Written by Julia Jepps
A wet autumnal evening in England and beautifully spiced African food may seem an incongruous pairing, but I can confirm it is a match made in heaven – or in this case Waitrose. I had already enjoyed a feast hosted by Lerato a few weeks ago, so was thrilled to see her event listed on WeFiFo again. It takes a lot to get me out to drive 50 minutes on a dark night, but the lure of the food was too great and a friend was easily persuaded to join me on a foray to Hove.
As always, we were seated at a communal table – and I wasn’t the only returner, as a friendly couple from the previous feast had also been tempted back. Lerato, our host, gave us a truly warm welcome – she feels like an old friend even though we had just met once before. Lerato is a dynamic woman with her own African cookery school and was also a TV chef in Nigeria. Immediately, we sat at the long and the wine began to flow – kicking off with a welcome glass of Prosecco. Waitrose wines were served throughout the meal to complement the food. I enjoyed a glass of crisp white wine and the rest wine also worked very well with the earthy and warm tones and textures of our feast.
The starters of baby potatoes with beetroot hummus and suya sweet peppers and spices were eagerly enjoyed. I particularly loved the soft, smoky flavour of the sweet peppers melded with the onion, with the wonderful contrast of the crunchy nuts. Peanuts are a strong feature of African cuisine which was a surprise. The potato/hummus combination was inspired by Morocco – perhaps more familiar to most of us than other African cuisine. The dishes represented different African countries and cuisines.
The main courses arrived – lavish servings of butternut squash stew with kale, roasted peppers and pumpkin seeds; complemented by green beans and carrots coated in a velvety tomato sauce infused with garlic, ginger and rosemary. Normally kale, with all its “deadly dull but so good for you” connotations would not be something I would enjoy; but combined with the other ingredients formed a delicious, heartwarming stew. I could imagine mopping it up with some crusty bread after a wintery walk. Green beans and carrots are not often put together in one dish but worked brilliantly as the crunchy texture of the beans contrasted with the richness of the spicy tomato. Lerato had thoughtfully not spiced the dishes too much, allowing for different levels of spice-tolerance although Scotch bonnet is a popular ingredient in her recipes.
The meat eaters enjoyed the most beautifully tender lamb, spiced with harissa, coriander and mint with a garnish of pomegranates. The quality of the meat was exceptional, enhanced by the piquancy of the spices and herbs. Pomegranate seeds added a visual kick with their pink pearls and intense taste of explosion in the mouth. Vegetarians were offered a similar dish using aubergines, with the same spicing as the lamb. The quantity of food allowed everyone to sample to their heart’s content. Again ample wine was offered to savour with the food.
Having totally over-indulged on the main course, we were then treated to a gorgeous Gourmet Chocolate Brownie, the dense, rich texture a hymn to chocolate. A spiced poached pear was a good partner with the whole confection drizzled with Amarula cream. Chatting to Lerato is always enjoyable as she creates a relaxed vibe that sits perfectly with her fabulous food.
As with most WeFiFo events I’ve attended, we made friends with others on our table drawn together by the warmth of Lerato’s personality and food, not forgetting the wine. We left the table full to the brim and with our new friends had a quick trip to the local pub! Another great food adventure with WeFiFo and Waitrose and here’s hoping there are many more to come.
– Julia Jepps, WeFiFo Guest