Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Radio Africa: For the Love of Food

For me, there are few things more satisfying than a weekend filled with friends, relaxation and of course good food! Two weekends ago the sun finally decided to show its shy face and grace us with her presence for a majority of the weekend; "summers" here in San Francisco are extremely different than the ones that I have grown use to in Chicago.  But I'll take these mild summers any day over five long months of cold and snow. 

The weekend was spent celebrating various birthdays with some of our new friends and it rounded out with a wonderfully delicious afternoon spent with the charming and talented Eskender Aseged of Radio Africa & Kitchen.  I was fortunate enough to snag a spot in his cooking class at Mission Farms where a group of about 15 of us got to learn how to create some of his favorite kitchen staples and learn tips on how to be prepared for hosting dinners. Eskender got his start by hosting small dinners at his house for friends and family.  Soon word began to spread and his small dinners became a nomadic restaurant, he will be opening his first restaurant in the Fall. Eskender is one of those people that the moment you meet him, you are instantly drawn into his large welcoming presence.  He reminds me of what it would be like if Mr. Clean and the Pillsbury dough-boy had an Ethiopian child, with his bald head, charming grin and an aura that just makes you want to squeeze him.  Or maybe and very likely I'm just weird.    The combination of his knowledge and love for food make him a wonderful chef and teacher.

I really enjoyed this class because Eskender cooks from his smallish home kitchen and he really showed us that it is possible to cook for large groups no matter what your setup is.  He gave us lots of tips on how to be organized, keep things cleanly, and what to prepare in advance.  Eskender believes in using the freshest local ingredients and using spices and herbs to really take flavors to the next level.  We learned how to make a Berbere spice mixture (recipe below) and a fresh gremolata that went into a lot of the dishes that we made that afternoon.  I think in all 12 dishes were served; they were all fantastic so I'll let the photos do the talking.

Squash blossoms stuffed with artichoke
Marinated and sauteed shrimp
 Arugula and heirloom tomato salad
 Grilled leg of lamb
Vegetable Alecha (this dish is as delicious as it is colorful)
Goat cheese baked in Fig leaves (from his yard) with nuts and fresh herbs
Seared tuna on a bed of corn tomato salsa and purslane (a new to me succulent that is highly nutritious and delicious)
Other dishes included a mushroom Wot crostini, edamame hummus, vegetable terrine, long beans, and grilled fish!

All of the food was fresh and just perfectly spiced and cooked; I could have sat there all day and just grazed the evening away.  Eskender's yard and garden make the perfect setting for afternoon lunching, we had it pretty good sitting in the sun drinking wine and eating our hearts out.
This was my plate : )
And yes I ate it all!

At the last minute somewhat asked about dessert so Eskender ran off while we all munched away; he returned with fresh fruit and whipped cream and spiced chocolate for dipping.  What a perfect way to end this lovely lunch.

Eskender's Quick Berbere Ethiopian spice mixture
-1 tsp ground coriander
-1 tsp cayenne
-1 tsp cardamom
-1 tsp ground ginger
-1 tsp ground garlic
-1 tbs paprika
-1 tsp dried basil
-1 tsp ground black pepper
Directions: Toast all of the ingredients in a 300 degree oven for 5 minutes.  Put them in a grinder and pulse for a minute or so, keep in an airtight container.  The spice mix can be used on a variety of meat and vegetable dishes.  

Eskender hosts various pop up dinners and classes as well as catering and private events, if you haven't had the opportunity to eat his food I highly recommend you check him out. 

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