Testing our memories: Sao Tomean calulu de peixe

When we made calulu de peixe, the national dish of Sao Tome and Principe, nearly a month ago, we were about four blog posts behind. Ash commented at the time that we should write this one first and save it until it was time to post it (i.e. after the other four). Arrogantly, Miranda insisted that she’d remember just fine when she eventually got around to writing it.

Well, ‘eventually’ is now and unsurprisingly neither of us remembers much at all. We do know that we read quite a few different recipes before settling on the one from Who Noms the World. The biggest difference between the recipes was how much fish was used: this one used one pound, whereas we found another one that used two pounds but the rest of the list of ingredients was identical. We opted for the less fishy version because we assumed Baby Mash wouldn’t touch it and we didn’t want to be left with a lot of leftovers of something he wouldn’t eat.

Calulu de peixe

Ingredients
1 pound white fish fillets
1 tbsp lemon juice per fish fillet
1/3 cup palm oil (we substituted this with groundnut oil and a bit of paprika for colour)
1 onion, finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 aubergine, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 green pepper, diced
8 pieces of okra, topped and tailed, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of basil, leaves only, chopped
1 pound spinach
1 cup water
4 tbsp flour
Salt and pepper
Rice and lemon wedges, to serve

Method
1. Season the fish with salt and pepper and squeeze lemon juice over each piece. Set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a pot over medium-high heat.
3. Add the garlic and onion and saute for a few minutes, until softened.
4. Add the aubergine, tomato, pepper, okra, bay leaf and basil and saute for 3-5 minutes.
5. Add the spinach and give a gentle stir to combine.
6. Add the water and the fish and stir to combine.
7. Lower the heat, cover and cook for about 20 minutes.
8. Add the flour, then cook and stir for about 5 minutes, until thickened, adding more water if needed.
9. Serve with rice and lemon wedges.

Opinions were mixed on this one. As predicted, Baby Mash wouldn’t touch it (the combination of spinach and fish was never going to be a winner). Ash was a fan. Miranda was somewhere in the middle – didn’t mind it, but the large quantity of spinach brought back memories of callaloo, one of our least favourite dishes so far. So all in all, probably not one we’ll rush back to, but not too bad either.

The next dish is a lot more memorable… but for good reason or bad? Stay tuned to find out…

A change of scene: Angolan chicken muamba

As we move further north and west in our culinary journey of Africa, the style of food is noticeably changing and, to be honest, we’ve been looking forward to this. We’re moving more towards punchy stews and spice mixes and we’re excited to see what we’re going to end up cooking.

However, we’re also in the part of the continent that uses palm oil as a base for its cooking. We did say when we started this challenge that we’d do our best to make recipes as authentically as possible, but we also consciously try to stay away from palm oil because of its impact on the environment, so didn’t feel right about buying it just for the sake of a hobby.

When we were looking for a recipe for Angolan chicken muamba (of which there are many online), we eventually chose the one on Ang Sarap because it offered some suggestions for palm oil substitutes. Having just reread the webpage, we realise that the Ang Sarap recipe actually halved the amount of (palm) oil that would typically be used, so perhaps we made an even less authentic version than we thought, but the recipe we used is below.

Chicken muamba

Ingredients
1kg skinless and boneless chicken thighs, cut into chunks
1/2 butternut squash, sliced fairly thinly
20 pieces of okra, sliced
4 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup oil (the substitute we used was 1/2 cup groundnut oil + 2 tsp paprika for colour)
1 cup chicken stock
2 onions, chopped
Juice from 1 lemon
6 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Rice, to serve

Method
1. Marinate the chicken in the lemon juice, 2 cloves of garlic and some salt for at least 30 minutes.
2. Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat, then add the chicken. Brown on all sides.
3. Turn the heat down to low and add the onions, garlic and tomatoes. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Add the chicken stock and cook for 10 more minutes.
5. Add the squash and cook for 5 more minutes.
6. Add the okra and simmer for 3 more minutes or until the okra is tender.
7. Season with salt and pepper.
8. Serve with rice.
Serves 4

Somehow – no idea how – we forgot to take a photo of the finished dish. Oops.

