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Dining in the Paradisical Comoros Islands

posted on: Sep 11, 2019

By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer

Often people visiting the Comoros Islands for the first time say that they stumbled unto an ‘earthly paradise’.  Others, when they describe the food of this country of islands indicate that not only is the land beautiful but the cuisine, rooted in tradition, is divine.  The inhabitants themselves a melange of African, Arab, Indian and some French have in the past brought the foods of their original homelands to the Islands, hence, contributing to the culinary art of this enchanting land – deriving its name from what the Arabs romantically call them: ‘Islands of the Moon’.

The Republic of Comoros, 2,235 sq km (863 sq mi), consists of four large islands: Grande Comoros, Maheli, Anjouan, and Mayotte. They lay between the eastern coast of Africa and the island of Madagascar.  Since its partial independence, the islands have had much trouble with revolts and small civil wars.

Historically the islands were invaded or influenced by other Africans and the peoples from the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian sub-continent and Indonesia as well as the Portuguese and lastly the French who only left near the end of the 20th century, but still, today occupies the island of Mayotte. The influences of these many peoples and cultures have left their mark in facets of life including the three official languages: Comorian, Arabic and French and the country is a member of both the Union Francophone and the Arab League.

The Comoros kitchen was heavily influenced by all these invaders and trading merchants from other lands.  However, the greatest marks in the culinary art of the islands were left by the Arabs and the French. Today included in the country’s flavors and ingredients in the dishes on the Comoros daily menu are cardamom, chilies, cinnamon, and cloves as well as rice and meat or fish seasoned with coriander, curry, pomegranates and saffron.  However, nutmeg and vanilla, both introduced to the islands, are the condiments most valued and used.

One of the country’s most famous dishes Langouste a la Vanilla – a rich lobster dish is cooked in a vanilla sauce.  Soups such as Sweet Pea Soup and stews made from all types of fish, meats and vegetables and pulses such as lentils, corn, and rice used in numerous dishes all spicy, but not too hot, are common throughout the islands.

Exotic tropical fruits and other types of fruits and vegetables such as bananas, cassava, limes, oranges, and plantains are cultivated throughout the country.  The variety of fruit and vegetables, as well as pulses such as lentils easily available on the islands, has made for delicious cuisine. Tasty couscous, kebabs, and on special occasions barbecued mutton have been responsible for these delectable dishes that are often remembered by foreign visitors.

The culinary art of Comoros is revealed at its best during the many traditional religious celebrations such as Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr, with their fine feasts.  During these celebrations, light dishes with fish and chicken as well as salads and soups served with spicy and salty sauces that are on the menu imbue to these festivals an aura of culinary delight.

The recipes included are much sought after by visitors and locals alike in the country.  There are restaurants galore in every part of this nation of islands and these eating places all feature the Islands’ dishes. Popular and tasty and as a whole made from ingredients found in the country, these dishes are a treat to seasoned travelers.

Sweet Pea and Tomato Soup

Dining in the Paradisical Comoros Islands

Serves from 8 to 10

This is my version of a famous Comoros ‘Pea Soup’- among the most favored soups on the Islands.  Eaten often as a starter for a meal, the soup is versatile with a substitute of ingredients such as sweet potatoes for potatoes.

4 tablespoons butter

1 large onion, finely chopped

6 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 medium chili pepper, finely chopped

2 cups sweet potatoes, diced into 1/2 inch cubes

2 cups fresh or frozen peas

2 cups stewed tomatoes
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon garam masala

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

5 cups of water

2 cups chicken broth

Melt butter in a saucepan then fry the onion, garlic and chili pepper over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring often.  Add sweet potatoes then stir fry for 3 minutes.

Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over medium/low heat for 40 minutes then serve hot.

Avocado and Smoked Fish Salad

Dining in the Paradisical Comoros Islands

Serves about 4

Smoked fish in salads give the vegetable ingredients a special exotic enhancement that adds so much to a salad.  In this dish, the smoky flavor of the salmon complements the avocado to produce a unique taste.

1/4 pound smoked salmon, cut into small pieces

2 medium avocados, pitted and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup finely chopped Spanish onion
1 cup finely chopped green onions
1 large red pepper, diced into 1/4 inch pieces
3 hard-boiled eggs, cut into rounds
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Place the salmon, avocado, Spanish onion, green onions, red pepper, and eggs in a salad bowl then set aside.

In a small bowl combine the remaining ingredients and gently toss.  Chill in the refrigerator then gently toss again and serve.

Chicken with Coconut – Poulet au Coco

Dining in the Paradisical Comoros Islands

Serves about 6

Comoros cooks are as a whole passionate about their handiwork, especially when they prepare such dishes as Poulet Au Coco, a chicken dish cooked with greens and rice, considered one of the most popular dishes in the country.

4 tablespoons butter

2 pounds chicken breast, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 medium onions, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, crushed

2 cups of coconut milk

1 cup of water
1 tablespoon curry powder

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup finely chopped green onions

1 small bunch parsley, finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

3 cups cooked rice

1 fresh lime

Melt the butter in a saucepan then fry chicken over medium heat for 10 minutes or until golden brown.  Stir in the onions, garlic, coconut milk, water, curry, nutmeg, and thyme then bring to a boil. Cover and cook the mixture over medium heat for 10 minutes, occasionally stirring, then add the green onions, parsley, salt, and pepper.  Stir well and allow to cook over medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a little water if necessary.

