Papua New Guinea

July 26, 2013 § 1 Comment

Tulip leaves

I am typing these words all the way from Papua New Guinea! There are tiny ants crawling all over my laptop and getting squished between the keys. I must have eaten something sweet and forgotten to wash my fingers, they are relentless! Over the top of my laptop, I look out from the verandah to a dense, tropical scene. With fertile soil, abundant moisture and warm conditions, PNG is lush, green, and plump. The clouds are bubbly and ready to burst with rain. Trees, tall and straight with broad canopies, seem to defy gravity, growing on unimaginably steep mountain slopes.

I really like this country. I am not sure if I have met more gentle people. They remind me of my friends and family in Arnhem Land; soft and graceful like the surrounding landscape. The women have huge embraces that envelope you tightly, generously.

This is a journey that work has led me on. I am here working on a project through Charles Darwin University in partnership with the PNG National Agricultural Research Institute. We are looking into why the production and consumption of traditional vegetables is in decline and how this relates to increasing rates of malnutrition.  For me it also involves taking photos of food and recording traditional recipes. I couldn’t be happier!

Traditional PNG vegetables at the market

As always, I end up in the kitchen talking to the women. They show me how to cook the traditional foods – choko and pumpkin tips fried in oil with a little garlic, tu-lip shoots a tasty favourite, taro root, sago, fern tips, lowland pitpit and of course pork belly, and pork fat, and minced pork and pork ribs – well you get the picture.

Pigs are regarded very highly, especially for the inland populations. I am told that in the past, women used to suckle baby pigs on their breasts and they slept in the house with the family. I was also told (in jest) that pigs are more important than women because,  “you can buy a wife with pigs, but you can’t buy a pig with a wife.”  Obviously one can argue that without the women doing all the hard work to raise the pigs, the men wouldn’t have any to begin with, but I suppose that’s beside the point.

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snake beans

July 15, 2013 § 2 Comments

chilli coconut snake beans

The Tropical Garden Spectacular  was on a few weeks ago. At the botanical gardens under trees with impossibly huge canopies I watched some local food cooking demonstrations. Lined up on straw bales with the green grass at our feet, some glimpse of paradise on the warm breeze, the chef Selvam Kandasamy from Saffrron, taught a small group of us how to make snake beans, sautéed in spices with coconut and curry leaves. And this my dear friends is a dish to be celebrated.

Snake beans are the lanky tropical equivalent of the green bean and you would be forgiven for thinking them somewhat tough and woody with little flavour. This recipe however  does them justice. It is full of flavour, crunchy, slightly sweet, bright green and turmeric yellow. The coconut and chili melts on your tongue. The intermittent curry leaves are bright in your mouth. The beans are cooked hot in a wok for just the very right amount of time making them softly crunchy and fluorescent.

I have made this recipe many times since then and each time I have continued to love it.  It is similar to the original made by Selvam Kandsamy except I have used coconut oil instead of peanut oil.

Spicy Snake Beans with Coconut and Curry Leaves

Serves: 4 – 5 as a main or 6 – 8 as a side dish.

Note: If you are in distant and cooler parts wanting to use something more locally appropriate I am sure green beans would also make a good substitute.

3 Tbsp pure coconut oil
2 flat tsp brown mustard seeds
2 flat tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1 red onion finely diced
1 whole fresh red chillis (you can also use 1 tsp dried chilli flakes instead)
1 Tbsp Split yellow lentils (optional)
4 cups chopped snake beans
1/2 cup shredded coconut
A good handful fresh curry leaves
Extra salt to taste

chopped snake beans and white bowl

Prepare all your ingredients before hand. Once you start cooking it all happens fast.

In a wok heat the oil on a medium to high flame until hot. Add the mustard seeds, turmeric, onion, and salt. Stir until the onions turn just translucent, then add the chilli and lentils. Continue stirring and add the beans and coconut stirring until the beans are just cooked through but still have a crunch and are bright green. Add the curry leaves and remove from heat.

It is lovely served as a side to fish or on its own with brown rice.

I hope you like it as much as I do.

ingredients for snake bean stir fry

wild places

July 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

A weekend away out bush has left me longing for more  time in wild places. To lay under the stars, my back wrapped against the curve of the earth, feeling the fragile wieght of it beneath me. Hollow, like the shell of an egg holding me up. Weightless. The vastness of the stars above refected in the vastness of the molecuelar detail of the earth below. These two reflections at once extraordinary, large, elegant, detailed and paradoxically humbling and simple.   The sun rises and sets, the earth continues its orbit, the moon spins, the sky turns. The water falls across the rocks, the leaves under foot crackle as they dry in the heat, the earth breathes in and out, my breath rolls along with it.

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