This simple dish, which is not particularly well-known, came 10th in CNN World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods 2011. We’re not sure it’s the 10th most delicious thing we’ve ever eaten, but we were pleasantly surprised at how good it was. The list of ingredients doesn’t scream ‘really really tasty’ – but it was! The other pleasant surprise was just how easy it was to create that level of flavour. Many of the dishes we’ve made recently have been the opposite (unnecessarily complicated without brilliant results), so we feel like our excitement about reaching this region of Africa might be justified.

One note: there are a few references to chillies in the introduction to the recipe we used, but chillies aren’t listed as an ingredient. We’d probably have left them out anyway for toddler-friendliness purposes (not that our child ate any of this), but if you do want to make a properly authentic version of this dish, it might be worth cross-referencing with another recipe.

Power breakfast: Zambian chipwatanga

Our standard Saturday morning breakfast is peanut butter and banana porridge (with honey for the grown-ups): hearty pre-swimming fuel for Baby Mash (although he has recently decided that he’s obsessed with Weetabix and would rather eat that) and yum. It’s also become our standard go-to for any other morning when we’re lacking breakfast inspiration.

Last weekend, Ash said, ‘Shall we have the rest of that pumpkin stuff with porridge today?’ which reminded Miranda that we’d made Zambian chipwatanga (sweetened pumpkin and peanut puree) some time ago and never written a blog about it. Oops. ‘The rest of that pumpkin stuff’, by the way, was the leftovers that we’d frozen to eat at a later date – and it’s a good thing we did, or our Zambia blog may never have been written at all.

We discovered this recipe via a bit of a convoluted route: first, Miranda asked a Zambian boy in one of her classes if he could provide a recipe. He casually said that it wouldn’t be a problem, but one of the key characteristics of the Teenage Boy is that conversations typically fall out of its head as soon as they reach their conclusion, so when said recipe hadn’t materialised some months later, we turned to Google rather than continuing on a hiding to nothing. It was then that we learnt that Zambia’s national dish is nshima, which is the Zambian word for something we have now made many times: cornmeal. Not having any strong desire to make it again, we did a bit more digging and found chipwatanga on Global Table Adventure. We’re always fans of a twist on a classic, so thought we’d give it a go in place of our usual Saturday morning porridge.

Chipwatanga

Ingredients
1 tin of pumpkin puree
1/2 cup peanuts, crushed
1/2 cup milk
3 tbsp sugar (we used brown sugar), or to taste
Pinch of salt
Porridge, to serve

Method
1. Add all ingredients (except the porridge) to a pot and cook over medium heat. It will sputter as it is quite a dry mixture. Stir regularly to keep the bottom from scorching.
2. Serve over porridge.

Opinions were mixed on this one. Ash was the biggest fan; Baby Mash refused to try it. Miranda was somewhere in the middle: didn’t dislike it, as such, but thought that both the peanuts and the pumpkin needed a stronger flavour – maybe a bit more toasting of the peanuts might have helped, and we probably also didn’t crush them small enough. Overall, we don’t think this is going to replace our trusty PB and banana, but it’s always nice to try something different.

A break from cornmeal: Malawian mpunga wosakaniza ndi nsinjiro

Until recently, the only thing we really knew about Malawi was that it was where Madonna adopted four of her children from. We were excited to find a chapter on Malawi in one of our favourite cookbooks, Allega McEvedy’s Bought, Borrowed & Stolen, which meant that we were able to learn a bit more about the country and also saved us from having to find a recipe!

We learnt that Malawi is one of the poorest and most AIDS-ravaged countries in the world and that they grow a lot of peanuts – although, quite sensibly, refer to them as groundnuts rather than peanuts. Lake Malawi (below) takes up 20% of the land and looks absolutely stunning. The book likens it to Malawi’s equivalent of Paris’s Eiffel Tower.

Lake Malawi National Park – Natural World Heritage Sites

The national dish of Malawi is nsima, or corn porridge, which is another reason we were glad to have some other options in the book: we are growing a little tired of corn porridge! Instead, we opted for mpunga wosakaniza ndi nsinjiro (chicken and peanut rice).

