20. The Maldives

The Maldives are a small group of islands in the Indian ocean, south-west of Sri Lanka. It’s become a highly touristic area, and a quick google of The Maldives will instantly assault you with gorgeous white beaches and turquoise waters. It’s a popular honeymoon destination, perhaps because a quick look on a world map will lead you to the conclusion that it is literally in the middle of nowhere. Being the world’s lowest country, The Maldives is one of the most threatened places by climate change, so if you’ve ever had a yearning to visit, there’s no time like the present. As for many island nations, the major economy stems from fishing, and the traditional dishes are therefore predominantly based around seafood. There are other influences from India and Sri Lanka to the north, but the ready availability of fish, coconut and starchy tubers has most strongly shaped the cuisine.

Mas huni

Mas huni.jpg

Mas means “fish” and huni means “coconut”, and therefore the more discerning of you will have already surmised the major ingredients of this dish. It is a typical Maldivian breakfast, made with smoked tuna, chilli, onions, shredded coconut, and lime juice. My Dad has a great smoker, so he kindly smoked the tuna for me. I’m not sure if you’ve ever had freshly smoked fish, but it’s by far the most delicious preparation in my opinion. Everyone who has come into contact with his smoked salmon fillets has become instantly addicted. Oily fish tends to smoke best, perhaps because the smokey flavours get absorbed into the oil, and the fish doesn’t dry out. Tuna, being quite oily, therefore smoked deliciously, and had a very meaty flavour and texture. The sweetness of the coconut and onion, acidity of the limes and heat of the chilli with the savoury umami of the smoked tuna created the magical sort of flavour balance that made me want to start cooking the food of the world. Anyone can use 100 different ingredients to create a masterpiece, but there’s something special about balancing well-chosen simple ingredients to make a meal that is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Suffice to say, I would be happy to eat this for breakfast every day. Mas huni is typically served with roshi, an oily unleavened flatbread, and I also added a fried egg and steamed green beans to mine.

Fihunu mas

Filhunu mas

Fihunu mas is a Maldivian preparation of grilled fish, using whatever fish happened to be caught that day. I used sweetlip, flavoured with a mixture of chilli, onion, garlic, cumin, coriander and turmeric. I love these sort of recipes using “the catch of the day”, as I think I eat the freshest seafood when I can choose the variety and buy it whole. I served it with rice and a kale and pumpkin salad, which is my approximation of the local leafy vegetables and starchy tubers native to the islands.

Barabo mashuni

Barabo mashuni

Barabo mashuni is a mix of boiled and mash pumpkin, tuna, coconut, chilli, onion and lemon juice. It’s similar to the mas huni, but with the addition of pumpkin. I used canned tuna because I had run out of smoked, but it was still very tasty, especially with the sweetness of the pumpkin. This would be a great way to get fish into your diet if you weren’t a big fan of fish – the other flavours predominate and the fish just forms a salty base. I can envisage this dish being the hot new things with paleo/low carb/gluten free dieters across the world. I served it with white rice and lime wedges, and I have to admit, this is one of the easiest things I’ve ever cook, and quite delicious to boot!

Maldivian mixed vegetable curry

Maldivian mixed vegetable curry.jpg

I love curry, have I mentioned this before? I think it’s the ideal way to make something truly magical out of cheap and readily available ingredients. Because of this, I think often meat is an extravagant addition to curries, and that the different textures of vegetables and flavours of spices are more than sufficient to speak for themselves. I was therefore already on board with the concept of a Maldivian mixed vegetable curry from the outset. I cut up vegetables including onion, chilli, tomato, carrot, beans, potato, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini and pumpkin, briefly sautéed them, then fried off spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, curry leaves, ginger, garlic, chilli powder, curry powder, cumin and turmeric. I know it seems like a long list, but where Italian cooking is all about simplicity of few ingredients, as far as I’m concerned more ingredients means a better curry. I finished off the curry by simmering all of the ingredients in some coconut milk until tender, and served It with rice and broccoli.