Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A 'light lunch' and a basic village skill

This was a simple to'ona'i (Sunday lunch) in Samoa, and looking back at it now, it was a relatively healthy one, especially as this food was meant for two people. From the top left clockwise is supo mamoe (lamb soup), oka (fish in coconut milk), curried chicken, selection of roast taro, ta'amu and ulu (breadfruit), a hidden package of luau and a plate of umu-cooked pork. 

And take a look at the serving 'platter' holding the various roots and luau. Do you think you can weave a serving mat like that? If you can, you can make mats for serving food, mats to sleep on, mats to keep the wind and rain out of your house, baskets for carrying things and even hats and fans. So add that to your list of basic survival skills - weaving.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Coconut Cookies

I love masi Samoa. Who doesn't? But I was curious about cookies made with shredded coconut instead of coconut milk. Would the flavour be as good as masi Samoa? Would it be better?

To compare, I tried out two different kinds of cookies: coconut shortbread and chewy coconut cookies. 

I wasn't overly impressed with the shortbread. The coconut flavour was very understated and the shortbread was kind of blah. They even look kind of blah. 

But the chewy coconut cookies were sublime. The cookie was crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, and the coconut stood out in a nice way. 

At the end of the day, masi Samoa are still number one. But these cookies are a close number two. Try them and see!

Chewy Coconut Cookies
(makes 18)
¼ cup (60g) butter, softened
½ cup (100g) white sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup (125g) flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
½ cup (40g) coconut

Cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Add the flour, baking powder and salt, mixing well. Finally, stir in the coconut. Shape it into a log and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for at least two hours or until firm.

Unwrap the cookie dough and slice into ¼ inch (5 mm) slices. Place 2 inches (5 cm) apart on lined baking sheets. Bake at 425°F (220°C) for 6 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on wire racks.

These will soften the day after, so store them in an airtight container, or save all the hassle and store them in your belly, like I did.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Keke fa'i - banana cake

In my childhood home, our pots ranged from large to gigantic. We used massive rectangular roasting dishes and deep stock pots almost every day. Food was dished from giant serving plates and bowls using matching giant serving spoons and tongs. 

We had a wok that was so big it couldn't be lifted with one hand, and a ginormous teapot bigger than the size of my head. That Jurassic teapot was always filled with tea or coffee or koko, the spout plugged with a makeshift newspaper 'cork' to keep the flies out

What I remember of our kitchen was that everything was either big, bigger or biggest. The chopping boards, the knives, the juice pitchers, the wooden spoons - all HUGE.

No, we didn't run a catering business. 
We were just your average Samoan family. 

So my mother would make this cake in a baking pan that I think only professional wedding cake makers use. That pan I remember was about 16 inches (40 cm) in diameter, and despite its size the cakes always came out perfectly, without sticking. When she turned her cakes out onto the cooling rack, they would land with a puff of steam, smooth dark brown edges and an irresistible baked banana smell

In my current kitchen, I don't have anything as big as my mother's banana cake pan, so the recipe has been dramatically scaled back. But not the flavour. In this cake, banana is the star.

Keke fa'i (serves 6-8)
makes 8" (20 cm) round cake

1½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick + 1 tablespoon (125g) butter, softened 
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup mashed banana (about 2 medium overripe bananas)
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup hot milk

Grease and/or line your cake pan and preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). 

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
With electric beaters, cream the butter with the sugar until it's light and fluffy. Beat in one egg at a time, then the vanilla, beating well after each addition.

Switch from the beaters to a wooden spoon or spatula. Stir the mashed banana into the butter mixture. 
Dissolve the baking soda into the milk and stir that in too.
Finally, sift your sifted ingredients into the mixture and gently fold them in. 

As soon as all the ingredients are moistened, pour the batter evenly into the cake pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. 

Cool completely and then fill and top with sweetened whipped cream or chocolate frosting.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Esi Fafao - Stuffed Papayas

To be honest, this recipe almost didn't make it to the blog. After hollowing out the papaya, I thought, "Stuff the blog. I'm just going to eat this papaya right here, right now." But thanks to my incredible powers of self-control, I managed to get these into the oven and even hold off eating them until I had taken the photos. 

Which is a lie. 
I ate one papaya, and stuffed the other.
Pfft! You wouldn't have known.