Mpunga wosakaniza ndi nsinjiro

Ingredients
2 tbsp cooking oil
125g thick-cut streaky bacon, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 green pepper, sliced
1/2 a green chilli, sliced (we left this out for toddler purposes)
300g chicken breast, cut into medium-sized chunks
400g long grain rice
700ml chicken stock
Handful of coriander, roughly chopped
75g peanuts, roughly chopped
2 spring onions, sliced
Salt

Method
1. Heat the oil in a large pot over a high heat and fry the bacon until crisping.
2. Add the onions and carry on stirring for a couple of minutes before adding the garlic, pepper and green chilli.
3. Still over high heat, and stirring constantly, add the chicken chunks and rice and fry everything for a few minutes. Don’t worry if the pan is browning as long as it doesn’t actually burn.
4. Once everything is well coated, pour in the stock, season with a little salt, put a lid on the pot and bring to a simmer.
5. Simmer for 10 minutes, then turn the heat off and leave to stand for another 10 minutes.
6. Stir in most of the peanuts, the spring onions and half the coriander and season if required.
7. Serve garnished with the rest of the peanuts and coriander.
Serves 4

The introduction to this dish in the cookbook says ‘As you’d expect from one of the poorest countries in the world, this is a simple dish but what you might not be expecting is quite how yummy it is.’ We couldn’t have summed it up any better. The ingredients in this dish are unremarkable, and we expected it to be nice, but not mind-blowing. And truthfully, it wasn’t mind-blowing, but we think it was a bit better than ‘nice.’ The familiar fried rice flavours were given a bit of oomph by the fresh coriander and salty bacon. It’s one we’d be happy to make again.

Oh – and a Malawian miracle: meat-refusing Baby Mash went straight for the chicken and polished it all off. Apparently he likes chicken now. The magic of this recipe goes beyond what anyone expected!

Easy vegetarian dinner: Tanzanian ugali na maharage ya nazi

Let’s be upfront here: this is yet another one of those blogs where we made the dish a long time ago and can’t really remember the finer details (or, honestly, many of the broader details). So we won’t pretend to have anything interesting to say; we’ll just post the recipe for the two Tanzanian dishes we made (ugali, which is the national dish and is another form of cornmeal porridge, and maharage ya nazi, or beans cooked in coconut milk) and some photos and leave it at that.

Ugali na maharage ya nazi

Ingredients
For the ugali:
1 litre water
300g cornmeal

For the maharage:
500g (2 tins) kidney beans
5 tbsp oil
2 onions, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 large carrot, diced
250ml coconut milk
Salt

Method (make both elements at the same time):
For the ugali:
1. In a pot, warm the water on high heat for about 3 minutes (do not boil).
2. Add half of the cornmeal and stir it in with a wooden spoon. Continue to stir until it thickens and bubbles.
3. Once you’ve reached this consistency, cover the pot and leave it to cook for 4 minutes on medium heat.
4. Take the pot off the heat and add the rest of the cornmeal. Stir it in with the wooden spoon. As you mix in the rest of the cornmeal it will become harder, almost like play dough. Continue to mould it until all the flour is mixed in, and mash all the lumps.
5. Spread it flat at the bottom of the pot as much as possible, cover, and put back on the fire on medium heat.
6. After 4 minutes, open the pot and turn the mixture onto the other side. Cover and put back on the heat. Repeat this step twice.
7. Mould it in the middle of the pot into a nice round shape and serve.

For the maharage:
1. In a pan, heat the oil over medium heat, add the onion and stir.
2. When the onions begin to brown, add the tomatoes. Stir and mash them in.
3. Once the tomatoes soften, add the carrots, stir and let them cook for 2 minutes, then add the beans and salt to taste, and stir.
4. Add the coconut milk and stir. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking.
Serves 2-3

We’ve had various versions of cornmeal porridge but enjoyed the different textures of this variety: flipping it over in the pot resulted in some crispy edges that tasted like popcorn (and were particularly enjoyed by Baby Mash). The bean accompaniment was perfectly edible, but unremarkable, and not deemed acceptable by the toddler, so we’re not going to rush to make it again – which is a shame, really, as it was very easy!

Second worst breakfast?: Comorian mkatra foutra

We went to Singapore in 2014 and opinions were passionately divided on the subject of kaya toast. Singapore’s most traditional breakfast, kaya toast is available everywhere and consists of buttered toast with kaya (a type of coconut jam), served with coffee and soft-boiled eggs. And when we say soft-boiled, we mean eggs that have briefly been exposed to a pan of boiling water and then quickly retrieved. They’re also known as half-boiled eggs.

