Growing up my mother raised me on stories of her childhood in Egypt. Stories of her playing with her cousins which often resulted in mischief, stories of her days in my great grandmother’s farm, stories of her growing up in this wondrous land of golden sun and fecund fields. Her childhood was very different than my own seeing that I grew up playing in Swedish mossy forests and small red cottages. But somewhere deep inside me, my mother had managed to plant a picture of Egypt, before I could see it with my own eyes.
As a child, I loved eating Swedish crisp bread, butter milk, and smelt row for breakfast (I still do)- which my mom never took a liking to. This difference in food preference often ended in stories of what my mother ate for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner for snacks in her beloved Egypt. Crisp bread, after a while, just did not cut it for me. So. I dedicate my first blog post to a dish that got my mother salivating whenever she described it for me. Onion stuffed Duck on a bed of rice, served with a side of an African root fruit called Colcasia (also known as Taro root).
My mother has had this dish prepared by two different people. Her mother, Grandma Saadia and the sister of her mother, Grandma Hudna. My mother loved the cooking of both women but when it came to this dish, my mother loved it from the hands of her aunt, Grandma Hudna. When I was old enough to cook, my grandmother had already passed away since a few years back. Luckily enough, Grandma Hudna was still alive and one summer vacation I decided to call her up and cajole her into giving me this scrumptious recipe!
I remember, she said, “The duck stock is the most important. If the stock goes wrong, the Colcasia stew will taste bland. Don’t use too much water when cooking the duck- you want it to be savory”. It was strange to cook a dish that I had never seen cooked in front of me before and a time consuming dish at that despite the simplicity in its preparation. However, the end result resembles everything that Egyptian food is for me, earthy.
While food in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region tends to resemble each other in a plethora of dishes, Egyptian cuisine does differ. It is also, no pun intended, ancient! For example, the Colcasia dish stems from many dishes that the Ancient Egyptians used to eat and prepare much in the same way Egyptians do today. It is food that is often rich in herbs- seeing that food was not just eaten for satiating hunger but even for its medicinal effects. So, for example, in order to produce this deep green color in the Colcasia stew, I have used two bunches of coriander, two bunches of flat leaf parsley, two bunches of dill wee, and .25 g of mangold. Once you have washed all the herbs and assembled them before you, it looks slightly insane! who is going to eat all of this? and why? but…once you follow the instructions you will see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Colcasia stew is versatile. You can prepare it using chicken stock, duck stock, beef stock, and quite popularly lamb stock. However, my grandparents from both of my parents’ sides come from the province of Damyetta, where Colcasia stew is prepared using the stock of duck. Also, the weather now in Stockholm beckons for a slightly darker meat that is not beef and not lamb- not yet at least- and therefore I felt duck will do the trick.
This duck weighed about 2.6 kg, it had a reasonable amount of fat in ratio to its meat. It took about 1.5 hours to cook and extract its flavor. It is stuffed with five roughly chopped yellow onions that are seasoned with cumin, salt, and black pepper. Once the broth is done, you could either broil the duck in the oven or fry it in a pan. I prefer broiling it- you get the same effects with less of a mess! Usually, if there is still some broth left over after you have used it for the Colcasia stew, you can use it to cook the rice with. Once you have cooked the rice in the duck broth you then brown some mixed nuts (I prefer pine nuts and almonds) and sprinkle it on top. Delicious. Having prepared this dish many times now, I understand why this is one of my mother’s most memorable dishes. It is savory, flavorful, rustic, and timeless. You feel taken care of, hosted, and loved. For me, it feels like I have brought a portion of my mother’s memories to life. Right there, in a modern kitchen, in Sweden, for me. For you.