As is typical for a toddler, Baby Mash can be very suspicious about unfamiliar foods. He’ll eat yoghurt by the gallon and can put away more corn on the cob than is probably good for him, but if he hasn’t seen a food before, he will usually prod it once, say, ‘Don’t like it,’ and look around the plate for something more acceptable to him. We have realised, however, that one way to get him a bit more interested in new dishes is to look at photos of the country and its wildlife before we eat it, so while Ash was cooking our dinner, Miranda and Baby Mash were scrolling through photos of Mauritian animals on the laptop, which is how we discovered that the famous extinct flightless bird was native to Mauritius.
What we didn’t realise at that point was that the eventual fate of the dodo was nearly replicated in our dinner, as one thing after another went wrong in the cooking of it. The national dish of Mauritius is cari gros pois (bean curry), served with dholl puri (split pea pancakes). Neither of these two things seemed particularly complicated, and Baby Mash actually likes beans, so we chose some recipes (linked above) and got to it – but both the cooking and the eating of it turned out to be more problematic than we’d anticipated:
– Ash dropped the lid of a Le Creuset saucepan and chipped one of our relatively new kitchen tiles.
– The split peas boiled dry and nearly destroyed the pan they were in (thankfully, boiling dishwashing liquid in the pan a few times was able to rescue it).
– We’d stacked the cooked pancakes on top of each other and they irreversibly stuck together so we had to start the whole thing again (which didn’t work as well as it had the first time around).
– Baby Mash dropped a water bottle and got water everywhere when we were trying to dish everything up.
– While we were eating, Baby Mash dropped his spoon on the floor and then had a tantrum because he’d dropped his spoon on the floor.
– The recipe called for 3 tbsp of curry powder and two green chillies. With Baby Mash in mind, we’d decreased the 3 tbsp to 3 tsp and only used half a chilli, but apparently it was still too spicy for him. He did actually try it, which was something, but then declared that his ‘mouth was horrid’ and wouldn’t eat any more.
– Baby Mash loved the pancakes when he was hovering around the kitchen and we gave him a taste to keep him occupied, but when he was actually sitting at the table he gave them a wide berth.
So all in all, not quite the straightforward meal we were hoping for.
Cari gros pois
2 tins of butter (lima) beans
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 big onion, thinly sliced
3 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp turmeric
1 big tomato, roughly chopped
2 green chillies, roughly chopped
1 1/4 cups water
5 tbsp cooking oil
1/3 cup finely chopped coriander, to serve
1. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat.
2. Add half of the sliced onion and cook for 3-4 minutes.
3. While the onion is cooking, prepare your curry paste by mixing together the tomato, chillies, 2 tbsp curry powder, turmeric, ginger, garlic, remaining onion and 1/4 cup water.
4. Once the onion is cooked, stir in the curry paste and cook for 2-3 minutes over medium heat.
5. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time so it doesn’t burn.
6. Gently stir in the butter beans with a cup of water.
7. Increase the heat to medium and cook for a further 5 minutes or until the sauce has thickened.
8. Serve sprinkled with the coriander.
500g channa dal (yellow split peas)
3 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tbsp roasted cumin seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric
For the dough:
1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, a pinch of salt and 2 tbsp oil.
2. Gradually add the reserved water from the dal and knead to a soft dough.
3. Divide the dough into roughly golf ball-sized balls.
4. Press a hole into the centre of each ball and add 1 tbsp of the dal mixture. Close the hole so that it forms a ball again.
5. Dip the ball in flour and carefully roll it out into a thin circle.
6. Heat a flat pan and brush with a little oil.
7. Place the puri on the pan and cook for 1 minute or until it starts to puff.
8. Brush with a little more oil, flip and cook for another minute. Remove from the pan when it starts to puff.
Despite Baby Mash’s misgivings, Miranda and Ash didn’t mind the curry, but it wasn’t special enough for us to think we’d make it again. The pancakes were nice – especially the ones that didn’t have to be remade – and also nutritious, so they might be ones to have another go at (not least because we now have a supply of split peas that we need to do something with.
When we first started looking for Mauritian recipes, we consulted a friend whose husband is Mauritian and she reminded us about Shelina Permaloo. Shelina won Masterchef a few years back and her website offers a number of traditional recipes. We didn’t end up using any of them for our main course, because we wanted to make the bean curry (because we thought Baby Mash might actually eat it – ha), but when we found gato carre rouge (literally ‘cake square red’), Miranda couldn’t resist. The Mauritian version of a lamington? Yes please!
Gato carre rouge
1 packet of strawberry jelly
4 eggs (weigh your eggs and the weight of the eggs in their shells will determine the weight of all the other ingredients – our eggs weighed 220g)
220g self-raising flour
220g caster sugar
220g butter (room temperature)
3 tbsp whole milk
1. Preheat oven to 180C and line a tin with baking parchment (we used a 23cm square tin).
2. Mix together the sugar, butter and flour until you get a crumbly breadcrumb-like mixture.
3. Slowly mix in the eggs one by one until you get a cake batter.
4. Loosen the mixture with the milk.
5. Put the mixture into the tin and bake for 20 minutes until the cake is cooked.
6. Once the cake is cool, cut it into 5cm cubes.
7. Prepare the jelly according to packet instructions and tip some desiccated coconut onto a plate.
8. Dip each sponge square into the liquid jelly and then gently roll it in the coconut.
9. Allow the cakes to cool completely before serving.
Technically these were also supposed to be decorated with a swirl of buttercream and half a strawberry, but when we made these we were dealing with a toddler who had broken out in a mysterious rash and, frankly, it was a miracle they got finished at all – so a decoration-less version had to do! This is also the explanation for the fact that we didn’t manage to take a decent photo of them…
Anyway, as with any coconut dish, opinions were divided here. Miranda thought they were delicious, as did Baby Mash, who helped make the sponge and then caught sight of the finished product so there was no keeping it away from him. Other fans were Miranda’s colleagues, one of whom had six! Ash didn’t even try them, because of the whole coconut-hating thing – but everyone else agreed that he was seriously missing out!