Regular readers of this blog will know that Ash is not a big fan of coconut. Less common knowledge is that he has an even stronger dislike, bordering on a phobia, of undercooked egg white. Suffice to say that ‘half-boiled eggs’ did not reflect his criteria of the correct consistency of egg white. As such, he still, seven years later, still shudders at the thought of a Singaporean kaya toast breakfast. Miranda, meanwhile, as a big fan of coconut, thought it was wonderful, and was very excited to have a stopover at Changi Airport a few years later that allowed her to eat it again.

But how is all this relevant to Comoros, a small island nation located off the east coast of Africa? There’s a clue in the title of this blog. Comoros’s national dish is actually langouste a la vanille (lobster in vanilla sauce), but we decided against that as we thought it was a bit too indulgent to share with a toddler who was unlikely to eat it (and was also very likely to disrupt the cooking process at some point). Then we found mkatra foutra, a bread-pancake thing that is a typical breakfast food in Comoros. Not having made an international breakfast for a while, and keen to have another go at homemade coconut milk, we decided to try it (Ash wasn’t thrilled about the coconut, but made his peace with it – in theory). We chose to follow the recipe on Foreign Fork because, unlike a number of other recipes, it didn’t include coffee in the dough. Trust us when we say that Baby Mash does not need caffeine in his diet.

Mkatra foutra

Ingredients
2 cups plain flour
1/4 cup water
Pinch of sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 rounded tsp active dry yeast
7-10 oz coconut milk
Butter
Sesame seeds

Method
1. Heat the water in the microwave for about 10 seconds, until it’s warm, but not hot.
2. Add a pinch of sugar and the dry yeast into the water and leave the yeast to rise for about 10 minutes.
3. Once the yeast has risen, add it to a bowl with the flour, egg and salt. Mix until the liquid is absorbed. The texture will be shaggy.
4. Add the coconut milk until the batter is pourable but still thick.
5. Cover the mixture with a tea towel and leave to rise for 45 minutes to an hour in a warm place.
6. Pour about 1/3 cup of the batter per pancake into a frying pan and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
7. Once the bottom is browned, flip and cook the other side.
Makes 6 pancakes

When making these, the most challenging part was step 3 (mix until the liquid is absorbed) because there wasn’t a huge amount of liquid. We initially took the approach that we would have done to make pasta. We put the beaten egg in the middle of a well and stirred which resulted in a sticky blob on the edge of the fork that we couldn’t do anything with. We added the coconut milk and also a splash of cow’s milk (see below), gave up on the fork and used our hands instead, mixing/kneading it until it made a sort of dry dough that was falling apart and assumed this was ’shaggy’. Ash then spent far longer than ought to have been enough, yet still an insufficient time (he claims), trying to wash the smell of coconut off his hands.

The reason we also had to add cow’s milk was that we’d used all our coconut milk and the dough wasn’t a batter – it was sticky, stretchy and elastic. Taking a spoonful out of it was nigh on impossible as it stayed connected to the dough in the bowl and jumped back in as soon as it was taken out. Even the cow’s milk didn’t solve the problem but it did help a bit. That said, it was still far messier than any pancake mix we’ve worked with before (not that we usually make pancakes with yeast).

As for the eating, opinions were divided once again, although perhaps not as passionately as they were in Singapore. In a vain attempt to kill the taste of coconut, Ash served his with caramelised banana, chocolate spread, yoghurt, blueberries and strawberries. Miranda had the same without the chocolate spread but with extra coconut, and Baby Mash just had chocolate spread because he’s obsessed with it (even though there were also yoghurt and berries on his plate). We should note here that we only buy a sugar-free version!

Baby Mash loved these, probably because they were covered in chocolate spread. Miranda liked them, but would have been just as happy with normal pancakes. And you’ve already seen Ash’s verdict in the title of this post. We do acknowledge, however, that our pancakes didn’t look like the picture in the recipe, and our dough didn’t match the description in the recipe, so there is a possibility we did something wrong. If any Comorians are reading this and can set us straight, please do comment below!

