COMOROS: Le Me Tsolola: Goat + Plantain Stew
Here’s what we learned about Comoros in our research this week:
- Comoros exists.
- It is pronounced KOHM-uh-rohs
- It is a group of 3 (or 4 depending on who you ask) main islands in the channel between Mozambique and Madagascar. The 4th island is Mayotte which voted to stay a part of France in 1975, but many Comorans still claim it as one of theirs.
- It gained its independence from France in in 1975 and has had over 20 coups since then.
- It is one of the poorest countries in the world where the average daily wage is just over $1.
- Each island has it’s own cuisine.
- There is very, very little to be found online about the food of Comoros, but what can be found suggests African, Arab, Indian, and French influences.
- It is proper to say “bismillah” (thanks to Allah) before eating.
- Though there is no legal drinking age in Comoros, alcohol is not considered proper according to Islam (the dominating religion), but it is served in most European restaurants. (Note: If I ever go to Comoros, you’ll know where to find me.)
Here’s a fun video showing Comoros from a tourist’s perspective. Check out that rain!
When we drew Comoros from the cup, I asked my Facebook community for a suggestion and my friend Joanne, a native South African now living in Australia, recommended Sweet Pea as a traditional Comoran soup (I hope I have represented it well Joanne!), but my research (what little of it there is to see) kept mentioning a stew called Le Me Tsolola (or Leme Tsolola). As I’ve mentioned, James thinks of soup as an appetizer instead of a meal, so for Comoros, that’s exactly what he got… a soup appetizer and a stew meal. SOOP-o-rama.
Our friends braved the bridge to join us, but not before I sent them on a wild goose chase for jackfruit on Clement street in San Francisco. I had read that jackfruit was commonly eaten in Comoros and thought it would be fun for the kids to experience eating something that looks so, well, terrifying for dessert. I had hunted all over the east bay – Oakland Chinatown, Koreana Plaza, Berkeley Bowl, 99 Ranch – without luck, so I sent our friends to scour San Francisco. When their search left them empty-handed, we learned that jackfruit goes out of season in September. Oh well. To the right is what it would have looked like had we found it fresh (keep in mind that this is the size of a large watermelon covered with spikes.
Instead, our jackfruit looked like the below:
Since it was a hot October (summer in San Francisco) night and we had TWO hot soups to eat, we cranked up the Nawal (the voice of Comoros) and hit the deck (not literally, of course). I was quite nervous for this meal because not only was it utterly unlike anything I’d ever made before, but also our friends who joined us are outstanding cooks and I didn’t want to look like a fool in front of them. I’d only found a couple of recipes on which to base my creation and I worried that it simply wouldn’t work.
I should not have worried. This was FANTASTIC! The pea soup had a nice refreshing gingery flavor and was a great foil to the coconut richness of the goat. The only change I would make (noted in the recipe) is that the goat was a bit grisly, so next time (and there WILL) be a next time, I will grind the goat in my cuisinart to make it easier for everyone to eat. Of course, this will be completely nontraditional, but it will taste very good.
Oh – do not make this without making the Poutou (chili relish) and do not fret when you make it that it is too spicy because the spice will mellow out considerably after a couple of days . It really completes the flavors of the meal – the kick and the acid in the sauce take it over the edge into pure divine. I can also happily report that the relish is fantastic on eggs, tossed in with quinoa and arugula as a fun side dish, and over pan-fried fish. Say hello to your new little friend Poutou.
This was rich, flavorful, zesty, complex and just overall delightful. I wasn’t sure about the cayenne pepper for the kids, but they all at it like crazy. There may have even been some bowl licking….
…. which was a good thing because just as the sun went down, the lights went out and we cleaned up the kitchen in candle light. The plates that were licked were a lot easier to clean.
I forgot to take any photos of the Coconut Punch (probably because of the Coconut Punch), so I can’t show you how pretty it was, but imagine a nice glass of eggnog that with a bright yellow rim and a stick of vanilla in it. At first sip, our friends shouted out “Tropical Eggnog!”, I may make this at Christmas this year instead of traditional eggnog. It is quite thick and very sweet, so it was maybe not the best drink for a hot night, but regardless, nary a drop was left by the end or our 90 degree day. 8 thumbs up.
