Vanuatu’s markets are full of leafy greens, from the exotic bok choi to the humble but tasty island cabbage, lettuce, or choko tops and herbs. Green vegetables are highly regarded for their high nutrient content and medicinal purposes while being typically low in calories and fat. When cooking green vegetables, it is best to undercook them so they hang on to their nutritional value. Bok choi is high in vitamins A and C, as is island cabbage, which also has a larger amount of iron and protein. This is why Ni Vanuatu women eat a lot of island cabbage during pregnancy.
Island cabbage is a starchy leaf and it is often used to mould and contain food such as ‘simboro’. Island cabbage tends to turns gluey when cooked, but you just have to get past that texture and eat! It’s delicious and good for you and can be used in wide range of dishes, from a breakfast omelet, to a lunch soup or stir fry dinner. Not only nutritious but delicious, leafy greens are a must in any kitchen and in this issue I would like to share with you some of my favorites recipes.
Bok choi stir fry with ginger and garlic
Place wok or frying pan on your stove and pour in 1tbsp of olive oil or coconut oil. Add the grated garlic and ginger. Turn the heat to medium-high. Let the ginger and garlic gently sizzle in the oil. When the aromatics become fragrant and the garlic and ginger light golden brown, add one stalk bok choi leaves, either sliced thinly or whole. Toss to coat each leaf with the garlicky, gingery oil. Pour in about one cup of water or white wine over the bok choi. Immediately cover and let cook for one minute. Season with salt and drizzle a bit of sesame oil on top.
Island cabbage “Simboro”
Simboro is the ‘finger food’ of the islands. Typically served for the purpose of ‘washem mouth’ of kava consumers, it is a delicacy amongst tourists and locals. I love it. There are three ingredients needed to make Simboro and all are found in the back of a typical village garden: manioc, island cabbage and coconut. Wash the leaves of about half a bunch of island cabbage and place in strainer. Peel, wash and grate two large maniocs with a manioc island grater. To make fresh coconut cream you will need a coconut grater, this is a plank of wood with a serrated blade that you can find in most island shops. You will also need a short bush knife.
Cut three dry coconuts in half and keep the water in a separate bowl. Start grating the coconuts with the blade into a separate bowl until complete. Once you have grated the coconut, mix with the water of the coconut that you have saved. Use your hands to squeeze and mix really well for a couple of minutes. Take handfuls of the mix and squeeze the cream into a separate bowl leaving the ‘Makas’- flesh, behind. Continue until all the water has been squeezed out of the grated coconut flesh. That is your coconut cream. Place the grated manioc on top of an island cabbage leaf and roll it as if it was a spring roll. Poach it in your fresh coconut cream adding a pinch of salt, cover, then simmer for about 20-25 minutes and you have a wonderful, organic and tasty snack.
Pumpkin or choko tops
When pumpkins or chokos grow, they have green tops on them. Just before they flower you can pick them, wash them, and cut the hard stalk off. Their subtle flavor makes for a good stir-fry with onion and garlic. When frying, add a little water to make it steam. It has a slightly bitter taste, and it is delicious with a splash of olive oil.
Island cabbage omelet
I love an omelet in the mornings. And when the ingredients come from your garden, it tastes so much better. Heat the pan with some olive or coconut oil. When it is just about smoking, fry half a sliced onion then quickly add about four leaves of shredded island cabbage. Fry for about 30 seconds, tossing frequently, then add two beaten eggs, a splash of coconut cream, and salt and pepper to taste.
Have you ever thought about drinking greens? For a great smoothie recipe, add fruit such as bananas, paw paw, berries or any seasonal fruit, coconut water and a couple of leaves of rocket or island cabbage. This is just enough to make it green in colour and packed with vitamins but you will not be able to taste the greens over the fruit. A vitamin-packed breakfast.
Corn and spinach fritter.
What about a corn and spinach fritter for lunch? There is plenty of sweet corn at the market. You will need two cobs of corn, half a bunch of coriander, one egg, salt and pepper and whatever greens you wish, bok choi or island cabbage. Take the corn off the cob with a knife, cutting down slowly. Shred the greens. Mix all the ingredients together and fry each fritter in a pan until golden brown, again either using olive oil or coconut oil. There is no flour in this recipe, but if you want to add some, you can. Otherwise this is a gluten-free meal!
With all the leafy greens, you can slice them thinly and add to such recipes such as omelets, fritters, salads or stir-fries. You can also slice or shred bok choi and put in soups right at the end of cooking, to keep it crunchy and nutritious. Most of the leafy vegetables are subtle in taste but their nutrients make them one of the most preferred vegetables to grow and consume.
By Kandy Tamagushiku, Kandy’s Kitchen.