I have a vegetarian and vegan option for you fellow foodies out there! Today’s meal consists of a bean dish (maharagwe) and a side of collard greens (sukuma wiki).
Maharagwe is a creamy bean stew that is found along the Eastern coast of Africa. Maharagwe means beans in Swahili and often refers to kidney-like beans that have a molted/speckled appearance. Coconut milk, spices, tomatoes, and diced peppers and onions are also found in the dish. You can find the recipe I referenced here.
As for the sukuma wiki (recipe), it is a simple side that is often found in African cooking due to the few ingredients which can be found locally and its versatility. With it being fewer ingredients it certainly doesn’t break the bank to make! The affordability of the meal is actually in the name- sukuma wiki meaning “stretch the week” in Swahili. There are variations on the dish but at its core is collard greens, oil, salt, tomatoes, and onions.
I opted for flatbread once again, but to keep it traditional you can take a swing at ugali. The entire meal was simple to make especially with the use of several canned ingredients it cut down the prep time. This was a nice option for the work week and also very affordable!
This hearty bean meal was well complimented by the cream coconut sauce. The bed of collard greens paired well. The flat bread was the perfect vessel to scoop everything up. Overall the flavor was found to be underwhelming so we rated this meal 6/10 average. Oh well!
The Marshall Islands are located in the Pacific Ocean, its closest neighbor being Hawaii to the northeast. This independent nation is made up of 1,225 islands, 870 reefs, and 29 atolls which spans over 750,000 sq miles. Sadly this country is facing the looming threat of global warming and is at high risk of being under water if the globe warms two degrees.
Cuisine of The Marshall Islands mostly includes ingredients that can be found locally including several varieties of fruit, seafood, and rice. The Marshallese take care with food preservation including fermentation. Dried pandanus paste which is made from pandan leaves can last several years if prepared properly. These leaves have a subtle vanilla flavor and were used when we made nasi lemak from Malaysia.
Today’s recipe combines all the island flavors including coconut and papaya. We opted to omit the sweet potato salad since we aren’t big mayo fans. You can find the recipe here
I found the cooking and preparation simple, but it didn’t look too appetizing. Looking back I actually forgot to bread the fish, that makes a HUGE difference in the end result. It would have given the dish the “face lift” it needed, especially if shredded coconut was added to the flour! We served up the concoction over a bed of jasmine rice. Meh
This was another dish that was really unique and unfortunately lacked contrasting textures due to my error and execution- I blame this on being a crunch meal during the work week. The elements of the dish all worked together and the mint highlighted the freshness of the fruit. It was a little too unique for us, but I guarantee if you follow the recipe you will have a better result. We rated this version 6.25/10.
Micronesia, officially known as the Federal States of Micronesia is a country that spans over 600 islands and even more atolls in the western Pacific Ocean. The name Micronesia comes from the Greek words “mikros” meaning small and “nesos” meaning island. The main country is made up of four island states: Chuuk, Pohnpei, Yap, and Kosrae. This Oceania country was once a territory of Spain, Germany, and Japan. During World War II Japan had a Navel Base at Truk Lagoon (also known as Chuuk Lagoon) which now is a hot spot for scuba diving to explore the several ship wrecks and other sunken army vehicles along with the reclaiming coral reefs. Another spot to visit in Micronesia is the ancient city that was built between 1200 and 1500 on a coral reef and is the only one of its kind.
As an island nation, Micronesia depends on natural resources for much of its cuisine. Taro, bread fruit, coconut, banana, and yams are the most common staples. Shellfish, pig, and chicken are the primary proteins on the islands. Many inhabitants grow raise their own livestock and harvest the above staples. There is a mix of eastern and western influences due to its prior inhabitants, every state also having its own distinct cuisine. Rice is an important element and can be found served with every meal. Micronesians also take care with their seasoning, a step that shouldn’t be skimped.
The meal I prepared for mighty Micronesia is a coconut chicken curry. I couldn’t find much on origins, I summed it up to a flavor fusion from its culinary influences. You can find the recipe here.
The cooking and preparation was easy and was done in half an hour. The steps were simple and easy to follow. I had no complaints! As a bonus I used coconut milk to make a fragrant coconut rice, (in Jonathan voice) yasss queen!
Micronesia served up a flavorful curry with beautiful colors from the array of veggies. The spices were comforting and not too strong. The variety of ingredients gave nice contrasting textures. We thought this dish deserved 7.75/10 as a rating.
Oh do I wish I was someplace warm right now! I feel Maine’s winter has been pretty mild so far but that tropical climate seems to be calling my name. Today we explore Fiji, a country of the South Pacific Ocean composed of more than 300 islands (110 of which are inhabited). This archipelago nation became independent from Great Britain in October of 1970 and is well known in the tourist industry. Walking across a hot bed of stones originated in Fiji around 500 years ago by the Sawau tribe. Fiji is also the “soft coral” capital of the world and has over 4,000 square miles across its nation with several popular places to snorkel. Additionally “Fiji Water” is one of the main exports of the country and is drank world wide.
