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Sweet Potato and Lentil Curry

Fiji is a nation of about 300 mountainous islands in the Southwestern Pacific Ocean, each with its own multicultural society. Since Captain Cook’s discovery, Fiji has maintained its ancient and indigenous communal Indian culture as it has developed a unique national identity from ancient Indian, Chinese and European roots and the influence of Polynesian neighbors.

The official language of Fiji is English, but the everyday casual language is an interesting patois that draws upon the aspects of Fijian, English and Hindi, that identify the history and people of the country.

The oldest traditional foods are root vegetables and fruits. Wild pigs, various birds, and along the coastlines, local seafood, were garnishments to the main dishes.

Seasonings were herbs and spices gathered from nearby forests. Food was wrapped in leaves and cooked in earthen ovens, usually underground, and sometimes located in the center of the dwelling.

Today, the cuisine is rich with Polynesian, Indian, and Western influences. Rice, taro, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, cassava, fish and coconut continue among the most popular ingredients, with meat and seafood in a lesser but most important role in everyday meals.

Characteristic spices are ginger, garlic, tumeric, fenugreek, coriander, curries and chilies.

The Lovo feast is a celebration of special occasions where food is prepared in the ancient method of pit cooking. Some of these dishes might be:

A variety of baked breads, some including coconut.

A wide range of seafood, seasoned and possibly stuffed, with local ingredients.

A casserole of sweet potatoes and pineapple combined with grated coconut, green onions and a cheese sauce is baked during the night, in the lingering heat of the oven, and served with homemade scones for breakfast the following morning.

Palusami is corned beef, seasoned and baked in taro leaves in the lovo.

Unicorn fish, combined with plantain and fresh coconut water, is wrapped in leaves and included in the bake.

Kokoda, a Fijian version of seviche, using a firm white fish like mahi-mahi, is marinated in lime juice and salt. Just before serving, coconut cream, tomatoes, and seasonings are added for a delicious result.

Lentil and sweet curry is highly characteristic of Fijian food that is not necessarily hot, but rich and filled with flavors.

Try this simple recipe for a delicious sample of a typical Fijian dish easily cooked in your own kitchen:

Sweet Potato and Lentil Curry
Ingredients:
2 cups vegetable oil
1 medium onion
Coarse sea salt
3 1/2 cups boiling water
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1, one-inch piece of pealed and chopped ginger

1 large garlic clove, chopped
1 tbsp curry powder
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups lentils

Preparation:

* In a heavy casserole, warm the oil. Add onion and a pinch of salt ,and saute until onion softens, 3 to 4 minutes.
* Add sweet potato, ginger, garlic, curry powder, and bay leaf. Saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add boiling water and lentils.
* Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until lentils break down and sweet potatoes are tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Adjust seasonings.

Coconut Chutney is usually at hand in the refrigerator to provide a finishing crunch and additional flavor.

For coconut chutney, combine the following ingredients and keep in the refrigerator until ready for use, up to 2 weeks:

2 cups freshly grated coconut
1 cup fresh cilantro, rough chop
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
Sea salt to taste.