Weeknight curry: Seychellois kari koko poul and green papaya salad

The national dish of Seychelles (according to Google) is octopus curry. This was quite appealing as we’ve never cooked octopus for this project and we both enjoy it. However, we were also able to get a recipe recommendation from Ash’s Seychellois friend, who suggested kari koko poul (coconut chicken curry) and satini papay (green papaya chutney). We were quite happy to take his word for it, and to try the Seychellois approach to curry (namely, adding cinnamon as a key feature), so the search for a green papaya commenced. We had to venture into quite a few African and Asian supermarkets before finally finding one (at an exorbitant price) at our local market.

The next challenge was the fact that we normally cook these blog dishes on the weekend, so that one of us can focus on cooking and the other can focus on keeping the toddler alive and our possessions intact. Due to some poor forward planning, we ended up making it on a Thursday, which meant that Ash was at work while Miranda was attempting to achieve all of the aforementioned tasks. This resulted in a few unexpected additions to the recipe method:
– explaining to a two-year-old what ‘raw’ means, and that you shouldn’t touch raw chicken, and that you also need to keep your yoghurt away from said raw chicken
– stopping a two-year-old from eating a spoonful of dry spices
– letting a two-year-old choose a cinnamon stick and add it to the pan without burning himself
– rescuing a bored two-year-old from himself when he left the kitchen, went outside, got frustrated at something and tried to launch his ride-on car across the path
Fortunately Ash arrived back at this point and was able to tag in.

Kari koko poul

Ingredients
1kg chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp grated ginger
3 tsp turmeric
3 tbsp curry powder
2 tbsp garam masala
1/2 tsp chilli powder
2 medium potatoes, diced (quite small or they won’t cook)
2 cinnamon leaves (or 1 cinnamon stick if you can’t get the leaves)
500ml coconut milk
2 tbsp oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Method
1. Mix the dry spices in a bowl.
2. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and 1/3 of the mixed spices.
3. Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat.
4. Sweat the onion with the garlic and ginger until softened.
5. Add the chicken and cook until partially brown.
6. Add all remaining ingredients to the saucepan and cover with the coconut milk.
7. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 1 hour or until the liquid has reduced.
8. Remove the cinnamon before serving.
Serves 4

The best part of making this recipe was the revelation of homemade coconut milk, using nothing other than desiccated coconut and water. Tinned coconut milk is always full of nonsense (preservatives etc) and tastes synthetic. This stuff just tasted like coconut and we knew exactly what went into it. We will do this again!

We normally adjust recipes to make them toddler-friendly. However, given that our toddler usually refuses to eat meat, we didn’t anticipate that he’d eat much of this, so made it to the original recipe rather than trying to scale back the curry powder and chilli. (We made him some plain potato and chicken – the latter of which he, predictably, didn’t eat.) Surprisingly, though, it actually wasn’t that spicy. That said, I offered him a piece of my potato and he said his ‘mouth was horrible’ after he tried it, so maybe it was spicier than we thought.

Satini papaye

Ingredients
1 green papaya
1 small onion, finely sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp oil
1 fresh chilli, finely chopped (we mistakenly used chilli flakes, which also worked)
250ml warm water
1/2 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Method
(There is a lot of information about selecting and preparing green papayas if you click the link at the beginning of this post.)
1. Peel the green papaya under running water, cut into quarters length-wise and remove seeds.
2. Finely grate the peeled papaya.
3. Salt the water and soak the papaya for about five minutes.
4. Remove the papaya from the water and place a handful at a time in a muslin cloth (or tea towel). Wring hard to remove as much moisture as possible.
5. Fluff up the grated papaya and mix in the onion and half the lemon and season.
6. Heat the oil in a wok and toss the papaya for about 5 minutes. Add the remaining lemon juice and chilli. Serve hot.
Serves 4

One of the great joys of this challenge is discovering new ingredients that we’ve never used or eaten – although the joy is purely in the discovery at times, rather than the eating. In the case of green papaya, though, it was both! We really enjoyed this chutney and would happily make it again, although ideally we’d find a cheaper supplier of green papaya (this one cost nearly £4!).