The cuisine of Fiji is made up mostly of local ingredients whether if be foraged, hunted, farmed, or caught. With colonization teas, rice, grains, and flour are other staples in their diet. Seasonal produce is usually highlighted in their cooking. Coconut, taro, cassava, and bele (native vegetable) are especially popular here. The meal I made today tries to embody the nation using (or substituting) local ingredients. This chili coconut prawn (shrimp) recipe can be found here.
The execution was easy and used known ingredients. I added some peppers to give the dish more color and substance. I opted to make coconut rice to really bring out those sweet flavors (and because I’m obsessed).
Another awesome shrimp dish! The shrimp was super savory and paired well with the coconut rice (winning rice flavor in my opinion). The spice was enjoyable and complimented the dish. This one was worthy of 8/10.
Welcome back! Today we head even more west to the Solomon Islands! This sovereign country is made up of 900 smaller and 6 major islands east of Australia and close to Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. The islands were first inhabited 3,000 years ago by the Lapita people, a group of prehistoric Austronesian people. Due to its location in the Coral Triangle the country is known for incredible diving experiences. Between three of the countries larger islands lies the world’s largest salt water lagoon, Marovo Lagoon. Below the surface Vangunu Island has the most active submarine volcano. The economy here is mostly made up of agricultural, fishery, and forestry resources.
Cuisine of the island like many others is made up of native plants, fish, and game. Fish is the most abundant resource and is prepared in a variety of ways. Coconut, cassava, sweet potato, plantains, bananas, rice, and taro roots are also very commonly used. Influence is made up of Indian, Asian, and Spanish along with Polynesian. Today’s dish combines a lot of the ingredients mentioned above and is an example of what a meal may consist of if your were to visit the island. The recipe of this dish can be found here.
I don’t known about you, but I have never had papaya before and neither has Ian. I thought the flesh was very similar to cantaloupe however the seeds were very unique and unexpected. I almost had my stove top maxed out while preparing the dish but overall it wasn’t too challenging and used simple and known cooking methods.
This dish was another unique one. We had never had papaya before and thought it would have been sweeter. Overall it was kind of bland, but it was colorful and had a good variety of ingredients. I would recommend playing around with Asian or Indian spices to jazz it up. The dish was rated 6.5/10 between the two of us.
Welcome back to Asia where we traveled to our 70th country Laos, the land of a million elephants (name translation). Laos is found in Southeast Asia cozied up next to Vietnam, Thailand, China, Burma, and Cambodia. Although this is a landlocked country you can explore the stunning Luang Prabang Mountain Range or the impressive Khon Phapheng Falls. Laos became independent from the French rule in 1953 so you can find its citizens speaking French of Lao. Laos is known for its Bhuddism, historic temples, and its spicy cuisine!
Laos cuisine often always includes sticky rice, their citizens being the largest consumers in the world averaging 345lbs consumed per person annually! Its cuisine is similar to Indian and Thai food in which their dishes are often full of spicy and rich flavors. The most popular and representative dish of Laos being larb; a salad like meal with ground meat herbs and veg sitting in a lime-fish sauce dressing. Today he make something a little different, but still very true to Laos- khao poon. This dish is a spicy soup with vermicelli, coconut milk, chicken, and several plant-based garnishes. Every khao poon is unique to its cook with several variations out there. You can find the recipe Ian used here.
Galangal is similar to ginger and turmeric and can be found in Southern Asia. I had to go online to find myself some but it was dried! This made for a tricky preparation..
Ian ended up modifying the spice because personally we don’t like our mouths to fry. He added a sweeter Asian sauce to the curry paste to make it spicy and sweet, more Messy Aprons friendly! We had fun plating this meal, the edible flowers bringing the dish to the next level!
Ian and I have been on a streak of above average dishes, this being one of them. We loved the heat and spice that was well balanced by the coconut milk. I appreciated the balance of vegetables to meat; when there is x2-3 more meat to veg most of the time I think it is too much (I know what an unpopular opinion). We rated this one 7.75/10.
We are back the Caribbean baby! St Lucia is an island situated in the Caribbean Sea south of Martinique and north of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Although a small country it is full of various unique landscapes such as rainforests, coral reefs, mountains, a dormant volcano, and sandy beaches. St Lucia has also been known as Iyonola and Hewanorra which were names given by natives meaning island of the iguanas, but was renamed in the 16th century by the European settlers.
So I already had a hunch I would like this dish since we had made a coconut curry tuna dish for Tuvalu not too long ago. Although this is not the national dish, it is still a good representation of the country with common ingredients. Their cuisine is influenced by British, East Indian, and French cooking styles and flavors which can be seen in this dish.
There is a large variety of spices St Lucians use such as allspice, cinnamon, curry, and cloves and an even large variety of fruits that are native to the island. This dish has the wonderful pineapple which can easily elevate any dish in my opinion, especially when grilled! I used this recipe when preparing dinner.
