Monday, November 16, 2009

Camaroon - Safou a la Sauce Tomate

My dad was visiting when I made the Cameroon dish called Safou a la Sauce Tomate. Translation: prunes in tomato sauce. I love having visitors but having out of-town guests is exhausting. It’s not because my guests are demanding but because I knock myself out trying to make their stay enjoyable and memorable. With my ethnic meals I definitely make it memorable. The other reason why I was exhausted was because that morning we all watched John play football. His team had made it to the play-offs. Unfortunately his team lost and to help ease the pain of losing the championship I took John, Julia and my dad to an all-you-can-eat Thai and Japanese restaurant.

The four of us went hog wild eating everything from sushi to Thai basil shrimp. When we were done we practically had to roll ourselves out of the restaurant and we went home groaning that our stomachs hurt. Several hours later it was dinnertime – or should I say time for some Safou a la Sauce Tomate.

As luck would have it, in searching for Cameroon recipes, I found the world’s easiest dish to whip up and who gave a hoot if none of us liked it. We were still stuffed from lunch. Basically the recipe consists of three main ingredients – prunes, tomato sauce and rice. So if you’re pressed for time and you’re cupboards are bare but you happen to have prunes, a can of tomato sauce and rice on hand you can make a meal! Who knew?

I fried the prunes in peanut oil and then added a can of tomato sauce and a dash of paprika and then threw the mixture on a bed of rice. It tasted just as one would think: like tomato sauce with chewy lumps.

“Dinner looks good!” my dad said. He must have been joking. Then again, he did take a couple of helpings.

While we ate our Safou a la Sauce Tomate dad told us a funny story about when he was in Cameroon back in 1975 and he had the scariest airplane ride of his life, which is saying a lot for a guy who has been to 65 countries.

From Lagos, where we lived at the time, he was on is way to Central African Republic. To get there he had to fly into Cameroon, spend the night, and catch a flight the next day to his destination. He was traveling on Cameroon Airlines and there was only one flight a week to Central African Republic. Cameroon Airlines did not assign seats so when the airline employees gave the signal the passengers would have to make a mad dash to the airplane. Since the airline, seemingly, did not keep track of the number of seats they sold there was a good chance that one could get to the airplane and discover that there were no more seats left and you’d be plain out of luck.

As my dad made a run for the plane - with the other passengers - he was pleasantly surprised to discover that the plane was a brand shinning new 757. But, just as he was scrambling up the plane’s stairs, he was stopped by an airline steward who informed him that there were no more seats left on the plane.

“But I have a ticket!” my dad protested.

“No problem,” the airline steward assured him, “you can go on that plane.” He pointed across the runway to a dilapidated 1940 DC 6 that was most likely flown during World War Two - and looked like it had been in a few battles.

My dad quickly had to make a decision: Should he stay in Cameroon for a week to wait for the next plane or should he fly on this African operated1940s DC 6?

He decided to chance it and hopped on the DC 6. It doesn’t say much for Cameroon that my dad would rather risk his life than stay one week in that country. But that’s what he did and he was thinking the whole time he was doing the stupidest thing he’s ever done.

He fastened his seatbelt tight as they cranked the plane up, black smoke spewing up from the engines. The plane took off but it couldn’t go very high since the plane was not pressurized. As they bumped along my dad looked out the window to discover a thunderstorm brewing in the sky. Lightening lit up around them and my dad held on tight. With each lightening bolt he could see the dense and ominous jungle below.

Needless to say, my dad made it to Central African Republic alive. But his flight there will never be forgotten, and his story of Cameroon was the perfect accompaniment with Safou a la Sauce Tomate.

Safou a la Sauce Tomate (prunes in tomato sauce)

12 prunes
2 cups tomato sauce
2 TBSP peanut oil
1 tsp paprika

Rinse prunes, halve them and remove pits. Add to saucepan along with 1 cup of water and simmer until soft (about 4 minutes) then drain.

Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the prunes then fry for 2 minutes before adding the tomato sauce. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes then add 1 tsp paprika, if desired. Serve on rice.

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