So all in all, even though this was more complicated than our usual weeknight fare, it was entirely achievable, because it’s actually pretty straightforward. The only thing we’d like to change is that we couldn’t really taste the cinnamon, and that’s apparently the thing that makes this a Seychellois curry. Maybe the cinnamon leaves would have had a stronger flavour, so they’re something we’d try harder to track down if we were to make it again.

Our dodo dinner: Mauritian cari gros pois, dholl puri and gato carre rouge

As is typical for a toddler, Baby Mash can be very suspicious about unfamiliar foods. He’ll eat yoghurt by the gallon and can put away more corn on the cob than is probably good for him, but if he hasn’t seen a food before, he will usually prod it once, say, ‘Don’t like it,’ and look around the plate for something more acceptable to him. We have realised, however, that one way to get him a bit more interested in new dishes is to look at photos of the country and its wildlife before we eat it, so while Ash was cooking our dinner, Miranda and Baby Mash were scrolling through photos of Mauritian animals on the laptop, which is how we discovered that the famous extinct flightless bird was native to Mauritius.

What we didn’t realise at that point was that the eventual fate of the dodo was nearly replicated in our dinner, as one thing after another went wrong in the cooking of it. The national dish of Mauritius is cari gros pois (bean curry), served with dholl puri (split pea pancakes). Neither of these two things seemed particularly complicated, and Baby Mash actually likes beans, so we chose some recipes (linked above) and got to it – but both the cooking and the eating of it turned out to be more problematic than we’d anticipated:

– Ash dropped the lid of a Le Creuset saucepan and chipped one of our relatively new kitchen tiles.
– The split peas boiled dry and nearly destroyed the pan they were in (thankfully, boiling dishwashing liquid in the pan a few times was able to rescue it).
– We’d stacked the cooked pancakes on top of each other and they irreversibly stuck together so we had to start the whole thing again (which didn’t work as well as it had the first time around).
– Baby Mash dropped a water bottle and got water everywhere when we were trying to dish everything up.
– While we were eating, Baby Mash dropped his spoon on the floor and then had a tantrum because he’d dropped his spoon on the floor.
– The recipe called for 3 tbsp of curry powder and two green chillies. With Baby Mash in mind, we’d decreased the 3 tbsp to 3 tsp and only used half a chilli, but apparently it was still too spicy for him. He did actually try it, which was something, but then declared that his ‘mouth was horrid’ and wouldn’t eat any more.
– Baby Mash loved the pancakes when he was hovering around the kitchen and we gave him a taste to keep him occupied, but when he was actually sitting at the table he gave them a wide berth.

So all in all, not quite the straightforward meal we were hoping for.

Cari gros pois

Ingredients
2 tins of butter (lima) beans
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 big onion, thinly sliced
3 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp turmeric
1 big tomato, roughly chopped
2 green chillies, roughly chopped
1 1/4 cups water
5 tbsp cooking oil
1/3 cup finely chopped coriander, to serve

Method
1. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat.
2. Add half of the sliced onion and cook for 3-4 minutes.
3. While the onion is cooking, prepare your curry paste by mixing together the tomato, chillies, 2 tbsp curry powder, turmeric, ginger, garlic, remaining onion and 1/4 cup water.
4. Once the onion is cooked, stir in the curry paste and cook for 2-3 minutes over medium heat.
5. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time so it doesn’t burn.
6. Gently stir in the butter beans with a cup of water.
7. Increase the heat to medium and cook for a further 5 minutes or until the sauce has thickened.
8. Serve sprinkled with the coriander.
Serves 2-3

Dholl puri

Ingredients
500g channa dal (yellow split peas)
3 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tbsp roasted cumin seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric
Water
Salt
Oil

For the dough:
1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, a pinch of salt and 2 tbsp oil.
2. Gradually add the reserved water from the dal and knead to a soft dough.
3. Divide the dough into roughly golf ball-sized balls.
4. Press a hole into the centre of each ball and add 1 tbsp of the dal mixture. Close the hole so that it forms a ball again.
5. Dip the ball in flour and carefully roll it out into a thin circle.
6. Heat a flat pan and brush with a little oil.
7. Place the puri on the pan and cook for 1 minute or until it starts to puff.
8. Brush with a little more oil, flip and cook for another minute. Remove from the pan when it starts to puff.

