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The Bend Magazine

Farm to Table: Across the Atlantic

09/06/2019 11:38AM ● By Kayla Butts
By: Justin & Kayla Butts  Photos by: Rachel Benavides  Tablescape decor by: Baba One of A Kind

In the streets of Mombasa, children run along beside you and laugh and wave and shout, “Jambo! Jambo!” It is the most joyful greeting in the world. The people of Kenya are exceedingly warm, gracious, and kind.

The flavors of Africa are as vibrant and humble as the people. The ingredients in most African dishes are familiar: beef, chicken, and seafood; potatoes, tomatoes, and greens; plus exceptional peppers of every type.

But the distinctive spices elevate these simple ingredients into something entirely unfamiliar to most American palates. If you’re a little bored with the same old workaday recipes, say "Jambo" to these exuberant  flavors of Africa!

The spice ras el hanout of Morocco is sharp, sweet, and savory. Ras el hanout transforms traditional beef stew into a market tour of Marrakesh. Don’t be surprised when this stew simply disappears from the pot. Make plenty for leftovers – it’s even better the next day.

Harissa is the national flavor of Tunisia. Harissa elevates shrimp and couscous to sublime levels of flavor. Use it gently at first; this fiery spice can sing with heat if you let it.

Ras el hanout and harissa, flavors from North Africa, developed their character through contact over the centuries with Mediterranean countries. There are hints of Europe and the Middle East in these uniquely African spices.

Berbere of Ethiopia, on the other hand, was influenced by trade with India, down through Mombasa, then a short jaunt across the sea to Mumbai. Berbere is spicy, smoky, and sweet – something like curry but entirely its own. Kayla, through her work as a dietitian, was able to explore the diet, eating habits, and recipes of the people of Mombasa. The most common dish in Kenya is ugali, a cornmeal porridge boiled until it is the density of paste or moist bread. For regular folks in Mombasa, most meals consist of ugali with a few simple vegetables or stew.

The simplicity of this diet is enlivened with the rich spices of Africa. Kenyans are incredibly warm and generous, even when they have little. They love visitors to sample the local flavors, because then their guests take a small part of Africa home with them – and that is a beautiful gift.

Turn any meal in the Coastal Bend into a food celebration with ras el hanout, harissa, or berbere. Even better, invite your loved ones over and say “Jambo!” with these distinctive flavors of Africa.



Serves 4

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour


2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp butter
6 chicken legs, skin on
1⁄4 cup berbere (see recipe below) 1⁄2 eggplant, cut into 1⁄2” pieces
2 cups chicken stock
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
Juice of 1 lemon
1 lemon, sliced 


Preheat oven to 425°F. Melt butter and olive oil in a large cast iron pan over medium heat. Once the butter has been melted, add onion and saute for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Place chicken into pan, adding butter and berbere spice, stirring to combine mixture well. Brown chicken on each side for 6-8 minutes. Finally, add eggplant, chicken stock, tomato paste, and lemon juice, and stir well. Arrange lemon slices in between drumsticks and place into preheated oven. Bake chicken for 35-40 minutes. Serve with rice, couscous, or flatbread. 


Makes 2 main courses or 4 appetizer portions

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 6-10 minutes


1 lb gulf jumbo shrimp, with tails on 1 tbsp harissa (see recipe below)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Juice of 1 orange

1⁄4 cup packed fresh basil, chopped 

1 tsp salt 


Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, mixing well. Cook shrimp on grill preheated to medium heat for 2-3 minutes on each side, when shrimp become opaque and begin to curl. Remove shrimp from grill and serve shrimp with couscous or rice. 


You can find Harissa spice at your local grocer, or prepare this authentic, flavorful paste at home. 

Makes about 3⁄4 cup 


4 oz dried hot chilies
(combination of ancho, guajillo, and pasilla) 2 tsp coriander seeds
1 1⁄2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp caraway seeds
3 cloves garlic
1⁄2 tsp salt
1⁄4 cup olive oil
Juice of one lemon 


In a dry skillet over medium heat, roast peppers and seeds for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and seed and stem all of the pep- pers. Transfer peppers and spice mixture to a food processor and add remaining ingredients. Blend until a smooth paste forms. 


Serves 6

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes


2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
3-4 lbs top sirloin roast, lamb roast or boneless leg, or goat loin
2 lbs potatoes, chopped
2 lbs carrots, chopped
1 sweet onion, chopped
3 tbsp ras el hanout
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 (15.5 oz) can chickpeas
24 oz beef bone broth


In a large pot, heat fats over medium heat. Add roast, vegetables, ras el hanout, salt and pepper, cooking for about 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Add remaining ingredients, along with 15 oz water, and cook on medium until boil- ing. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer for 1 1⁄2 - 2 hours, until meat and vegetables are very tender. 


Makes about 1⁄4 cup 


2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp paprika
3⁄4 tsp cardamom
3⁄4 tsp black pepper
1⁄2 tsp white pepper
1⁄2 tsp cayenne pepper 1⁄4 tsp cloves
1⁄4 tsp allspice


Combine all ground spices well. If using seeds or pods, roast in a dry skillet for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Once slightly cooled, grind in a clean coffee grinder. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.