Evenly place rice on a serving platter then spread chicken with its sauce over top.  Squeeze lime juice over the top and serve.

Comoros Cooked Rice – Riz des Iles

Dining in the Paradisical Comoros Islands

Serves about 6

The Portuguese introduced from the Americas to the Comoros many food ingredients.  From among these were bell peppers, chilies, corn, tomatoes, pineapples, limes, oranges, and vanilla.

4 tablespoons cooking oil

1 pound salmon or similar fish fillet, cut into 1 inch cubes then marinated in 2

tablespoons lemon juice and 4 cloves crushed garlic for 2 hours

1 cup finely chopped green onions

1/2 cup mashed potatoes

1 cup fresh or frozen corn

3 cups cooked rice

4 tablespoons finely chopped the fresh coriander

1 tablespoon pomegranate concentrate or tamarind paste

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon pulverized coffee

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 1/2 cups water

Heat oil in a saucepan then fry fish fillet then fry over medium heat for 8 minutes, turning over once.  Add the green onions and mashed potatoes and stir-fry for 2 minutes, then stir in remaining ingredients and bring to boil.  Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes then serve immediately.

Meat and Fish Stew – Le Me Tsolola

Dining in the Paradisical Comoros Islands

Serves about 6

Versions of this simple most traditional of Comoronian dishes are found all over the Islands.

5 tablespoons cooking oil
1/2 pound fish fillet, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 pound beef, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 medium onions, finely chopped

2 medium green bananas, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cups stewed tomatoes
2 cups coconut milk

1 cup water
3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Heat oil in a saucepan then fry fish and beef over medium heat for 8 minutes, gently stirring a number of times.  Add the onions and continue frying and stirring for another 5 minutes.

Add the remainder of the ingredients and bring to boil then cover.  Simmer over low heat for an hour, stirring occasionally and adding a little water if needed.  Serve hot with cooked rice.

Comoronian Chicken Indian Style – Poulet L’Indienne

Dining in the Paradisical Comoros Islands

Serves about 8

This dish has its roots in the Indian sub-continent but has become a very classic Comoronian food.

6 tablespoons cooking oil

3 to 4 pound whole chicken, cut into serving pieces

1 large onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 large chilli, finely chopped

1/2  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon ground cardamom

3 cups stewed  tomatoes

2 1/2 cups water

1 cup plain yoghurt
2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

3 to 4 cups cooked rice

4 tablespoons whole blanched almonds, toasted

Heat oil in a saucepan then fry chicken pieces over medium heat for 10 minutes, or until golden brown, turning over a number of times.  Remove the chicken pieces and set aside.

Add the onion, garlic, ginger and chili and stir-fry for 5 minutes, adding more oil if needed.

Add the cloves and cardamom and fry for a few minutes more.  Return the chicken to the saucepan and stir in the remaining ingredients, except the rice and almonds, then bring to boil.  Cover and simmer gently over low heat for 1 hour (add a little water if the mixture dries too quickly). Serve on a bed of rice garnished with the toasted almonds.

Lobster with Vanilla – Langouste a la Vanille

Dining in the Paradisical Comoros Islands

Serves about 8

I have simplified this recipe by not going through the process of cooking the live lobster to obtain the meat. I think that it is just as tasty with much less work.

3/4 cup butter, melted

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1/3 cup white grape juice

3 tablespoons vinegar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 pounds spinach, washed, drained and chopped into large pieces

2 small red onions, sliced into rounds

2 pounds frozen lobsters tail, cooked and shelled, chopped and kept warm

Bean sprouts

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan then add the onions and sauté over medium heat 10 minutes.  Add the grape juice and vinegar then cook over medium heat until the liquid is reduced to about 3 tablespoons. Remove the pan from the heat then add 6 tablespoons of the butter and vanilla.

With a spoon mash the onion through a strainer to squeeze out all of the sauce into a clean saucepan. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper and set aside. Place sauce over low heat to keep warm.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan then add spinach and red onions. Stir fry for 2 minutes then cover.  Cook over medium/low heat for 5 minutes then season them with remaining salt and pepper.

Place a bed of spinach on 8 plates then arrange the lobster meat on top.  Spoon the sauce over the lobster. Top with bean sprouts then serve immediately.

Rice and Cashew Bars – Ladu

Dining in the Paradisical Comoros Islands

Makes   pieces

A little strange for the taste of foreigners, this traditional Comoros sweet features black pepper as one of the ingredients. The use of black pepper in sweets was was either brought to medieval Baghdad by the Arabs from India or taken to India from Baghdad.  Hence this recipe could have come from India or one of the Arab countries.

1 cup icing sugar

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup butter

1 cup rice flour

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 tablespoons coarsely ground cashew nuts

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds

Combine the sugar and black pepper and set aside.

Melt the butter in a saucepan then add the rice flour and cook over medium/low heat, stirring continually, until the rice flour lightly browns.  Stir in the vanilla, cashew and the cardamom then stir thoroughly. Stir in the icing sugar and pepper mixture then stir-fry for 2 minutes. Spread evenly in a casserole or pan then allow to cool completely.  Cut into 1-inch squares then chill overnight before serving as a dessert.