Despite Baby Mash’s misgivings, Miranda and Ash didn’t mind the curry, but it wasn’t special enough for us to think we’d make it again. The pancakes were nice – especially the ones that didn’t have to be remade – and also nutritious, so they might be ones to have another go at (not least because we now have a supply of split peas that we need to do something with.

When we first started looking for Mauritian recipes, we consulted a friend whose husband is Mauritian and she reminded us about Shelina Permaloo. Shelina won Masterchef a few years back and her website offers a number of traditional recipes. We didn’t end up using any of them for our main course, because we wanted to make the bean curry (because we thought Baby Mash might actually eat it – ha), but when we found gato carre rouge (literally ‘cake square red’), Miranda couldn’t resist. The Mauritian version of a lamington? Yes please!

Gato carre rouge

Ingredients
1 packet of strawberry jelly
4 eggs (weigh your eggs and the weight of the eggs in their shells will determine the weight of all the other ingredients – our eggs weighed 220g)
220g self-raising flour
220g caster sugar
220g butter (room temperature)
3 tbsp whole milk
Desiccated coconut

Method
1. Preheat oven to 180C and line a tin with baking parchment (we used a 23cm square tin).
2. Mix together the sugar, butter and flour until you get a crumbly breadcrumb-like mixture.
3. Slowly mix in the eggs one by one until you get a cake batter.
4. Loosen the mixture with the milk.
5. Put the mixture into the tin and bake for 20 minutes until the cake is cooked.
6. Once the cake is cool, cut it into 5cm cubes.
7. Prepare the jelly according to packet instructions and tip some desiccated coconut onto a plate.
8. Dip each sponge square into the liquid jelly and then gently roll it in the coconut.
9. Allow the cakes to cool completely before serving.

Technically these were also supposed to be decorated with a swirl of buttercream and half a strawberry, but when we made these we were dealing with a toddler who had broken out in a mysterious rash and, frankly, it was a miracle they got finished at all – so a decoration-less version had to do! This is also the explanation for the fact that we didn’t manage to take a decent photo of them…

Anyway, as with any coconut dish, opinions were divided here. Miranda thought they were delicious, as did Baby Mash, who helped make the sponge and then caught sight of the finished product so there was no keeping it away from him. Other fans were Miranda’s colleagues, one of whom had six! Ash didn’t even try them, because of the whole coconut-hating thing – but everyone else agreed that he was seriously missing out!

Another toddler triumph: Reunionese rougail saucisses

A couple of admissions: the first is that we hadn’t actually heard of Reunion Island until very recently. This blog helped save Miranda’s intellectual credibility, though: a student mentioned it shortly after we started researching recipes, so she was able to nod along knowledgably rather than looking ignorant.

The other is that Reunion Island isn’t actually a country. We’re not actually sure how it made it onto our list. It’s actually an ‘overseas department and region of the French Republic’; in other words, it’s actually part of France. There was therefore no real reason for us to make a dish from Reunion Island. However, when we found out that the national dish was a simple sausage concoction (and thus different from a lot of the other African dishes we’ve made so far), we thought we might as well make it because we thought we’d enjoy it.

There are lots of different versions of this recipe, the biggest variation being the level of chilli. We chose one from Les Journal des Femmes because it was written in French, wasn’t too spicy and was actually comprehensible.

Rougail saucisses

Ingredients
1 kg sausages, cut into pieces (we like The Jolly Hog, although they’re not very Reunionese)
2 large onions, sliced
3 tbsp oil
2 garlic cloves
1 inch knob of ginger, finely chopped
5 tomatoes, finely chopped
1 sprig of thyme
2 pinches of turmeric
1 pinch of cayenne pepper

Method
1. In a casserole dish, brown the onions with the oil.
2. Add the sausage pieces.
3. Add the garlic, ginger and tomatoes and mix well.
4. Add the thyme, turmeric, cayenne pepper and a little water.
5. Cover and cook over low heat for about half an hour.
6. Serve with rice.
Serves 4-6

Well, either we did something wrong here or the recipe was wrong. The recipe stated that the sauce would be very red and thick by the end of cooking. Given that there was no thickening agent in the sauce, this was always going to be a little tricky. But we found that no matter how long we cooked it (certainly a lot longer than the half hour stated in the recipe), not only was it not thickening, it wasn’t even really reducing. At that point, we transferred everything to a wider frying pan and turned up the heat, and finally the liquid reduced. In the end, we actually reduced it too far, to the point that there wasn’t much sauce to speak of at all – so not really a rougail (sauce) at all.

