The hottest Wednesday since records began finds us at Joe & Sophie’s for some Chadian cookery. It’s 35ºC today – the same temperature that it is in Chad itself at the moment – so we eat outside on the balcony.
In the usual search for country facts to cover the numerous lulls in conversation, we turn to the internet. Steve’s flatmate has made some wild claims about the great amount of paved runways than Chad possesses, but these are soon debunked by no lesser authority than the CIA World Fact Book, which says that as of 2012, Chad had an estimated 58 airports, only 9 of which had paved runways. As you probably already know, there are at least 5 African countries with more paved runways than Chad.
That matter resolved, we investigate the infamous Chad-Romania flag contretemps. The countries share the same blue, yellow and red tricolour, and with the removal of the crest from the Romanian flag after the death of Ceaușescu, the flags were virtually identical. Romania made a fuss about this apparently, which is a bit rich given that they were the ones who changed their flag, and meanwhile Moldova and Andorra are a lot closer and also parading around with the same colours. In the end, each kept their flag, when closer inspection revealed that the Chadian blue is indigo to the Romanian cobalt.
Our minds positively bristling with ‘interesting’ ‘facts’, we turn to the meal. Sophie’s starter is Courgette with Peanuts. This sounds worryingly simple, but in fact it has that Italian simplicity: surprisingly successful and a good combination of flavours. The courgettes are soft and close to melting, while the crushed peanuts bring texture that contrasts well. Joe’s main course is a stew of river perch, or would have been if river perch were in any way available. Sea bass is much the same taste and consistency, he avers, saying he “read it on the web”. Frowning with doubt, suspicion and some disappointment, we tuck in, and find that what it may lack in authenticity, it makes up for with flavour. The fish has certainly had the full Chadian treatment, coated in flour, flash fried and then softly simmered for a worryingly long time with only a handful of tomatoes and a little liquid. It is served with plain rice, since fufu is the alternative, and there’s no call for that. Fearing the fish may have rubberised, Joe has forced the rice into silly little cylinders in an attempt to mask substance with style. Yet ultimately the course comes through with flying colours. The fish is well cooked with a crispy edge and has taken in much of the intense flavour of the slow-cooked tomatoes. Finally, Steve’s dessert is a sort of custard made from cooking sweet potatoes for hours and hours in milk, cream and sugar, flavoured with cardamom and saffron. It’s sweet but strangely perfumed; Steve announces that he’s glad he ate it, and he doesn’t need to eat it again. Joe goes back for seconds, since it reminds him of grandma’s pumpkin pie. Sophie isn’t sure what to think. It’s divisive, but in a good way. The feeling is that it might be good as a filling for a Portuguese custard tart, or as a quirky breakfast topping…
Courgette with Peanuts
- 3 small courgettes
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp butter
- 120g peanuts, ground to a fine powder
Simmer the courgettes in salted water until very tender (about 10 minutes). Combine the courgettes with the butter and mash to a smooth consistency. Top with the nuts and serve immediately.
Chadian Fried Fish with tomatoes and rice
6 medium-sized fish (river perch, or equivalent – for our version we used two sea bass fillets per person) 2 garlic cloves, cut into slivers 2 tbsp flour 5 tbsp oil 3 tomatoes salt, pepper, cayenne pepper Serve with: plain rice, fufu, or fried plantain.
Clean and scale the fish and then cut into steaks. Pierce the flesh of the fish and insert garlic slivers. Dip the fish in flour. Heat the oil and fry the fish on a high heat. When the fish is golden brown all over add the halved tomatoes. Add a little water, cover the pan and simmer for 40 minutes. Add a little more water if necessary – you should have enough liquid for a small amount of sauce at the end. Serve on a bed of rice.
Safran patates douces pudding
Steve thought he was being clever here, finding a recipe in a French cookbook and translating it. However, upon translation it turned out to be the same recipe that was on Celtnet, which is somewhat less exciting.
- 1kg sweet potatoes
- 750ml milk
- 250ml double cream
- 100g white sugar
- ½ tsp saffron
- ½ tsp ground cardamom
- Cinnamon sugar to decorate
Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into 1cm cubes Bring 1l water to the boil in a saucepan and add sweet potatoes. Boil for 25-30 minutes. Drain and return the sweet potatoes to the pot. Add the milk, cream, sugar, saffron and cardamom, stirring to mix the ingredients evenly. Bring the mixture to a boil, over moderate heat, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 1 hour, until the mixture is of a thick enough consistency to maintain its shape. Using the back of a spoon, force the mixture through a fine sieve, into a serving bowl (or, in the absence of a sieve, just put the lot into a blender). Serve at room temperature or chilled. Sprinkle with icing sugar, ground cardamom or cinnamon sugar before serving.