Recipes and Food Stories from the African Diaspora
As I sit to write this, my mind is buzzing with thoughts from the excitement of the day. I am dying to share them with you. But I pause. Something is missing. I get up and head to the kitchen. Why are you not surprised? After all, Kwanzaa Culinarians is all about food! I turn on the stove under a small saucepan and open the fridge and grab the milk. I know exactly what will hit the spot. I will make Kadak Chai. I learned to make it today after a lovely potluck lunch and now I am craving it. You see, today, over lunch, I found sisterhood.
As I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate the importance of sisterhood—the kinship and closeness to a group of women who are delighted in each other’s successes and anchor each other in rough times. This is not a column on gender politics, so I will not get into a heated argument on the topic, but I want to highlight the power of community that women share when we get together. Men have long had brotherhood gatherings, be it at coffee shops, secret societies, bars or religious places. Women have too. And when we meet for lunch, we talk and laugh about everything under the sun.
The term “Ladies who Lunch” has come to be derogatory, describing women who have the time to socialize—expensively in fancy restaurants—as pampered housewives with nothing else to do. I am taking back the term and empowering it. I propose that ladies must indeed lunch, whether we are pampered housewives, business executives, working mothers or politicians.
The sisterhood keeps us grounded, collected and connected—important elements for a happy and balanced existence. Lunch dates are not only for busy executives, singles or women without children. Lunch dates are for all of us. You do not need a fancy restaurant and it does not have to be a lavish meal catered by an outsider. While there is always a time and place for a restaurant, there is nothing like a home-cooked dish. Add a personal touch by making the food yourself, but do not do all the work. A potluck lunch allows you to divide the cooking and each person can bring a dish she is comfortable making. At the end of the day, you may even learn a new dish!
Today at lunch, I learned to make Kadak Chai. Yes, I am waxing sentimental over a cup of tea, but only because it is heartfelt. I learned from a lovely local lady, who, even though I had just met, was my soul sister, as well as the other two sisters who accompanied her. I also became Aunty to a lovely little girl who has been brought up with old-fashioned manners by a very fashionable mother. The lady who brought us together is the big sister of us all.
I must admit that I have found sisters before. The original one from Jamaica and another from Dominica who I met through her, and though we are far by distance, the kinship triumphs. There is always a champion sister who acts as the de facto cause agent for the establishment of sisterhood. I have also met others here. Women transcending all borders who are a treat to spend quality time with and though some occasions are not centered around food, since we all have to eat, a meal is a great setting to bring us together.
In real sisterhood, age, religion, race, distance and nationality blur. We find commonness in spirit; we are defenders of individual and communal inspiration.
I am sure we all left our lunch date today liking different things. Some may have the memory of the host’s baked fish that was delicately cooked and fresh from the sea. Others may be reminiscing about the nicely spiced mutton curry that one of the sisters brought, someone may even be thinking about my own chocolate cake with whipped cream frosting. Who knows? As I sip my Kadak Chai, I know for sure that the food was the medium that brought us together, but it is the promise of sisterhood that will bring smiles to all our faces and cheer to all our hearts until we meet again.
How to make Perfect Kadak Chai
All my life, I thought that tea was steeped in water just under boiling temperature. Herbal teas often consumed in the Caribbean and elsewhere where people are in tune with the medicinal benefits of herbs. Ancient cultures have long boiled herbs or infused them, depending on their individual qualities and the potency needed. Whether boiled or steeped, I had only seen the infusion in water. So imagine my surprise when I learned recently that you could actually infuse tea in milk!
For me, that was a Eureka moment, as I thought that milk always halted the diffusion process. That is so normally, but now the way I was shown by my sister-friend. She made authentic Bombay Kadak Chai and was pleased to show me how. I was thrilled! BTW, Bombay is still the name that the people of Bombay associate with what has been re-branded as Mumbai.
Chai can be made with loose-leaf black tea or even tea bags. There are a few tricks of the trade though. Always add to milk on the stove. If using bags, tear them open. We used four bags for three cups. You may use any cow’s milk form of your choice: full fat, low fat, skimmed, powdered (reconstituted) or even condensed sweetened milk (diluted with water). I love the creaminess that full fat milk brings to the chai so that is my personal preference.
Step 1: Add tea to milk in saucepan over low heat. Use 4 teaspoons loose leaf/4 tea bags for every three cups. When making a single cup, I use 2 teaspoons loose/2 bags. To make spiced chai, you may also add a tiny bit of your favourite spices. Cardamom and cinnamon work very well.
Step 2: Once added, stir the tea constantly. Do not leave. Use low heat to brew slowly and to prevent furiously dangerous hot milky overflow.
Step 3: The milk will eventually boil into foamy bubbles. You will notice that the colour has changed from white to a caramel cream colour. At this point, reduce heat or the best thing is simply to…
Step 4: Remove it from heat. It will still continue to infuse. The stronger you want it, the more you should heat it. I found this way more potent than coffee and equivalent to two Red Bulls as is. So having it too late in the day may not be a great idea if you have any remote wish to go to bed on time. However, if you want to be speed chasing Formula 1 cars on two legs, by all means, knock yourself out and return to stove to reduce and further infuse.
Step 5: However, the rest of us simply remove, allow the tea to settle a bit then strain. As it cools it also thickens into a delicious richness (well more-so if you do not have “fatphobia” and have not excluded the fat from the milk in the first place).
Step 6: Arrange your tea tray as formally or informally as you wish. This was a light, informal gathering of sister friends and while both our host and the lady who made this Kadak Chai are the queens of formal entertainment, this was simply a relaxed gathering with no need for formalities or the requisite opulence. Though we all thought these camel sitting gold mugs were just too cute!
Step 7: If desired, add sweetener to taste and serve immediately. This makes a great post meal pick-me-up especially after the familiar fatigue of over-indulgence, or simply just a great way to start your morning or make it through a long day. You can serve at the end of your brunch for a lovely exotic, Indian touch.
STEWARD’S NOTE: This tastes nothing like regular tea with milk. When you make it, you will know why I wrote an entire article about it. Thanks to our host, Claudia Pryce for sharing her great friends with me and to Muna for taking the time and being so helpful in allowing me to document it. Umera and Nasrat added lots of spice and flavour to our hours-long gathering. As we say in Jamaica, “Good friends are better than pocket money.”
What joys have you found with women over lunch? Do share your own experiences.
ABOUT Chef and Steward
They are a husband and wife team on an epicurean journey. After all, life is bland without good food and good times. As much as they are intrigued by gastronomical delights, they try to balance both the kitchen and bathroom scales. Mix 1 part CIA-trained chef to 1 part Food & Lifestyle Photographer | Columnist | Filmmaker. Originally from the beautiful Caribbean island of Jamaica, both Chef and Steward are expatriates based in Dubai. Connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.