Thursday, February 10, 2011

Day 105! Mali, Couscous de Timbuktu and Meni-Meniyong (Sesame-Honey Sweets) Up Next, Malta

Yowza! I used a lot of cayenne in tonight's Couscous de Timbuktu dish. This traditional meal of meat cooked in a tomato based sauce with spices and dates called for 2 tablespoons of cayenne. I used only 1, and can't imagine having eaten the dish had I used 2. Yet despite the heat that actually made me sweat, the combination of tomatoes, onions, garlic, cinnamon and the sweetness of the dates was very, very good. Served on a bed of couscous, the meal was satisfying yet light.

I also decided to make Meni-Meniyong, a traditional sesame-honey treat that consists only of toasted sesame seeds and a toffee made of honey and butter. They remind me of classic Middle Eastern sweets, and are perfect for a lunch box or afternoon pick me up. Easy to make, even easier to eat.

Located in Western Africa, Mali is a landlocked country that shares it's borders with Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal and Mauritania. The country is made up of 8 regions. To the north, its borders go deep into the middle of the Sahara, to the south, where the majority of people live, the the Niger and Senegal rivers provide a rich source of agriculture and fishing opportunities. Like so many African countries that were colonized by Europeans, Mali gained independence after a coup in 1991 to become a democratic, multi-party state. Although gold, uranium and salt are valuable commodities int the country, approximately 1/2 of Mali's people live below the poverty line on $1.25 day.

Cuisine in Mali is heavily influenced by Arabic traditions due to it's participation in the spice trade and precious metals. Corn, millet, rice porridges, ground nuts, baobab leaves, sweet potatoes leaves and okra as well as rice and couscous are eaten with regularity. Unlike many African countries, the Mali diet is fairly rich in protein such as lamb, been, smoked fish and chicken. Tomatoes, onions, eggplant, plantains and yams are the vegetables of choice. Cinnamon, thyme, saffron and cayenne season the food with wonderfully aromatic and robust flavors.

Couscous de Timbuktu (Adapted from Celtnet)

2-3 lbs. chicken, beef or lamb, cut into bite sized pieces
Oil  frying
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1/2 tsp finely ground black pepper
2 14 oz. cans whole tomatoes
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 tsp. salt
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/3 Tbsp. ground cardamom
1-2 Tbsp. cayenne
2 Cups water
1/4-1/2 cup dates, pitted and pureed in a food processor
pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. grated nutmeg
2-3 medium onions, diced
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parley

Season the meat, then h eat the oil in a large metal casserole over high heat. Add the meat and garlic and cook until the meat is well browned. Add the spices and stir-fry for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes and enough water to just cover the ingredients and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 1 hour, or until the meat is tender.

Add the onions and dates and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce has reduced by half its volume. Adjust the seasonings, transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with couscous.

Meni-Meniong (Sesame-Honey Sweet)

2 cups sesame seeds
1 1/4 cups honey
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Place the sesame seeds on a baking sheet and toast in an oven pre-heated to 425F for about 10 minutes. Add honey and butter to a small saucepan and heat over a medium low flame until the mixture begins to bubble and starts to darken (about 5 minutes).

Stir the sesame seeds into the honey mixture and spread out onto a 9x12 buttered baking pan. Allow to cool until just warm and cut into sticks. Allow to cool completely, then serve.

Final Assessment:  Both the couscous dish and the sesame treats were great. The heat of the main meal was as hot as I can take it - any more and I couldn't have eaten it - so unless you like your food REALLY hot, stick to the lesser quantity of cayenne pepper - perhaps even less than I used. The honey-sesame sweet was very good and reminiscent of Arabic or Middle Eastern desserts I so because of the combination of honey, seeds and/or nuts.


Astrid said...

I had "died" with all that cayenne! 1 tsp had been enough for me! Those sesame bars are lovely, we get something similar here. I've never tasted any dishes with dates (except sweets), so this is a dish I'd love to try.

OysterCulture said...

oThe couscous looks amazing and tasty, but what caught my eye was the yummy looking seasame bar. Cannot wait to give it a try.

sadie said...

Yes, the sesame bars are/were (as they're gone) awesome!