Recipes from Me’a Kai
Try these authentic recipes from Me’a Kai, The Food and Flavours of the South Pacific.
- Fai’aiI’a SosiEsi
- Elena Tavioni’s Organic Kumara Salad
- Goat and Green Pawpaw Curry with Coconut Basmati Rice
- Ngou’a and Faikakai Mei
Fai’aiI’a SosiEsi (Coconut Crusted Parrotfish, Samoa)
Bright blue and green parrotfish are a reef fish, available only in the tropics. Their sweet flesh is really brought to the fore with this dish. Prepare your fish early in the day and leave it in the refrigerator to ‘set’ the coating, or freeze it until needed: the coating will then be less likely to fall off while cooking. The sauce can also be made ahead of time (it’s also great as a salsa-type dip with roast chicken and cooked shrimp). Once the fish and sauce are prepared, this is a very quick dish to finish, making it perfect for restaurant-style service or for large dinners with limited preparation time.
10 portions parrotfish, skinned and boned (substitute: any delicate fish, such as snapper, bream, tilapia)
juice of 1 lime
1 cup flour
4 eggs, whisked with salt and pepper
8 cups grated fresh coconut (from about 4 coconuts; substitute: mix of unsweetened desiccated coconut and either fresh breadcrumbs or panko)
5 cups diced ripe pawpaw
½ cup lime or cumquat juice
⅔ cup sweet chilli sauce
few leaves basil, mint or coriander
To prepare the fish, place the pieces in a shallow bowl and drizzle lime juice over them. Place the flour, egg and coconut in three separate shallow bowls.
Dredge the fish first in the flour, then in the egg and finally in the coconut, pressing the coconut on to form a good crust. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.
To make the sauce, blend all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
To serve, pan-fry the fish in a little vegetable oil for about five minutes each side, until lightly browned.
Serve with the pawpaw sauce.
Elena Tavioni’s Organic Kumara Salad (Rarotonga/Cook Islands)
Elena Tavioni is a woman with a mission: she wants to bring Polynesian cuisine into the organic age. She’s so energetic, I’ll bet she’ll do it. Meeting Elena on my trip to the Cooks, I instantly loved her vivaciousness, her enthusiasm and her outstanding kumara salad. By the time I left, we were fast friends.
The dressing in her salad is interesting. It tastes nutty and has the luxuriousness of mayonnaise (though she advises not to overdress the salad or it goes gloopy). Elena made the dressing by squeezing fresh coconut milk and warming it gently — not to a boil, just to a very low simmer. It firmed up and looked a bit like béchamel. She let this cool and there it was. Really simple, and a great example of Island innovation.
3 kg kumara, precooked (see method)
4 cups grated fresh coconut (substitute: 3 cans chilled coconut milk)
1 cup finely diced pineapple
1 cup finely diced red capsicum
1 cup finely diced yellow capsicum
2 cups grated fresh coconut, extra (substitute: unsweetened desiccated coconut)
½ cup roughly chopped parsley or shredded mint
The kumara is best roasted (rather than boiled, during which it can absorb a lot of water) the day before it’s needed. This helps keep its structure. Cool, peel and cut into 2 cm cubes.
If you are using grated fresh coconut, use it to make coconut milk: squeeze the grated coconut through a cheesecloth (adding no hot water) and place the resulting liquid on the stove in a small pot. If you are substituting canned coconut milk, open the chilled cans and pour off about half the water content. Scoop out the solid part only — about three cups. Place this on the stove in a small pot.
Heat the coconut milk gently in the pot. As soon as it simmers, turn off the heat and cool.
In a large bowl, mix the kumara with the pineapple and capsicum.
Add the second quantity of grated fresh coconut or the desiccated coconut.
Add the cooled coconut milk and mix gently. Garnish with chopped parsley or shredded mint.
