Recipe from Me’a Kai: The Food and Flavours of the South Pacific, by Robert Oliver with Dr. Tracy Berno and Shiri Ram
Vanuatu cuisine is typical of Pacific Island cooking, with fish, root vegetables, fruit and vegetables being the staples. Most islanders have back yard gardens, and food is plentiful. Papaya, pineapples, mangoes, plantains, sweet potatoes, taro, yams and coconut are all enjoyed. Kava, a non-alcoholic drink with mild sedative properties is the national drink and is mostly served at night due to its relaxing effects.
Lap lap is easily made at home. This adapted recipe uses a grated taro lap lap base, topping it with spiced roasted chicken and gingery coconut gravy. Oven-baking the lap lap base means that it doesn’t get the same smoky flavor that an earth oven gives, but the banana leaves still do their magic.
Cook the lap lap in a casserole dish so that you can bring it to the table straight from the oven and eat it in true island style! To make it for four, use a larger chicken and up the quantities of everything else by another half.
2 large squares banana leaf
5 cups grated taro
1½ cups coconut milk
2 cups cooked island cabbage, squeezed dry (substitute: spinach)
4 small tomatoes, halved
salt and pepper
1 small whole chicken (about 2 lb.)
juice of 1 lemon or lime
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon chilli flakes or powder
1 teaspoon coconut oil (substitute: vegetable oil)
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons thinly sliced ginger
2 lime or lemon leaves (optional)
½ cup flour
2 cups coconut milk
2 chilis, whole
½ cup roughly chopped spring onions
salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Soften two pieces of banana leaf in hot water. Lay one in an oiled casserole dish. Mix the grated taro with half a cup of the coconut milk. Spread the mixture evenly on the leaf to make a layer about 5 cm thick. Chop the island cabbage and place it in the center of the taro mix. Surround it with the halved tomatoes, cut side up. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle the remaining cup of coconut milk over the whole. Cover with the second softened piece of banana leaf. Set the taro cake aside while you prepare the chicken.
3. Rinse the chicken well and drizzle with the citrus juice. Place it in a mixing bowl with the oil and all of the spices. Coat well and transfer to a roasting pan. Roast the chicken and the taro cake at the same time for one hour. Baste the chicken with pan juices from time to time, and take the banana leaf cover off the taro cake for the last 20 minutes of cooking.
4. Meanwhile, make the coconut sauce. Heat the coconut oil in a heavy pot with the garlic and ginger. Add the citrus leaves, if using, and cook a little more. Add the flour and cook for four or five minutes to make a light roux. Pour in the coconut milk, add the chilis and spring onion and whisk well. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring, to thicken slightly.
5. Take the chicken and the taro cake from the oven. Let the chicken sit for a few minutes. Cut the chicken into serving-size pieces and place on the taro cake. Season the coconut sauce with salt and pepper and remove from the heat. Take your chicken lap lap to the table and drizzle with coconut sauce. Serve hot.