Vanuatu is a group of 83 islands in the South Pacific. The cuisine is mainly based on seafood, root vegetables such as taro and yams, fruit and other vegetables. Papayas, pineapples, mangoes, plantains and sweet potatoes are grown abundantly and commonly used in cooking. Coconut milk and cream are used as the main flavourings of dishes.
The national dish of Vanuatu is called lap-lap, a porridge made with coconut milk. This didn't appeal to me as I'm not a cereal type of gal, so I gathered inspiration from a page full of Vanuatu recipes. I liked the sound of a recipe called green popo curry even though I wasn't sure what popo actually was. Google wasn't helpful with my popo searches initially and insisted on giving me results for poop! When I eventually worked out that popo is green papaya, the recipe had my tick of approval. I've only previously used green papaya for som tam, the notorious spicy Thai salad, so I was pleased to find another way to cook with it.
Another dish that caught my eye was citrus (orange and lemon) baked fish in coconut cream. This captured my interest as I had been keen to try out a different tofu baking technique that Kari had posted about earlier this month - orange baked tofu parcels. I adore baked tofu but have never wrapped it in foil with seasonings prior to baking before. I envisaged that the tofu would retain a much softer texture this way.
The green popo curry was very spicy and flavoursome, the green papaya appeared to have a fairly neutral taste and a pretty study texture. The tofu turned out to be very tender and did a fine job of soaking up the orange, lemon and coconut flavours it was baked with. Although I adore lemon and limes in just about everything, I'm not as keen on oranges in savoury items so I can't see myself making this dish again the same way. I did enjoy trialling a new approach of baking tofu and am excited about trying out a totally different combination of flavours I have in mind for tofu baked parcels next time.
Green Popo (Papaya) Curry (Adapted from a recipe on this page)
2 tablespoons dairy-free margarine
1 large onion, thinly sliced into half moons
2 cloves garlic, mined
2cm piece ginger, minced
3 small thai green chillies, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
300ml light coconut milk
½ cup water
½ teaspoon salt
1 large popo/green papaya (1.2kg), outer skin peeled, seeds removed and cut into bite sized pieces
1/3 cup lemon juice
Melt the dairy free margarine in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, ginger and chillies and fry for 5 minutes or until the onions have softened. Stir through the curry powder and cook for a minute then pour in the coconut milk, water and salt.
Add the papaya and stir well. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir through the lemon juice and serve with cooked rice.
Did you know?
Pentecost Island in Vanuatu is where the origins of the modern thrillseeking activity bungee jumping can be traced back to. Land diving was an ancient practice which used tree vines rather than a bungee cord. The goal was to land close enough to the ground to graze it with your hair or shoulder. It was proof of their manhood (for the survivors anyway) and it also ensured a good yam harvest for the following season!
Do you want to know where else I've been this month? Click here for the round up.