Sunday, January 22, 2012

So many ways to eat a coconut!

When we were in Niue Charles and Colleen came for dinner. Of course I made pasta, but I also made a variety of dishes with the fresh coconuts they brought me the day before. A tomato and coconut salad with cannellini beans, spring onions and olives, dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt flakes. Coconut rice (just boil the rice with coconut pieces in it, fantastic!), coconut chocolates: I dipped slices of coconut in melted 72% dark chocolate, and also mixed freshly shredded coconut in the remaining chocolate to make choco-coco balls. I made a big tray of these but I forgot to take a photo, se here were the leftovers... and the fruit salad with local papaya, banana, and coconut, a little brown sugar, lemon juice and rum. This I made a few times actually, it was too good! Charles and Colleen couldn't believe how many things I made out of their coconuts, they said that usually the drink the juice and then give the rest to the pigs. They have plenty of coconut. But I guess that for me this was luxury!

So what is a typical dish with coconut in Niue? In the market we tried the local coconut porridge, a warm mixture made with coconut, arrow root and a little sugar. It was different, not bad but not even my breakfast of choice. I preferred coconut bread, which is sold in all the bakeries.

But the best experience for me was to learn how to open and eat coconut at different stages of maturity, so if one day I will be ever stranded on a desert island I will be able to survive... as long as there are coconuts around! On our plantation tour Tony firstly gave us a coconut each to drink, these were very young coconuts and the water tasted different from the one we collected from Charles' coconut. Then Tony opened up some coconuts for us and cut some spoons out of the coconut shells. The younger the coconut the softer the flesh.

I was really surprised to learn that you can also eat coconut when the leaves appear: Tony called it coconut marshmallow, and in fact it was soft (but not as soft as a marshmallow) white and spongy, with a delicate sweet taste, a bit like eating a gigantic soft macadamia nut. This was a favourite with the kids. My favourite was the the stalk of the young coconut plant: Tony peeled and passed it over, crunchy, fresh and a bit like a coconut celery. I have eaten this before, it is called heart of palm, and in Argentina I ate it in sandwiches (it is called palmito there), in Asia I ate it in a variety of dishes, and in New Zealand I went on a foraging trip with a Maori forest ranger and ate the heart of a young Nikau palm (but much smaller than this stalk of coconut!). Nikau heart too taste a little like coconut.

So if you visit Niue make sure that you visit a plantation, the market, or have friends with lots of coconuts, otherwise just  stop at your nearest coconut stall.

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Monday, January 16, 2012

Breadfruit Chips

When we were in Niue Tony took us to a plantation tour, which was amazing (I will post more about it in the next few days). We returned to our guesthouse with a good stock of locale produce and the first recipe that I am proposing is with breadfruit. I heard a lot about this fruit but never cooked it (although I ate it before and found it quite bland).
Tony told me that I could bake it, boil it or make chips, and since I travelled with olive oil and some luxury salt flakes I decided to go for chips.

Breadfruit needs to be peeled and sliced, Tony peeled it with a machete for me. I cut it into thin slices and pan fried them with a little olive oil (not deep fried) and added some Welsh sea salt flakes. I served it as an appetizer, everybody love it so much that I made it again the evening after. First breadfruit experiment: successful!

Photos and Recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Carrot leaf fritters

Since chickpea flour can be mixed with just water and it will still bind like eggs do it is perfect for vegan recipes. For my Vegan fritters I used another overlooked green from my garden: carrot leaves. I always end up planting carrots to close, and fail to thin them when I should (I just don't have the heart to do it...) so I had to pick up a few little ones to let their sisters grow in peace. Baby carrots are great anyway, and all those pretty leaves are edible too! 

Carrot leaf fritters

 I washed and roughly chopped the carrot leaves, made a batter with chickpea flour, water, salt and pepper, added a chopped red onion, and fried my fritters. In the end I topped them with some smoked paprika and a few sesame seeds. Good hot or cold, as a main or appetizer.

Photos and Recipe by Alessandra Zecchini ©

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Mango and Berry Vegan Jelly

Something bright and colourful: I started with my fool proof recipe for mango and agar agar pudding (recipe here), and then I just added a few mixed berries to the mixture. It looked so pretty that I will definitely make it again. 

Photo and Recipe by Alessandra Zecchini ©