Finding recipes in good books

Sometimes, when I’m reading, there’s a description of how to make something that sounds delicious, even though it’s not precisely a recipe. Like the Fondue recipe from occupied France, this one comes from a World War II memoir. In this case, it’s the second book of Roald Dahl’s autobiography, Going Solo. I highly recommend this a quick read, and a book that’s hard to put down. Dahl is the author responsible for such childhood classics as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach.

Dahl was living near Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and working for Shell when war was declared. As one of the few Englishmen around, he was expected to lead a platoon of local black soldiers and round up any Germans trying to leave the country. Given his lack of military training, even he thought this was ludicrous — the Sergeant and the troops were very well trained, and he was embarrassed to be catapulted into a leadership role over them, solely based on his skin color and nationality.

On top of this, when they set up the blockade, he hadn’t thought to bring any food (he was used to having those things taken care of by his servant, a funny and capable man named Mdisho). The 23-year-old Dahl rather humbly asked the Sergeant he was commanding for some of the evening meal that was prepared for the soldiers.

“Then the Sergeant made a fire out of sticks and began cooking supper for his men. He was making rice in an enormous pot, and while the rice was boiling, he took from the truck a great stem of bananas and started snapping them off the stem one by one and peeling the and slicing them up and dropping the slices into the pot of rice. When the food was ready, each askari produced his own tin plate and spoon and the Sergeant dished out large portions with a ladle. Up to then I hadn’t thought about my own food and I certainly had not brought anything with me. Watching the men eat made me hungry. ‘Do you think I could have a little of that, please?’ I said to the Sergeant.

‘Yes, bwana,’ he said. ‘Have you got a plate?’

‘No,’ I said. So he found me a tin plate and a spoon and gave me a huge helping. It was absolutely delicious. The rice was unhusked and brown and the grains did not stick together. The slices of banana were hot and sweet and in some way they oiled the rice, as butter would. It was the best rice dish I had ever tasted and I ate it all and felt good and forgot about the Germans.”

I haven’t tried making this yet, but it sounds delicious to me, too. I think I’ll make a pot of pressure-cooker brown rice, toss in some sliced bananas, and then put the lid back on to steam for a few minutes. It’s even simpler (and more healthy) than a version I published with white rice and coconut cream, and somehow it reminds me of Cindy’s poached banana dessert. Or my favorite Ecuadorian tomato soup with bananas.

The moral of the story is, when you cook with bananas, you don’t need a whole lot of other ingredients. Just a tin plate, a spoon, and good manners.