Thursday, September 10, 2009

Angola - coconut

My husband, Kevin, who is a sports fan, remembers the 1992 summer Olympic games when the U.S. basketball dream team beat Angola 116 to 48. I have to admit, I didn't know anything about Angola - I didn't even remember them at the summer olympics.

Angola - a mostly Christian nation - is on the western side of Southern Africa and twice the size of Texas. Portuguese slave traders established colonies on Angola’s Atlantic coast in the 16th century. The colonist cultivated sugar cane and tobacco for the European market. In 1975 Angola won its independence but continued in a civil war until 2002. The country is in ruins after decades of war and is devastatingly poor and heavily in debt. It has one of the lowest life expectancies and infant mortality rates in the world. Transparency International – an anti-corruption watch dog – rated Angola as one of the 10 most corrupt countries in the world in 2005.

However, the country’s economy has grown and it has established some political stability since 2002. It’s a large petroleum and diamond producer and I read that Angola is China’s biggest supplier of oil. If that’s the case, I can’t imagine they’ll stay poor for long – unless they are so corrupt they don’t use that money to get out of debt, rebuild their country and help their people.

Does anyone know how to open a coconut? In the Angolan dessert I made – Cacada Amarela (yellow coconut pudding) – it called for freshly grated flesh from half a coconut. I’ve eaten lots of fresh coconut but I have never opened one. So I looked it up on the internet. Apparently there are all kinds of ways to do it, but when reading the directions it did not sound too terribly difficult. One site said: Hold the coconut in the palm of your hand and firmly tap the seams that runs between the“eyes” with the blunt edge of a heavy knife. Continue tapping and rotating the coconut in your hand until the coconut splits open. This should happen after a few turns and into equal parts. Yeah. Not quite. I waited until John and Julia got home from school to attempt this. John had a friend over and he looked at me strangely when I excitedly told them we were going to open a coconut today! In the kitchen we got out the coconut and the directions. I tried tapping and rotating while eager eyes watched. Nothing. John tried it. Nothing. I then got out a hammer. Nothing. I got out a hammer and nail. Nothing -not even a dent. John, his friend and Julia took it outside and started beating it on our stone steps. Nothing. We then took turns pounding the nail into it. We managed to create a tiny hole. I finally went in the house frustrated and about to give up while John continued to beat this coconut against the steps like he was murdering the thing. Finally Julia came running into the house. “Mommy. Mommy, we got the coconut open!” What a glorious thing! I ran outside. The coconut was cracked. I got a glass so we could drain the liquid into it. John smashed it a couple more times and FINALLY it really did open! The kids were eager to try the coconut milk which looked and tasted more like bad water. John’s friend stood back and eyed us suspiciously and when we offered him some of this coconut water he politely said, “No thanks.”

The meal was not good. We had Camaro Grelhado Com Mohlo Cru (grilled prawns with raw sauce) – these were tasty but how hard is it to blotch shrimp? I blotched the rest of the meal. We had Arroz de Coco e Papaia ( Rice with coconut and papaya). It wasn’t bad, but I will not being making it again. My version tasted watery and had little flavor. Though it's too bad we didn’t like it because papaya is very good for you and my kids love it. Lastly, I made Cacada Amarela (yellow coconut pudding). I hate to say this, but for all that work to get that darn coconut open, the pudding was horrible. I don’t think it’s the fault of the pudding, although I swear I followed the directions. It just wouldn’t get creamy - it thickened slightly, but it remained soupy. And then the coconut pieces in it were hard little chunks floating around that made it even more unappetizing. I took a few bites and threw the rest out. The kids didn't finish their pudding either.

When Kevin came home he ate his whole bowl of pudding and told me he liked it! “I love coconut” he said. I told him that I will not be cooking anything else involving fresh coconut. It was not only hard opening the thing but then it was a pain to scrape the flesh off! There have got to be special tools for that! My dinner got low marks from the kids but I’m sure that’s no reflection on the cuisine of Angola - just my cooking.

After that great recommendation here are the recipes:

Camaro Grelhado Com Mohlo Cru (grilled prawns with raw sauce)

450g shelled tiger prawns (I used a pound)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
100g finely chopped spring onions
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp salt
4 TBSP white wine vinegar
4 TBSP water

Place all the ingredients (except prawns) in a pestle and mortor and grind to a paste. Thread the prawns onto skewers then brush with the sauce before cooking on a barbecue until done (about 3 minutes on each side). Brush again with the sauce when turning. Serve with rice.

Arroz de Coco e Papaia (rice with coconut and papaya).

200g rice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
500ml coconut milk (I used one can)
1 papaya, de-seeded, peeled and cut into small dice.

Add rice, 60ml water, salt, cinnamon and coconut in a pan and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the rice is done. Fluff the rice, take off the heat and leave stand, covered, for 10 minutes.

Mash half the papaya then add this mush and the remaining papaya cubes to the rice. Place back on heat and heat mixture. Serve.

Cacada Amarela (yellow coconut pudding)

180g sugar
720 ml water
2 whole cloves
freshly-grated flesh from 1/2 coconut
6 egg yolks
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Combine sugar, water and cloves in a small sauce pan and bring to boil, stirring constantly. When it starts boiling, stop stirring and boil for about 20 minutes. Reduce heat then remove the cloves with a slotted spoon. Add the grated coconut a little at a time, stirring well after each addition. Continue to cook, stirring the mixture very frequently, for a further 10 minutes (the coconut should be translucent). Remove from heat. Add the egg yolks to a bowl and heat until slightly thicken. While whisking, add half the syrup mix to the eggs then pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan. Whisk, then return to heat. Cook misture over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring. The mixture will thicken. Spoon pudding into 4 serving dishes, garnish with cinnamon.

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