Don’t Just Look At It…Eat It!!!!! Pumpkin Curry

Look at how cute and delicious I am. Eat me!

If I see one more recipe that calls for a can of pumpkin I’m going to lose it!!  Yes, of course, I know we are busy, but really, we know the difference in flavor from canned peaches to fresh peaches right?  Yes, we do, exactly my point.  And the last time someone sucked down a pumpkin spice latte or pumpkin flavored anything for that matter, did it actually taste like pumpkin?  My guess is probably not; most likely it tasted like cinnamon, cloves and ginger…no pumpkin to be found!  Did you know that pumpkin actually tastes amazing & not just in pie?!  Oh indeed it does.  And how about those seeds….all warm and salty and toasty.

Pure fall. Don’t waste a thing…eat those seeds!

What a gift to have pumpkins growing this time of year.  Eat them fresh & forget the can!

Pumpkin curry was the first meal I ate at my host family’s house in Fiji.  The pumpkin was familiar but done in a way that my palate had never experienced.  My host mom would always make it for me whenever I came home for visits and it will forever be a nostalgic food.

Pumpkins in Fiji! They are a kitchen staple.

Not in the mood to cook but want to try pumpkin?  Cut a cooking pumpkin (they call them “pie pumpkins”) into quarters, scoop out the seeds (toast ’em & eat ’em!), place the slices in a glass baking dish.  Bake them uncovered with cut side down at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.  Pumpkin is finished when it is fork tender. Want savory? Sprinkle with sea salt and butter or olive oil.  Want sweet? Sprinkle with butter, honey & cinnamon.  Want curry?  See recipe below……

This recipe is exactly how my host mom made it except that neither of us measures anything so I did my best to note that.  I’ve made this recipe probably over 50 times and only ONCE did it actually taste just like hers (I actually called her rejoicing in my success).  This curry is warm, velvety and a gorgeous color.  In Fiji it was most often eaten with roti (unleavened flat bread) but here I made it with rice.

Prepped and ready to be curried…yummmm….

Eat it with your hands!!!

Kaddu ke Tarkari- Pumpkin Curry

(From the home of my Indo-Fijian host-mom, Sarojni Singh)

4 cups pumpkin, skin peeled, chopped into half inch cubes

1 medium white onion, chopped medium

2 cloves garlic

1 tbsp ginger root, peeled

2-3 small chilies, (adjust quantity according to your heat preference & the type of chilli)

½ tsp fennel seeds

1/2  tsp cumin seeds

½ tsp mustard seed

Sea salt

1 1/2 tblsp coconut or olive oil (I chose a healthier oil as they only use soy or canola)

Optional: 2 tblsp chopped cilantro (mom doesn’t use, but I like it)

Pound garlic, ginger and chilies in a mortar & pestle with a heavy pinch of salt or chop very finely.  In a very hot skillet or pot add oil, then onion, fennel, mustard seed & cumin.  Saute until onions are browned & spices are toasted, about 2-4 minutes. Add garlic-ginger mixture and sauté for another minute, ensuring the garlic does not burn, lower heat if necessary.   Add pumpkin and cook covered on medium high heat until pumpkin has softened, stirring often.   Water is drawn out from the pumpkin as it cooks, so do not add any unless it seems to be very dry even after 20 minutes of cooking. Smash the pumpkin as it begins to soften with the back of a spoon. It should be a thick chunky texture when complete.  Add cilantro if using, stir to combine and salt to taste.

Note: There are alot of variations of this recipe and some people  also use cinnamon, turmeric or masala powder to spice up their pumpkin curry.  Sadly the pumpkins in the US are a bit different then in Fiji & sometimes they just don’t have the same umph of flavor.  If you find your pumpkin to be slightly lackluster then substitute half of the pumpkin for butternut squash.

Cheers!

Have You Been Eating Your Ferns Lately?

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.

The mystical, magical jungle-fern known as ota.

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.

What you will need.

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.

Bubbling cauldron of fern and coconut milk.

Ota Vakalolo
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.

Come On Mom, Not Seaweed Agaaaain….

I came across yet another seaweed that piqued my interest.  It was like nothing I’d ever seen or tried and my inner Indiana Jones was calling. After a lengthy conversation with my seaweed supplier I was convinced it was time to jump in and give lumi a try.  The lumi itself is a unique food with the texture of whiskery yarn and smells strong of brine and the sea. When cooked it dissolves into a gelatinous slime which I realize sounds totally unappetizing, but combine that seaweed slime with coconut milk, onions and ginger and you have a traditional dish to die for!

My seaweed supplier & guru of traditional Fijian cuisine.