As expected the dish was a hit and easy to prepare! I had marinated the chicken overnight to get the best flavor possible. The pineapple coconut rice was amazing (honestly what doesn’t coconut milk and pineapple make better)? The chicken was very flavorful and well seasoned. I would have liked to try the marinade on bone-in chicken that I would cook up in the Air Fryer. We rated this dish 8/10.
Welcome back to a warm place in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.. The Northern Mariana Islands. This archipelago has 15 volcanoes that are mostly dormant . The Northern 10 volcanic islands are uninhabited leaving 5- Rota, Guam, Aguijan, Tinian and Saipan. Guam is a US territory that is the southernmost island of the chain. The Mariana Trench (West of the Mariana Islands) is actually the lowest part of the Earth’s crust and it is so deep that Mount Everest would completely fit with room to spare between the peak and the surface of the water!
These islands neighbor Japan and the Philippines and are traveled to for their beauty, coral reefs, and golf courses. Today I made a dish that is popular in Guam, however it will represent the chain of islands in their entirety. Kelaguen Mannok is a chicken salad which can be eaten as is or wrapped in a tortilla. This salad is made up of cooked chicken that traditionally is marinated in soy sauce and cane sugar. Other ingredients include items that might make you feel like you are some place tropical- unsweetened coconut, lemons, and hot peppers. I used this recipe to create this dish and took advantage of the tip to use a rotisserie chicken!
I decided to make the common red rice pairing as well. The rice gets its color from annatto powder (I had to make my own blend using tumeric, paprika, and nutmeg). Annatto powder is more commonly used in cooking solely for the color it gives food vs flavor. It comes from the seeds of spiny fruit of an achiote tree, the fruit remind me of burdock that are found stuck to your clothes when coming out to hike in Maine!
I will admit I wish I had done more research prior to making this dish to know to marinate the chicken. Instead I just drizzled some soy sauce on the salad and mixed it well prior to wrapping it up. The rice had nice flavor from my spice blend, however no matter how much I tried it did not look nearly as colorful as the real deal.
We thought this was a pretty yummy dish and the addition of a tortilla obviously was a superior way to eat it! It was surprising that the chicken with the combination of flavors and the fact that it was cold tricked my mind several times to think it was fish! The citrus and mild heat components was a nice contrast that paired well with the sweetness of the coconut. We rated this dish an average of 7/10.
Welcome back! Today we are in the tropical Vanuatu, a country made up of 83 islands in the South Pacific Ocean near Australia. Bungee jumping was first done here when brave boys and men would jump from 20-30m (60-90ft) with vines tied to their ankles off wooden towers as part of a ritual called Nanggol. I think I’ll pass on that one!
The Vanuatuan cuisine consists main ingredients such as mangos, bananas, taro, yam, coconut, and seafood. You can find chickens and pigs used as a meat source, however seafood is primarily used. With that being said today’s dish screams Vanuatu!
I ended up finding a wonderful recipe that consisted of seasoned shrimp on top of a shredded spinach which sits in a sweet potato and coconut soup, yum yum!
Their national dish lap lap did not seem possible for me to attempt which is the product of pounded taro root paste which is layered with cabbage and meat wrapped in a banana leaf.. something tells me this would only taste good if eating it local.
All in all we appreciated the sweetness from the coconut and sweet potato and slight kick of chili powder (did not have cayenne). The shrimp was seasoned perfectly and had a bit of a crunch to it. The additional of spinach brought a freshness to the dish. We ended up rating it 7.25/10!
We are finally circling back to South America to Suriname. Suriname is found in the Northern part of the country bordered by Guyana, French Guinea, and Brazil. 80% of the country is made up of rainforests and is home to 467 species. One of these being the world’s deadliest poison dart frog which can only be found in these forests. Suriname is a large exporter of gold making up 67% of South America total exports.
Today I made a dish known as Pom which is a very well known dish in Suriname. It has Jewish and Creole origins and was introduced by the Jewish-Portuguese plantain owners in the 17th century as a potato oven dish. The dish was adapted to the Surinamese culture by substituting potatoes that were difficult to grow in this region with the root of pomtajer which is a native root vegetable.
Pom is made up of three main ingredients: citrus juices (commonly orange with lemon or lime), chicken, and pomtajer (or potato). The use of citrus juice when cooking chicken is how Jewish cooks “cleansed chicken of their smell.”
I had also read with my research on this dish that how a woman prepares this dish for the first time is a rite of passage into the Surinamese culture and a wife’s success can be measured on how well she can make pom. No pressure.. 😅
I found the recipe relatively straight forward, but was glad I made it on my day off as it was a time consuming process. I did use a combination of chicken breast and chicken apple sausage (Creole version).
We thought the orange juice was the stand out of this dish and definitely dominated our palettes. I would taste some of the other flavors like the sweetness of the chicken sausage or mild spice of the relish, but orange was the one that dominated the others. I feel like after my research that I should have had a thicker potato crust and slightly less juice so I could have experienced a nice crisp top layer.
We ended up rating the dish 6.75/10, Ian rating it higher than myself for above reasons. Let us know what you think if you try to recreate the Suriname sensation!