Now, you can make this with green papaya, but I like the taste of almost ripe papaya better. It adds a sweetness to the dish, much like pumpkin or carrots. 

Serve this hot out of the oven with rice and a salad. 

Esi Fafao (serves 4)
2 papaya
1 small onion
1 red pepper
4 cloves garlic
½ cup fresh parsley
½ cup fresh basil
1 tablespoon oil
½ pound (250 grams) ground beef
1 cup grated cheese 
¼ cup breadcrumbs
1 egg
2 tomatoes
salt and pepper
extra grated cheese for topping (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F(180°C).

Halve the papayas. Spoon out the seeds and discard. Scoop out some papaya flesh and put that aside (it will be added to the meat mixture). Be sure to leave enough flesh all around the inside of the skin to hold the filling. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet (use foil wedges to keep them from rolling around, if necessary).

Dice the onion and pepper. Finely chop the garlic, and roughly chop the parsley and basil. 

Heat the oil in a frypan and brown the beef. Drain off the fat, then return to the heat, adding the onions, peppers and garlic. Cook until fragrant then turn the heat off. Cool slightly, then throw in the rest of the ingredients, including the reserved papaya flesh. Season the mixture to taste. 

Divide evenly between the papaya shells, top with a little more grated cheese if desired, and bake for 50-60 minutes. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Papaya, Pawpaw - Esi

The papaya can be used both raw and ripe. When it's raw, use it like a vegetable in pickles, salads and savoury dishes. When it's cooked it tastes a lot like squash. Green papaya is also a wonderful meat tenderiser so use it to soften up steaks for the grill, but reserve the tenderising marinade and cook that up too, because it will be extra flavourful from the meat. 

If you have ripe papayas, the subtle sweetness of the fruit is perfect for desserts and drinks, or eat them as nature intended, au naturel (the fruit, not you!).  

And here are two interesting facts that only the real kuabacks know: If you get bitten by a mosquito - high chance of that in Samoa - then use the white sap of the raw papaya (white stuff just under the skin) to reduce the itch. To stop getting bitten in the first place, just burn some papaya leaves - mosquitos hate the smell.

Happy cooking everyone!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chef Sam Choy - Hawaii's Celebrity Chef

This is the first of what I hope will become a regular feature here at SamoaFood.com - interviews with island chefs and/or those who work daily with island food. I know that most of us are home cooks, but it doesn't hurt to hear how the pros do it, right?

Chef Choy grilling ahi
To kick things off, it's an honour to present my recent interview with Chef Sam Choy.

Chef Choy is a James Beard award winner (the restaurant version of the Oscars), a prolific cookbook writer, and a champion for Hawaiian Heritage Cooking. (Heritage cooking is cooking traditional foods, those that evoke memories of special people and special times. It is 'remembering through food'. Sounds a lot like what we are doing here at SamoaFood.com, nay?). 

Chef Choy has competed on Iron Chef America, and appeared in Ready..Set..Cook! and his own cooking show 'Sam Choy's Kitchen'. He creates menus for American Airlines and even has his own signature food and coffee range.

Actually, Chef Choy doesn't know it, but he was one of the original inspirations for my food blog through his book Sam Choy's Polynesian Kitchen, without which I would not be writing recipes for you guys today. So it's fitting that he is our first ever chef guest here at SamoaFood.com.

Chef Choy, thanks for being so generous with your time.

You've been doing true Hawaiian Heritage Cooking for some decades now. What trends have you seen over the years? What would you like to see in the future?
The trends that I have seen over the years went from traditional, Nouvelle, Fusion cooking, Heritage even fast food. In the future, I would like to see more sustainable cooking.

What was your vision for the cuisine at your restaurant Kai Lanai?
My vision for the cuisine at my Kai Lanai restaurant is sustainable cooking with local Island Heritage; just a combination that would entice anyone’s palate.

I was salivating just reading over the menu. What dishes do you highly recommend for first time visitors?
I would suggest the Noodlemania made with fresh vegetables and chicken or beef along with chowmein noodles, or any of our fresh island fish cooked to your preference, or our salads.

Can you give us your impression of Samoa and Samoan food?
Samoa is the land of the “happy people” and the food is very unique and good. Being born and raised in Laie, we always ate Samoan food; puligi, fa'ausi, sapasui, etc.

