I secretly love it when a word like “pudding” takes on a whole new meaning than “the sweet chocolate goop found in the refrigerator cases of American supermarkets” (although I do enjoy that sort of pudding as much as the next sugar crazed mom).
I love surprises like this because they teach me not to take so much for granted. They remind me that there are people all over this beautiful world who have different ways of doing things.
And, in case you didn’t get the memo, different is a beautiful thing.
Imagine how boring our world would be if we all looked the same, talked the same, and… ate the very same pudding?
In Solomon Islands and throughout Oceania, pudding is any goupy mixture that’s been grated and baked. Or sometimes steamed.
Let’s get specific.
The most popular pudding in Solomon Islands is Cassava Pudding. This is more of a savory cake than pudding. It’s made with grated cassava, sweet potato, and coconut milk.
The whole shebang is traditionally baked all afternoon in a motu, or outdoor oven, under scorching hot stones, banana leaves, and even a layer of insulating blanket.
Even after baking, the “pudding” is wet and jiggly… it’s only after the mixture cools off that it becomes firm enough to slice.
I knew immediately that I wanted to try Cassava Pudding. The recipe had the right amount of cultural significance and interest. But, after a glance out at our snow covered back yard, I also knew I needed to make a version accessible for the home cook – someone who only has an indoor oven at their disposal.
Maybe even someone in a 10th floor apartment in NYC.
After much trial and error, I came up with today’s rendition. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of information available about Solomon Island’s Cassava Pudding. I was fortunate to come across this video, which I used as the basis of my version. Take a peek to get a sense of what we’re talking about:
Fills an 11×9 Casserole (Adapted for an indoor oven)
3 lbs cassava/yucca/manioc
1 large white sweet potato (about 1 lb)
13-20 ounces coconut milk, as needed (I used 18)
Gather a couple of tubers of cassava… You can find it in the your supermarket’s produce department (I found it at Whole Foods), or in any latin grocer.
Or… in the Solomon Islands.
Peel & cut the cassava into large chunks. Using a knife, cut out the woody fibers in the center (they can contain traces of cyanide and should not be added to the pudding).
Next, put on an audio book or invite some friends over… all while you grate the cassava. The whole process took me 1-2 hours.
The grater I used does not have any holes, just an abrasive texture… it worked great and kept my knuckles cut-free.
Next, peel & grate the white sweet potato, adding it to the bowl of cassava.
Using cheesecloth or cotton, squeeze out the grated cassava and sweet potato. Twisting the fabric is the easiest way to do this. Reserve the liquid in a bowl.
The squeezed out gratings will become dry, like this:
After 15-30 minutes, pour off the liquid you reserved into another bowl. At the bottom you will find a couple of teaspoons of thick white liquid – this is starch. Add it back to the gratings; it will help thicken the pudding.
Next, pour the coconut milk onto the cassava mixture, only adding enough to create a mashed potatoes like consistency (see video). I used 1 large can and one small can, or 18 fluid ounces.
Now for the fun:
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Meanwhile, soften some banana leaves over a open flame, to make them more pliable. A gas burner works great for this.
Then fold the banana leaves back over the cassava mixture…
Cover tightly with a lid or foil and bake at 350F for about 3 1/2 hours… or until browned on the edges.
The mixture will still be wet and mushy. Set aside to cool and harden.
In fact, if it were cooked on hot rocks, it’d end up even bumpier and there’d be even more brown spots, like this.
Enjoy the irregularities of life.
They often taste the best.