It’s back to basics this week, with something that’s not so much a recipe as it is a technique. This is a standard Samoan sauce for dressing up any starchy root crop or staple fruit.
If you’re new to Samoan cooking, this is a good place to start, because even if you overcook your taro (or whatever it is you happen to be making), even if you boil the sauce a bit too long, or not long enough, even if you add too few or too many onions, this forgiving sauce will still taste good. The only two ways you can stuff this up is if you add too much salt to the coconut milk (which is something you’ll know before you add it to your roots), or if you burn the roots and the sauce to the bottom of your saucepan.
Below are the most common foods that we fa’alifu:
Starchy root crops
Fa’i mata (green bananas)
Prepare your roots/fruit for cooking as usual – peel, wash, cut if desired.
Place in a saucepan, cover with water and heat until boiling. Then simmer until fork-tender.
1 medium onion
1 can (400ml) coconut milk
½ - 1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
1. If you like a very thin coating of coconut sauce, first season the coconut milk with salt. After draining your roots/fruit, simply pour on the coconut sauce.
2. If you want your roots/fruit partially cooked in the coconut sauce, then while the roots/fruit are boiling, chop up the onion– sliced, diced, fine or chunky – whatever floats your boat. Just remember, the bigger your onion pieces, the longer they will take to cook. Put the coconut milk in a bowl with the onions and salt, and mix. Cook the roots/fruit until they are almost cooked but still firm (because they’ve got another couple of minutes cooking). Drain them but leave them in the saucepan. Pour the coconut mixture over the roots/fruit and boil this for 5 minutes or until the onions are cooked. Be careful not to overcook your roots/fruit.
3. If you prefer to cook your sauce separately, then cook the roots/fruit until they are done. Drain them and then set aside and cover with foil. Mix the coconut, onions and salt in the saucepan and simmer this over medium heat for 3-5 minutes or until the onions are cooked. Pour the hot sauce over the roots/fruit being sure to cover each piece generously.
4. Some people like a really thick coconut sauce. You can achieve this by using just the cream that collects at the top of the can of coconut milk (discarding the watery milk) to make your sauce. Or you can cook the sauce as in 3. above, then when you have the sauce simmering, add ⅓ cup (80ml) water mixed with 2 teaspoons of flour. Simmer while stirring until the onions and flour are cooked. Pour this over your roots/fruit.
5. If you’re a total coconut addict, and like your roots/fruit completely drenched and infused with coconut flavour, then just cook them from beginning to end in equal parts water/coconut milk seasoned with salt to taste. But remember to give a health advisory warning to anyone you serve it to.