Thursday, November 1, 2012

Recipes from Comoros

Well, we've certainly been doing a lot of island-hopping in recent weeks. From Clipperton Island to Cocos (Keeling) and then back to Bouvet Island, and now we're landing on the other side of Madagascar in a volcanic archipelago known as The Union of Comoros.

Comoros was one of those places that fell under European rule during that golden age when countries like England and France were fond of showing up, planting a flag and then pretending like they owned the place. Yeah, that's it: Colonialism. Anyway for Comoros it was France that laid claim to its vast 863 miles of land (which by the way is less than 3/4ths the size of Rhode Island). France held Comoros until 1975. Since then, there have been more than 20 coups or attempted coups, which is the equivalent of one about every 22 months or so. As you can imagine, this hasn't really been good for the overall stability of Comoros, and at least half the people living there are getting by on less than US $1.25 a day. (That's the international poverty line: $1.25 a day. Wait, is there a decimal in the wrong place? Nope. The international poverty line is $1.25 a day.)

Anyway because of its long history of French rule, the cuisine of Comoros has European influences as well as influences from Arab and African nations. The sauces tend to be spicy and (as with all island nations) much of the cuisine is based on what can be harvested from the sea. I'm still trying to give my husband a break from fish, though, so I wanted to go with a meat dish instead.

Goat is actually popular on the Comoros islands, so I did some searching locally for someone who sells goat meat since it's not something I've ever tried, and I love new culinary adventures. For some reason, though, even in this rural community, I couldn't find anyone who would sell me a piece of goat meat (something about USDA regulations, who knew). A couple of people offered to sell me a whole goat, but I don't have that kind of room in my freezer and probably wouldn't be willing to invest that kind of money in meat that I may or may not even enjoy. So I gave up on the goat idea and went instead with this dish:

  • 1 inch piece of ginger
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • pinch of saffron
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 lb beef, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 small can tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 cube maggi
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1 tbsp margarine
  • 2 cups basmati rice
This recipe says to serve with a bowl of rougaille, so here's the Comoros version of that:

  • 4 medium tomatoes
  • salt, pepper and chili powder to taste
  • 4 sprigs chives
  • lemon juice
  • 1 shallot
And of course I had to make this bread, because it sounded really tasty:

Mkatra Foutra

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 15 oz can coconut milk
  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Butter
  • Sesame seeds
First we'll make the rougaille, which is easy and can be made in advance:

Peel the tomatoes (blanch in boiling water for one minute to make this easier).

Put them in a food processor and puree (the original recipe said—I think, since it was a translation—to remove the seeds from the tomatoes, but I never do that since the seeds and the flesh around them contain most of the flavor).

Now slice the shallots thinly and chop the chives.

Add to the tomato puree. Season with the salt and pepper.

Now on to the bread:

First dissolve the yeast in warm water with a pinch of flour. Now add the flour and eggs and mix thoroughly.

You'll get a kind of breadcrumb texture, since there isn't much moisture in this first step.

Add the coconut milk, mixing until you get a smooth dough. Let rise for an hour or so.

Yeah, it's a pretty sticky dough.

Separate the dough into balls and flatten them with the palm of your hand (you may need to put a little flour on your hands since this is a sticky dough). Melt a little bit of butter into a skillet and add the flattened dough. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top.

When golden, turn over and cook until that side is golden, too. Remove from heat and lightly butter.

It's not the most attractive bread, but dang it's tasty.

Now, I changed a couple of things with the preparation of this recipe because the translation was, um, challenging. It told me to moisten the bottom of a baking griddle with lightly salted water, but that seemed weird so I just used butter. Then it told me to "pour" the dough into a ladle, which wasn't possible because this dough was too thick to pour. Then it was supposed to cook on low heat in the ladle, which I guess is a mistranslation of some other cooking vessel because one would not normally cook something in a ladle. Then I was supposed to put the bread on a grill when it was "dry," which also didn't make any sense. So I improvised.

Next the pilaou:

In a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle, mash the first six ingredients together with 3 cloves of garlic and about 1/8 tsp cloves.

Meanwhile, cook the meat lightly in a pot with a small amount of sated water. In another pot, sauté the onions and the rest of the garlic.

Add 1/3rd of the crushed spices to the meat (there should be a little bit of water remaining in the pot, but not much). Add half of the tomato paste and 3/4 tsp garam masala, mixing well. Turn off the heat and cover. Set aside.

Wash and drain the rice (the water should run clear).

Now in yet another pot, boil about 2 cups of water and add the Maggi, the rest of the cloves, another 1/3 of the crushed spices and the rest of the tomato paste.

In yet another pot, (yes you will be doing dishes for the rest of your life), melt 1 tbsp of butter. When the butter coats the bottom of the pan, add the rest of the crushed spices, 3/4 tsp garam masala and the rice. When the rice is hot, add the water with the spices in it. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for 10 minutes or so, or until about half of the water has been absorbed, then add the meat. Cover and continue to cook.

When the rice is almost done, add the garlic and onions and the cardamom. Stir well and cover. When the rice is tender and the water is absorbed, remove from heat and serve.

I liked the pilaou better than anyone else in my family did. I thought it had a nice flavor and was a good, filling meal. Martin was pretty ho-hum about it, though, and the kids liked it with about the same enthusiasm they show for most of what I cook, which is not very much. That's because the pilaou was completely and utterly overshadowed by the mkatra foutra, which was probably one of the top five best bread recipes I've ever made. I was surprised by how little I could taste of the coconut milk but that didn't stop me and everyone else in my family from really enjoying this bread. I ate it to the point where I was actually starting to feel ill. I made a ton of it and there wasn't one crumb left by the time my family was finished with it.

As for the rougaille, well, I have no idea. I forgot to serve it. I'm quite sure Martin wouldn't have eaten it anyway since it was basically a gazpacho, and he despises gazpacho. I did, however, eat it as a salsa with some tortilla chips the next day and it was pretty good like that. Not very authentic, I know, but I do hate to waste food.

Next week: The Cook Islands. Yes, more islands.

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


  1. I bought coconut milk for this recipe and lo and behold, what did I find as well? Mrs. Balls chutney! I had dismissed buying it before as the shipping was cost prohibitive so I was very pleased - and surprised - that my local publix had it.

  2. Mrs. Balls Chutney is really tasty ... it was great in the Bouvet Island sandwich but I'm also going to use mine with papadums the next time I make Indian food.

    So how did the mkatra foutra recipe turn out for you?


Copyright 2012 Becki Robins and Palfrey Media.. Powered by Blogger.

Blog Flux

Blog Directory