Getting up early in the Marquesas
People get up early in the Marquesas. Especially when it comes to cooking.
I found that out when we first arrived in Fatu Hiva and was told to report at 7am with final numbers of participants to a dinner show that same night. The ladies needed time to prepare the feast and have it ready for 6.30pm!
Having organised to trade for fresh produce the next day, I showed up with a bagful of cosmetics and some rope at what I thought was a relatively early time for a Sunday, 9.30am, only to find that my island counterpart had been waiting on the wharf since 8am with a wheelbarrow of tropical fruits and vegetables.
So you would think that I would learn my lesson by the time we reached Nuku Hiva and its daily market. It only has 6 or 7 stalls, all selling the same tropical fare: papayas, bananas, plaintains, pumpkins, coconuts, watermelons, limes and the famous Marquesan grapefruits. Huge and juicy, they have a unique flavour, sweet without the bitterness, lots of pulp which requires peeling off the very thick skin…all ideal for salads or juices. Should you want some more “familiar” vegetables like radishes, tomatoes, carrots, green beans, and lettuce, then you need to come on the biggest days, Wednesday and Saturdays, and show up early as they are available from only one lady. Early means 4.30am which I thought a bit extreme the first time and slept in until 6am, only to discover that all the good stuff was gone by then! “Madame, you must come earlier next time, people from yachts and locals come down from the valleys to shop for vegetables!” So 4 days later I hopped into the dinghy and crept my way thru the bay in the dark to be amongst the first to shop. Only problem is that others had the same idea and at 5am, the queue was already 12 people deep! The things people do for lettuce and radishes…In my case, I had my sights on avocados and fresh herbs. When my turn came, I was so tempted to snatch the remaining 3 avocado pears but felt for others in the queue behind me and only took one. No mercy however for the coriander, mint and parsley as I purchased the last of the bunches. I grabbed some bok choy, fresh ginger, little capsicums of different colours, as many cabbages and lettuces as my fridge can hold, green shallots and long beans…then came home for breakfast!
Now well stocked, we took off to the other side of the island where we had a date with other family boats. I took the time to sail to beautiful Anaho bay, to dream up a dinner menu which would feature the fresh produce I’d just acquired. Asian-style dinner was what I craved for. One look inside the pantry (noodles, rice, tapioca pearls) and inspired by the fragrance of mint, coriander and ginger, here are the dishes I came up with: sesame and ginger meat balls, peppery fish curry, stir fried vegetables noodles, and coconut tapioca pearls. Of course, there is no point cooking good food unless you share it, so our simple dinner plan turned into a party for 12 after I casually asked a couple of families to join us!
Sesame and ginger meat balls with sweet chili sauce
Serves 12 as appetisers
1 kg beef mince
4 garlic cloves, crushed
4 green onions (shallots), thinly sliced
4 tsp sesame oil
4 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp ginger, finely grated
1 cup savoury biscuits crumbs ( I used Ritz)
¼ cup milk
½ cup sesame seeds
Grapeseed oil (or another odourless oil), to shallow fry
Sweet chili sauce, to serve
1. Place the mince, onion, garlic, sesame oil, oyster sauce and ginger in a medium size bowl. Mix well.
2. With damp hands, roll the mixture into 36 balls, approximately 2tsp each. Roll the balls in sesame seeds to coat, shake away excess. Place the balls on a tray, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Heat oil in a large frying pan. Cook the meatballs in batches for about 8 minutes or until browned all over and cooked thru. Drain on absorbent paper.
4. Serve sprinkled with mint leaves, sweet chili sauce on the side.
Black pepper fish curry
A popular dish on board, this curry has a wonderful combination of flavours: tamarind, chili, garlic, ginger and coconut…it goes wonderfully with fish. I used part of a large spearfish we caught on passage from Panama, but mahi-mahi, wahoo or bluefish will be great too. As long as the flesh stays firm and moist. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients, most of them are pantry staples (except maybe tamarind pulp?)
Serves 4 to 6
1 kg thick skinless firm white fish fillets (spearfish, mahi-mahi, wahoo or bluefish) cut into 5cm pieces
1 ½ tsp ground turmeric
Salt to taste
2 ½ cups of water
1 ½ tbsp tamarind pulp
3 dried red chilies (or more to taste)
¼ cup red onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tbsp red capsicum, chopped
1 tbsp ginger, chopped
1 ½ tsp mashed anchovies
¼ cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
3 ½ tbsp grapeseed oil
1tbsp cracked black pepper
¾ cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
1 ½ cups green beans, washed and trimmed
3 ripe plum tomatoes, quartered ( I don’t bother peeling them)
1 ½ tsp sugar, or more to taste
Fresh coriander or mint leaves, for garnish
1. Rinse the fish pieces well, pat dry with paper towels, Rub the pieces with turmeric and sprinkle with salt. Let stand for 15 minutes.
2. Stem the chilies and shake out the seeds. Using scissors, cut them into pieces. Soak in warm water to cover for 10 minutes. Drain well.
3. Combine the chilies, red onions, garlic, capsicum, ginger, mashed anchovies and shredded coconut in a food processor. Blitz to a paste adding a little water if required to help the blending.
4. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat and brown the fish on both sides for about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
5. Heat the remaining oil in the same pot over low heat. Add the chili paste and black pepper and cook for about 7 minutes (until the mixture no longer tastes raw). Add a little more oil if the mixture sticks to the bottom of the pot.
6. Add the tamarind pulp, 2 ½ cups of water and the coconut milk and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes.
7. In a medium pot, bring 2 cups of salted water to a boil. Add the green beans and blanch them for 3 minutes. Drain them and set aside.
8. Return the fish to the dutch oven along with the green beans, tomatoes and sugar. Cook for 5 minutes longer. Garnish with coriander and serve over rice.
Coconut tapioca pearls (adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini)
This is a fun and simple dessert to have after a spicy dish. Tapioca is usually used as flour/starch as a thickener. In this dish, I use these little pearls which keep their shape after cooking and take on a bouncy and gelatinous texture (trust me, it feels better than it sounds!) I first read a recipe on the blog Chocolate and Zucchini, of French food writer Clotilde Dusoulier. She always impresses me with her delicious yet simple concoctions, and this one had been on my “to-do” list for a while. Her version uses star anise, which our crew doesn’t care for, so I substituted a cinnamon stick instead. It was scrumptious, the kids loved the popping sensation of the pearls in their mouths and the flavour was reminding Terry and I of the rice puddings of old.
1 can unsweetened coconut milk (400ml)
1 cinnamon stick
100g (10 tbsp) small tapioca pearls
100g brown sugar (I used muscovado)
¼ tsp salt
1. Pour the coconut milk in a saucepan, add the cinnamon stick and 600ml of water. Bring to a simmer on medium heat.
2. Sprinkle in the tapioca pearls and stir with a wooden spoon. Cover and let it simmer for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.
3. Take the saucepan off the heat, add the sugar and the salt, stir to dissolve. The mixture will still look liquid-ish, but the pearls will keep swelling up as they cool down.
4. Transfer to a serving bowl with the cinnamon stick, cover and let cool completely.
5. Serve at room temperature with a few mint leaves and a generous portion of coconut ice cream. Enjoy!
*It is also delicious for breakfast, served cold with tropical fruits!