“Wow, this rice is actually good!”
That was the phrase that came out of my mouth after my first bite of arroz de coco e papaia or, coconut-papaya rice. Tomato even called me out on it, exclaiming with a chuckle, “you always say that, “and I HAVE been saying that for far too long. I need to stop doubting that I will like the African food that I make because it’s never been disappointing. Tonight’s meal is…half the exception (of my own doing…see below).
Rather than concentrating on one country in particular like I did in Southern Africa, I’m spreading my culinary wings across a broader geographical area in the east and tonight I hit Angola and Mauritius. My side dish is the aforementioned rice, which it seems according to various sites can also be attributed to Mozambique, Spain, Brazil, Portugal and much of Latin America. Thanks to the Portuguese influence and occupation in Angola, today it fits into my African puzzle.
I’m going to explain my hesitation about the arroz by telling a long winded tale about my childhood, where I grew up in the steamy urban jungle of Miami. We had a pretty extensive yard, but find anyone who has tried to garden successfully in southern Florida, and you’ll be searching forever. My grandparents on my mom’s side had acres of extensive gardens in their backyard up in Canada, and I can remember as a kid eating sugar snap peas straight from the ground. No pesticides, just food. My mom carried this “I can grow anything” attitude with her to Miami to be sorely disappointed. After a few unsuccessful attempts at growing anything edible in the coral rock soil, she gave up and resigned herself to the fact that she’d only have key limes to work with (and thus, year round key lime pie…Mom’s recipe to be revealed later in my travels- it’s worth the wait!). My dad, who strangely enough did NOT have a green thumb nor any inclination to take care of anything living (besides me and my brother, of course), had other ideas. He grew up in tropical climates, and was therefore happy to try growing fruits of a more tropical nature. Therefore, besides the lime tree, we had one mango tree, one papaya tree, and one banana plant, all of which my dad carefully pruned and watched over for the whole 10 years we lived in that house on 106th Terrace. Despite his careful attention, bless his heart, I can’t remember eating a single banana from that tree. The mango effort was only slightly more fruitful. The papaya? Success. The downside of this success? No one in our household liked papayas except him. Yuck.
Twenty –one years later in an ode to my late father and armed with an expanded palate, I figured I’d give the papaya another try. Even whilst prepping this dish and sampling the fruit, I was less than enthusiastic about the end result only to be proven wrong yet again. The cooking of it combined with the sweetness of the coconut milk yielded a delightful result, and introduced me to a side dish I’d totally make again.
Arroz de Coco e Papaia
Serves about 2
½ cup uncooked brown rice (brown rice preference)
1 cup lite coconut milk
2 TB water
¼ tsp cinnamon
½ papaya, finely diced
1. The Buddha method- Add everything to the rice cooker. Press start and it cooks itself.
2. The other method- Add everything to a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer for about 20 minutes (or until the rice is done). That’s it!
Now, I certainly didn’t only have just rice for dinner, but found a recipe for yogurt coated, curry-spiced chicken that I opted to bake rather than pan fry (and I fear that was the fatal blow). I used chicken breast and think I accidentally dried it out, distracted by the TV. Still I found the flavors to be lacking, and I say that with surprise because if there was one part of this meal that I was sure I was going to like, it was the chicken. It was…missing something that I can’t quite put my finger on. OK WAIT…I just did. I realized now as I type this that I forgot to top the chicken with sautéed onions, and that, I believe would have made all the difference, adding the sweet to the savory spiced chicken. EUREKA! So give this a try, don’t’ dry out the chicken, add the onions and you’ll have a lovely side to your rice dish. So here is the recipe as it should have been made.
2 large chicken breasts
½ cup Greek or plain yogurt
¾ tsp cinnamon
2 cardamom, split for the seeds
2 cloves, crushed
2 tsp cumin
1 green chili, cut lengthwise and diced
¼ tsp grated ginger
1 clove crushed garlic
2 TB cilantro, finely chopped
2 TB mint, finely chopped
1 ONION, sliced
1 TB oil
1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Marinate the chicken with everything but the onion for thirty minutes.
3. Bake the chicken for 30-40 minutes until done. NOT dry.
4. In the meantime, fry the sliced onion in the oil. Serve atop the chicken.
Yes, this would have been much, much better.
Well…I never claimed perfection. This was, to use my childhood nickname, a total “Lulubelle” moment.