Have you been eating your ferns lately? Umm hmm, I didn’t think so. Well, honestly, me neither. I came across this magical green known as “ota” in Fijian about a year ago. I brought it home & scratched my head, because I had failed to ask two pertinent questions: 1. What the hell is this? and 2. How do I cook it? A year later I got around to answering those two delicious questions.
This frilly fern grows in the jungle and can only be found on Saturday at my market when the women from the interior villages come to sell nature’s bounty. It grows tall, about 2 ½ ft high and along the river banks. It has a spring like grassy aroma and I feel healthy just looking at it. I’m sure its nutrient levels are off the charts with blood cleansing chlorophyll being top on the list. It has this unusual slime factor that many other greens in Fiji also contain. It makes it so that you feel a slight coating in your mouth, it’s not unpleasant, it’s just…..weird. Of course like most Fijian dishes it is swimming in a sweet bath of coconut milk which the ginger helps to lighten. If you are one of those folks that doesn‘t like coconut (you need to get your taste buds checked), you can make this without the coconut milk and just continue to sauté it until it is completely cooked and tender.
I am happy I came back to investigate this jungle fern once again. I feel good eating it. My healthy blood and full stomach are equally pleased.
8-9 cups loosely packed ota, or other edible fern
½ onion, chopped,
1 clove garlic, minced,
1 inch thumb ginger, minced
1 small chili, minced
3 cups -coconut milk (mine was homemade which is thinner then canned so you may use 2 cups canned coconut milk and 1 cup water)
2 tsp olive or coconut oil
Sea salt to taste
Lemon wedges, optional
To clean the ota pluck off the top stem and top fronds from the main stem. Toward the bottom of the stem the other fronds tend to be more woody, so only remove the leaves themselves. Pinching each side of the frond pull backward to remove leaves. Wash thoroughly and drain well.
Heat a medium sized stock pot over medium heat and add oil and onion. Saute until tender about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, ginger and chili and sauté another 2 minutes. Add ota and sauté for 5-8 minutes until tender and wilted. Add coconut milk and salt, stir to combine. Cover and simmer over medium low heat stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes until the ferns have softened and the coconut milk has reduced and thickened.
Serve with boiled cassava, lemon wedges and chilies as a garnish.