Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mali: Let them eat camel

French President Francois Hollande’s Camel Eaten in Mali
French President François Hollande can’t buy a break. His nation’s economy has stalled, unemployment is rising, his government has been rocked by scandal and his approval ratings have slipped below 30%. Now, somebody has gone and eaten Hollande’s pet camel.
This has to be the best international relations story of the week.

Hollande was given the animal in February as a gift from the leaders of Mali, after French troopes repelled an al Qaeda-linked jihadist insurgency in the former French colony’s north. But after the unruly young camel greeted its new master with unrelenting, ear-piercing howls during Hollande’s visit to Timbuktu, it was decided the creature would probably prove a bit problematic as an Elysée companion (or mode of Parisian transport).  Consequentially, the presidential dromedary was left in the care of a local farm family tasked with insuring its good health and happiness.
I am sure it was very happy up until it was turned into a meal. Which made me think how do you cook a camel, as always Google is my friend.  

If anyone is planning to cook a camel fairly sure I can get a lamb and a few chickens.
But something presumably was lost in the translation: this week France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reported that the animal was instead slaughtered for a camel tagine, according to the Telegraph.
I am finding this tragic situation is stimulating my appetite.

Tagine of Camel with Fennel & Eggplant served on Pistachio Couscous

2 1/2 ml kosher salt

1 lg onion, sliced thinly

3 large garlic cloves, minced
10 ml ginger root, grated
1/4 tsp paprika, smoked
1/4 tsp Turmeric
2 1/2 ml coriander seeds, grind
2 1/2 ml black peppercorn, grind
2 1/2 ml cumin seeds, grind
5 ml paprika, sweet
7 1/2 ml fennel seeds, grind

400 ml tomatoes, canned, diced
7 1/2 ml lemon juice, fresh, or more to taste
375 gr Camel, trimmed and 1/2" cubes (or lamb or beef)

1 lg eggplant, unpeeled, 1/2" pieces
1 lg fennel bulbs, 1" chunks
1 med sweet potato, peeled and 1/2" chunks
250 ml couscous
250 ml water
15 ml olive oil, extra virgin
2 green onions, sliced thinly
2 1/2 ml sea salt
60 ml pistachio nuts, toasted and chopped (optional)

1.  In a heavy wide pot over medium heat sweat the onions, garlic and ginger with the salt about 10 minutes until softened.

2.  Add the spices and stir cook into the vegetables 1-2 minutes.

3.  Add the tomatoes and lemon juice - bring to a bubble, then arrange the lamb in a single layer and press gently to just submerge.  Return to a bubble then reduce to medium low and simmer about 1 hour until the meat is very tender.

4.  Add the sweet potatoes and stir to submerge, then add the fennel and eggplant, spooning sauce over them.  Stir to combine and bring to a bubble over medium heat, cover and simmer about 10 minutes until the sweet potatoes are just tender about 8 minutes.  Stir to combine and allow to cook another few minutes.

5.  Meanwhile, boil the water for the couscous in a medium pot - add the couscous and stir until water is almost absorbed.  Cover and allow to sit 2-3 minutes then stir again, breaking up any lumps.  Cover and allow to sit another 2-3 minutes, stir in the sliced green onions, olive oil, pistachios and salt and combine well.

6.  Serve camel tagine with the hot couscous - enjoy!.
Tragic as that was on its own, news of Timbuktu Joe’s demise also added to the growing pile of Hollande’s woes. France’s troubles within the euros zone’s enduring debt crisis have grown worse as the economy has slowed to a stop, pushing joblessness up over 10%. That has sent the president’s already sinking approval rating to 27%–a level that could sink further in the wake of his former Budget Minister’s confession he’d repeatedly lied to the public, media, parliament and his president in denying he’d stashed money away in tax-free offshore bank accounts. True, no one is likely to blame Hollande for his camel’s culinary fate, but the improbable development does add to growing public sentiment that the President is caught in one of those dreaded periods where absolutely nothing will go right for him no matter what he does. (Adding insult to injury, New York magazine added the camel’s yowls to the already animal-infested Taylor Swift song “Trouble”.)

Perhaps a nice dish of Camel Tagine would improve his day.

But there is some good(ish) news.  Officials in Mali have pledged to provide Hollande a replacement camel—and one report quotes Malian authorities describing as “a bigger, better-looking camel” than its digested predecessor. Given the recent misunderstandings, moreover, Hollande’s new pet will be sent to Paris to be fed, groomed, cared for, adored, and otherwise not used as a main course.
A sort of centerfold camel I guess.

Animal lovers will understandably be relieved by that decision. However, given how things are going these days for Hollande, he’ll still be the person blamed if the new arrival eats all the flower buds in the Elysée garden.
Why not indeed.

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