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Monday, 14 November 2011

Vacation Brings On New Cuisine - Salade Di Milionaire

I have just got back from vacation and I cannot have been happier with the destination we ended up in! We had planned to go to Thailand for Eid vacation, but due to the flooding over there, had to change plans at the last minute. I was so excited about going to Thailand, as you may already know I love Thai cuisine, and when travelling I always make sure cuisine - or food in general - is a big part of my travels. It is what I like to call: Culinary Destinations :) We eventually ended up going to Seychelles. With the whole culinary destination in mind, I was not sure what Seychelles had to offer in that sense. I knew their cuisine is creole, but was not exactly sure which type of creole food they made. I went with an open heart ready to take in what this adventure was about to bring. So little did I know, that this spontaneous trip to a destination I thought small on food, would turn out to be the Culinary Experience I had been looking for! I found Gastronomy! Or maybe it found me! I could not have wished for more!!

I had been for a while now looking for food inspirations. I had been feeling like I need to find a new perspective; something new and good enough to inspire me - to further develop my palate and to have promise of a new brush stroke on that canvas! And boy! Did I find new cuisine, new ingredients, new flavours, new perspective and whole renewed sense of respect for ingredients! A simple, fresh and way down to earth destination brought all that about, humbling me back into the basics of cooking, the basics of food: The Fresh Ingredient! In beautiful, breath taking Seychelles the concept of Farm-to-table takes a whole other dimension. Freshness is ultimate, whatever the food you end up having! There you can rest assured that the ingredient is in premium condition, in its natural state as its meant to be. The rest is up to the cook, and how this cook can manage to give it its rightful stature. How the cook can bring out the flavours  in a way that is balanced, enhanced and never overwhelmed or underestimated! This is utmost respect for any given ingredient, without which your cooking will always remain mediocre! So I have decided to start my inspirational vacation posts from this exact point, then in coming posts will be telling you more about Seychelles and the gastronomy that I had found.

To begin with and to give you a bit of background; Seychelles is an island country in the Indian Ocean, East of Mainland Africa. Having been colonised by the French, the country is very much influenced by the French culture. They speak creole, which in their definition is broken French. If you know French you will be able to understand almost everything they say. But worry not, as they can also speak English. Creole Cuisine, is the cuisine of this beautiful island as well as its surrounding countries such as Mauritius, Zanzibar and other areas in West Africa. It is also the cuisine of the Caribean and any country that has dominant African Settlers.

Creole Cuisine is very influenced by the French cuisine, in many concoctions it employs the same techniques, and even uses many of the same flavours! They have also been much influenced by Asian Cuisine, due to the Asian migrants who brought their cuisines and flavourings along with them. I guess it would be safe to say that the cuisine is a French-Asian Fusion with an African twist in terms of exotic ingredients. Being situated just to the south of the equator, the country is rich with exotic produce. Mangos, Papayas, Bread Fruits, Pineapples, Coconuts, Tamarind... all grow naturally in Seychelles! The exotic produce together with other Proven├žal and Asian ingredients have mingled together and formed this super tasty creole cuisine.

Seychelle's Creole cooking includes a lot of fish and seafood, rightly so as its an island on an ocean rich in all sorts of fish and seafood. They also cook chicken, and least of meat. They use a lot of curry spices in their cooking, and a lot of coconut milk - freshly made at home! Will be posting about that soon :) They also use a lot of fresh ginger, garlic, fresh cinnamon leaves, and fresh curry leaves, as well as soya sauce, oyster sauce and fish sauce. If that does not say Asian, then I don't know what does! In other preparations they use lots of garlic, shallots, thyme, cream and butter and if that does not scream French then you tell me what does! Then they bring something like a baked Bread Fruit to the equation and that just becomes pure creole! It is delicious!

Seychelles are also known for eating Bat Meat! Yes that is right! They have humongous bats there, that actually look a lot like Batman! I was super taken when I saw them flying in flocks to the full moon, it looked like a live Halloween decoration! Super cool. The bat looks like a fox with wings! It has no beak but rather a face and body of a fox, covered with orange hair! Attached to that body are black leather wings with little hands on top!! How weird is that?! They even call it the flying fox over there!
As it turns out, these bats are 100% vegetarian, feeding off ripe fruits on the trees. They even refuse to eat the fruits that have fallen off the trees, as they are not as good a quality! Since they only eat excellent quality fruits, and are flying around free, they happen to have the most tender and delicious meat you can ever taste! I mean talk about organic, free range meat! It is exactly the same concept. Their meat is pure and of excellent quality. It tastes like any other birds meat, except it is super tender and extremely delish! Well I tried it, I had to, I believe you have got to try and keep an open mind, if you still don't like it, then don't have it again, but you have got to try! It was worth it, and I will have it again any time! The most famous bat preparation is Bat Curry, which you will find on the menu of any restaurant over there :)

