Nobody could call our nearest town, Lavelanet, a hub of multi-culturalism. But neither is it an Ariegeois ghetto. Of course, as in most French towns, there’s a big Maghrébin presence: inhabitants of the former French colonies of Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. There are significant numbers of people of Spanish origin: their families probably came over in the Spanish Civil War. Dunno how so many Portuguese got here, but in addition there are Swiss, Belgians, Roumanians, Brazilians, Vietnamese, Chinese, Argentinians, Australians, Germans, Dutch…..ooh, and a few English of course.
Recently, I got to know two local women, Sylvia and Noëlle. Some time ago they, together with another friend Nadia, had come up with the idea of bringing together women from some of these countries to share their cultural heritage, particularly through the medium of cooking. The idea got bigger. Over the last 18 months or so, they’ve developed themselves as an official voluntary group, ‘Association “Découverte Terres Lointaines”‘. They and their ‘benevoles’ (volunteers) have animated cookery workshops in schools, old people’s homes, youth clubs, centres for people with various disabilities. They’ve raised money for these activities by selling foods from all over the world, which they’ve prepared, at local festivals. But why stop at recipes? We all have a culture to share – children’s stories to tell, songs to sing, our daily lives ‘back home’ to compare, and all this too is included in the mix. Recently, I’ve joined in some of their activities.
It’s got a bit more formalized now. There’s a bit of a special focus now on a particular country in any one year. This year it was Quebec (OK, it’s a province, not a country. But it DOES have a very distinctive voice within Canada), and next year it’ll be Algeria.
Last week was a first though. We were invited to provide an International Buffet at a multi-services training day being laid on by the Mairie. At various points in the days leading up to it, we got together in the kitchen of the Family Centre (CAF), and helped each other cook.
Nadia showed us how to prepare Algerian grivvech: thinly rolled dough cut into strips and wound into jumbled little nests before being deep fried and doused in honey and sesame seeds. There were Quebecois dishes, guacamole topped toasts, and treats from around the world.
Best of all was the unlikely sounding tomato and banana soup from Brazil. Do try it: recipe below.
What could I contribute as an English finger-food? I thought long about this, and came up with Scotch eggs (thanks, Kalba, again). You need to know that here in France, sticky tape, as in England, is known by a trade name. Not ‘Sellotape’, but ‘Scotch’. So Sylvia’s eyes darkened in puzzlement when I suggested these Scotch eggs. ‘Sellotape eggs? What on earth….?’
And what fun it all was. I can and do open recipe books to try out dishes from any and every continent. But it’s not half so exciting as working with women from Algeria, Brazil, Roumania, wherever, as they talk you through the techniques they’ve known for years and years, and stand over you and make you practice and redo things till you jolly well get it right.
Anyway, here are my photos of the preparations for a successful lunch. We could have taken any number of repeat bookings, but for the time being, the organisation will maintain its ‘benevole’ status, and not venture into the hard realities of developing a business.
Brazilian Tomato and banana soup
I tbspn rapeseed oil
Large bottle of passata
5 ripe bananas
1.5 l. bouillon
Small carton cream
3 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. cayenne
Gently cook the onion in the oil. Meanwhile, remove the black central thread which you may never previously have noticed and any seeds from within the peeled bananas, and mash thoroughly. Add the passata to the onion, together with the spices and cook gently . Add the mashed banana and continue cooking. Add cream, reheat gently, and serve