Maldivian burger

Smoked Tuna Cakes with Curried Squash and Puff Pastry
I first started researching Maldives in February, so why, you ask, am I just posting it now? Smoked tuna and Japan are my answers. Let’s start with Japan. My husband and I went to Japan with his brother and sister-in-law in April – it was an amazing trip. We spent a couple days in California visiting old friends and drinking excellent wine, then we went Kyoto for two days, Koyasan for 2 days and Tokyo for 5 or 6 days. I could write pages and pages about how much I loved the people, the food, the scenery and the history, but that’s not what this blog is about. So, suffice it to say I was distracted for a least a month planning and experiencing this adventure.

Before we get to the smoked tuna, let me tell you a little about The Maldives. It is the most geographically dispersed country in the world with 1,192 islands spread out over some 35,000 miles to the southwest of India.

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

At an average ground level of 4 feet above sea level, the Maldives is also the lowest country in the world. Listed as one of the 10 most vulnerable places on earth to the threat of rising sea levels, the Maldivians don’t question climate change, they are living it. So much so, they are currently building new islands at higher levels with three-meter sea walls to hold back the ocean and safeguard their way of life for the future. That’s right, BUILDING NEW ISLANDS!

Because the Maldives are strategically located between India, the Middle East, and Africa, it has been an important crossroads for international trade for centuries. As a result, the Maldivian culture and cuisine are a melting pot of Indian, Arabian, Asian, African, and European influences, with its own brand of sun-drenched, fresh-coconut flair.

Today, the Maldives is known for its pristine, pure white beaches, turquoise lagoons, coral reefs, luxury resorts, and tuna fishing. (Now we’re getting to the tuna). In fact, as you sip your coconutty cocktail, look out to the water and it’s likely you’ll see dhoni sailing by. The signature fishing vessel of the Maldives with its distinctive front bow, dhoni ferry fisherman out to sea each day where they use pole and line methods for their daily catch, a traditional of respect for the sea that has been passed down for generations.

Maldivians eat tuna for almost every meal – I was hard pressed to find a recipe that didn’t include tuna. Unlike other island peoples, Maldivians seem to prefer their tuna smoked (tuna is a pretty delicate fish, so smoking is a great way to preserve it). If you do an internet search, the wisdom of the world wide web will tell you that you can substitute canned tuna for smoked tuna. I am here to tell you that that is a disgusting lie. Please never, never, ever cook with canned tuna. Feel free to make a tuna salad sandwich or feed it to your cats, but don’t heat it up and pretend it’s smoked tuna. It isn’t even close to the same.

Since I live in Massachusetts, I can’t buy smoked tuna, so I was forced to get fresh tuna and smoke it myself. Now, in addition to my completely fact based views on canned tuna, I also have a very strong belief that you shouldn’t cook fresh tuna at all – I don’t even like it seared, it brings out the fishiness and does nothing good to the flavor. So, to say I was reluctant to smoke a tuna steak for two hours until it was completely cooked through, is a bit of an understatement. I was horrified. I think I spent at least two months just avoiding and trying to pretend it didn’t exist. I bought tuna twice and ended up making other dishes because I couldn’t bring myself to pull out the Weber.

And then, I finally gave in – I couldn’t let this project die over smoked tuna, I knew I needed to conquer my fear.

It turns out smoking a tuna steak is easy, easier and faster than smoking pork. And smoked tuna just tastes smoky and, well, yummy…almost bacony. Smoking does dry the fish out, so I added in a fair amount of mayonnaise, so this isn’t a low calorie dish. Combined with the spice and the curry and just a touch of coconut, and my husband and I were astounded at how good this burger is. We could literally eat this every week. So bravo Maldives, I tip my hat to you, smoked tuna rocks!

If you like this burger, give my Fijian Burger a try – it will put you in a tropical mood.

Maldivian Burger Recipe (click for printable version)
4 cups water
¼ cup kosher salt
cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 dried curry leaves crushed
½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
4 cardamom pods
1 stick cinnamon
1 pound yellow fin or ahi tuna
cherry wood chips
1 shallot minced
2 teaspoons Spice Mixture (recipe below)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsweetened coconut
1 cup mayonnaise
1-2 Tablespoons coconut oil
1 puff pastry sheet
Curry Sauce (recipe below)

Combine first 8 ingredients in a glass bowl (water thru cinnamon). Stir until salt and sugar are dissolved. Pour liquid into a gallon zip lock bag then add tuna and refrigerate for two hours. Drain the liquid and smoke using cherry wood chips and 2 zone grill set-up at 200-225F for about 2 hours. You want the tuna firm and completely cooked through.

(I use an old-fashioned Webber grill and it’s easy and yummy – I do not recommend using a gas grill as it’s almost impossible to get really good smoke flavor using gas). If you have any questions about how to set up your grill, I learned all I know from – these guys are hardcore!

Flake the tuna then add the shallot, spice mixture, salt, coconut and mayonnaise. Mix together and make into patties.

Cut the puffed pastry into four circles. Gently pierce each circle with a fork. Bake per the directions on the box.

Heat the coconut oil in a non-stick pan (you want just enough to coat the bottom of the pan). Fry the fish patties over medium high heat until golden and warmed through.

To serve, place cooked patties on puff pastry and top with Curry Sauce.

Maldivian Spice Mix Recipe
3 cardamom seed pods (seeds only)
1½ teaspoons cumin seeds
1 stick cinnamon
1 dried guajillo chili pepper chopped
1 teaspoon whole coriander
6 black peppercorns

Heat all in a dry pan over medium heat until fragrant. Cool, remove the cinnamon stick and grind in a spice grinder. Add ½ teaspoon turmeric.

Curry Sauce Recipe
½ cup chopped butternut squash
1½ teaspoon coconut oil
1 medium onion chopped
1 leek sliced
1 jalapeno sliced
2 dry curry leaves crumbled
1 teaspoon Spice Mixture
1 teaspoon lime juice

Roast the butternut squash in 350F oven until it pierces easily with a fork. Heat the coconut oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Saute onion, leek jalapeno and curry leaves until soft. Combine the onion mixture with the roasted squash, Spice Mixture and lime juice. Can be used at room temperature.

Copyright 2017 Linda Monach

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