Fresh Coconut Palm Heart
The most inspiring bit though came as a little surprise! It is the fresh heart of a coconut palm - Palmito! I seriously like Palmitos. I mean what is a Salade Panache without Palmitos? But I had never had the pleasure of meeting the fresh Palmito! Yup, like many, I had been eating the processed, canned, soured palm hearts! Of course I knew that they are not the real deal, the fresh ingredient; so you can imagine my happiness when I came across a real heart of palm!! I was overjoyed. So I had to convince the guy to sell it to me, which he was very hesitant to do for some reason! Eventually my stubornness won and I got it! Took it back to the villa and asked Karl (le chef Extraodinaire!) to show me how it is prepared. He then explained to me that -in Seychelles - it was illegal to cut palm trees in order to obtain the heart! That is why the guy looked weird when I figured it was a heart of palm, and that is also why he did not want to sell it to me! I had no idea!! As it turned out, in order to get the heart (in the picture above) the whole palm tree had to be cut, and then its dead! It will not grow back! Therefore it became forbidden by law to cut down palm trees for their hearts! Unless it is bought from specific plantations, that are made specifically for this. These plantations are very few, and therefore the good quality palmitos are rare and very expensive! It is the leftovers of the heart, the least of quality that are jarred and shipped to our supermarkets! For that in Seychelles creole cuisine, they have a palmito salad that is named "Salade Di Millionnaire" because it uses only the premium part of the heart of palm, which is so hard to find, and very expensive to buy!! I was intrigued! So I had to learn how that is done!

Salade Di Millionaire

So here is the recipe part of my post:
Salade Di Milionaire

Before I tell you how it is made, I will have to first explain how the palmito is prepared in order to get the premium part of it, which is used in this salad. It goes without say here that it is not the same with canned palmitos, and that this salad is mainly one because of the fresh premium heart of palm!

Step by step tutorial of preparing fresh hearts of palm
The numbers below are in reference to the photos above
(please excuse the blurriness of the pics, Karl was moving so fast, I could hardly capture what he was doing!)

  1. You need a whole fresh heart of coconut palm - Palmito
  2. With hard strokes (mind your hands) cut a cross shape at the centre of the heart, as shown in pic 2
  3. Open up the cross, revealing the layer underneath
  4. Remove the cover
  5. Repeat this process twice
  6. You are then left with the centre of the heart of palm
  7. Using a knife, peel off a couple of layers from the head of the palmito
  8. This is the premium part of the heart, which is used in this salad. The rest is what they consider rubbish, and what is then used for canning!
  9. using a vegetable peeler, slice off the premium part of the palm heart (into thin slices)
  10. Place the slices in salted water, or they will change colour
  11. Once you have taken your salad need, slice off the rest and use as nibbles with drinks. Tastes Divine, very fresh, moist and with a coconutty texture that is less chewy! Can't even explain it you have got to try it to know!
Those remaining pieces of the heart and the ones that have been peeled off
are usually soaked in brine to tenderise and then canned and sold as supermarket quality Palmotis

Salade Di Milionaire
You Need

1 bowl full of premium palmito shavings, soaked in salty water
1 medium onion, super finely sliced
Juice of 2 limes
2 tbsp Olive oil
Black pepper

Place the finely sliced onions together with the palmito shavings in the salted water and let them soak for 15 minutes. Place in a colander and drain off the water, then squeeze them to remove any excess water (squeeze them dry) but do not wash. Place in serving bowl.

In a cup mix together the lime juice, black pepper and olive oil until well incorporated and pour the mixture over the the palmito and onions, mix to coat.

There you have it Salade Di Milionaire, where the heart of palm is the star, the rest of the ingredients are just to accent the flavour and bring out to the surface. Not overwhelmed, not underestimated, rather in its rightful place, right at the top.
This salad is a delicacy, and is super delicious! Do not pass on the opportunity to try it anytime that you can.


As hard as it was not to blog, the vacation was much needed. But with many adventures and stories I have lots of exciting stuff to share with you. Hope you have enjoyed this sneak a peak into my fabulous Vacation, I will be posting more with more exotic and delicious recipes for you to try.  So keep coming back and I assure you, you will love what's to come :))

Seychells Sunsets are breathtaking!

Have you ever tried Fresh Coconut Palm Hearts or Bat Meat? What did you think? If not would you try them? Don't shy away, leave a comment 
Love Dima