Month: June 2013

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Coconut Watermelon Refresher | ‘Otai

Sun. Sweat. Waves. If lemonade is the go-to poolside drink in the United States, ‘Otai is the go-to ocean-side drink of Tonga. Our recipe for ‘Otai takes us way out into the southwest Pacific, where the tropical days lull a person into putting away their smartphone. Can you imagine? Oh, please, someone take my cellphone from me!! My heart is there already. I promise you won’t need your phone to enjoy this drink. What you do need? A watermelon, a can of coconut milk, and some shredded coconut. If you want to get fancy, you can add things like crushed pineapple or papaya, too. A squeeze of lime juice brightens up the flavors (and looks fancy schmancy) TIP: The watermelon and coconut milk should be very cold. Refrigerate them overnight.. or you could make the drink ahead, and refrigerate it for several hours, or overnight. While you wait, paint your toenails watermelon pink (or is it red?). Use three coats. No biggie. Makes about 1 1/2 quarts Ingredients: 1/2 seedless watermelon (about 5 cups mashed) …

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Sweet Potatoes in Coconut Caramel Sauce

I love necklaces. The bright stones add a splash of color and fun to my generally plain-Jane outfits. Seeing as I don’t general have time to put on makeup, necklaces are the one and only way to brighten up my look. To make it look like I tried. Well, today, we’re getting a taste of how the islanders in Tonga dress up dinner. In short? Sweet potatoes meet coconut caramel sauce – a vivid display of orange, white, and golden brown. Sweet potatoes and coconut grow easily in the Pacific, making this dish ubiquitous in Tonga. In fact, from what I read, this coconut caramel sauce is on everything in Tonga, from dumplings to taro. Instant goodness. The caramel is just sugar and coconut milk (yay, for an accidentally vegan caramel sauce!). The coconut milk gives the caramel a depth of flavor butter can’t touch. It’s just so tropical. So dressed up. TIP: You can substitute boiled taro, or even boiled dumplings, for the sweet potato in this recipe. Ingredients: 2 lbs sweet potatoes (about 2-3) …

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Menu: Tonga

Apparently the fine people of Tonga have quite the sweet tooth. Whether it’s the coconut caramel sauce (which they put on everything from boiled taro to dumplings), or the watermelon chiller, Tonga serves up sweetness in all they do. I for one can appreciate the natural sweetness, especially in the drink. Try the sweet potatoes as a snack or on the side of grilled meats. The drink is great any time of day, but is a perfect alternative to punch or lemonade at your next gathering.  Oh, and, yay for an accidentally vegan menu. Because… why not? All recipes and the meal review will be posted throughout the week. Sweet Potatoes in Coconut Caramel Sauce [Recipe] Gussy up your candied sweet potatoes like they do in Tonga -with a totally vegan coconut caramel sauce and a dusting of shredded coconut. Pretty and easy! Coconut Watermelon Refresher | ‘Otai [Recipe] Mashed watermelon blended with coconut milk and shredded coconut. Don’t forget the twist of lime! P.S. As you enjoy your meal, consider sharing the Tongan greeting, which is …

Royal Sunset Island Resort at 'Atata Island, 30 min boat ride from Tongatapu. Photo by Haanofonua.

About the food of Tonga

If you’d like to make some friends, you might want to head over to the “Friendly Islands,” a.k.a. Tonga. There are 170 of these islands to choose from, all dotted through the Southwest Pacific, in Oceania. They got their nickname because they were so kind to Captain Cook when he came there to visit in 1773. Even with all these islands, the CIA World Factbook claims its total area is just four times that of Washington D.C. In this scattered tropical country, vanilla, banana, coconut, and pumpkins grow with ease, despite the tough soil. The soil is best used, perhaps, for underground ovens, where entire pigs can be roasted, along with root vegetables. Once you arrive, stay a while. You can dine on all manner of seafood, along with boiled Taro, Sweet Potatoes [Recipe] or even dumplings… Many Tongans pour on a coconut caramel sauce, to make things even richer. The one with Taro is called Faikakai Topai. As with most of Oceania, Spam is a “thing” – you can find it baked in banana leaves …

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Monday Meal Review: Togo

“How many bites do I have to take?” “Do they have to be big bites?”  “Does this count as a big bite?” The questions kept coming from Miss Emma, one of the most picky eaters to grace our Global Table. She showed us her spoon, topped with Djenkoume (a.k.a. cornmeal cakes). This is what her big bite looked like: Thus far. Emma has spent the majority of her childhood “losing her lunch” when faced with new textures and flavors.  She couldn’t keep mash potatoes down until she was five… hers isn’t your ordinary finickiness. We were on very tenuous ground. I wanted to keep my furniture and rugs clean It was hard for me to relate to what Emma goes through when faced with new foods. Only rarely have I been physically affected by the thought of trying something new. There’s old Togolese proverb which reads: “It is impossible to go and look into the stomach of another.” How true. Even though I couldn’t put myself in Emma’s shoes, I was able to create an …

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Grilled Togo Chicken

  What brings a smile to your face? The sunshine? The taste of the ocean? What about security… that lovely feeling, when you know you can feed your family, without depending on someone else. Mrs. Essowedeou, from Togo, agrees. “I never knew how chickens could bring a smile to our faces,” she says. Mrs. Essowedeou raises chickens as part of the “Plan Togo” program.   These chickens are her smile because they are her (and her family’s) ticket to security. Independence. Food. She sells the chickens and the eggs to raise money for her family. This week, let’s smile with Togo in our hearts. And, in Kpetou’s honor, let’s do it with chicken. Because, sometimes, it’s that simple. Chicken recipes are plentiful in Togo, but Grilled Togo Chicken is probably the simplest, most straight forward way to enjoy the meat. All you need to do is marinate your favorite cut of chicken with ginger, garlic, and onion. Use a dash of cayenne if you’re feeling spicy, and be sure to rub on a hit of …

