Cookbook Crush: The Island Kitchen
The tiny island of Mauritius, which sits off the coast of Madagascar, isn't a place most Americans are familiar with. It's too far a journey for a casual vacation (those who holiday there most often come from Europe and Australia); it rarely makes headlines (except for the tragic oil spill during the summer of 2020); and frankly, it's so small that few Mauritians leave to settle in the States, so you don't see many Mauritian restaurants popping in the U.S., even in New York City, where you can call up just about any type of ethnic food.
Thanks to a good friend of mine who is of Mauritian descent, I've had the opportunity to visit the island twice and become familiar with its culture, beaches, and food. And oh that food is heavenly! So when The Island Kitchen: Recipes from Mauritius and the Indian Ocean by Selina Periampillai was published, I couldn't wait to read it.
Originally settled by the Dutch, French, and then the British who all brought indentured servants and slaves from Africa, Asia, and India to the island, Mauritius is now independent and one of the most ethnically diverse nations in the world, and the cuisine reflects that. From Creole dishes to Asian-styled fried noodles and Indian curries, the varied influences blend harmoniously to create familiar yet unique dishes.
Periampillai, who is of Mauritian descent, spends her time between London and the small island. Throughout the book, she brings to life her love of the area, including the nearby islands of Réunion, Rodrigues, Seychelle, and the Maldives. She shares personal stories and the history of the islands, describing the similarities and differences between their cultures and ingredients. In the book, you'll find a rundown of the fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices that make the dishes special (including sourcing information), menus an authentic and abundant island-style spread, and much more—all combining to create a beautiful overview of this special part of the world.
I selected several recipes from the book to make a Mauritian-style spread of my own. I started with the Peppers Stuffed with Sardines, an easy appetizer or side that features sweet peppers stuffed with a blend of tinned fish, onions, and coriander. It was warm and satisfying—fun to eat without too much heat. The Sausages in Spicy Tomato Sauce, (also known as rougaille), is a zesty tomato-based dish spiced with garlic, ginger chiles, thyme, turmeric, and paprika. It's smoky and fiery with a complex taste that betrays the ease of cooking it. The Traditional-Style Beef Cari had balanced and nuanced flavors. There's no pre-blended store-bought curry powder here; rather, a blend of coriander, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, chilies, curry leaves, and other spices create layers of flavor. The sauce is thinner than what you'd find in an Indian curry, with a heat subdued enough that the seasonings shine through. The Ripe Tomato Salad with Chilli & Lemon served as a refreshing condiment, similar to Mexican salsa.
For dessert, I made the Semolina Greo, a personal favorite of every since my friend's mom prepared it for me during one of my visits. With a flavor reminiscent of rice pudding, this blend of semolina flour, milk, cardamom, raisins, cinnamon, and coconut turn into little balls of comfort. Not too sweet, not too overwhelming, but totally satisfying—the perfect accompaniment to tea.
The book is chock-full of more recipes I can't wait to try out, such as Chicken in Yoghurt & Saffron Sauce, Mustard & Turmeric Marinated Tuna (Vindaye Poisson), and Braised Eggplant with Potatoes & Chile. Desserts like Banana Cake with Passion Fruit Sauce and Mango & Lime Tarte Tatin tantalize as well. Vegeterian, vegan and gluten-free menus prove there's something for everyone in here.
The Island Kitchen is a lovely introduction to the culture and food of a unique paradise. And with Mauritian recipes being hard to find, this cookbook is now a treasured part of my collection.