Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cooking Around the World: Comoros Islands

Summer vacation means one thing for my kitchen time. There's more of it. When I don't have to wrangle the boys out of the car and straight to their desks to finish homework and, then, juggle my cutting boards and their homework questions, life is good. So, it's summer. And we are getting back to our Cooking Around the World adventure and hoping to make some headway through the alphabet!

Tonight we traveled, by tabletop, to the Comoros Islands, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. The country, gaining independence from France in 1975, consists of the four islands in the volcanic Comoros archipelago: Ngazidja, Mwali, Nzwani, and Mahoré, With fewer than a million people, the Comoros is one of the least populous countries in the world, but is also one of the most densely populated.

We all did need a geography lesson for this one. We had no clue where these islands really were. Thank goodness for our atlas.

Cultural influences on this country include African, Indonesian, Arabic and Portugese, resulting in Comorians utilizing many different types of spices and exotic ingredients. A typical Comorian meal always contains rice and meat or fish, seasoned with one of the many locally produced ingredients like vanilla, coriander, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. The Portugese introduced products from the New World to the islands and many dishes include ingredients such as bell peppers, maize, chillies, tomatoes, bananas, pineapples, limes and oranges.

I was immediately intrigued by a recipe for lobsters with vanilla sauce, served with clover sprouts. As always I made a few adaptations, substituting prawns for lobster (pocket-book consideration) and radish sprouts for clover sprouts (availability consideration) and more. So while Riley went to his mandolin lesson, Dylan strapped on a apron and went to work.

Roasted Prawns with Vanilla Sauce
served on a bed of wilted wild arugula with garlic and radish sprouts

  • 2 pounds of prawns
  • 1 T coconut oil
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 6 T butter
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 C white beer (the traditional recipe called for white wine)
  • 2 T honey balsamic vinegar (the traditional recipe called for white wine vinegar)
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • freshly ground pink Himalaya salt to taste
  • freshly ground flower pepper to taste
  • 1-1/2 pounds wild arugula (the traditional recipe called for spinach)
  • 2 T minced garlic
  • radish sprouts
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Arrange the prawns in a baking dish. Roast until pink, approximately 15 minutes. Remove from oven, and set aside.

In the meantime, make the vanilla sauce. Split a vanilla bean down the middle. Scrape the seeds out.

In a large sauce pan, heat the coconut oil and olive oil. Add the onions and sauté over low heat until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla pod, beer and vinegar, raising the heat and cooking at a moderate boil until the liquid is reduced, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and whisk in 6 tablespoons of butter, 1 tablespoon at a time until all is incorporated. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the sauce and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

When the prawns are cool enough to handle, remove the shells from the body. Try to leave the tail and head intact. Loosely cover the meat with aluminum foil, and keep warm.

In a flat-bottom pan, heat a splash of olive oil and quickly brown the minced garlic. Stir in the arugula continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens become tender, about 5 minutes. Season them with salt and pepper.

To serve, reheat the sauce over low heat until warm, whisking constantly. Place a bed of greens on each plate, top with sprouts, arrange the prawns on top and spoon the sauce over them. Serve immediately.

Despite the modifications, I think we stayed true to the idea of the dish. And it was tasty! The boys, showing their Pacifc Island roots, happily sucked the heads and tails. They even declared it 'red book worthy'. Now that's saying something.

*Update 8/30/2013: Linking this up to Food on Friday at Carole's Chatter: Vanilla and Saffron.*

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