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Tomato Cornmeal Cakes | Djenkoume

Even grownups need to build sandcastles from time to time. The urge comes from deep within our hearts – some far away love for fantasy, perhaps formed in childhood. Today, we’re listening to our inner child; we’re making edible sandcastles… from Togo. At least, that’s what I’m calling them. If you want to be a serious adult, you can call them cornmeal cakes. In Togo, corn is everything, ever. Sometimes it is served as porridge. And sometimes it’s served as Djenkoume, a.k.a. cornmeal cakes, a.k.a. edible sand castles. Djenkoume is a cornmeal, tomato, and red palm oil corn cake, rather like polenta. But there’s so much more about the dish… there’s onion, garlic, and ginger in the mix.  And a mound of homemade, spiced tomato sauce. Hello. How could that not be wonderful? Friends, sometimes, I wonder if I’m really going to be able to find a dish I like in every country in the world. So far, I’ve had 100% success rate, and it’s not just because I’m fairly open minded.  It’s also because there …

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Menu: Togo

The last three people I’ve told that I’m cooking Togo have asked me what kind of food Togo is, not realizing Togo is a small west African country. So, friends, let’s learn together. Let’s put the Togolese spirit on our tables… along with a bit of their food. We’ll get to the menu we selected in a moment. First, let’s discuss the ‘spirit’ part of the meal. This week, I sought out some inspirational words from Togo. I had no choice. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately. For starters, I’ll be speaking in front of 3,000 people at the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. No biggie (total biggie!!).  Second, I’m about to turn in the next 1/3 of my memoir (I foresee a few all-nighters to finish the pages up). Third, my daughter is about to turn four (when on earth did that happen?). Fourth, I’m about to celebrate my fifth year of marriage (seriously, where has the time gone?). Fifth, I just spent the weekend visiting with my BFF from high school. It’s been …

Local house in the Taberma Valley in Togo. The whole area is deignated a UNESCO Heritage Site. Photo by Erik Kristensen.

About the food of Togo

There’s an old Togolese proverb which says “Do not  roast all your corn in the winter.”  The proverb sums up Togo nicely. While the words point to importance placed on resourcefulness in this small, west African country, it also points to something much more obvious. The Togolese love their corn. As with most proverbs, they draw from the popular culture from whence they originate. This skinny strip of a country in western Africa really does love their corn, especially cornmeal. Cornmeal cakes called Djenkoume are a popular staple, as is fufu (stiff cornmeal porridge, although sometimes it is made with yam). Either might be served with chicken [like Grilled Togo Chicken], goat, or wild game. What does a Togolese person do when they tire of cornmeal? Eat cassava.  It can be savory, on the side of goat stew, or an after dinner treat, served as a soft, sweet porridge. From the dry savannas and tropical coast, this land also loves their peanuts. In fact, groundnut stew [Recipe] (an old favorite from our Ghanaian Global Table), makes …

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Monday Meal Review: Thailand

It took a Green Papaya Salad from Thailand to make me think about the rhythms of my life. Rat-tat-tat-tat…. Rat-tat-tat…. Rat-tat.. Rat… Rat… Tat-tat… Thwap. As I pounded the garlic and chili peppers into a paste, feeling both awkward and unskilled, I began to ask myself some questions… Namely, how is it that something as simple as pounding food can be so hard for me, yet be so easy for another person – like… oh, say… someone from Thailand? I understand that Thai people learn how to use mortars and pestles at a young age… but … still… the question popped up. And then things got really existential.  I’m not sure if it was a full moon, or the barometric pressure, but I got much, much deeper. As in, I began to compare myself to a mortar and pestle. I asked: “Am I moving smoothly through my life, making smart choices, or am I a mess of starts and stops, pounding the pavement hard for a while, then resting for too long before picking up the pace again?” You see, I’ve heard rumors wives …

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Thai Iced Tea

There’s nothing sweeter than a good love story; and there’s no love story more refreshing than Thai Iced Tea. This is the love story of extra strong Ceylon tea, brewed until deeply blushing. The rouge dissolves like a faint, as sweetened condensed milk swirls into the mix. If you think that’s all there is to Thai Iced Tea, you’d be half right. For many people, that’s all they desire. But every love story needs a little spice, so today we’re going the extra mile, by including one of the little optional additions that give each pitcher ultimate romance … like a few stars, to brighten the mood. Star Anise glitter as brightly as any in the sky…  don’t you think? This is a drink that will cool you after a bite of spicy Thai food. It will calm you after a stressful day. And, if you sweeten it as much as they do in Thailand, it just might make your eyes pop out. In a good way. Note: Some people like to add orange food …

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Green Papaya Salad | Som Tam

Whomp. Womp. Womp. Everything worth doing takes a little bit of work. And so it is with Som Tam. The mortar and pestle crushes the garlic, mashes a Thai bird chili peppers,  and wooshes the fish sauce and lime juice into the green beans and papaya. I put the bowl on the table, dotted red with tomatoes. Ava thinks the papaya is spaghetti. The pale green shreds curl around her fork. “It’s something like that…” I say, hoping she believes me. She takes a bite, then another. Soon the forks on plates are the only noise. While I adore Thai food, I’d never had green papaya salad before this week. When several readers suggested I try it on our Facebook Page, I listened. First, I tried to order it at a local restaurant called My Thai Kitchen, just to see what all the fuss was about, but it wasn’t on the menu. So, instead, I went to our local  Asian market, Nam Hai, and picked up what I needed, including some palm sugar, a green …