Up until last week, when Seychelles came up in the random rotation, my only association with it came from an assistant diplomat I dated briefly years and years ago. He was one of those scions of blond East Coast privilege, a fact which he did rather go on about, so I didn't feel too sorry for him when his next post was switched at the last minute from Seychelles back to boring old Washington DC. Now that I've been reading up on Seychelles and looking at picture after picture of idyllic beaches, coral reefs, and palm trees swaying in the tropical breeze, I have more sympathy. Seychelles is a gorgeous place and you'd pretty much have to be crazy not to want to go there. This desire is heightened by the marketing principle of scarcity - the Seychellois have deliberately kept airline prices very high to avoid a Cancunian influx of tourism. Clever, no?
The diet in this tropical paradise is typically, well, tropical - lots of fresh fish, coconut, and breadfruit. (The story of breadfruit is so interesting I plan to do a separate post on it soon.) Because Seychelles is right smack in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and very convenient for trade routes between east and west, the cuisine is influenced by Southeast African, Indian, Chinese, and French. This makes for some delightfully aromatic curries and many rice dishes. One popular and traditional dish I decided to forego is curried fruit bat; the tiny bones apparently make it challenging to eat. And there were some other issues, too.
The fish curry we ended up with is based on something called massalé, a spice blend popular throughout the island nations of the Indian Ocean. It's a blend of toasted spices that is sweeter and less fiery than many Indian masalas. I'm guessing that masala and massalé are the same word, from Arabic "seasonings," according to the Oxford Companion to Food. I'm waiting for confirmation from my Arabic informant. Anyway, the massalé is fabulous, and something I plan to keep on hand for further experimentation.
Massalé (Seychellois Spice Mix)
2 t coriander seeds
2 t cumin seeds
2 t black peppercorns
1 t cardamom pods
1 t cloves
1 t cinnamon
1 t red pepper flakes
1/2 t grated nutmeg
Toast whole spices in a hot skillet, shaking or stirring constantly. Be careful not to let them burn. When they are fragrant, add in the powdered spices and toast briefly. Pour into a grinder or a mortar, and when cool, grind to a fine powder. (I keep a cheap coffee grinder specifically to use for grinding spices, although I sometimes use a mortar and pestle just for the heck of it.)
Seychellois Fish Curry
(adapted from CeltNet)
Cut into 2" chunks:
2 lbs. firm fish (I used mahi mahi)
Heat in a large frying pan or sauté pan:
2 T oil
Add, and cook gently until soft:
2 medium onions, chopped
2 T massalé
1/2 t ground turmeric
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c tamarind purée or tamarind water (you can get this at an Asian or Indian grocery)
2 c water or fish stock
Simmer gently for 10 minutes, until fish is done but not overcooked.
I served it with long grain white rice, cooked in the rice cooker (an investment worth its weight in gold) with a handful of shredded unsweetened coconut. Delicious, and as with most mélanges, even better the next day.
The dessert, not so much. This dish was good, but not compelling. The recipe I used turned out to make quite a boatload of this heavy, starchy, not-too-sweet fruit stew. I've adapted the recipe to make considerably less, but meanwhile, I'm trying to figure out something else to do with the leftovers. Perhaps a soufflé, or even little griddle cakes. I'll let you know. And if you have any ideas, I'm counting on you to share them with me.
(adapted from Wikia)
Peel and cut into bite-sized chunks:
1 large, ripe plantain
1 medium-sized sweet potato
In the bottom of a saucepan big enough to hold the vegetables, place:
2 cinnamon leaves or 1 cinnamon stick
Put the vegetables on the cinnamon, and sprinkle on top:
2 T sugar
1/2 t salt
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1 vanilla pod or 1 t vanilla extract
Pour over all:
1 can coconut milk
Bring to a low boil and cook for 10 minutes. Reduce heat and cook, covered, for 30 minutes, or until sweet potatoes and plantains are soft and infused with flavor.
Map from CIA World Factbook; Scenery photo from Seychelles Tourism Board. Food photos are my own.