Dee: “In our quest to cook meals from lesser-known cuisines, our biggest discovery has been those of the Pacific Islands. We have discovered a fascinating East-West fusion which has developed and taken on an identity of its own, with the skill of mixing sweet and savoury flavours together to create distinctive and memorable dishes which are definitely worthy of revisiting. As we near the end of our 26 cuisines, we now arrive at our final Pacific destination: Vanuatu.
The use of fruit and peanuts in both savoury and sweet dishes was quite significant in the cuisine of Vanuatu, and coconut milk also featured extensively. We were lucky to find a great on-line resource containing a large number of recipes, which showcased a cuisine based on quality of ingredients and cooking by feeling rather than rigid specifications of times and temperatures. As I have grown in confidence when cooking at home, I have grown to appreciate recipes of this type, allowing me to judge for myself when a dish is ready.
With all of this in mind, I was keen to get started.”
Starter: Sweet Vegetables
Dee: “Onions, vegetables and mango cooked in coconut milk. It sounded like a disaster waiting to happen but turned out to be something of a revelation. The key I think to making this dish work was in selecting the right vegetables. The recipe wasn’t specific, so I went for delicate and slightly sweet tasting vegetables which I felt would bridge the gap between the mango and onion rather than trying to steal the show on their own. I went for carrot, sugar snap peas and baby corn, which had the advantage of adding colour, texture and visual appeal to the dish as a whole. Also they weren’t too strong or bitter tasting. I started by slow cooking the onions until they were just starting to caramelise, then added the vegetables, followed by the coconut milk and continued cooking, though not for too long as I didn’t want the vegetables to lose their crunch. I then turned off the heat, stirred in the sliced mangoes and made sure they were warmed through just before serving. I didn’t want to cook the mangoes as they would have turned into mush and ruined the dish. It turned out just as I wanted it. Looking a little like a stir-fry, but with a totally unique taste. Creaminess from the coconut milk, a savoury hint from the onions and vegetables and swwetness and fruitiness from the mangoes. Superb fusion on a plate.”
Main: Indian Curry
Dee: “This was a simple curry made from onions, garlic, ginger, chilli tomato, curry paste and chicken, all cooked in coconut milk. I found the secret to be in the slow cooking, which allowed the flavours to infuse. The finished curry was strongly flavoured, without being too hot or too sweet. I decided to leave out the potato and pumpkin, as I was happy that the curry was progressing nicely enough without them. They would be fine to serve on their own as a side dish though. In our haste to try out the finished curry we forgot to garnish it with the crushed peanuts, but fortunately there is enough of it left over for lunch tomorrow, so we’ll add the garnish then.”
Dessert: Peanut Butter Candy
Dee: “A lot of the desserts from Vanuatu included banana, which Jay is totally averse to, but as luck would have it, this one featured peanut butter, which is one of my great loves. I’ve used it in both sweet and savoury dishes to great effect, so was confident that this would be a recipe to revisit if I could get it right. Prior to preparing it I was imagining that it was going to be something like peanut brittle, which required careful timing and constant monitoring of the sugar thermometer. To be honest I approached the recipe with a degree of trepidation, but my love of peanut butter drove me onwards. The recipe stated that the sugar/milk/peanut butter mixture should be boiled for five minutes only before being poured into a cake tin to cool. I was a little nervous about this so cooked mine for a bit longer. I then poured it into a brownie tin, where it spread more thinly and consequently cooled more quickly. What I had produced reminded me a lot of Kendal Mint Cake in texture, but with an unmistakeable peanut flavour. We both loved it and quickly wrapped half of it up in case we started nibbling on it later.”
Soundtrack: Various Artists – Vanuatu: The Music Tradition of West Futuna
Dee: “This album presented a collection of spiritual sounding songs, with minimal musical accompaniment. Where musical instruments were featured, they were principally drums, percussion and occasional guitar. The songs were in a number of different styles, including folk songs, rhythmic chants, and Christian hymns.
As with the last few musical choices, this was another great accompaniment to tonight’s meal.”
Next week: W for Western Sahara