Goat and Green Pawpaw Curry with Coconut Basmati Rice (Fiji)
There is some small-scale goat farming across the Pacific and goat is a popular curry meat. Its bold flavour holds up well to spicing, and firm green pawpaw adds a pleasant sour sweetness. But curry is all about the condiments! The more the better. Add tamarind chutney, mango relish and pappadams to your table. This curry is mildly spiced, so for those who want an incendiary experience, serve fresh chillies as well.
juice of 3 limes
2.25 kg goat, stewing pieces (substitute: lamb or beef)
1 cup vegetable oil, approximately (not olive)
1 cup black mustard seeds
1 cup minced ginger
½ cup cumin seeds
½ cup roasted ground coriander seeds
1 cup hot masala powder
12 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large onions, thinly sliced
4 chillies, whole
5 cups peeled and chopped firm green pawpaw (large dice)
Drizzle the juice of a lime over the meat pieces and set aside until needed for cooking.
Heat the oil and add the mustard seeds. When they are popping, add the ginger. When that is roasted (about four minutes), add the cumin and ground coriander seeds. Cook for about four minutes until the spices smell roasted, then add the hot masala. Pour in a little more oil if needed to keep the mixture wet.
Add the garlic, onions and chillies and cook until light brown.
Place the goat pieces in the pan, season with salt and raise the heat. Brown the goat, then lower the heat again and put a lid on the pot.
Cook on a very low heat until the goat is nearly cooked (about 90 minutes).
Add the pawpaw to the pot and mix to combine. Cook for another 30 minutes or so, until the meat is just starting to fall apart.
Squeeze the juice of the two remaining limes over the whole. Serve with Coconut Basmati Rice, Quick Banana Relish and Coconut and Tamarind Chutneys.
Coconut Basmati Rice
4 cups basmati rice (white or brown)
2 cups grated fresh coconut
2 cups coconut milk
4 lime leaves
5 star anise (optional)
3 cinnamon sticks (optional)
Wash the rice in plenty of cold water. Place all the ingredients in a rice cooker or heavy pot. Add enough water to cover the rice, plus 3 cm more. Cook, covered, until the rice is cooked. Don’t stir basmati as you cook it, as this will cause the delicate grains to break up. Keep the rice warm until ready to serve.
Ngou‘a and Faikakai Mei (Taro Leaf Pudding and Breadfruit Dumplings in Coconut Caramel Sauce, Tonga)
Each serves 6
A green dessert — finally a way to get kids to eat their greens! Ngou‘a and faikakaimei are both served with the rich coconut caramel sauce also popular elsewhere: in Fiji the sauce is served with vakalolo, and in Samoa with fa‘ausi. Considered to be royal food, ngou‘a is made with lu (taro leaves) thickened with cassava flour. Faikakaimei is roasted breadfruit that has been mashed and shaped into dumplings. Both are doused in the velvety rich sauce and are Tongan versions of the English sticky date pudding . . . mmmmm! These two dishes can be made for the same meal, or choose just one to serve with the sauce.
Coconut Caramel Sauce
3 cups raw sugar
6 cups coconut milk
To make the sauce, melt the sugar in a heavy pot and cook it to make a caramel. Cook until it is deep brown, but stop before it smokes and burns.
Take the pot off the heat and add the coconut milk, a little at a time. Be very careful as it can splash and hot sugar can burn.
Reheat to combine and stir until smooth.
bunch of young taro leaves, stalks discarded (for 4 cups puréed)
1 cup cassava flour (do not substitute cornflour)
Place the leaves in a heavy pot with two cups of water. Simmer, until the leaves are breaking down (about 30 minutes).
Beat the leaves in the cooking water with a spoon or whisk to break them up completely. Let cool. You should have about four cups of taro leaf purée.
Add the cassava flour and whisk in very well, making sure there are no lumps.
Bring a pot of water to a gentle simmer. Pour the taro leaf mixture into a roasting bag (breadfruit leaves were traditionally used) and place in the pot.
Cook for about 35 minutes, or until the dough firms up.
Let cool and cut into small pieces, about 5 cm across.
Serve at room temperature, doused thoroughly with the coconut caramel sauce.
Roast the breadfruit whole on an open fire until the skin is black and charred or in the oven until soft when pierced (as with testing a potato).
Peel the breadfruit while still warm. Place the cooked pulp in a bowl. Mash the fruit with a mortar or masher (in Tonga, we saw it pounded with a firm green breadfruit). Pound or ‘work’ it like a dough until it is smooth and slightly elastic (about 10 minutes). Use a soup spoon to shape the breadfruit into small balls.
Serve at room temperature, doused thoroughly with the coconut caramel sauce.