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.
Couscous de Timbuktu (Adapted from Celtnet)
2-3 lbs. chicken, beef or lamb, cut into bite sized pieces
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.