It’s a land of complete mystery to me. All I knew before the My Kitchen My World group selected it as our next culinary destination was that it’s Polynesian. An archipelago of tropical islands sprinkled out somewhere in the vicinity of Fiji (about which I know very little as well, though it features in my mid-December fantasies of palm trees, white sands, blue water).
Tongan cuisine? Even more of a mystery to me. But I had this tube of Tongan vanilla beans in my cupboard, so I went searching for a recipe that called for vanilla.
It surprised me to find that Tongan vanilla recipes are rare. I get the sense that the Tongan people grow vanilla as a cash crop, ship it out, and use the money to buy the foods they really do eat (traditional Tongan cuisine features seafood and pork cooked in earth ovens, and plenty of taro, yams, coconuts, and tropical fruits).
I was also wondering (since I’m me) about Tongan bread recipes. So no one here will be surprised that I finally landed on a recipe for Tongan Coconut Bread. I honestly have no idea if this recipe is something a Tongan mother would make for her family, but I liked the sound of it, and it did feature using whole vanilla beans. And the coconut sounded tropical. I was sold.
This is a quick bread recipe (by which I mean the bread is leavened by baking powder, not yeast; but yes, it’s also a quick-to-make recipe). It goes together in a snap and bakes to a very light golden brown, with a slightly crisp crust.
While it baked, this first of November poured down a gloomy rainstorm, but the house smelled like coconut. Not quite enough to make me believe I was on some Polynesian beach, with the waves whispering shoreward, but enough to distract me from the dismal morning and remind me that, even on rotten November days, there are good, easy things in this world.
I had a taste. It was pretty darn good, especially for the little effort that went into it. It’s not very sweet, and subtly coconuty. It was good on its own, and even better with a schmear of Nutella. How’s that for international cuisine?
Tongan Coconut Quick Bread
Barely adapted from Jasons.com
Yields: 1 regular loaf, or 3 mini loaves
3 cups all-purpose flour (or you can use half all-purpose and half whole wheat or white whole wheat)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened grated coconut
1 1/2 cups coconut milk (I used the “lite” variety)
1/4 cup sugar or honey
1 vanilla bean (if you have a Tongan bean, all the better, but any will do)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (the original recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon of scraped vanilla bean seeds. My bean yielded barely 1/4 teaspoon and I wasn’t about to use four whole beans on this recipe, so I made up the difference with vanilla extract)
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- Lightly grease one standard loaf pan or three small loaf pans.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, then scrape the cut sides with a knife to extract as many of the seeds as possible (save the scraped beans for another recipe or for making vanilla sugar).
- In a smaller bowl, whisk the egg, then add the sugar, vanilla seeds, vanilla extract, and coconut milk and mix well.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix well.
- Spoon the mixture into the prepared loaf pans, distributing evenly if you’re using more than one pan. Smooth the batter with a spoon.
- For the standard loaf pan, bake for one hour. For smaller pans, bake for 30-40 minutes, until a tester comes out dry.
- Cool on a wire rack in the pans.
To see the round up of the group’s Tongan recipes, visit the My Kitchen My World (MKMW) site. (You can also see where the group has already traveled.) To join in, just make a dish (or more) for the month’s country, blog about it, and put a link to your post in the comments on the MKMW page.
Next month, we travel to Poland, my choice!