A sashimi-style raw fish dish
A sashimi-style raw fish dish

Simply creamy goodness

REPEAT after me: "Coconut cream is good." Now say it again like you really believe it, because Jerry Brunt says it is true.

Jerry, a lawyer, owns Samoa's Orator Hotel with wife Charlotte in Tanumapua in the capital, Apia. In his village, the big, healthy Samoan is the speaking chief (or orator, hence the hotel name).

So you better believe it when he tells you earlier generations of Samoans ate fresh coconut cream in various dishes for their two meals each day: breakfast and dinner.

And they all lived longer than today's Samoans are likely to, with their preference for western diets and less coconut cream.

We take Jerry at his word and plough in to our first coconut cream dish of dinner.

Known respectfully as palusami or more commonly as luau, the baby taro leaves baked with coconut cream is definitely tasty.

Chef Kosa Toroca, a Fijian, prepares the dish with finely chopped onion, seasoned with salt and pepper, before cooking in a traditional umu above-ground oven on volcanic river rocks.

Charlotte, who owned a catering business before building the hotel, said palusami could be placed atop a slice of cooked cassava and served as an entree or cut into wedges as finger food at a party.

Another popular entrée among the Samoans is oka (known as kokoda in Fiji): raw fish in coconut cream. Jerry said albacore fillets - like tuna - were commonly used for their year-round availability.

The fillets are diced into cubes and marinated for a short time in a squeeze of lemon juice (too much lemon juice or leaving the fish to marinate too long will overpower the fish).

Cucumber, tomato, spring onions and coriander can be diced and added to the coconut cream before pouring over the fish to create a colourful "salad".

Jerry said oka could be eaten as an entree on its own or used as a filling for seafood crepes.

For a soup accompaniment, bele spinach leaves are chopped up and blended with coconut cream - worth a second helping.

Next, we see an alternative to mashed potato using a local vegetable like a cassava (similar to a white-fleshed sweet potato) that is peeled, diced and boiled.

Salt, pepper and parsley are added before mashing with coconut cream.

With baked fish as the main attraction, another side dish is sea grapes (or seaweed - Samoans' salt substitute) in coconut cream.

Dessert is papaya, which has been skinned and wrapped in banana leaves, which retain the heat on the umu without burning, to cook the fruit in its natural juices.

Ripe bananas cooked in their skin on the barbecue over charcoal work, too - with the obligatory pour of coconut cream.

Naturally, the Samoans do not use coconut cream from a preservative-laden can in the pantry.

They still use the traditional, muscle-making method of obtaining the cream by grating the coconut flesh from the husk, and using coconut husk fibres to break it down further before squeezing the liquid "cream" into a cup or bowl - as we later witnessed on nearby Manono Island.

Samoans call the coconut palm "the tree of life" because the roots can be used for medicine, the trunks for posts in their fale huts, the leaves for thatching the fale roofs, the coconut husk for making fire and the inside of the coconut for food and drink.

Charlotte said Samoan cooking relied heavily on basic ingredients that were grown, caught or raised in the villages.

Drive past any village and as well as happy children playing in front yards, you're also likely to see "free-range" pigs and piglets or roosters and hens followed closely by their brood.

Charlotte said pigs and chickens roamed freely, eating the scraps of the organic foods cooked and prepared by the villagers.

This "slow-fatttening" process, she said, was why the pork and chicken was so tasty … and no doubt much better for you.

So maybe the coconut cream has nothing to do with Jerry's theory of longevity.

Maybe other diet factors have contributed to their good health. But I'm not going to argue with a big Samoan, especially one who's a lawyer.

 

Oka (Raw fish with coconut cream)

Ingredients:

  • 400g fresh sashimi-quality tuna loin or snapper cut into small pieces
  • 4 medium-sized tomatoes dice
  • Half a medium-size cucumber, seeded, diced
  • Small bunch of spring onions, finely diced
  • 3 small red chillies, finely diced
  • 2/3 cup fresh lemon or lime juice
  • 2 cups of coconut milk
  • Salt n pepper

Method:

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

Chill in the fridge for an hour before serving.

Serve with steamed taro or kumara or garlic bread.

This dish is a wonderful entree or cocktail starter when served with a glass of white wine - especially sauvignon blanc.



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