Monday, 24 May 2010 04:50

self sufficient eating

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Self-sufficient eating in the tropics


I’ve had this fantastic idea.

Please don’t cringe! My husband nearly died when I told him.

Well his eyes glazed over when I said, ‘I’ve had an idea.’ But when I said, ‘I reckon three nights a week we should eat entirely out of the garden and hunted food,’ he suddenly became very interested – if interest can be described as frothing at the mouth and yelling hysterically.

‘Three nights a week! Don’t be stupid there’s nothing in the garden. Nothing fruiting!’


I must admit with all this rain we have had a lot of trouble getting our dry season veggies growing – all the chewing bugs are having a ball. Tomatoes are still a month away, beetroot are still tiny babies, corn is struggling through the toddler stage. Snow peas are only 20cm high. But still I reckon we can do it.


‘There is so!’ I yelled back assembling as much indignation as I could muster. ‘There’s sweet potato (white), sweet potato (purple), sweet potato (orange).

I’m not living on sweet potato!’

‘There’s cassava, taro, green pawpaw, banana and passionfruit. There’s Chinese greens, celyon spinach, ginger, basil, tumeric, lemon grass, rocket and pepper leaves. I was on a roll. There’s. . .

‘You can’t just go out and pick leaves off the tree and cook them! Anyway what about meat? My ancestors didn’t fight for 100.000 years to get to the top of the food chain to eat vegetables!’


Well I did have to admit the freezer is a bit empty. We’ve run entirely out of wallaby. But we can go and get some. We have about seven pigeons (bought from a friend who keeps pigeons in pine creek). Three or four pork fillets (courtesy of my son who loves to hunt pig) 100 kg of mango, lime, banana (I can claim them). A few kilos of barra fillet (those too I can claim and did so).


Which made him so furious that he decided to go fishing. When he came back with a good eskie full of snapper, and a new found liking for my idea.


So last night we had our first, almost entirely self-suffient meal (excluding the oil, corn flour, vinegar, sugar and fish sauce). It started as a recipe from the Red Lantern, Pauline Nguyen’s recipe book but we didn’t have potato starch so I used corn flour and I made the paw paw she used as a garnish into the salad.


Crispy skin snapper – takes about half an hour.




three tablespoons fish sauce

three tablespoons rice vinegar

25 ml water

two tablespoons sugar


Chuck the fish sauce, vinegar, water and sugar in a saucepan and heat until just before it comes to the boil (you know when it just starts to shimmer on the surface but isn’t actually moving – boiling this makes it bitter) - then let it cool.

While the sauce is cooling prepare the fish


Scale, wash and dry a whole fish. I use a tea towel to make sure it is really dry - if the fish is wet when you cook it, it steams too much and the flesh goes weirdly tough. I have a friend who puts her fish in a low oven for a while to dry it out and another who lets it sit on a cake tray till it is dry. Then make three cuts either side in the thickest flesh to allow the heat to get right in.


Mix the white off one egg and two tablespoons of cornflour to make a batter and cover the fish with a thin layer all over.


Heat about four cm of oil in a wok.

Pauline says get it hot enough that when you toss in a small square of bread it browns in 15 seconds. I did this and it worked so I reckon this must be the best way of gauging temperatures of deep frying oil – so simple I love it.

Slide the fish into the wok of hot oil. It takes a good five minutes to cook – a bit more if the fish is thicker. The skin should be crispy and golden and the flesh spongy to touch. I always get the fork into one of the cuts and peek down to the bone – it does ruin the presentation a bit but I like to be sure.

Because, the first time I cooked this dish. We had visitors so I was showing off. The fish came out to the table beautifully golden, on a bed of rice with paw paw and chives sprinkled on top and the sauce filling the room with deliciousness. Everyone was impressed till we realised the fish wasn’t cooked. It had to go back into the pan, fell apart, got tough because it was damp and ended up a very tasty but disgusting looking mess.


Putting it all together


While the fish is cooking, grate a whole paw paw – I used one that was just catching a bit of colour – pale yellow inside. If you don’t have a proper paw paw salad graters – you can use a normal grater – but try and buy one they are brilliant. You want enough grated paw paw to cover the bottom of the fish plate – this is the equilivant to your rice or potato – so quite a lot.


Go back to the cooled sauce and mix in two finely chopped garlic cloves, 2 teaspoons of finely chopped ginger, chilli to taste and two tablespoons lime juice (one icecube of lime). Taste this everyone has their own preference – I like mine sour and tangy.


When the fish is cooked place it on top of the grated paw paw.

Sprinkle some paw paw and finely chopped chives over the top

Pour over the sauce so it dribbles down over the paw paw.


Serve with a huge bed of wilted greens (the heated with a splash of oil kind of wilt - rather than the picked in the middle of the day and left on the bench kind of wilted)






A whole snapper

2 tablespoons of potato startch (I used corn flour)

One egg white

Oil for deep frying


three tablespoons fish sauce

three tablespoons rice vinegar

25 ml water

two tablespoons sugar

two garlic cloves

chilli to taste

two tablespoons lime juice (one icecube of lime)

two teaspoons of finely chopped ginger


Green pawpaw or green mango (when they are ripe) and heaps of greens.





Read 1045467 times Last modified on Sunday, 30 May 2010 12:56
Leonie Norrington

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