I haven't begrudged a single $4 carrot on this trip.
Well, the $14 lettuce that I bought in Makemo (but hey, it was a three pack of romaine hearts) did cause a moment of marital strife. But for the most part we knew what we were getting into, and when we left Mexico our lockers were filled to bursting with all manner of tinned, dried and heavily processed food-like stuff.
That $4 carrot (and in its defense it was sort of biggish...)? Well, it wasn't really a necessity, at least not according to the lore of old-school sailors who live off of potted meats, mushy tinned peas and rum (and clearly even they stocked up before reaching the South Pacific...).
But before we left Vancouver I spent two years penning a natural living column and came to the conclusion that what we eat is sort of important. My guru, Michael Pollan (eat food, not to much, mostly vegetables), would be rendered speechless (appetiteless?) by a diet that consists of white bread, white rice, white fish, spam, taro, cassava, breadfruit, coconut, banana and the occasional sweet potato. And so we made the decision to supplement the local menu and our heavily processed stores with fresh fruits and veggies—at any cost. After all—we've dragged a growing child into the hinterlands and away from our organic farmer’s market, the least we can do is make sure she ingests something green now and again.
The cost, it turned out, was mostly palatable. What was lacking was variety.
Actually what was lacking was having a clue what to do with the few local veggies that were available—because, you see, we had no idea what half the stuff was. And even less idea how to make them edible. And seriously, this is an important detail. Taro leaves for example (which we recently discovered are really delicious and we should have been eating from day one) can make you sick if you don't cook them enough. And who knows what that large, lumpy, reddish root(?) with spines would have tasted like if we got it wrong.
Fiji has made up for four months of high-priced (and often wilted) produce. We still don't always know what things are. But now, rather than getting the name of a new veggie in a language we only have a basic grasp of, we get the name in English and almost always we get cooking directions and a recipe or two. In a few cases I've received cooking lessons and a taste of the finished dish.
And stuff is cheap. I spent $20 Fijian (around $12) and got 7 coconuts, a pile of eggplant, 6 bok choy, taro leaves for a lifetime, a huge yam thing, cooking bananas, green beans, tomatoes, cilantro, carrots, 8 cucumbers, a squash-like pumpkin, ginger, pineapple and a shiny, spiny thing.
And tonight—dinner included fresh veggies in four colours. Four!!
What we’ve been eating:
Dalo (also known as taro): A dry starchy rootcrop which is boiled and often served cold and sliced like bread with dinner.
Dalo leaves: The young leaves (look for ones with green stems) taste like spinach when cooked—unlike the green leafy stuff that the locals call spinach… It has to be well cooked though. Our two favourite dishes are rourou and palusami.
Tavikoa (tapioka or cassava): Also a rootcrop with a bland taste that's lot starchier than dalo. You get given huge piles of this stuff—it does grate up nicely and works well in desserts.
Miti: Thick coconut cream combined with onions, chillies, lemon juice, salt and pepper. We have a coconut grater and have learned to make our own cream. Maia can make enough cream for dinner from one coconut in about 20 minutes.
Yams: We’ve been getting yams and sweet potatoes that look like the ones from home (orange, red and white) as well as giant real yams which are very gooey to work with but really tasty.
1 litre water
15 mls baking soda
20 young taro leaves (washed stems removed and chopped up)
1 chopped onion
5 cloves garlic
2 cups coconut cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Add taro leaves to boiling water with soda and cook for 10 minutes with the lid on.
Drain and set aside.
Heat the oil and fry the onion for one minute add garlic and chilies if you like.
Add the taro back in and sauté 5 minutes
Add the cream and bring to a boil (the leaves should be nearly dissolved)
Serve on rice
Wash and stack 3-4 leaves for each bundle. Cook 2 diced onions in oil until tender. Add meat (the locals use corned beef or fish but we’re trying to use up our tinned beef and chicken), garlic, lemon and a cup or two of coconut cream. Put the mixture on your leaves and fold into a bundle then wrap with tinfoil. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees.
Line the bottom of a pan with 1/3 your taro leaves. Cook up your mixture. Pour ½ the mixture over the leaves, and top with the next 1/3 and repeat. Cover pan tightly with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 60 minutes.