Sweet Pea Soup
Serves 8 as a small appetizer
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound frozen peas (thawed)
- 1/2 pound tomatoes chopped
- 3 teaspoons ginger, finely minced
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 can light coconut milk, 3 tablespoons reserved for garnish
- 4 cups water
- thinly sliced lime wheels for serving
- Remove peas from the freezer and place on a plate on the counter to thaw while you do your chopping.
- Meanwhile, over medium-low heat, heat olive oil in a large pot a 4 quart saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Gently cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until onions have softened.
- Add the rest of the ingredients (except the coconut milk) and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes.
- Using an immersion blender (or a regular blender), blend soup until smooth.
- Add the coconut milk,raise to a simmer just to warm coconut milk. Do not allow it to boil.
- Serve by drizzling reserved coconut milk over the top in a spiral pattern and adding a lime wheel. (Or you can use a small medicine syringe to make intricate patterns and decorate with basil leaves and flowers torn from the garden.)
Le Me Tsolola: Goat & Banana Stew
- 2 teaspoons canola oil
1 1/2 lb goat stew meat, cut into 1″ pieces (next time I would grind it in a food processor as it was fairly grisly)
- Cayenne pepper
2 onions, finely chopped
4 tomatoes, chopped
- 2 medium green plantains, peeled cut into 1″ pieces
1 can coconut milk + 1 can full of water
salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste
- 1 lime, cut into wedges for serving
- Season goat with salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Heat pan to medium high and fry the goat in a little oil until well browned on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Add the plantains, onions and tomatoes to pan and stir until softened.
- Return meat to pot. Pour-in the coconut milk and bring to a simmer.
- Cover and allow to simmer for an hour (add a little water or more coconut milk if it becomes too dry).
- Season to taste with additional salt or cayenne pepper.
- Serve immediately on a bed of white rice with pepper sauce (recipe below) and lime wedges on the side.
Poutou (Comoran Pepper Relish)
Makes approximately 3 cups
Recipe adapted from The World Cookbook: The Greatest Recipes from Around the Globe, Revised Edition
By Michael Ashkenazi (Dear Santa, this book, a vitamix blender and world peace is all I want this year!)
- 1 small fresh red chili (habañero is traditional – I used a red jalapeño), roughly chopped
3 medium tomatoes, quartered
- 1 organic* lemon, quartered
- 1 medium yellow onion, quartered
- 2 large cloves garlic, peeled, halved
- 2 tablespoons salt
- Place all ingredients (including the peel and pith of the lemon) in a blender or food processor and blend until ingredients form a chunky salsa.
- Refrigerate at least 24 hours to allow flavors to blend. Fear not, the spice will mellow out considerably after a few days.
*An organic lemon is important becaue you will put the peel into the relish. Standard lemons are often coated with wax and pesticides.
Comoran Coconut Punch (Punch Coco)…. Tropical Eggnog
(Again, alcohol is not allowed according the the laws of Islam, so this would most likely be served sans alcohol in Comoros. Feel free to use the rum or not according to your own desires. Also – apologies… I completely forgot to take any photos of this, but it was very pretty and very delicious)
- 2 cans light coconut milk
- 1 small can (5.8 oz) condensed milk
- juice and grated zest of 2 large limes, rinds saved
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 pod vanilla, seeds scraped out and reserved, then split lengthwise into four long sticks
- 1 package Trader Joes dried jackfruit, ground to a powder in a spice grinder or food processor, divided (2 Tablespoons goes in the punch, the rest goes on the rim)
- 4 ounces dark rum, optional
- Place all ingredients (including the vanilla seeds, but excluding the vanilla sticks) except the rum in a blender. Blend well until smooth.
- Meanwhile, run emptied lime rinds along rim of 4 glasses to wet rim and dip rim in Jackfruit powder
- Pour punch into glasses. Top with a float of 1 oz rum (or more if you’d like) in each cup (if using) and garnish with vanilla sticks and a sprinkling of cinnamon