Thursday, January 22, 2015

Chopping it up island style!

American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States situated in the Pacific Ocean. It's a little bigger than Washington DC with almost 78 square miles spread out over 5 islands and 2 atolls. Most of the people live on the largest island of Tutuila. One of the atolls is actually an uninhabited wildlife sanctuary. The other atoll has a whopping population of 17 people who apparently live on it to harvest coconuts. (?) Just about all of the 55,500 inhabitants are fluent in English and Gagana Fa'asāmoa (Samoan). One quick historical fact about American Samoa is that it avoided getting the Spanish flue epidemic in the early 1900s. A good decision from the governor of the time (John Martin Poyer) to quarantine any incoming ships from America saved the people from the pandemic disease. Neighboring Samoa lost 62% of their population while there was not one death in American Samoa.


The food scene in American Samoa is not very well advertised here in the states. There are only a couple of Samoan cooking sites online, and I had to be careful to save enough recipes to cook for the neighboring independent country of Samoa. (They have very similar traditions, cuisines, and backgrounds.) Taro, rice, coconut, breadfruit, and fish are staples from the islands. There is not all that much variety in fresh fruits and vegetables or other products, so canned goods are frequently used. It is not uncommon to find dishes of corned beef, canned vegetables, or other processed items.



For my main, I decided to make the Samoan version of chop suey. Often made from canned veggies, this stir fried noodle dish is super simple and economic to make. Chicken and corned beef are the two most common protein additions. I went with chicken because I had some on hand, but you can totally swap it out with corned beef if you are feeling more adventurous. Also, feel free to mix up the veggies you use in it. You can go totally canned for a more "authentic" feel, or use up the rest of those vegetables sitting in the back of your fridge. It's all up to you.

2 large chicken breasts, cut into ½” cubes
8 oz clear cellophane/ mung bean noodles
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp grated ginger
1 tbsp oil
½ cup soy sauce
1 ½ cups chicken broth or water
½ cup each chopped red bell pepper, broccoli florets, cauliflower florets, chopped carrot, snow peas, and corn (fresh, frozen, or canned)
sliced green onions, to serve

Soak the noodles in water for 10 to 15 minutes to loosen them up. Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium heat in a wok or large skillet with a lid. Add the ginger, onion, and garlic. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes until the onion is tender. Add in the chicken and brown on all sides for about 5 minutes, making sure not to cook it all the way through. Pour in the broth and soy sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Add in the veggies and noodles. Mix well, bring back to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and cook for another 5 minutes. Serve topped with sliced green onions.



I read that a common sides to the sapasui were taro with coconut sauce or coconut rice. I went with the latter option because, sadly, I have never came across taro at my local Kroger. Coconuts are very important in American Samoa and used often like in many island nations.

Alaisa Fa’apopo
1 ½ cups rice
1 ½ cups water
¾ cup coconut milk
salt, to taste

Place the water and rice in a small pot with a lid and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook covered for 18 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk and remove the pot from the heat. Let the pot sit for 10 minutes with the lid still on it before fluffing with a fork, seasoning to taste, and serving.


My Samoan meal was perfect for a weeknight. Besides chopping up all the vegetables, it was quick and simple to put together. The coconut milk gave the rice a light island feel without overpowering it, and the sapasui was healthy and delicious. I learned a thing or two about mung bean/ cellophane noodles too. I had to order them off of Amazon because Kroger failed me yet again. I planned on using them two separate times, so I tried to break the bundle of noodles in half. My hands now hold the battle scars. Mung bean noodles are not forgiving. Before you soak them, they are strong little buggers! Anyway, I hope you enjoyed your brief visit to the island of Samoa this January. