Somewhere near the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia the plane in which we were traveling developed serious engine trouble. We were on the ground when the trouble was discovered, but the bad news was that we were to bake in 100-degree heat for hours until rescue arrived.
"Come, we go," said the driver of the school bus that finally came to collect us. "Where?" we asked, but the driver just held his arm out, inviting us onto the bus. We tried "Donde?" "Adyeh?" "Ou`?" Still no response. We were out of languages and climbed aboard.
Imagine white water rafting in dust instead of water, and that was our ride. Thirty minutes later we were guests at the A'Zambezi River Lodge, on the banks of the wild Zambezi River. We checked into a two-story grass-roofed hut with air conditioning and plumbing, freshened up and crawled off in search of food.
We didn't have far to go; a small white-clothed table had been set out under the stars just for us. As hippos belched into the night, a parade of unexpectedly wonderful foods was served.
First came nyemo (ny-EE-mo), cooked chick peas saute'ed with garlic and chilies, then oven-dried and eaten like nuts. Shortly afterward the sadza arrived; the national dish of Zimbabwe. It closely resembles corn meal mush, or polenta, and in addition to corn sometimes contains millet, ground rice, oats or wheat flour. Plain sadza is often cooked in a paella-type pan. While it's bubbling, field mice are caught and roasted whole. When the sadza's ready, the mice are plunked head first into it unadorned, save a side of steamed collards.
While we enjoyed the sadza, peri-peri chicken was prepared on a braii (BRA-ee). The chicken was a lean and tasty bird marinated in fresh lime juice, hot pepper sauce and minced garlic. Braii is the barbecue grill of choice in Zimbabwe, consisting of plow disks suspended over an open fire of jacaranda wood. When the chicken was just about done, tiny chunks of lamb, pork and beef (sosaties) that had been marinated in a spicy paste were arranged on the braii for a quick sizzle. All was served with a Zimbabwe cabernet. It wasn't too bad, particularly with all the hot stuff.
Fresh guavas and apples were served for dessert, along with a plate of blue and cheddar-like cheeses, both locally made.
At dawn we were given maheu (may-HEE-oo), a sweet and thick corn milk beverage plus a porridge of samp (cracked corn). Our fists filled with biltong, a wild game jerky, we raced through the river's mist to retrieve our repaired plane and continue our journey.
CHICKEN PERI-PERI SAUCE (4 servings)
Peri-peri, the national hot sauce of Zimbabwe, is an ancestor of many of our Arcadian (and other southern) hot sauces. It enhances lamb, beef and fish as well as chicken, and a splash in the glass makes a mean Bloody Mary.
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon angostura bitters
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, or to taste
1 dried hot red chili
1 fresh chili (such as jalapenåo)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 pounds whole chicken breast, skin and bone intact
In a glass baking dish combine the lime, vinegar, paprika, bitters and hot pepper sauce.
Wearing kitchen gloves use a sharp paring knife to split the dried chili and remove the seeds. Do the same for the jalapenåo. Then mash them into a smooth paste with the garlic, in a mortar or electric spice grinder. Add the paste to the lime mixture and combine.
Toss in the chicken pieces and swish them around in the marinade until they're completely coated. Cover and let marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
Remove the chicken from the marinade and grill or broil until cooked through and burnished, about 20 minutes on each side. Baste frequently with the marinade. If the chicken looks like it's beginning to burn, move it farther away from the heat source. Serve hot with chilled orange sections and lots of napkins.
Per serving: 456 calories, 68 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, 18 gm fat, 5 gm saturated fat, 192 mg cholesterol, 178 mg sodium.
Judith Benn Hurley is a Pennsylvania cookbook author; her latest book is "The Healthy Gourmet."