I met with my good friend Sala to help me on my seaweed adventure.  Once the lumi was thoroughly rinsed I peeled and grated ginger & Sala opened, more like sawed open, a large can of tuna.  Most locals I have encountered find kitchen gadgets pointless.  Cans are opened by stabbing it with a moderately large knife-saw away and there you have it…can opened.  I gave my friend a can opener to use once and given the blank look on his face I quickly realized he had no idea how to use it.  Such a beautiful thing to share culture through can openers.

I'm REALLY excited about making this seaweed!

We followed the recipe that Sala knew by heart and once she was satisfied the lumi was solid enough we sat down and cut a small triangular slice.  Its texture was silky smooth, moist and a semi solid custard.  The flavor of the tuna was pronounced and the seaweed itself never lost its signature taste of sea salt and brine.

The finished product ready to be dipped in a tangy sauce of lemon juice, ginger and chilies.

A screaming success, I ate it for three days!  This will be on regular rotation of my favorite traditional Fijian meals.

Lumi Vakalolo

1-$2 FJD heap lumi (about 4 cups)
½  large onion, sliced thin
1 -2 inch thumb ginger, peeled and grated
2 coconuts worth coconut milk (rung twice) or about 3 1/2 cups canned
2 tsp sea salt
1 tin of tuna in water, drained (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
½ inch thumb ginger, peeled and grated
1 tsp hot chilis, chopped

To prepare the seaweed you must thoroughly clean it first.  Pull up thin handfuls and inspect it for other kinds of seaweed, small pieces of coral or dirt.  This must be done carefully and slowly. Remove any unwanted debris and place in a colander.  Let water run through it and move it around so all parts are rinsed by the water.  Once sufficiently rinsed squeeze it dry & let it sit to strain further in the colander.

In a large stock pot bring the coconut milk to a boil over medium high heat.  Once simmering add onions, ginger (and tuna is using), stir to combine. Slowly add lumi one handful at a time, stirring until all lumi has been added.  Stir constantly over medium high heat until the lumi is totally dissolved and when the spoon is lifted it is no longer stringy and is a thick consistency.

At this stage pour the mixture into a shallow 13 x 9 casserole dish or a shallow dish of a similar size.  If you use a smaller dish it will be thicker which is fine, however it will take longer to cool and become solid.  Let the lumi cool at room temperature uncovered for at least 30 -45 minutes.  If you are in a hurry you can place it in the refrigerator to speed this process up.  The lumi is completely set once you can cut it with a knife through it and it will no longer run.  It should be the texture of thick custard.

Squeeze the lemon juice in a small shallow dish and add the grated ginger and chilies.  Stir to combine. Cut lumi into squares or triangles and serve with the lemon juice mixture for dipping.  Serve with boiled cassava.

This may be served cool or at room temperature.  Refrigerate any leftovers for up to 3 days.

Spiritually-Sprouted Moong Salad With Mint

In the past when I read a recipe had a “sprouted” ingredient I just rolled my eyes & thought hippies.  The thought of waiting for my food to be ready three days later while it spiritually sprouted to its enlightened potential was annoying.  If I’m craving something I want it now!  But once I actually tried sprouted moong, I thought maybe it was high time to work on my lesser attribute of patience.

The moong post overnight soak.

These little green gems make me feel like superwoman when I eat it!  Light and crunchy with that signature sprouty grass-green taste, I can eat an entire bowl full guilt free.  And sometimes in Fiji its over 80 degrees by 8am, this in turn means I will be standing nowhere near my stove which makes this a great dish during hot weather months.

Fully enlightened (and sprouted) after its 36 hour meditation.

You can make this salad one hundred different ways.  The one below is what I make most often as these are the local ingredients I have access to.  However, you could always sass it up with some chopped apple and raisins or go Asian with soy sauce and cilantro.  The moong is a blank canvas.

This refreshing and crunchy salad is worth the wait.

Spiritually-Sprouted Moong Salad With Mint
1 cup dry, uncooked moong bean-yields 3 cups sprouted
½ cup onion, diced
¾ cup cucumber, peeled and diced
1 cup carrot, diced
3 tblsp fresh mint leaves, minced
1 tblsp cilantro, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 small chili, diced (optional)
Sea salt to taste

Place moong in a pot and submerge completely with filtered water. Cover and let sit unrefrigerated over night or at least 8 hours.  After the soaking, rinse and drain all water.  Cover loosely with a towel or a lid that lets air flow.  Let sit another 24 to 36 hours unrefrigerated.  Once the moong has sprouted fully, rinse it several times and drain.

To assemble salad, add onion through cilantro and toss.  Add lemon juice and salt to taste and stir to combine.  If you find the juice of 1 lemon was not enough you may add more to your liking.  This may be served room temperature but is very refreshing when served chilled.

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.