Welcome to our latest installment of: The Global Table, where we share stories of what and how we eat around the world. Check back here every few weeks for a new dish, a new story, and a new perspective on the world. If you were to walk into a noisy tianguis (city center marketplace) in Mexico on a Sunday afternoon, you would be privy to the sight and sounds of revelers singing and dancing to cumbia and mariachi music, tequila and beers flowing from cups, gaggles of families and friends c
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Welcome to our latest installment of: The Global Table, where we share stories of what and how we eat around the world. Check back here every few weeks for a new dish, a new story, and a new perspective on the world.
If you were to walk into a noisy tianguis (city center marketplace) in Mexico on a Sunday afternoon, you would be privy to the sight and sounds of revelers singing and dancing to cumbia and mariachi music, tequila and beers flowing from cups, gaggles of families and friends congregated together eating tortillas slathered with avocado, salsa, and the unmistakeable aroma of freshly cooked barbacoa meat. What is behind this ancient Native ceremony of eating barbacoa that is at the centerpiece of so many weddings, celebrations, and community fiestas.
The global history of barbacoa has many different interpretations and is as hotly debated as what region of Mexico makes the best barbacoa. The major consensus is that the word barbacoa comes from the ancient Taino Caribbean tribe, and refers to the large wooden frame they would use to roast seafood, and poultry over burning embers. However, some research suggests that the word is actually Mayan in origin which means “meat covered over dirt” and refers to the widely known technique used in Mexico. This would imply that the real origin of barbacoa is native to ancient Mexico and was transported to the Taino in Haiti where they omitted digging the pit, and instead roasted game over a wooden frame. Historical mysteries aside, the Spanish were deeply impressed by the tasty tender meat and influenced the evolution of barbacoa by introducing sheep, cattle, pigs, and goats into the fire.
In Mexico, barbacoa refers not only to the method of cooking game but also to the meat itself. The method involves digging a deep pit into the ground, filling it with volcanic rocks and mesquite logs, then wrapping the meat in maguey leaves, covering the pit with dirt, and cooking it overnight to wake up to the aromas of ancient heaven. There is a Oaxacan tradition that involves leaving a bottle of mezcal inside the pit near the animal, tying a wire to the bottle attached to a cross (marking it as a grave) and when the barbacoa is ready, drinking the bottle of mezcal and toasting with guests to the ensuing celebration. As an avid partaker of many barbacoas, the festivities usually begin on the night that the meat is prepared and covered over so that when the hangover arrives at dawn, the barbacoa acts as a welcome morning medicine.
Barbacoa pits vary in size, but are usually at least 2 feet in diameter and 3 feet deep, large enough to roast a whole pig. Stones are lodged into the pit with logs on top; they are burned for a few hours until the heat is at the right temperature, at which point many of the stones are rearranged. The maguey leaves will then be used to cover all the coals, then a large pot of barbacoa consomme ingredients (carrots, onions, garbanzo beans, potatoes) with water is placed on top of the coals to provide the steam, with a wire frame placed on top. The meat is lodged atop the frame and is not cooked by the fire, but by the vapor and steam emitted from the moisture which is essential to give the meat the famed smokey tenderness and taste.
Mexican barbacoa has a dizzying amount of variety which changes based on the region and native tribes that inhabited the area. Hildalgo is famous for its sheep barbacoa, and is consistently rated high by barbacoa aficionados, Yucatan for pig, aka known famously as “cochinita pibil” which marinates the pork in citrus juice and uses achiote seeds and banana leaves instead of maguey. Jalisco uses goat or lamb well known as “birria”, a stewy version that uses guajillo chiles, and is a hit with those of us who prefer a spicy juicy broth to accompany our meat. In Veracruz, there is Zacahuil the tamale version of barbacoa, where they cook massive versions of a tamale in the barbacoa pit which can be up to 5 meters long! There is also the Oaxacan version which uses “borrego” (lamb) which also has its fair share of hype largely attributed to Rick Bayless endorsement. A common denominator that abounds in all these styles of barbacoa is that they are all served with homemade tortillas, refried beans, spicy salsa or guacamole, to add a final dash of flavor. A group of friends, family, a celebratory mood and a bottle of mezcal, and you are as close to the real thing whether in Hidalgo, Oaxaca, New York, the Bay Area or beyond.
Making Barbacoa at Home
Now, to make barbacoa at home we aren’t asking you to go out and dig a large pit in your backyard, (unless you want to) so we invite you to try this slow-cooker home-version from Rick Bayless.
