Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day 34-Chad(N'Djamena)(AF)-Karkanji (Hibiscus fruit drink), Rice with Peanut Sauce, Pan Fried Talapia

Pan fried Talapia with sauteed tomatoes

Question:  When does a passion become an obsession? I can feel myself crossing that invisible yet palpable line.

Case in point:  As I was researching the country of Chad's cooking, I came across a recipe for a hibiscus fruit drink commonly served  in homes and by street vendors. The very idea of making fruit juice from these exotically beautiful flowers launched me on a compulsive mission to find them locally with no success. Trader Joe's in Framingham, the one place that carries them, did not have them in stock due to a "production delay" from their supplier. A normal, balanced person would have accepted this and moved on...but NO, not me...I searched the web exhaustively and made a dozen phone calls. Short of ordering on line (which would have taken too long since I'm keeping to a strict cooking time-line), I simply couldn't find them locally. I knew I should accept that the flowers were unavailable and give up on the idea of making this fruit drink to accompany tonight's meal, but I couldn't. I needed to make this drink, and the fact that I couldn't only fueled my drive.

Thank You TJ's in Needham!
WHOA! Then I put the query out on Facebook and lo and behold, two foodie friends, Lily Chou, a Boston Area Independent Conference, Events and Meeting Specialist who seems to be everywhere great local food is  grown, sold or eaten (check her out on Facebook)!/profile.php?id=1637924044 and Ben, my husband's best friend, came through with leads and a tip that Trader Joe's in Needham had a stash of the elusive flowers: Another friend suggested I go to Home Depot and steal a bunch of Hibiscus flowers off the plants, but I'm not into doing time on a botany larceny charge (thanks anyway, John H!)

GOT 'EM! Hibiscus flowers for Karkanji!

Waiting in line was SO worth it!
Sometimes, you just end up in the right place, at the right time.  I'd read about Burrito trucks being popular in California, but had never seen one in NE, so I had to stop! I chatted briefly with the owner and operator, Dave, and told him I'd give him a big shout out
I love this truck!
Awesomeness: vegetarian burrito with black bean, rice, cheese, tomatoes and guacamole

The Country
 Chad (N'Djamena)(AF): A landlocked country in north-central Africa, Chad is about 85% the size of Alaska. Its neighbors are Niger, Libya, the Sudan, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, and Nigeria. Lake Chad, from which the country gets its name, lies on the western border with Niger and Nigeria. In the north is a desert that runs into the Sahara. 
Chad is one of several potential sites for the cradle of humankind in Africa -- following the discovery of seven-million-year-old human-like skull, now known as the Toumaï ('Hope of life') skull.

7000 years ago the region was not as arid as it is today -- cave paintings depict elephants, rhinoceroses, giraffes, cattle, and camels. People lived and farmed around the shores of lakes in the north central basin of the Sahara. To read more about this fascinating country, this link provides a fairly concise overview: -
The Food

Karkanji:This refreshing drink can be made entirely from plants grown in Chad very inexpensively (the Hibiscus flowers cost me $1.50).  This is also used as a product of many  home-based businesses, and is sold at the edge of a school, business or sporting event by the glassful.  Some say it is good for colds, runny noses and flu symptoms...
Ingredients for Karkanji
The elusive hibiscus flowers!
Ginger, cloves and cinnamon stick combine to make a heavenly scented brew

Combine all ingredients in pot, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer
Let cool or serve warm - either way the color and flavor are beautiful
Hibiscus floating

Saute onions for peanut sauce
Add peanut butter for a lovely and traditional peanut sauce to accompany rice

Pan fried Talapia - studded with slivers of garlic and dredged in flour
Cooking on all 4 burners!
The Meal - Yay!!

The Recipes


  • 1 large handful (about 1 1/2 cups) of whole hibiscus flowers (available at most health food stores in Western countries)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups sugar 
  • 1/2 cup ginger root, or 1/4 cup bars of cinnamon mixed with  1/4 cup cloves (optional)
1. Add 1/2 to 1 gallon water to a saucepan.  Drop hibiscus flowers on to the top of the water until the surface is mostly covered with flowers.  Add ginger root or cinnamon and cloves, if desired.
2. Bring to a boil.
3. Once you have a running boil, remove from full heat or turn stove down to a simmer, and cover for ten minutes.
4. Add the sugar according to taste, mix in, then let simmer for five more minutes.
5. Remove from heat, and let cool/simmer for at least one hour.  Add ice, and serve.  May also be served hot, soon after the sugar is added.

Pan Fried Talapia (A recipe of the villages along the Chari River)

  • 6 medium-sized fish
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 5 tablespoons of oil
  • 3 tomatoes
  • salt, pepper, or chilli powder
1. Cut the fish into pieces, after having washed and wiped it dry.
2. Spread small pieces of garlic as deep as possible into the flesh of fish.
3. Dip the pieces of fish in the flour.
4. Heat the oil in a cast iron pan and place the fish in it once the oil is very hot.
5. When the pieces are golden brown, add the tomatoes, sliced along the middle, add salt, and the other spices, and cover the pan.
6. Let it simmer at low temperature for about 5-10 minutes. Check to see when it is ready, and add a few spoonfuls of water if necessary. Serve very hot, fresh off the fire.
From La cuisine aux pays du soleil, author unknown. 1976. Imprimerie Saint-Paul: 55001 Bar le Duc. ISBN 2-85049-038-5.

Peanut Sauce (Southern Chad)

  •  1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 TBS oil
  • 1 tablespoon chilli powder
  • 1 sliced medium-sized onion
  • 1 minced clove of garlic
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 cup water (more or less depending on how thick you like the sauce)
  • red pepper to taste (optional)
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 3-6 cups cooked rice
1. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large heavy kettle.
2. While onions are browning, add the nutmeg and chilli powder.
3. Add the onions, garlic, tomato paste, water and pepper. Let it simmer.
4. Add peanut butter and heat for 5 minutes.
5. Serve over rice.

Final Assessment : The Karkanji has a beautiful and spice/sweet taste; served chilled or warm, we loved it. The peanut sauce is so good, I could eat it with a spoon straight from the pot. Lastly, the Talapia was fantastic. I did not cook alongside the tomatoes, as I wanted the fish to retain it's crispy exterior and, I love tomatoes cooked at high heat, slightly blackened as it brings out the sweetness. A+

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