What ingredient(s) could you not live without?
I think I could not live without mayonnaise because you can do a lot of different things with it.

What's your favourite local/regional dish?
My favorite local dish would be poke.

Do you have one piece of advice for my readers who want to make great-tasting island food at home?
Always start with fresh ingredients and don’t be afraid to do different things with your cooking.

Many thanks to Chef Choy and his wife Carol for sharing their thoughts.

If you're in Hawai'i, please check out Sam Choy's Kai Lanai and grab some Noodlemania. And if you would like to try out some of Sam's flavoursome recipes at home, pick up one of his cookbooks from Amazon.

[Are there any chefs/cooks you would like to see featured here? Make your suggestions and I'll see what I can do.]

Friday, February 10, 2012

Koko Samoa Suppliers

Since this site has been up, I've had a lot of enquiries for koko samoa suppliers. I know of three excellent sources that ship overseas and I'm going to tell you about two of them. (The third source is my sister D, and somehow I don't think she'd appreciate you guys emailing her for koko).

The first source is an internet vendor called ParadiseGypsy (catchy name right?). She sells Samoan goods such as crafts and jewellery, as well as our beloved koko samoa. The great thing about her koko is that it arrives at her place warm and unset - in other words, it is super fresh. She actually has to wait for it to harden before she can ship it off to you. This freshness is probably why she sends volumes of koko to the States and Australia. 

Of course, she also does smaller individual orders. She tells me that she can provide other local foodstuffs that are not on her website and has even, on occasion, shipped Vailima! I have ordered koko from her in the past and found both the price of her koko and the sending costs to be very reasonable (she ships via American Samoa). Check out her website and send her an email if you are interested in ordering. 

The second source for koko samoa is Wilex Samoa, who export a range of cocoa, coconut and chocolate products. Since 1996, this company has been doing amazing things with koko samoa, such as creating boutique chocolates with coconut, nonu and other tropical fruits dipped in French cognac. All their products are GM free (not genetically modified) and arrive packed in retail bags. Visit their website, or email Eddie Wilson, who is the Managing Director, for more details on their products and shipping.  

Now all you koko-heads out there, you have no reason to be using powdered cocoa for your next koko alaisa. Buy the real thing and support some local Samoan businesses. Yay!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

New name, Facebook, preventing copycats

Does anyone else out there have usernames and passwords coming out their wazoo? Hotmail, Yahoo, Blogger, Wordpress, Google+, Facebook...It's hard to know what to use and what to join when all I want to do is connect with readers. So I've been busy over the past few days overhauling the site.

First, I've changed the name. Let's take it out of my kitchen, and into the world. We are now officially SamoaFood.com (because some elo has already taken SamoanFood.com).

Second, I joined Facebook. Yes, had to join the 21st century and get on the 1 billion dollar social network. So if you like Samoan food, and you want to see more recipes and more videos, please click "like".

Third, I've blocked right-click copying of all my content and on Facebook, my photos will be watermarked as per a winning suggestion by Goddess. And if you sneaky buggers find another way to take what's mine and pass it off as yours, then you're just too darned smart for me. Knock yourself out.

For an example of how to reference people's work online, please go to myfudo.com. The lovely ladies there have provided links to all my posts, and referenced my blog countless times. Not to mention the fact that they made Samoan food look so professional!

Happy Cooking everyone!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Koko for the masses

I experimented with another recipe today using Koko Samoa. I call these Koko Popo Brownies. The jury is still out on whether these are any good, but if I get the 'go ahead' from my tasters, the recipe will be posted up here.

Now, let's play a little "what if?". 
Imagine that one day in the future, you walk into your local supermarket to buy some cocoa because you've been dying for some Koko Popo Brownies. 

In the cocoa section, you see Hershey's Dark Cocoa Powder, Droste, Van Houten. On the shelf below that is Valrhona, Ghirardelli, and Scharffen Berger. You look further down, trying to find a name you can pronounce, and down there, right next to the Nestle and Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa Mix is - could it be? No way!...you rub your eyes in disbelief and look again. Sure enough, it's Koko Samoa! You grab a box and happily skip home to bake your brownies...

Do you think we'll ever see the day when we can buy koko samoa anywhere, everywhere?