We’re excited to introduce our new blog The Global Table, sharing stories of what and how we eat around the world. Check back here every two weeks for a new dish, a new story, and a new perspective on the world. In many village homes in Zimbabwe and neighboring countries, sadza and the night’s side dish of beans, greens, or chicken stew (if it’s a really special day!) sit over a fire in front of the house in two communal bowls. The village women spend much of the day working to prepare sadza with just the right texture, best described
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We’re excited to introduce our new blog The Global Table, sharing stories of what and how we eat around the world. Check back here every two weeks for a new dish, a new story, and a new perspective on the world.
In many village homes in Zimbabwe and neighboring countries, sadza and the night’s side dish of beans, greens, or chicken stew (if it’s a really special day!) sit over a fire in front of the house in two communal bowls. The village women spend much of the day working to prepare sadza with just the right texture, best described as a thick porridge bordering on dough. Balance is critical: the sadza can’t be too mushy or too thick. When it’s ready, the family and others gather around the fire to scoop some of the sadza between their fingers, using it to grab bites of the other tasty dishes. It’s truly finger food!
Making sadza is a long and labor intensive artform. Beginning with corn still on the cob, the kernels must be removed and ground into cornmeal. In the modern day, much of this work is done in mills, either directly for farmers who grow their own crop or for sale in retail outlets. This flour-like substance is mixed with cold water to form the sadza’s base, which is then added to boiling water and mixed with more cornmeal to achieve the desired consistency, all the while being stirred and kneaded to rid the mix of lumps, a process that demands attention, time, and lots of practice!
Sadza is served with any number of other foods, from red meat and game to native spring greens and cabbage. A thinner version of sadza is eaten for breakfast, often paired with peanut butter to provide a protein complement to the important carbohydrates inherent in the sadza itself.
In addition to being one of the most important meals on the African continent, sadza provides a miniature history lesson about the region. Today most sadza is cornmeal based, although it can also be made with native cereal grains like finger millet or sorghum, as it was for centuries before European settlers arrived. Corn, or maize as it is known in Africa, is actually not native to the continent; it wasn’t even widely grown in Africa until the late 1800s when British colonials began migrating to the area and brought corn with them. The dish represents the blending of influences on the continent. Today, corn is a staple in Africa, especially favored for its ability to grow during drier periods.
For as large a swath of land as it covers, sadza is known by an equally large collection of names: originally derived from the Shona language (native to Zimbabwe), sadza is also know by “isitshwala” in Southern Ndebele (spoken in the Transvaal region), “pap,” “vuswa,” or “bogobe” in South Africa, “nsima” in Malawi, and “ugali” in Eastern Africa. Wherever you go in Southern and Eastern Africa, some version of sadza is sure to be cooking over the fire!
If you’d like to try to make sadza at home, try this recipe that uses Sorghum from the website Pepper and Stew:
Here is what you will need to make this dish:
About 400g ground sorghum
2 tbsp oil
1 large chopped onion
2 ripe chopped tomatoes
3 tbsp peanut butter
Salt and pepper
First take 150g of the sorghum meal and in a medium sized sauce pan, mix with about 150ml of the cold water to make a paste using a wooden spoon.
Add a litre of the boiling water to the paste. Put on the hob on medium heat and stir continuously until the mixture starts to thicken. If it’s too thick add a bit more of the hot water.
The mixture should look like porridge and if it’s the correct consistency should boil without spilling over. (If it’s still watery and spilling over then add a little more sorghum in a cup, about a 1/4 cup, add cold water to create a paste then stir this mixture to the pot, the mixture should start to thicken after stirring continuously)
Cover and leave to cook for about 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes lower the heat and leave covered for another 5 minutes.
Stir in the remaining sorghum flour gradually taking great care not to get burnt by the spatter.
Keep mixing briskly and to get rid of the lumps grind the mixture against the pot with the wooden spoon, the consistency of the sadza should be the same as mashed potatoes.
Leave on very low heat for another 15 minutes to cook through.
Peanut butter spinach
Heat oil in a pan and add the onions and fry until soft.
Add the chopped tomatoes , season with salt and pepper and cook until soft.
Now add the peanut butter and a little water and stir until the penut butter is mixed in.
Add the spinach and cook for another 10 minutes.
Check for seasoning and serve with hot sadza.
(To give this dish a twist you can add a little birds eye chilli and or bell peppers)