Waking from our Comoros (Part 1)
There are apparently 33 countries with smaller populations than Comoros. Many of them are still ahead of us. We were able to find four of them: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, and Cape Verde. After good-faith efforts, we ended up cooking two at home: Andorra and Bahamas. Now, for the first time since we started this project, we threw our hands up and resigned ourselves to cooking at home before we even (extensively) Googled Comoros. Pretty pathetic, right?
We picked a night, spent a couple hours trying to find an authentic Comorian recipe, found many of very dubious provenance, then switched to Googling in French, finally found someone’s Comorian grandmother’s nice-looking lamb stew recipe on a Comorian forum, and headed out to grab what we needed. We live in a Bangladeshi neighborhood, so there’s no shortage of halal butchers. We walked into the first one we saw. As you might expect, the shelves were fully stocked with Goya products and corn tortillas, and a youngish Mexican kid stood in a bloody smock under an airbrushed painting of Mecca.
The recipe called for lamb collar. The butcher wasn’t completely sure what we were looking for, so he led us back into the meat locker. I don’t think either of us had ever found ourselves in a meat locker before. There were carcasses on hooks. It was pretty neat for a couple of suburban kids used to seeing their meat neatly packaged in plastic-wrapped styrofoam. He showed us the neck muscle he thought we probably wanted. We nodded. He hacked a chunk off and brought it out to his band saw, where he skillfully sliced it into stew-sized chunks without once losing a finger.
The stew recipe we found demanded an awful lot of raisins and dried apricots be boiled in sugary water and vanilla, then strained to leave a fruity, vanilla-y syrup. The vanilla is particularly characteristic of Comorian cuisine. It’s by far their number one cash crop, so they apparently toss a bean or two into every dish. After straining the fruit, you just toss it in with the meat, which has begun stewing with onions and (spices), and add a small amount of the syrup. That’s really it. Nothing super fancy. Just let it cook as long as you can. We got started a bit late, so it didn’t have a chance to stew for much more than an hour, leaving the meat a little tough. The overall flavor was hard to beat though. We served it over rice, and the tartness and sweetness of the fruit and syrup made for a nice complement to the mutton and spice blend. I’d certainly recommend giving it a try!
Here is the recipe, courtesy of Google Translate:
500g of meat (preferably lamb or necklace)
250g dried apricots
2 vanilla beans
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon curry
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 / 2 teaspoon nutmeg powder
4 onions sliced previously
2 cloves garlic chopped
50gs almonds (toasted first)
50gs cashews (toasted first)
5 tablespoons olive oil
water and sugar
in a pan, put 4 parts water and 2 scoops of sugar (usually 1 liter of water and 250g or 500g of sugar according to personal tastes). cover fire. when the water begins to boil, add 1 cinnamon stick, 1 vanilla pod, lemon zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon. boil until reduced to 1 / 4 water. remove the cinnamon stick, vanilla and zest. add 1 teaspoon of honey and dried apricots and leave on the heat for 5 minutes. remove from heat, cool and reserve.
do exactly the same thing with raisins.
in a large pot, add the onions, olive oil and a pinch of salt. bring to low heat and stirring with a wooden spoon (the onions should certainly not brown), they begin to melt, add meat and cover. Stir the meat every minute until it starts to brown. in a small bowl, combine the spices and cover with water edge of the bowl, stir a little with a spoon and add to meat. add a second bowl of water. check the salt, cover and reduce heat. simmer as long as possible without adding water (about 1h30).
Tip: leaving a very low heat, the meat will abound in its own juices in which she will finish leather allowing it to absorb much of the flavor of each spice.
when the meat is well cooked (it should reach a good smell of spice and bathe in its half thick juice), drained raisins and apricots and stir into meat and cashews and toasted almonds. mix without crushing the fruit, add 4 teaspoons of syrup (2 tablespoons syrup in which the grapes were prepared and 2 of the apricots). simmer another 10 minutes before removing from heat.
for your viewing pleasure, serve the meat on a platter and garnish the platter with lemon zest and orange.
has eaten with rice rainbow flavored with caraway seeds or a good rice flower ylang ylang
I tasted for the first time, this dish from my grandmother when I went to the Comoros for the first time in 2003 and I fell backwards so it tastes great! I hope you will love this recipe as much as me.
So we’d done Comoros; gotten it out of the way; on to bigger and better things. But that stew wasn’t sitting right on my conscience. I sat down to do the write-up, wrote a couple of sentences and pondered why we put such little effort into finding someplace when we’d been able to find other seemingly impossible countries. Pondering led to searching, and searching led to the Patisserie des Ambassades in Harlem. Part 2 to follow.