Here are some ideas I came up with for making this possibility a reality:

Control the quality
Make sure the koko quality is high and consistent. I get so disappointed when I buy a lump of koko that is filled with burnt nibs.

Change the mould
Enough with the styrofoam cups already! While the cup-sized block of koko represents good value for money and is easy to produce, it's not a sophisticated enough mould for international marketing, unless the cup is dedicated packaging and is used as a marketing ploy (ie. 'For a hot cup of goodness, try Koko Samoa - cup included'). Also a lump of koko is not user-friendly. People these days want instant drinks, ones that are easy to prepare and require minimum effort.

Which leads me to my next suggestion: 

Offer single serve tablets
I felt a little stupid making a recipe for koko samoa (the drink) because it's not really something Samoan people measure. But the feedback has been that it's a useful recipe. People who didn't grow up drinking the stuff were unsure about the proportions of koko to water to sugar. So how about selling a bag filled with tablets of koko that are just enough for one cup. If you want to make three cups of koko, throw in three tablets. What could be simpler than that?

Add sugar
Instead of selling tablets of just koko, why not pound the sugar together with the koko. That way, there's no guesswork in how much sugar to add to your drink - one tablet takes care of everything except the milk, which is optional.

Add flavouring
How about having plain tablets and flavoured tablets? I've seen organic vanilla beans being grown in Samoa, as well as ginger, and chilli. These could be added to the tablets for an extra layer of flavour. The Mexicans do it with cinnamon and almonds, so why can't we? 

Offer two grades of koko
Why not have finely ground and coarse (eg. with pegu) koko. Not everyone is a fan of pegu (nibs), so a finer koko might appeal to those that want the taste of koko without the accompanying sediment. 

Give the tablets a unique shape
My final idea is to give the tablets of koko a catchy shape - How about little cacao pods? Or mini Samoan fale (houses)? Tiny coconuts?

What do you think? And do you have any ideas to add? Jot them below and maybe a Samoan koko producer will stumble across our ideas and do something to raise the culinary profile of this wonderfully unique ingredient.


Friday, February 3, 2012

Mangoes - Mago

Did you know that potatoes and tomatoes are related? A farmer once told me that these two vegetables come from the same plant family and you can see this connection by the shape of their leaves. 

Guess which plants the mango is related to? Surprisingly, it's a cousin of the cashew and pistachio (which btw, are both seeds and not nuts, but that's a whole other blog post). 

Back to the mango...
Mango pudding
Mangoes grow right across the Pacific and Asia where they originated and it is one of those superfruits like blueberries and avocados. The ripe mango has lots of vitamin A (good for healthy eyes and your immune system) and the unripe fruit is high in vitamin C (helps your body absorb iron). Like the banana, mango has lots of potassium (for regulating your blood pressure) and if you eat just one mango, you've consumed about 12% of your daily fibre requirement. 

When buying your mangoes, give them a quick sniff. The more fragrant the fruit at the stem end, the tastier it is likely to be. Also give it the squeeze test, as you would with a peach or avocado. If the fruit 'gives' a little, then it's ready to be eaten. Remember that the redness of a mango is not an indication of ripeness. Use mangoes in fruit salads, drinks, poi, or baked desserts. Or simply eat them fresh. That's how most Samoans enjoy them.

For more info about mangoes, please visit the National Mango Board.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Poi Mago - Mango pudding

By panipopos

It always amazes me that the fruit that grows so abundantly in Samoa is sold in my supermarket for $5 a piece (That's 15 tala per mango for those of you in Samoa.) In the islands, these fruit are abundant, free to the earth, trees so heavily laden the fruit are dropping off the tree and rotting on the ground; and these jokers slap a sticker on them and charge me five bucks a mango. Shheeesh...

A medium mango should give you enough fruit for this recipe. 

Poi Mago 
(serves 2) 
1 cup mango flesh
juice and zest of 1 lime or 2 lautipolo/laumoli 
½ can (200ml) coconut milk 
½  teaspoon vanilla 
sugar to taste 
ice for serving

Blend everything until smooth. 
If you find the poi too thick, add ½ cup of cold water. 
Chill for at least 30 minutes. 

Serve well-chilled, or over ice. For a spicy kick, sprinkle a little black pepper over the top. Don't mess around with exotic flavour combinations (because you are not Jamie Oliver) and simply eat this as is.