Madagascan Knife Dinner

Tonight I’ll be showing you how to make a delicious and healthy Madagascan meal. This is the second instalment of our A-Z Cuisine, M for Madagascar.

Madagascar, which as anybody who has played Pandemic will know is an island off the east coast of Africa, enjoys a bountiful and varied diet, with French, African and other influences. The goal is tasty, hearty, but not spicy meals. Fruit and vegetables play a big role in the meal, and the staple side is rice.

I’ll be taking you through three recipes: varenga (shredded beef), vary amin anana (rice and vegetables with beef), and salady voankazo (fruit salad with a vanilla twist).

Do you know, gosh, my KA-Bar arrived in the post the other day. I was so excited to get it that I decided to test it out. With that in mind, let’s get cooking! You’ll need the following;

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Boneless steak, spinach or silverbeet, spring onions, watercress, and mustard greens;

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Fruit; fresh is best, plus a can of lychees;

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Reading material for the slow times, and;

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Knives. The more knives you have, the better, because this will allow you to keep chopping without having to pause to wash up.

Okay, now the first thing we’re going to do is slice our meat for the varenga (shredded beef). For two people, I took three good-sized cheap cuts of steak and used half for each meat dish. I would recommend using more for the varenga, perhaps a 2:1 ratio. Now, taking your biggest knife, cut the steaks into inch squares. Toss those into a saucepan with a good amount of water. Cut an onion into slices and put that in with the steak. The recipe said garlic cloves but I used garlic powder. Cloves would be better. Add more garlic and salt than you think you’d need to the saucepan and let it boil.

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I never noticed how filthy the stove top was until I took this photo, by which point it was far too late to clean it. Anyway! I recommend using a cleaner stove top for this recipe. What we’re going to do with our beef is, we’re going to boil it (over) and then simmer it (over) for about two hours, or at least until it’s soft enough to be shredded with a fork.

While the meat is simmering away, we’ll work on the fruit salad. The recipe recommended strawberries, pineapple, cantaloupe and oranges. I bought a punnet of strawberries and a small fresh fruit salad from the supermarket. This was fine. For the fruit salad, the first thing to do is take your smallest knife. Small knives work well with fruit because fruit is easily defeated. You’re looking at chopping everything into inch square or smaller pieces, think bite-sized. Assemble the fruit into a bowl (not plastic).

Next we realise the the vanilla sauce for the fruit salad needs an hour to chill and an hour is all the time you have left. For the sauce you will need a half cup of sugar, a half cup of water, a little salt and some lemon juice. Mix these all up and put them on the stove in a small saucepan. When they have boiled for a solid minute, take it off the heat and stir through two tablespoons of vanilla extract (I used essence and this was still delicious). While the sauce is still scalding hot, tip it over the fruit.

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This looks good and I have never smelled anything like it. Just beautiful! But get your prying hands off it and put it in the fridge.

All right, when you’ve stopped the beef boiling over for the 40th time, let’s get started on the rice. Rice is infinitely easier if  you have a rice cooker AND a rice cup.  It’s quite a lot harder if, say, your house mate takes your rice cup and fills it with little candles and puts it around the corner of the bench where you can’t see it.

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Failing the rice cup, take the next best thing: a knife. Rip open that old rice bag and measure out three cups of rice (which is too much, by the way). Be aware that three cups of rice in a small mug is still much more than three rice cups. Wash the rice and pour into rice cooker. Have no idea that there’s way more than three cups of rice in the cooker and so only add three cups of water. Set to cook and put aside.

At this point, you have a little time to yourself. About fifteen seconds. When you’ve enjoyed that, find a yellow tablecloth. What! Short notice, isn’t it? This is information you could have used a couple of hours ago, isn’t it? But the meal isn’t Madagascan unless you have a yellow tablecloth.

Well I don’t have any tablecloths whatsoever, in fact I don’t even really have a table, so I went on Ryan’s suggestion and grabbed a towel.

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Dayum. Gonna need to weigh that tablecloth down while the creases are flattened. Hmm. I know;

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That works perfectly! Okay, now you’re running out of time. Turn on the oven to about 200 degrees C, or 400 F. The beef on the stove isn’t done yet, don’t even worry about it. What you’re going to need now is the rest of the steak. You’ll want to dice this up into nice half inch pieces and stick them in a frying pan;

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Just a note here is that my KA-Bar was much better than Ryan’s at cutting the steak. Ha! Also note that if you make this dish, don’t use a frying pan. Use a saucepan. You’ll see why shortly. And also, the recipe says saucepan. I just didn’t read it properly. But then, over confident and under prepared is our family motto. With the steak diced, take a tomato;

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And then dice the tomato;

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Put the tomato on to cook with the steak you’ve just diced. We’re onto making the vary amin anana. This is a fantastic dish and very hearty. All those vegetables I had you buy? You need them now. Chop them all up into inch pieces, like so;

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(ignoring the tomato, which is in the pan, dammit)

(proof:)

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When the beef is brown on all sides, add the vegetables. It’s this point you’ll really start to wish you’d used a saucepan, and possibly less vegetables.

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Well… all that’s left to do here is find the biggest glass lid you can, toss it on, and hope for the best.

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Right about now you should start worrying about your slow cooking beef. It’s round about time to take that out, grab yourself a shallow baking dish, grease it, strain the meat and shred it like so;

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With a Swiss army knife. Also a Swiss army fork, if you have one. This little beauty will be inserted into our pre-heated oven. The meat, not the knife. No knives in the oven. No forks either. Just meat. We’re going to leave it there until it’s brown on top, but then later we’re going to find the meat is very dry (but also very morish). Then again, as you’re about to learn, the rice is also burnt and so it will go very well with the shredded beef.

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All right! Now your vegetables have simmered down nicely, it’s time to finish the vary amin anana. To do this we’re going to add a cup of rice, heaps of water, a tablespoon of salt and pepper to taste. I also added more garlic powder. All we’re waiting on it for the water to boil down and the rice to cook.

Speaking of cooked rice! Dish up the rice (salvageable) onto a plate and decorate it with the shredded beef and a few sprigs of parsley, as so;

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Now pour yourself a lemonade (recommended with Madagascan dishes), another dish, and pile on the finished vary amin anana;

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And serve!

Ryan and I both thoroughly enjoyed the vary amin anana. The shredded beef really was too dry and could be remedied with less cooking time in the oven and perhaps a sauce. The dessert, fruit salad with vanilla sauce, was entirely delicious. The tablecloth was a yellow towel and I would probably not use it as a tablecloth again as I spilled quite a lot of vanilla sauce on it whilst dishing up dessert. In fact I probably won’t use it for anything again, ever.

The knives did very well. My new KA-Bar excelled at cutting meat. I take this to be a great comfort for wilderness times as I have never needed to use a knife and expect the KA-Bar is capable of deploying itself against bears, koalas, pythons, etc. Probably the best part of the meal was knowing my KA-Bar was more capable of cutting steak than Ryan’s.

I give the meal a 6/10, would make again and try to do properly next time.

Hey! Picture of the Day 49: the set up:

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If you would like to see the full recipes for yourself, check out: http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Cookbook/Madagascar.html#VARENGA

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About Anneque D. Machelle

Anneque "Dangerpus" Machelle (rhymes with ranger wuss) is a rebel and a rogue from way out west. Strictly banned from interactions with other human beings, she spends her days amongst molluscs, dogs and lizards, whom she counts as her closest friends.
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