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Dreaming of Fiji

Picture a white-hued sandy beach, the expanse of which is lapped by salty waters that from above are a brilliant turquoise, the likes of which you have only seen previously in travel magazines. From your overhead vantage point, you look down and survey the breathtaking island shoreline. The sand and surf surround a verdant, volcanic mountain interior, a mere splotch of dark green dotting the azure canvas of ocean. Perhaps you pinch yourself and wonder how you became fortunate enough to take in so much visual beauty all at once.

Now, like a fast-edit camera close-up, zoom in. Way, way in from that aerial view. As you get closer and closer, you see a highway (the King's Highway, in fact) running around the perimeter of the island. You see small villages dotting the landscape. Villages with thatched-roof houses and dark-skinned children playing nearby in the humid sunshine, while their tall, broad-shouldered, afro-adorned elders watch languidly from the house porches. No one is in a hurry here. In fact, the 2-lane "highway" is interrupted by speed bumps (or humps as they are called here) that slow the traffic down to a respectable 30 kmh or so in the villages.

Bula. You have come to the land of Fiji. The Fiji islands were discovered accidentally, as were nearly all "new world" discoveries, from what I can remember of my history lessons. The first European credited with landing in Fiji was Abel Tasman, a Dutch explorer, who found the islands in 1643, while looking for the "Great Southern Continent" (Australia?). This seems to be a pattern in colonial exploration - the adventurer set off hoping to find one thing, ended up discovering something entirely different, and often died, thinking himself to be a failure. Sounds like a life lesson to me. What if some of my greatest disappointments and failures turn out to be discoveries of great import to future generations. What if generations from now thousands of children get to stay home from school in order to commemorate an "achievement" that to me had only been my most abject failure? Just something to contemplate next time you have one of those "lamest moment ever" kind of experiences... :-)

Bula! (Like aloha, bula means both hello, good-bye, and a few other things in Fijian.) I hope you enjoyed your virtual trip to the island. Enjoy the menu, and hopefully we will see you this week!

This Week's Menu:

Entree #1 - Green Split Pea Dal with Spinach and Coconut Milk

One of the many fascinating things about a culture comprised of people from a variety of backgrounds, is the cross-pollination, so to speak, of ideas, language, customs, and of course, cuisine. The girmitiyas (indentured servants) brought to Fiji by the British, originally came from every part of the Indian subcontinent. In honor of the island's diverse heritage, you will see on this week's menu elements of western, southern, and northern Indian cooking, plus dishes. like Yuca and Fiji Salad, that were borrowed from the native Fijians. I can't say exactly where in India this dal recipe comes from, except that it has several of my favorite elements - spinach, coconut milk, hearty, creamy green split peas, and mildly flavored kalonji seeds. Heaven in a bowl! *GF, soy-free

(photo ?)

Entree #2 - Fijian Coconut Milk Soup

This soup is one of my son's favorites. He does not generally like anything with coconut in it. However, this soup is chock full of veggies that my son does like, namely potatoes, yuca, savoy cabbage, and broccoli, and thus I was once able to convince him to try it. Surprise! He liked it! From then on coconut began to have some relevance in his world. This creamy, savory soup makes a fantastic meal because it is both light (just veggies and coconut milk) and satisfyingly flavorful at the same time. *GF, soy-free


Entree #3 - Gujarati Khatti Meeti (Sweet & Sour) Dal

Last night when I was planning my menu, I pulled this dal out of my memory files. When I went back through my email to see when we had made it last, I was surprised to see that it has been nearly a year! It first appeared on a menu in June, when I wrote my review for the famous countryside hangout, the Honeysuckle Tea House. This recipe originally comes from Gujarat, a state in the western part of India, where for some reason, nearly everything is made with "just a little bit" of sugar. The sweetness of this dal is balanced with pods of tart kokum (a relative of mangosteen) and the typical savory flair of Indian spicing. *GF, soy-free


Side Dishes:

Brown Rice - $1/serving (1 cup)

Tamarind Quinoa - $3.50/serving (1 cup) Tamarind rice is one of my favorite things to pair with Green Split Pea dal. Where the dal is mild and creamy, the rice is tangy and a little spicy, laced with the flavors of curry and cilantro leaves. Since several of our customers shy away from basmati and other varieties of white rice, I made this last time with quinoa. Apparently this idea had already been thought of many times, as there were plenty of photos and recipes for tamarind quinoa on the internet. South American grain, meet South Indian spicing - fusion cuisine at its best! *GF, soy-free, contains peanuts


Yuca Fries -$3/serving. Yuca, more commonly called cassava or cassera in Fiji, is a staple in both native and Indian diets alike. Along with taro, or dalo root, it is commonly enjoyed as a side dish, either boiled or fried and generously salted. And of course, no root fries are complete without fresh tomato and mint chutney. I have overheard many a yuca-newbie, exclaim "Oh my God, these are soooo good! What are they? They're not potato..." It is difficult to define exactly what kind of magic makes these starchy (but not potatoey) root fries so dang tasty. Some things are just better enjoyed than analyzed... *GF, soy-free


Massaged Mustard Green Salad - $6/lb. This salad is one that my ex-husband was very fond of making whenever we had company. He called it simply "Fiji Salad." This salad is definitely an original recipe; I couldn't find anything remotely like it to show you. Words will have to suffice here - this salad combines fresh mustard greens, coleslaw cut cabbage, fresh tomatoes, and a little salt. The salt and massaged tomatoes make a built-in dressing that perfectly marries the crunch of the cabbage with the peppery bite of the mustard greens. So simple, yet so tasty. *GF, soy-free


Strawberry Oatmeal Bars - $3/ea. or 2 for $5. I was looking for a new, preferably fruity, sweet to try out this week. Since it had come to my attention yesterday, that strawberry season had not only started, but is almost finished, I figured that this was a now-or-never kind of time to pull out a delicious strawberry dessert. These bar cookies looked simple and lovely - a little flour, a lot of oats, fresh strawberries, and a few other baking necessities like oil, sugar, and spices. Mmm. What better way to say hello to the summer season, than with locally-sourced fruit fun? *GF, soy-free


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