Monday Meal Review: Solomon Islands

Ava’s been saying something disturbing lately. If a toy breaks, she says “let’s buy a new one.” If fruit sits too long in the basket and gets mushy, she says “let’s go to the grocery store.”

She says these things, even with a father who shows her how to build and repair her toys in the garage … Even with a mother who teaches her how to make apple pies with bruised apples. Maybe she says it less than some children, but I’m still concerned, and I’m at a loss with how to handle it.

Our week cooking the Solomon Islands brought the issue into clear relief.

In the Solomon Islands, food is incredibly difficult to grow. There’s mountains. Monsoons.  On the remote islands, locals might have to row to another island just to get to the grocery store.

You get the drift.

Solomon Dugout Canoe from below. Photo by mjwinoz.

Solomon Dugout Canoe from below. Photo by mjwinoz.

Food is not to be wasted. Families must make due with what they have.

This includes eating green papaya and grated cassava, wrapped up in banana leaves, some of the rare indigenous foods.

So, as I grated the cassava (which took a whopping two hours),* I spoke to Ava about the importance of using what we have. Even if it takes a little elbow grease to transform it into something edible.

Something usable.

She listened the way any three and a half year old does, with partial interest and a great deal of misinterpretation regarding the term “elbow grease.”

“What’s bewbow gwease, mama?”

Anyway, I’m hoping that the message of making due with what we have will sink in over time and become palatable, even desirable to her…  It’s just another variation on the important lesson my mother taught me:

“Waste not, want not.”

The question I struggle with is how to teach Ava this lesson, when we are surrounded by stuff, stuff, stuff… all available nearly instantly and without much hardship. For example, we were at a birthday party recently where the child’s presents could have filled half an aisle of the toy store.

Should this be our normal?

If not, what should it be?

<< I’d love your thoughts >>


Green PawPaw Curry [Recipe]

What I loved most about this dish:

While green papaya is no show stopper on it’s own (she’s watery and a tad bitter, like any green vegetable worth its salt), I couldn’t put my spoon down once she was mixed with curry and coconut milk. I ate so much I rather wished I was in my sweatpants. Thankfully, papaya is super healthy and mostly water… so it’s a little like eating a salad… lots of fluff without much actual rib-sticking going on. Mr Picky was surprised by how much he liked it, as was I.

Since the papaya we get in Tulsa aren’t the greatest, this turns out to be a great way to use them if they’re bland.

What I loved least about this dish:

I made the mistake of giving Ava big pieces of the papaya, which threw her off. I should have cut them very small, so she wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the texture. She didn’t quite get the fruity squish with the savory sauce, although she ate quite a bit of the rice soaked with curry (so she’s at least acquiring a taste for curry).

Cassava & Sweet Potato Pudding [Recipe]

What I loved most about this dish:

Cassava Pudding is dense and comforting, as with all carbs. The difference here are the flavors. By cooking the food in banana leaves, a most wonderful flavor emerges, a little like artichokes… when combined with the coconut milk, the result is hard to put down. I ate three pieces one morning before I’d even realized it. My favorite part has to be the browned edges… yum, yum. Keith liked this one as well, remarking on the coconut taste.

What I loved least about this dish:

Considering my history with cassava (a.k.a. yucca), I expected this to be a complete flop. When it came out of the oven wet and gooey after three and a half hours cooking I was sure I’d failed. Turns out I just needed to let the cassava cool before trying to slice it.  This can be done on the counter or the refrigerator.

That being said… grating cassava and sweet potato for two hours was not my idea of the greatest of times. Turns out, there’s a reason cooking is a social activity in the Solomon Islands – traditional recipes take a long time to prep and bake, leaving ample opportunity for chatter, singing, and even dancing.

*I thought of another way to do this: peel and remove the central fibers from the cassava, then run the remaining cassava through the grater on a food processor. Then, run the grated cassava through the regular blade of the food processor.  I have no idea if it will work, but in the off chance that it does, it’ll save you 2 hours. The other option is to do this with friends and family – make a fun activity out of it.


  1. Dutchgirl says

    Even now our kids have saturday jobs and money of their own we keep telling them it is unnecessary to buy all the (expensive) stuff available. Not even when your friends tell you to… I hope it somewhere sinks in and that they remember it when they will have their own household one day.
    But it is difficult as there is so much stuff to buy, games to play and clothes to try on.

    My thought about it is: keep telling Ava how you see things, even if she doesn’t understand now (or wants to understand when she reaches puberty age 🙂

    • Sasha Martin says

      Sounds like early money management is a good way to practice wants vs. needs. Great advice. Thanks, Dutchgirl.

  2. That pawpaw curry sounds delicious. I’m going to try that one night when my own Mr. Picky is out of town (he won’t eat anything sweet, even sweet-ish, in a dish he perceives should be savory.) As for the issue of ‘stuff,’ we’re kind of on the same page as Dutchgirl – be the broken record. I’m also giving my kids a ton of allowance and making them purchase their own clothes throughout the year. My daughter, who is 7, almost 8, got some money saved up and wanted to visit Justice… until she saw the prices. Then she turned to me and said, “Mom, can we go to Target?” We went to Target and she brought home two shirts, a pair of boots, and a storage bin for her closet for the same price as the shirt she thought she originally thought she HAD TO HAVE at Justice. It does kick in sooner or later. 🙂

    • Sasha Martin says

      Love this… (by the way, goes to show how out of touch I am — I don’t even know what Justice is LOL)

  3. Laura says

    Wow, food flash backs! The Solomon’s is my second home I grew up there from age 5-15, I was born and now live in Australia. Recently I asked some family friends of ours for the recipe for ‘Supsup’ (basically greens and tuna cooked in coconut milk). Her honest reply was as follows:

    1. Paddle to island to get coconuts. Husk, scratch and squeeze to remove milk/cream.
    2. Go to the garden and dig up 2-3 hills of kumara (sweet potato), wash in the river, peel and cut up.
    3. Build fire in hauskuk
    4. Put coconut cream, kumara and water in a pot with a pinch of salt, and place on the fire. Boil, simmer and serve.
    Add any extras if available eg greens, onions or tuna.

    Some of my best food memories are of fresh red paw-paw (papaya) with a squeeze of lime and passion fruit on top, and barbecued tuna down by the beach.

    I never really grew to love cassava pudding. For some reason the rubbery texture always got to me but I never complained about eating good old plain pudding after watching a version made with fermented Ngali nuts for a wedding feast. Ngali nuts are beautiful fresh but the odor of them fermented is enough to make an unaccustomed nose/palet dry-reach! My sisters and I managed to become invisible when a banana leaf plate appeared with a ready to be consumed portion for the honored guests, leaving our Dad to taste test alone.

    You’ve done well, all the recipies are spot on!

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