We were first received in Susie’s family home, one of many mud and thatch huts in a large compound close to my neighborhood and to Konyo Konyo market. The one-room dwelling looked dark as we ducked under the thatch to enter, but the low light inside made the very tidy living room/sleeping quarters a relaxing and cool oasis from the hot day. We all chatted and looked at photo albums, learned about Susie’s family and customs, and generally relaxed and got comfortable with one another as Susie’s sisters prepared the ingredients for our cooking lesson.
Kisra is a traditional flatbread made with fermented sorghum batter, and I believe millet flour can also be used. In Susie’s recipe this Sunday, she also added a packet of wheat flour to the fermented sorghum ‘soup’ after it had fermented overnight, to give the mix a pancake-batter consistency.Kisra is only part of the story – two types of side dishes were also prepared from about the only leafy vegetable in
Ash was not even the most interesting ingredient used that afternoon. The hands-down winner in that category was…cow brain. Susie nonchalantly showed us a tomato-sized clear plastic bag with a little red and white watery brain inside, and explained that it played a crucial role in the preparation of kisra.
For some reason cooking oil just won’t do – the cow brain is sautéed and used like butter to keep the kisra from sticking to the iron skillet.
Hours of preparation led to the culminating event: watching Susie masterfully prepare the kisra, and then each of us taking our turn by the hot fire to (attempt to) make our own.
First, Susie fed the fire with long thin bamboo reeds to make the skillet evenly hot. She checked the temperature by flicking a spray of water onto the iron and watching for an even sizzle all the way across.
Then she took a small piece of the ‘cerveau sauté’ and rubbed it all around the skillet as grease.
Susie casually poured the batter in an even arc across the top of the skillet, and followed quickly with a handheld palm spatula to evenly spread the batter down the entirety of the iron square. Within a minute or so, the bread had cooked, so Susie rubbed a small tin can around the kisra to lift its edges. With a bit of material now to hold onto, Susie lifted and pulled the kisra gently off of the iron, flipping it face down on a serving tray in the same graceful movement.
Susie repeated the process several times, giving me confidence that I could do the same when my turn came. A subtle voice assured me: you are a muffin master, this shall be no different.
I am not embarrassed to report – that voice was wrong.
Where Susie was able to spread one cup of batter across the entire two foot square skillet, I was barely able to make the batter move. Pictures do this justice:
There is a bright side to all this wasted batter – it’s not wasted at all. All of our rejects went into a big bucket, even those that fell on the dirt floor, for further fermentation into a local beer called merisa.
With so much beer resulting from our kisra lesson, Susie assured us that her mom, who makes and drinks the brew, will be happy for us to visit more often.
The day finished where it began, back in the hut, where we all shared the two stews from the same bowl, pulling off pieces of kisra and dipping them with our right hand... Thank you Susie, Fatmah, and Nduta!