Monday, November 2, 2009

Greek Cookbooks: Hellenic Athletic Club of Khartoum with Recipe for Spiced Gazelle Pilaf (Πικάντικο Πιλάφι με Κρέας)

Modern Greeks have been in Sudan since the early 20th century.  In 1910, a Greek Orthodox church opened in Khartoum.  By 1956, there were 6000 Greeks and 1000 Cypriots in the country.  The Greek presence was particularly strong in the capital, Khartoum, where all the restaurants, cafes, hotels, cinemas, and most shops were Greek-owned.” 

In 1983, the Sudanese president imposed Islamic Sharia law, which fanned the flames of civil war between the Muslim north and Christian-Animist south.  From then to now, civil war and famine have killed millions of Sudanese. Many Europeans fled to their homelands. By 1992, only 500 Greeks remained in Sudan.  Today, there are only about 300.


Dancers at the Greek School in Khartoum, Sudan
Photograph courtesy of Apouro

Although the way of life for Sudanese Greeks has changed since 1983, there is still a Greek Orthodox church and Greek school in Khartoum.  The Hellenic Athletic Club is a hangout for Khartoum expats.  The Greek school’s students celebrate Greek Independence Day, Greek Easter, Oxi Day (when Greece stood up to Mussolini), and the 1973 Athens Polytechnic Uprising against the then-ruling Fascist junta.

Greek readers should check out this compelling description of a scalding hot Greek Easter in Khartoum, written by the Greek Ambassador to Sudan. For English speakers, the poetry of the original Greek is so powerful, it seeps through the vagaries of Google translator. Anyone interested in more about Khartoum can read this fascinating blog written by a Greek teacher who lives there (in Greek, but with fun pictures).

In 1983, the year the Sudanese civil war reignited, Greeks in Khartoum published a cookbook: Treasured Recipes: A Collection of Personal Recipes from the Women Members of the Hellenic Athletic Club of Khartoum and Their Friends (148 pages, 191 recipes, 6.5” x 9”). The editors explain the recipes “reflect the nature of our community here in the Sudan, and the influences upon our cooking, resulting from our way of life, from travel, and through marriage to other nationalities.”

Just as I’ve learned to cook Mediterranean food in Alaska, Greeks in Sudan adapted traditional recipes to their new country.  Fish recipes call for Nile perch, a giant freshwater fish that grows over 6 feet long and over 500 pounds.  Sudanese limes are recommended in lieu of lemons. Egyptian Roumi (Romy) cheese stands in for traditional Greek varieties. Spicy shatta is used for seasoning.

The recipe for Stifado (Greek stew) calls for gazelle meat. Its creator says when the stew is done, “The only thing left is to sit before the camp fire with some friends and polish the whole thing off!”  Gazelle also makes an appearance in George Limnios’ recipe for “Rice and Gazelle Pilaf.”  (An internet site counsels Khartoum visitors who “fancy” a camping safari to call “Greek guide George Limnios [who] happily provides safari advice and organizes trips.”)

Other interesting recipes in Treasured Recipes include: Tomato-Bacon Soup, Eggplants with Eggs, Spaghetti with Bacon-Olive Sauce, Sheftalia, Purslane Stew, Stuffed Mortadella Rolls, Baked Eggplant Packets, Grape Leaves with Onion, Zucchini, and Carrot Stuffing, Salty Cake, and four different recipes for Olive Bread (no explanation for the abundance of Olive Bread recipes).

The idea of “gazelle pilaf” stuck in my mind; I had to make it. (I also had to buy my home when I saw it had a gazebo and have a strong attraction to gazetteers.)  Luckily, there were moose steaks in the freezer to stand in for gazelle, though deer, lamb, or beef would also work. 

The tantalizing, cinnamon aroma of tomato-meat sauce soon filled the house.  Even before adding rice, the rich and spicy sauce was amazing on its own; neither of us could keep our tasting spoons away from its deliciousness. (The sauce, thinned with a little stock, would make terrific soup.)  The tastes of the individual spices had blended into an entirely new and wonderful flavor; no single spice dominated.  The rice soaked up the sauce, ensuring we enjoyed every last bite of the pilaf.


Spiced Gazelle Pilaf (Πικάντικο Πιλάφι με Κρέας)
Serves 4-6
Adapted from George Limnios’ recipe for “Rice and Gazelle Pilaf” in Treasured Recipes: A Collection of Personal Recipes from the Women Members of the Hellenic Athletic Club of Khartoum and Their Friends (Khartoum 1983)
The cinnamon sticks and whole cloves must be removed before serving. To make this easier, wrap the spices with cheesecloth or muslin and tie the packet up with string, instead of cooking them loose in the liquid.

1 lb. boned and trimmed gazelle (or moose, deer, lamb, or beef) meat
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cups diced yellow onion, 1/4” dice
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. coriander seed, ground
1 tsp. cumin seed, ground
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup red wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
4 cups water
3 cinnamon sticks
8 whole cloves
1 cup long-grain rice

Wash the meat, dry it well, and cut it into 1” cubes. Season the cubes on all sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Heat the olive oil in a large pot (that has a lid) and thoroughly brown the meat.  Stir in the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and sauté until they soften and begin to turn golden. Mix in the garlic, coriander, cumin, and Aleppo pepper and cook for 1 minute.  Stir in the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until it reduces by half. Stir in the tomato paste until it’s evenly distributed.

Stir in the water and packet of cinnamon sticks and cloves.  Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer for 75-90 minutes or until the meat is tender and the liquid reduced to about 2 1/2 cups.  Remove and discard the cinnamon sticks and cloves.  Stir in the rice, cover the pot, turn down the heat as low as possible, and cook for 20 minutes or until the rice is cooked and the liquid absorbed.  Serve immediately.

12 comments:

Mediterranean kiwi said...

a wonderful post, and a tribute to those people who went to such foreign lands - that pilafi looks fantastic, by the way!

Peter M said...

Now that's a rare cookbook find! Greeks, anywhere they go, will adapt Greek dishes with what's a available locally, which is perfectly fine by me.

Now I want a Gazelle Kleftiko.

Bellini Valli said...

It seems that the Greek nation has always been locovores no matter where they live, adapting their own recipes to what is available.

Peter G said...

Wow! Amazing! I know little of the Greeks who migrated to Sudan so this was an interesting read. Love the idea of the gazelle pilaf too! Oh! and I second the idea for a gazelle "kleftiko"!!!!!
(Peter's comment had me in hysterics!!)

History of Greek Food said...

It always intrigues me how creative immigrands can combine their need for cultural identity with local food culture.
Thanks for the link and for the book.!

History of Greek Food said...

Wow! I mean, that it always intrigues me how creatively the immigrants can combine,.. etc. :)

FoodJunkie said...

Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I didn't know anything about Greeks in Sudan. Reading the word "gazelle" on the recipe attracted my attention, but I guess one has to cook with what's available!

Mediterranean kiwi said...

come to think of it, a gazelle kleftiko is in order...

sarah said...

what a great blog, I wish I knew about it before I left to Alaska on vacation this summer. Very interesting Greek culinary history, I did not realize Greeks lived in Sudan.

Laurie Constantino said...

Gazelle kleftiko! Hahahahaha!!!

Chef E said...

Yum! I agree with Sarah, great recipes, and I have wanted to try more traditional Greek food in my kitchen, nor did I realize they are in Sudan either...

Maria Constantine said...

I am going to try this with elk - it sounds fantastic. Thank you!!!