Monday, June 21, 2010

Archie and the Pirates - Fish and Coconut Soup

"Archie cooks his specialty: fish and coconut soup. They have a wonderful meal, with fried bananas for dessert." - Archie and the Pirates, Marc Rosenthal

I had a totally different book picked out for this week. My kids, though, found a new book in the library and fell under its spell and insisted I write about it instead. I capitulated because, well, I was completely smitten too. The world Marc Rosenthal creates in Archie and the Pirates is quirky and amusing and charming. It's a world in which a monkey manages to assimilate to his new island life and, with the help of a bird and a tiger, run a ragtag bunch of pirates off their island. What's not to like?

I'll admit, on first glance I saw the Curious George-ish monkey on the cover and I thought it might be a poorly written knockoff. DO NOT JUDGE THIS BOOK BY ITS COVER. It quickly becomes clear that while author/illustrator Rosenthal may have been inspired by H.A. Rey, Jean de Brunhoff (of Babar fame) and other illustrators of their era, his book stands on its own. The story begins as the tale of a marooned monkey, Archie. We aren't sure how or why he washed up on the island (it happened in his sleep...he just drifted off while in his bed) but in short order he manages to find food, build a new home and make friends with an ibis named Clarice. A menacing tiger named Beatrice turns out to be another friend. The three have a party to celebrate their new friendship but, unbeknownst to them, pirates are on their way to the island. When the pirates kidnap Beatrice, Archie and Clarice take action to rescue her, thwart the pirates and scare them away. They and the other island creatures rejoice and Archie invites everyone to build homes near his since they are now friends.

 This is a fun, quirky story with subtle humor that merits more than one reading. Close observations of the pictures reveal the pirates' impending arrival (their ship is seen through Archie's window as he sleeps) long before the animals see them. In one picture, before Archie meets Beatrice, she is seen lurking below his tree (again, with the pirate ship in the background). My kids love these little details and giggle over them every time we read the book. They also love the final illustration, of all the animals in their new homes. ("Which one is your favorite, Mommy? I like...") Rosenthal's writing style is straightforward, kind of quirky, and makes me and my kids laugh. Sample: "At the pirate camp, Captain Pequod has set First Mate LaFaargh to keep watch while they sleep, partly because he likes saying his name (LA FAAAARGH!), but mainly because LaFaargh has trouble sleeping." I know this is one of those books that, if we don't buy it, will be one my kids look for every time we go to the library.

When my kids asked me to put this book on the blog I had a brief moment of panic. What should I cook to go with a book about pirates and anthropomorphic jungle animals? Then I remembered that Archie cooks his favorite meal for Clarice and Beatrice to celebrate their new friendship. The meal? Fish and coconut soup (with fried bananas for dessert).

Fish Soup with Coconut Milk (adapted from Vatapa Fish Soup with Coconut Milk, courtesy of Food Network)

I am nowhere near skilled enough to make up my own recipe for fish soup. I found a recipe on the Food Network's website and modified it quite a bit. I eliminated the shellfish because I am allergic and I used the cooking oil I had on hand. You can compare my recipe to the original to see the other changes I have made.

  •  3 tablespoons cooking oil (original recipe recommends dende oil) 
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • dash of ginger (dried)
  • 2 large jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
  • 6 plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 2 cups chicken stock/broth
  • 2 cups light coconut milk
  • 1/2 bunch of cilantro, leaves only, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • dash of Tabasco
  • 2 lbs. fish fillets (I used cod), bones and skin removed, cut into cubes
1. In large pot, heat oil and add onion, garlic, ginger and jalapenos. Cook for 10 minutes, or until softened.

2. Add tomatoes, lime juice and peanut butter. Stir for one minute.

3. Add chicken stock, 1/2 cup at a time, while stirring. Add coconut milk, cilantro, salt and Tabasco.

4. When ready to serve, brush a deep skillet or saucepan with oil and add fish. When fish begins to cook slowly and carefully pour the broth mixture into the saucepan. The original recipe says to cook for 8 minutes, or until fish is opaque. The broth is also opaque which makes it really hard to see the fish. I recommend making sure the fish is near cooked before adding the broth. I determined that it was ready to serve when I was able to get the fish to flake apart when I applied pressure with the back of a spoon.

5. Serve soup in bowls.

*Apparently, the pictures of the finished soup have disappeared. They never transferred from the memory card to my computer. It's an old card; I think maybe it's time we retire it...*

{Imagine my smiling kids taking bites of soup here!}

The soup had a nice, peanutty/coconutty flavor with a little bit of a kick to it from the spices. I'm not sure if the flavor profile was changed significantly because I omitted the shrimp but it tasted good to me. I really enjoyed it just because it was different than anything we've ever had. I'm always looking for new ways to prepare fish (beyond fish tacos and poached salmon) so this will be a good recipe to keep in mind. It really didn't take very long to prepare either. The kids liked it too, although my six year old complained that I should not be serving soup in June. However, they were happy that I made the soup Archie and his friends enjoyed. I promised I would make fried bananas soon.

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