Thursday, October 10, 2013

My Kitchen My World - Tonga

I wanted to participate in My Kitchen My World last month - I pinned several recipes from Great Britain that looked fun and yummy. But last month we started renovating our kitchen, and it just didn't happen. Go figure - remove the kitchen sink, counters, cabinets, and any semblance of a working kitchen, and suddenly I don't feel like making fancy foreign foods.

But even though we've been working on this kitchen renovation for about a month now and it still looks awful, I just had to participate this month. Tonga was my choice of country to visit in October. Torn-up kitchen or no, I had to make a delicious Tongan meal to share!

I chose Tonga as this month's MKMW destination because we have a lot of Tongan friends and church acquaintances in our neighborhood. I have grown to love the Polynesian culture, including and especially the food!

In Tonga, a common traditional cooking method is an underground earthen oven, called an umu. A common meal is meat and coconut, and sometimes vegetables, wrapped in taro leaves and baked in the umu. The taro leaves are called lu. The main dish I chose to make is called lu pulu, which is lu with beef.

The recipe I used is from the family of John Groberg. He is sort of famous in the Mormon church for serving a mission in Tonga in the 1950's, and writing about his experiences (a movie was even made about it). This is a simplified, Americanized version of lu pulu, using spinach and aluminum foil in place of taro leaves. The recipe also calls for mayonnaise, but I chose to use cream of coconut instead, as being closer to tradition.

Lu Pulu
3 bunches spinach, washed, drained, and stemmed
1 12-oz can corned beef
1 onion, chopped
1 tomato, chopped (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
5 tbsp cream of coconut (found in the drink mixer section of grocery stores, use mayonnaise instead if you prefer)
19-inch sheet of aluminum foil

Fold foil in half and lay flat. Lay spinach leaves over it, then top with chopped corned beef, onion, tomato, and salt and pepper. Spread with cream of coconut or mayonnaise. Gather edges of foil up and twist at the top to make a tight package. Place in a baking pan. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.

Open foil, mix the ingredients a little, and serve over sweet potatoes, which can be baked in the same oven.

This stuff is pretty yummy! It was very simple to make. Except for opening the can of corned beef. For some reason, my can didn't come with the little key to open it. I had to grab the tab with a vice grip I had lying around, and try to wrench it open. That worked for about half the can, then it broke off. Then I tried to use my super strong kitchen shears to cut the can open the rest of the way. I'm lucky I still have all my fingers! Eventually I just embraced the half-openness of the can and painstakingly scooped the meat out with a spoon.

Anyway, moving on! A popular drink in Tonga is called something called otai. It is typically made up of watermelon pulp and coconut milk. Other fruits are sometimes added to it. When I went to buy ingredients for this meal, I quickly was reminded that watermelon is not in season! I got a small plastic container of watermelon and supplemented with crushed pineapple. Usually otai should be much more pink than this! This recipe made a very chunky drink - we ate it as much as we drank it. But it was still quite yummy! Next time I would probably pull out the blender and give it a whirl.

3 cups grated watermelon
1 can crushed pineapple (do not drain)
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup cream of coconut (this wasn't in the recipe I used, but I figured I had already opened the can for the lu pulu and I might as well add it to the otai)
1 can evaporated milk
2 cans of water (use the evaporated milk can)
Juice of 1/2 lime

Combine all ingredients in pitcher or large bowl. Process in blender if desired. Chill before serving.

As a little bonus, here is a picture of what my kitchen looked like when I made this meal. Yeah, it's scary.

And if anyone is interested, you can visit my other blog to read about our kitchen remodel.