Big Girl Boots
Updated: Feb 29
(by Souwaila Mamou)
My mom is the woman and the man of the house. She taught, and keeps teaching, me everything I know about cooking. She is the soul of the house and was the sole chef until I was called into the kitchen to view her craft. Taking small steps was how I learned, watching Mom cook something at least three times (bad memory on my part). The second time, Mom would do half and I’d do the rest. Finally it was time for Souwaila to put on her big girl boots and cook alone. But I really was never alone; Mom always was there to check up on me, remind me to do certain things, and answer any questions.
Onions are an enemy of progress: I can't get through one onion without crying (I started to wear goggles), only to look over at my mom hadn't a tear in sight and was already chopping her fifth onion. She'd always offer to do the onions so long as I did the rest of the prep. I also learned that just because Mom touches the pot without a cloth doesn't mean that I can. My conclusion is that the hands of African moms are immune to heat.
Tomato sauce was the first thing I made. With many mouths to feed (seven children, including me, plus hungry friends), cooking in large batches was the best option. Chop, blend, boil. We like to try new things at home so we don't always have the usual. Lasagna—once we found that, there was no going back. Don't know how I lived without it, really.
Mom’s golden rules of cooking:
1) You can always add more, but you can never remove.
2) Always season the food; we don't like bland in our household.
3) Don't burn the food. I'm always reminded, "You know you have something on the fire, right?" Once I burned the food so badly, I had to switch out the pot (no evidence shall be left behind).
I've had many fails. I've restarted cake or pancake batter; made cookies that were whiter than white; burned onions so that there were mini black cubes in the sauce; made damp rice; and forgot to take the chicken out the freezer so I stuck it in the microwave.
Mom loves my baking, which I learned in high school. Cakes are probably the only thing she didn't teach me. At school we measure our ingredients, but Mom says put what you think is right. So I don't use scales, and it always works. I remember the day I taught her how to make cake. (#thestudenthasbecomethemaster.)
August 21, 2016, was my favorite day: I made my family dinner from scratch. No one was allowed in the kitchen. We had steak and potatoes, with cake and ice cream for dessert. Mom was so happy and proud of me, saying, "Well done, baby." Nothing matters more to me then making the best mother in the universe proud. She’s the kindest person I know. She always tells us to share if we bring food home, and she will give me her last favorite yogurt, even when it means she can't have any herself. I strive to be like her.
Thank you for teaching me everything I know, Mom. I couldn't have done it without you. I'll love you always and forever.
Souwaila Mamou was born in Douala, Cameroon, and grew up in the United Kingdom. She is a student at Joseph Chamberlain College in Birmingham, England. She can be found at Instagram and Pinterest @s.theempreaa.
(adapted from JoCooks.com)
3/4 c. lukewarm water
2 1/4 t. active dry yeast (or 1 envelope)
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk
3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
2 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
vegetable oil for frying
In a small bowl, whisk together water, yeast, and sugar. Set aside for 5 - 10 minutes until the yeast dissolves and starts to bubble.
Whisk in egg and milk.
Place flour and salt in bowl of electric mixer, with dough hook attached.
Add yeast mixture and butter to the bowl, and mix until dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.
Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover it with a clean damp towel or plastic wrap, and let it sit in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 - 2 hours.
Roll out dough in a long rectangle 3/4 inch thick.
Cut into long strips, then cut the strips to form squares.
Add about 3 inches of oil to a deep frying pan or Dutch oven, and heat to 350 F.
Fry the beignets, about 5 or 6 at a time, until golden brown on both sides.
Transfer with a slotted spoon to a large bowl lined with paper towels.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.