Anyway, in spite of all those shenanigans, we really enjoyed this! There wasn’t much not to like, really: it’s sausages with some simple flavours added. The other benefit is that Baby Mash, who refuses most kinds of meat, is more than happy to eat unhealthy processed things like burgers and sausages, so he was all over this – he’d have had double if we’d let him!

So, the conclusion: we don’t tend to eat sausages very often, but we also wouldn’t rule out making this again, because it doesn’t get much easier, and we all enjoyed it.

Meat medley: Malagasy romazava

Our last dish, Mozambican matapa, first became known to us thanks to one of Baby Mash’s books. Moving on to Madagascar, we thought there might be potential for another literature-inspired dish. There is a scene in Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good in which the convicts in Australia’s first penal colony reminisce about the foods from home that they can no longer eat now that they have been transported. One of these characters is Black Caesar, from Madagascar – but he only mentions hearts of palm, which is more of an ingredient than a dish, so we didn’t feel like it counted. So, as usual, we found ourselves Googling ‘Madagascar national dish’, which is how we discovered romazava.

Romazava can be described as lots of meat cooked with lots of green leafy vegetables. Meat is easy to come by but unfortunately we weren’t able to get hold of the precise greens that would be used in Madagascar: anamalao, anantsonga and anamany. We did, however, find a blog about this exact conundrum (World Cup of Food), which is how we came up with our substitutes. Anamalao has a peppery flavour, so we used rocket; anantsonga is another word for mustard greens, a reasonable substitute for which is kale; anamany is also known as ‘Malabar spinach’ so baby leaf spinach seemed close enough.

Romazava

Ingredients
2 tbsp canola oil
1 kg chuck steak, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 pork loin chop, cut into 1.5 inch pieces
2 small chicken breasts, cut into 1.5 inch pieces
1 tin of tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 large yellow onion, sliced
5 cloves garlic, sliced
2.5 inch piece of ginger, sliced
3 serrano chillies, diced (we only used 1 for the sake of the toddler)
100g kale
100g rocket
150g spinach

Method
1. Brown the steak in batches.
2. Put the browned steak, tomatoes, stock, chillies, ginger, onion and garlic in a large pot and bring to a simmer.
3. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about half an hour.
4. Add the pork pieces, put the lid back on and simmer for another 15 minutes (until the pork is cooked through).
5. Add the chicken pieces, put the lid back on and simmer for another 10 minutes (until chicken is white and opaque).
6. Add the greens and stir them into the simmering liquid until they have wilted.
7. Stew for another 10 minutes until the greens are fully cooked but not mushy.
8. Serve with rice.
Serves 6-8

This dish was nice, but unexciting. The ratio of meat to veg was actually about right, despite the near-overflowing pot when we first added the veg! However, only the beef was really palatable, as both the pork and chicken had dried out through being simmered for so long. We probably should have predicted the fact that Baby Mash wouldn’t touch it and just put the three chillies in, as that would have given it a zing that it needed – but oh well. One day he might surprise us and eat meat and/or a leafy vegetable.

What we do know, not so much as a result of eating this but rather because of all the pictures of Malagasy animals we were looking at in an effort to get Baby Mash interested in eating the food, is that we really want to go to Madagascar! Frankly, after not leaving the country for the past year and a half, we really want to go anywhere at this point, but the wildlife of Madagascar really is extraordinary. Baby Mash is still talking about the tomato frog two weeks later, and giraffe weevils, tenrecs, satanic leaf-tailed geckos and more species of monkey than we can keep track of would all be amazing to see in real life. It’s on the bucket list!

While we’re talking about Madagascar, we want to give a quick plug to Arena Flowers: we’re not sponsored or anything, but have recently discovered them and the fact that they’re the UK’s #1 rated ethical florist – and that their flowers are beautiful! And for every bouquet purchased they plant two trees in countries experiencing deforestation, one of which is Madagascar. So it’s win-win – check them out!