Sweet n Sour Green Papaya Slaw

Once upon a time I went to a gentle little backpacker lodge of zero stars known as Maqai on the teeny, tiny little enchanted island of Gamea off the coast of Taveuni.  The staff was extraordinary, so much so that when my friend and I left after only being there for 5 days, we cried.  (Hey, don’t judge, they treat you like family versus guests.)

The kitchen staff singing "isa lei" the traditional farewell song.

The cooks were the light of my life.  The food was traditional Fijian, hearty and of gargantuan proportions.  This recipe is inspired by a similar salad created by one of these local chefs with un-ripened papaya being the star ingredient.  At first, I couldn’t place what it was made from, my initial guess was radish, which I had seen only once before in Fiji.  I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer so I went up and asked my new friends in the kitchen.  And to my surprise her answer was un-ripened papaya.  Brilliance!  There are so many and what to do with them?  This is my improvised rendition of her resourceful dish.

What you need.

The ginger stands out with its quick heat and zing to the palette.  The lemon juice is in the background and assists in lightening up the coconut milk.  My favorite part about this is the raisins.  That pop of unexpected sweetness against the heat of the ginger and chili is perfect!  Might I also suggest a few ounces of fresh pineapple to add to the sweetness of this delicate tropical slaw.  It is critical that you soak the un-ripened papaya to tenderize it otherwise the texture is like eating raw potato.  I would eat this as a side dish with grilled fish or chicken and it would work great in a po-boy style sandwich!

NOTE: Un-ripened papaya contains very strong enzymes so unless you want to exfoliate your palms and have them peeling for over a week it is advised to wear plastic gloves while handling it.  (Embarrassingly I am speaking from experience here.)

Sweet n Sour Green Papaya Slaw.

Sweet n Sour Green Papaya Slaw
3 cups grated un-ripened papaya, (1 medium green papaya)
¾ cup carrot, grated
¼ cup raisins
1inch thumb ginger, peeled and minced or pounded
1 small clove garlic, minced fine
1 small chili, minced fine (optional)
1 heaping tblsp cilantro, chopped
3 tbslp fresh lemon juice
sea salt to taste
2 1/2 cup light coconut milk

Using an unripe green papaya, cut in half-discarding the seeds, peel the outer skin,  and grate on the round hole side of a box grater.  Place in cool water with a heavy pinch of salt and let sit for 30 minutes.  Squeeze very well to drain as much water as possible.

Pound garlic, chili and ginger with a mortar and pestle or mince very finely.  Combine all the ingredients except for salt as it will draw water out. Refrigerate for 30 minutes salting just before serving.  Coconut milk becomes solid when refrigerated so if you are serving after storing it in the refrigerator for a long period of time make sure you remove it at least 30 minutes before serving.  Serve cool or room temperature.

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What Are You Having For Lunch? I’m Having Seaweed….

I had a craving for seaweed…and no I’m not pregnant.  I like seaweed, it can be gummy and slimy true, but it can also taste like the sea and provide a sense of vitality.  There are so many varieties of seaweed and I am a humble novice, but I have tried a few types in Fiji and I decided I would whip some up.

I was looking for seagrapes, in Fijian known as nama.  You can only get it on Saturday at our market because the village women harvest it from the sea the day before or early in the morning then bring it in to us “city” folk.  There is only one place you can find it too, outside, where all of the Fijian women have their make-shift wooden tables lined up with their native foods fresh or prepared, decorated with chilies and lemon.

Seagrapes fresh from the ocean.

This particular kind of seaweed is most commonly found in the Philippines; however it is in full bloom in the waters of Fiji.  It is said that some species of seagrapes can be toxic to fend off predatory fish & that the toxin can also affect humans. However, Fijians have been eating it a whole lot longer then Wikipedia has been writing about it so I’m not too concerned.  It is also said to have anti-fungal and antibacterial properties so I’m plating myself up a Fijian sized portion because after 3 weeks of rain my house is like 1 big mold spore and I could probably use some medicinal foods : )

Seagrape salad fixin's.

This dish is a traditional recipe to the native Fijians. The seagrapes and tuna make sense together.  The seagrapes are very briny and sea-like and the tuna is fishy, it’s a good match.  The cucumber and lemon juice liven it up and the carrot adds just a touch of sweetness to sooth the heat of the chilie.  The seagrapes are firm and tender and the texture is like caviar….each little bead pops & explodes in your mouth.  I would suggest chilling it for at least an hour before serving it.  It can be served chilled or at room temperature.

Traditional Fijian seagrape salad, enjoy!

You can skip the tuna if you are vegan or veg and bonus, without the tuna this salad is 100% raw!!  Another way the locals prepare it is to make homemade coconut milk and add that in addition to the lemon juice.  You can add a few ounces of canned coconut milk if you wish, but I’m a purest & can never go back to the canned stuff again!

Cheers!

Seagrape salad

1kg seagrapes

1 small onion, chopped fine

1 small carrot, peeled and grated

1 handful cilantro, chopped rough

½ small cucumber, skin peeled and chopped

1-170g tin of tuna in oil, drained

4 tblsp fresh squeezed lemon juice

2 small chilies, chopped fine (optional)

Sea salt to taste

Soak the seagrapes in water for about 5 minutes then drain and rinse them in a colander extremely well.  They can hold onto sand and will be very salty if you do not rinse them thoroughly.  Look for little bits of coral as this is what it grows on and it would be no bueno for your teeth to chomp down on a bit of that.

Add onion through tuna and stir gently to combine. Dress with lemon juice and chilies if using add sea salt to taste and toss to coat.  Store covered in the refrigerator for one hour before serving.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.