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An ode to Mauritian chutneys 🥥
After I left Mauritius, I found it hard to make the food I grew up with. Most of the recipes I found on the Internet were inaccurate, which was not surprising because Mauritians mostly play by ear when they cook.
Not needing a recipe to cook is the epitome of learning how to cook. But you do need a recipe to start learning how to cook. Terms like folding, simmering, kneading and beating (to soft or stiff peaks) are clear to me, but many people won’t understand what they refer to if they never cooked.
My mum, who of course plays by ear when she cooks, has been teaching me how to make the food I miss. It usually happens over the phone, and she sometimes gives me slightly inaccurate recipes (haha) in which she uses “bowls” as a unit of measurement. The bowl she refers to is a blue chinese bowl we had in our house.
My mum’s recipes sometimes generate interesting results (e.g. some very flat bao), but they have all been very useful and that’s how I learnt how to make stuff like satini by myself.
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Satini is creole1 for chutney, the condiments that accompany many Indian dishes. They usually consist of a vegetable or a fruit, mixed with onions, garlic, herbs and spices. Quantities for each ingredient do not have to be accurate as it all depends on your taste. I think every Mauritian I know has their own versions of satini. For instance, I have a soft spot for mint, so I put a lot in my satini. There are also many kinds of satini — my top 3 are: satini pomdamur (tomato chutney), satini kotomili (coriander chutney) and satini koko (coconut chutney). Note that the word pomdamur can be translated to pomme d’amour in French, which is literally apple of love in English. Isn’t that cute?
While satini pomdamur and satini kotomili are relatively easy to make, satini koko is on another level. This is because it requires…
Fresh coconut flesh.
No great satini koko is made with dry shredded coconut that’s been slowly dying on a shelf in a grocery store. But fresh coconut flesh is not easy to acquire! Well, you can get coconut flesh that’s enclosed in a crazy damn hard fibrous shell. But coconut flesh that’s been extracted for you from the crazy damn hard fibrous shell? Nah! I never opened a coconut myself in Mauritius. Rather, I was handed coconuts by people armed with machetes.
The Internet says you can open a coconut with tools or hard surfaces that you probably already own like drills, hammers or a brick wall.
None of the online tutorials I watched helped me open a coconut. Once, I even broke a knife that was given to me as a gift.
The best method I found was to put the whole coconut in the oven for an hour. The shell ends up cracking, but you also end up with partially cooked coconut, which is not the best for satini koko. Don’t worry though, because I found a solution to my problem after years of fresh-coconut-fleshless misery: coconut cubes in a can!
Canned coconut cubes are not exactly “fresh”, but their taste and texture are quite close to fresh coconut. And that’s more than enough to make decent satini koko and save yourself from the hassle of opening that crazy damn hard fibrous shell.
1 1/2 cups of coconut cubes or the flesh of 1 coconut extracted from a crazy damn hard fibrous shell
2 tsp of tamarind paste
1/4 cup of warm water
1/2 cup of mint leaves
In a small bowl, mix the tamarind paste with the warm water. Strain the mixture and discard the seeds and fibrous bits.
In a blender or with a mortar and pestle, crush the coconut, tamarind and mint leaves. If needed, add more water, 1 tbsp at a time, until the satini has a coarse but spreadable consistency. Season with salt.
2 cups of cilantro
1/4 cup of vegetable oil
1/4 cup of water
2 green onions
1 garlic clove
1 green chilli
1 tbsp of lime juice
In a blender or with a mortar and pestle, mix all the ingredients together until smooth. Season with salt.
4 tomatoes, diced
1 shallot, diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp of vegetable oil
1 tbsp of lime juice
1/4 cup of mint leaves, chopped
1/4 cup of cilantro, chopped
1 green chilli, sliced (optional)
In a bowl, mix all the ingredients together until well combined. Season with salt and pepper.
Satini are best served alongside curry with either rice or your favourite flatbread.
If you want to make Mauritian food, check out these two cookbooks:
In Mauritius, many people speak 3 languages: English, French and Mauritian Creole.