Curried Fish Cakes with Papaya & Sweet Potato Curry Sauce
The Republic of Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas) is an unusual place. It consists of 33 islands, 32 of which are atolls (an atoll is a ring shaped coral reef) about 4,000 km southwest of Hawaii. Twenty-one of the islands are inhabited and the total land mass is 811 square kilometers. Home to over one hundred thousand people, Kiribati is a country in crisis.
Several problems plague the islands, first there is the problem of climate change – between unusually bad storms and rising ocean levels, there are many on Kiribati who believe their country will quite literally disappear in the next 30-60 years. While many argue the details of the timeline, it is clear that climate change is adversely affecting this group of islands.
The largest island is Tarawa Island; it is home to fifty one thousand people on only 35 kilometers of coral. The inhabitable land is about 10 square kilometers. The resulting population density of about 5,200 people per square kilometer is about equal to the population density of London. In the commercial sector, the population density is estimated to be about three times that of Tokyo. Rising ocean levels are affecting the water lens in Tarawa – this is a shallow underground bubble that collects rainwater and is the primary fresh water source for the Island. In addition to the rising ocean levels, the overcrowding has led to people living in restricted areas, too close to the water supply. Contamination of water supply is a huge problem, and several smaller islands have completely lost access to fresh water.
The result of all of this is that the current President has called for “migration with dignity” – basically a plea to other countries to open their doors to the people of Kiribati and allow them to flee the sinking ship (my words, not his). So, for now life on the islands is a bit precarious, but how’s the food?
Here’s the thing, when you live on a coral reef, not much grows. But you do get lots of fish – so fish was a no brainer in designing a burger to represent Kiribati cuisine. I was looking for a white fish and tried both mahi mahi and cod. The mahi mahi was better; it melded with the flavors of the curry and gave a little bit of a meatier texture to the fish cake. Curries are popular in Kiribati – probably because they are so versatile and work with whatever food you can find and, when much of your food is imported, you can’t always be certain what’s on the boat.
Breadfruit, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and papaya are staples in the Kiribati diet and I longed to try breadfruit for this recipe. Unfortunately, Boston in winter is not the place to find breadfruit – there is a Latin grocery store nearby that I’ve heard sometimes carries breadfruit, but they were fresh out when I visited. So I stuck with rice and a nice sweet potato (batatas) and papaya curry. I topped the burger with some lovely tomatoes and pumpkin seeds.
The resulting burger was like a warm winter squash soup with a sweet fish cake – overall sweet flavors with a hint of acid from the tomatoes and a little crunch from the pepitas. I’m not the biggest fan of fishcakes, but this project is starting to turn me around – this dish is homey and yummy and surprisingly perfect for a cold winter’s day in Boston. I have no idea if it would be familiar to a Kiribati native, but my family loved it.
If you like this burger, try my Fiji burger – it is lighter and more tropical fish cake, less surprising than Kiribati, but equally delicious.
Kiribati Burger Recipe
¾ pound mahi mahi
1 cup Batata Mash (recipe below)
1 teaspoon Curry Sauce (recipe below)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups cooked rice
Curry Sauce (recipe below)
2 tomatoes sliced
Unsweetened coconut flakes
Salt and pepper the mahi mahi and cook in coconut oil until fish is just cooked through. Let the fish cool and flake it then combine with Batata Mash, Curry Sauce, egg and salt. Mix together until well combine (be gentle with the fish though so you don’t lose the texture).
Form four patties and place on wax paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes (this helps set the fish cake). Heat about ¼ inch of peanut oil in a non-stick pan until shimmering, then fry the fish cakes until brown on both sides and heated through.
To serve, scoop ½ cup of rice on each plate then add a generous scoop of Curry Sauce on each. Add the cooked fish patties then top with slices of tomato, pepitas and a sprinkling of coconut.
2 Batatas diced
2 Tablespoon of butter
2 Tablespoons unsweetened coconut
Boil the batatas until soft. Drain and mash the batatas with the butter and coconut.
3 Tablespoons coconut oil
1 small onion chopped
1 clove of garlic crushed
½ fresh papaya chopped
14 ounce can of hearts of palm drained and chopped
4 teaspoons curry powder
13.5 ounce coconut milk
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon honey
Heat the coconut oil in a medium sauté pan until melted. Add onions and garlic and cook over med/low until onions are soft (about 10 minutes). Add papaya, hearts of palm and curry powder. Cover, turn up to medium and cook 10 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients, try it and adjust to your taste. Cook about 10 minutes. Pulse in a blender until smooth. Adjust to taste.
©Copyright 2014 Linda Monach