The only thing better than a good recipe? When something’s so easy to make that you don’t even need one. Welcome to It’s That Simple, a column where we talk you through the process of making the dishes and drinks we can make with our eyes closed.
Watching my grandma cook Angolan food is the closest I’ll ever get to magic. She doesn’t believe in kitchen scales or own any fancy cookbooks, and she pretty much eyeballs every meal to perfection. As a kitchen equipment fanatic (everything is necessary), it boggles my mind. The ancestral knowledge and skills passed on through generations guide her to enhance everyday ingredients into outrageously moreish treats like kitaba.
Kitaba or quitaba is a versatile roasted peanut paste that can be eaten on its own as a snack or mixed with water to form the base for other traditional Angolan dishes like muamba de ginguba, a flavor-packed peanut and chicken stew with okra. Kitaba is fragrant, spicy, salty, and nutty with sweet undertones. For years, my family and I only ate it at grandma’s house because—cue my terrible excuse for our sheer laziness—she’s just the best at it.
When I first started cooking for myself, I hid from Angolan cuisine. Although I was always curious, it seemed so beyond my skill set that I didn’t know where to start. Food is the strongest connection that I have to my heritage, so risk messing it up? I think not.
It wasn’t until lockdown, when I joined the circus of Instagram sourdough-bakers-in-training, that I wondered why I wasn’t investing my time in learning about the foods perfected by my ancestors. They definitely heard me because that week, my grandma slipped a surprise through our letterbox. It was kitaba, but more than that, it was the love and comfort we had been craving in isolation. We all shrieked, and before inhaling it at record-breaking speed, I looked at it and knew it was my gateway to rediscovering my cultural identity.
Unlike my grandma, I got out the scale and started perfecting my own kitaba. Peanuts are a major player in Angolan cuisine, and back home we have them in abundance, so it felt like the perfect ingredient to start my journey. Kitaba was the first of many dishes I learned to make, opening up an unquenchable thirst for self-discovery. Learning how to cook Angolan food has increased my appreciation for not just my grandma’s cooking, but all those who came before me too. Plus, it’s just fantastic.
To make it, you’ll start by roasting 350 grams (2⅓ cups) raw redskin peanuts (these are ideal, but you can also give it a go with other raw peanuts with skins) on a baking sheet in a 350° F (180° C) oven for about 13–15 minutes. Make sure your peanuts have room to breathe and aren’t cramped or they won’t roast evenly. You’ll know they’re done when you’re hypnotized by the smell and the skins darken to a gorgeous maroon. If, like me, you’ve discovered the wonder that is air-frying (when I said everything is necessary, I meant it), you can also pop them in there for about 9–10 minutes—just don’t forget to give them a shake halfway.
Let them cool completely. If you try the next step while they’re warm, the peanuts will release too much oil and you’ll end up with a sticky, liquid-y mess. Now, I love fumbling with peanut skins as much as anyone, but keep them on—they’ll help get you the rich flavor that makes kitaba so fabulous. Next, put the peanuts in a high-powered blender or food processor with ½ tsp. Maldon sea salt flakes (that’s my favorite, but you can use any sea salt and tweak the amount to your taste) and ½ medium Scotch bonnet or ⅓ medium habanero pepper (add a little more, less, or none at all depending on your spice tolerance).
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