Marie d’Hombres, author of a book on the Saint-Maura district, is the reason for my meeting with Maria who, with her warm voice, invited me for a catchoupa, a specialty of Cape Verde. Here I am at her house, a fine summer Saturday, a day off for Maria, who is a home help. Her husband has gone to see a cousin, her two daughters are still sleeping, her smiling son goes to work in a DIY store. We sit around a tea. Green plants harmoniously share the apartment with humans. The large bay window is open to the blue sky. In the distance, the Good Mother watches over the disjointed town planning of the city. It’s time to draw the blinds to lessen the still stubborn heat of late August.
“What distinguishes catchoupa from fejuada, the other traditional dish, is that in addition to beans, there is corn. You can put whatever you want in it: fish, chicken, cassava, sweet potato, Portuguese cabbage…”
But today, it is with pork that Maria prepares it.
She cooks for ten people “but we never count: neighbors can come and take it, or it is eaten “refogada” the next day with sautéed onions and fried eggs: nothing better in the morning with coffee!”
Ingredients for ten people
-1 handful of dried beans found in the Cape Verdean grocery store on rue de l’Arc
– imbonges (similar to our coconuts)
– light green beans that look like peas
– zapatina mantega
– 2 glasses of dry corn
– 4 onions
– 1 head of garlic
– 1 or 2 chorizos
– 1 kg breast
– feet and 1 half head of a pig
– coarse salt, bay leaf, cumin
– olive oil
– tomato puree
Yesterday Maria soaked the beans and cut and marinated the meat with coarse salt, bay leaf and garlic. “You can salt the meat longer but it will have to be desalinated…”
She plunges the washed corn, an onion cut into four, bay leaf, a few cloves of crushed garlic, and cumin in a casserole dish. When the water boils, she adds the beans. She puts the carefully rinsed meat in a stewpot with an onion cut into eighths, two spoonfuls of tomato purée, garlic cloves, adds the diced breast and browns everything in olive oil.
“My mother is from Sao Tome de Principe. She met my father there who had come from Cape Verde to work. After their first child, they moved to Portugal. I was born in Lisbon. When I was three, my father took us on vacation to Cape Verde to meet his family, but one day he left and never came back”.
The garden, the plants, the family
Maria adds water to the meat. “Staying with my grandmother was not possible. We didn’t speak Cape Verdean Creole, we didn’t have a house or land to cultivate. We struggled for years. My dad’s family ended up giving us a shed that Mom fixed up. Having become a gardener for the town hall, she made a garden around the house. She grew plants there that she sold in Praia. When I was 12, I went to work for my father’s nephew and his wife. Joachim became the dad I didn’t have and Fati my second mum. She taught me the things of life, we laughed… I helped them, took care of the children, lived with them and went back to my mom every weekend.”
While the smell of meat mingles with that of corn, Maria evokes the passionflower from the garden, the mangoes she went to look for on the trees like the boys, the good smell of cooking from her mother who brought neighbors : “Will you give us some?”
“My mum learned the specialties of Cape Verde, but also cooked like in Sao Tome, with cassava, coconut milk…”
My uncle put my salary in a sock and when someone went to Cape Verde, he took the money to my mother.
She puts the corn and beans into casserole mode and continues her story: “When I was 16, my uncle and godfather, who lived in Paris, offered to take me there to work. I flew to Lisbon and my father, whom I had no memory of, picked me up at the airport. He took me to his wife who had always come to Cape Verde to bring us presents. I met my brother and my sister. They were nice but I didn’t want to stay, I was crying. My uncle paid for the bus to Paris and there, my aunt found me work with a family. I worked during the week and spent the weekend with one or other of my uncles and aunts. On Saturdays, I chose what we were going to eat and things for me. My uncle put my salary in a sock and when someone went to Cape Verde, he took the money to my mother…”
Maria removes the skin from the chorizos and cuts them into slices which she adds to the meat. She sautéed one or two sliced onions to rediscover the taste of “catchoupa refogada”. It’s time to mix the dishes so that it simmers together. When the juice has risen, the catchoupa is ready! Before sitting down to eat, Maria says: “I met my future husband before leaving Cape Verde, and we stayed in touch until we met on vacation in Portugal. He came from Praia, I from Paris. We stayed together in Lisbon. But one day, his cousin invited us to Marseille for the holidays. And we stayed there!”
“At table !” The girls join us to snack and I discover these new flavors. The corn is firm, the beans tender, the meat tender, all deliciously flavored… When I have to leave, it’s with a doggy-bag in my hands, to taste the “catchoupa refogada” later: Succulent!
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[Cuisine à croquer] Catchupa by Maria Tavares
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