl of cold water, stirred and covered it and allowed it to simmer on very low heat (3/9) for about an hour and a half. Why? Because I do not like tough beef chunks in my stew – the low, slow simmer is what you need to achieve melting tenderness (it is very much enough time if you do not use huge hunks of meat – mine were about 1.5-2cm on the side max).
Then, as per instructions, I added the ground Egusi (melon seeds) which came in a little packet alongside the sauce, and the frozen spinach – and that I just eyeballed and tossed a few of those chunky pellets from the freezer bag in. I allowed it all to come back to simmer, stirred till spinach pellets melted, and then allowed it another 5 minutes. And I steamed some rice on the side at some point in this process.
It was almost entirely effortless (unless you count cutting up an onion, 4 cloves of garlic and a bit of meat effort), and very, very good. And, as food from a jarred sauce goes, it was utterly amazing – as it neither looked nor tasted like any part of it has ever been through an aseptic bottling!
If you wonder whether you should try these, and love African food (and it is rather hot, be warned!), or just love spicy hot food in general, then yes, by all means, find a stockist or order the sauces online from their very helpful and pretty site, and use it instead of those questionable “curry” sauces you find on supermarket shelves all too often – full of sugar, and starch-thickened, gloopy and weight-gain inducing. Buy this because it is wholesome, delicious, healthy and really, really wonderful on a cold day when you are too tired to do much more than open a jar of sauce and steam some rice – it is about all you need to do here, especially if you omit the meat, and just simmer the sauce with spinach for the vegetarian version – I think that would take about as long as the rice steaming, really! – and then you get to curl up on sofa with a bowl of spicy hot, warming and comforting stew.
My only comment on this would be that to me, the Egusi stew tasted a tiny bit flat. Do not be discouraged by this, as I am the person who normally wants the garlic, the chili, the ginger and lemongrass, the cumin, the entire pantry of spices in her bowl, often at the same time – the boyfriend said it was a very nice homemade-tasting stew. I think it was more that it does not have that much of a distinct seasoning to “place” it within a cuisine for me – and I sort of hope that the site brings back their palm nut sauce, because I would love to try that! But, this is not a criticism, or not an objective one – so please, take the objective “this is very, very good” to heart more than my “I want 30 more spices in my food” ramblings. Just saying!
So if you love spicy hot food, you should definitely visit their site and buy the gorgeous amazing wonderful hot fish sauce condiment! And while you are there, check out the Egusi stew sauce as well!