Traveling abroad is a true blessing that I’ve been able to enjoy, and I look forward to doing more of it throughout my life. I’ve found that visiting other countries and experiencing other cultures allows you to see first hand the amazing diversity and beauty of God’s creation. It allows you to experience new flavors and cuisines and leads you to more greatly appreciate your own blessings. Overseas travel can make you realize that the fundamental feelings and desires of all people really aren’t that different from one another, and therefore, the challenges and hardships of our brothers and sisters abroad become more real to you – not just something you read about or watch on television.
As a part of the Ithemba Foundation’s  delegation to South Africa last November, I, along with eight others, embarked upon a journey to experience the sights, sounds, history and flavors of Johannesburg and Cape Town. Any trip to South Africa would have been great, but the icing on the cake for us was the opportunity to visit the Ithemba Foundation-funded programs that serve underprivileged South African youth. So, it was a pleasure to attend Ithemba’s annual Taste of South Africa  fundraiser this past Saturday at the South African Embassy, which showcased the country’s wines, township jazz and cuisine.
During our trip last year, we toured the Tereo Mission School and one its affiliated group homes, and then we made our way to the Wallacedene Township in the Western Cape where Ithemba funds a free meals program. While it was Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. and any other year we would have been back home filling our bellies from a spread of dressing, macaroni and cheese, sweet potato pie and other Turkey-day delights, we helped serve a meal to the youth and adults of Wallacedene where a large number of the population is HIV positive and the community deals with high unemployment rates. The youth gave us a warm welcome and performance to showcase their many talents as a gift of appreciation, but of course just the opportunity to be there, especially on Thanksgiving Day, was appreciation enough.
The Ithemba Foundation’s work is definitely worthy of financial support . Aside from funding youth leadership camps, after-school programs and needed meals, Ithemba’s annual Taste of South Africa event and trips, such as the one I went on, provide opportunities to expose others to the history, culture and cuisine of South Africa. That’s a service in itself.
South Africa is known as the rainbow nation for its population’s diversity from the various African ethnic groups to the descendants of Malaysian and Indian slaves and servants to the Afrikaners, descendants of Europeans. This diversity is reflected in its cuisine of traditional foods such as steamed bread, mielies (corn-based dishes, usually porridge), root vegetables and greens to the Cape Malay cuisine reminiscent of Indian and Malaysian food to the Boerewors (grilled sausages) of the Afrikaners.
In The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa , Marcus Samuelsson mentions how mashed pumpkin is a dish often served in Soweto. So just in time for fall and the bounty of winter squash already starting to appear in supermarkets, I decided to share my version of South African Mashed Pumpkin. My recipe includes roasting the pumpkin, but you can peel it, cut it into pieces and boil or steam it just as well. It’s probably boiled in South Africa. Try serving it with other African-influenced dishes such as greens and hoppin’ john (rice and cowpeas).
If you’ve been to South Africa, leave a comment  and let us know about your experience.
South African Mashed Pumpkin
1 two pound pie pumpkin (the small, baby pumpkins)
2 tbs of extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
1/8 tsp of ground cinnamon
1 – 2 tbs of brown sugar
1 tbs of milk
1 – 2 tbs of low-sodium vegetable broth (optional)
1 tbs of finely minced onion
3/4 tsp of salt, plus more to taste if necessary
Dash of grated nutmeg (optional)
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut out the top of the pumpkin (as you would if you were making a jack-o-lantern). Cut pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds from each half. Brush or rub olive oil (about 1 tbs) on the cut surface of each half pumpkin.
Place both halves of the pumpkin cut side down on a cookie sheet with an unpeeled clove of garlic under each half. Roast at 375 degrees for 40 minutes (when done, pumpkin should give when pressed, soft to the touch). Remove pumpkin from oven and allow to cool.
After pumpkin is cool enough to handle, heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a sauce pan and sauté minced onions for about two minutes over medium heat. Scoop out the flesh of the roasted pumpkin from the skin and into the sauce pan. Peel the cloves of soft roasted garlic, chop and add to the pan along with the brown sugar, cinnamon, milk, broth (optional), nutmeg (optional), salt and pepper. Mash and mix all ingredients well. Taste for seasoning.