Poke, or baked banana pudding (Cook Islands)

Cook Islands is a “self-governing parliamentary democracy in free association with New Zealand”. What is more interesting than this bureaucratic monster of a word is that it has about 20,000 inhabitants, while there are nearly 60,000 people of Cook Islander descent living in New Zealand (a unique situation, perhaps?). The group of fifteen small islands is quite far from NZ though, located between French Polynesia and American Samoa (isn’t it nice how all these places are “owned” by someone?). Cook Islands have a large art scene, featuring wood carving, weaving, contemporary art and tivaevae, a type of textile art with a very important social meaning.

Like many islanders, people of the Cook Islands eat a lot of fish and seafood, including some seaweeds. Tropical fruits (especially banana, mango and papaya) and coconuts are also very popular. Breadfruit, starchy roots like taro, and taro leaves are common ingredients. Local herbs, turmeric, chili, onion, garlic, lemon and lime are used as seasonings. Food is often cooked in the oven and eaten with the fingers. You can find quite a few people praising the cuisine online. (If a Vegventures cookbook ever comes out, I promise to do better justice to their cuisine!)

This is the first Vegventures dish featuring bananas – quite surprising considering that they are widely used in South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania, but perhaps exactly for that reason I have avoided them, in fear that half of the blog would be banana recipes… Only after I had made this dish I found out that besides the popular banana poke, there are also other varieties, e.g. orange, mango, lime and even pumpkin, which might have been tastier.

This one was awfully bland, which I kind of expected, but I was hoping I would be wrong, as roasting bananas makes them very flavourful and I thought that maybe baking in the oven would increase the flavour of the bananas. It didn’t. Also, I was worried the texture would be gummy or at least extremely solid with such a large amount of arrowroot, and it was, but maybe I should have used more liquid.

The recipe said to simmer the banana mash “until it turns purplish”. I wasn’t sure what this meant, so I cooked the bananas for about 15-20 minutes until they were brownish with some possibly purple hue. Apparently getting to the purple stage can take over 30 minutes.

If you can’t find arrowroot or find it too expensive, you may be able to substitute it with cornstarch. (Interestingly many sources say not to use arrowroot with dairy, yet the original recipe features whole milk…)

In the picture the poke is garnished with toasted coconut, which apparently is quite a traditional ingredient in Cook Islands (and many other places). I don’t like coconut by itself all that much, but toasted coconut is awesome, and very easy to make. Just toast flaked coconut on a dry pan on medium heat until fragrant and golden (it takes on a reddish hue for some reason). Sprinkle liberally over curries and desserts.

Poke

Poke

0.9 lbs/400 g very ripe bananas (as ripe as possible)
3/4 cups/1.8 dl water
2 tsp sugar
1/3 cup/0.8 dl soy milk or soy milk
2.5 oz/70 g arrowroot powder
1/3 cup/0.8 dl coconut milk

Peel the bananas and mash them. Cook this mash together with the water “until purplish” (see notes). Remove from heat and let cool.

Mix all the ingredients well. Pour the mixture into a greased baking dish (or individual ramekins) and bake at 190C/375F for 35 minutes, or until set and golden brown (I only baked for about 20 minutes). Let cool.

Once cooled, cut into pieces and poke holes into them with a fork. Pour the coconut milk over it and let soak into it for a while before serving. Makes about 3-4 portions.


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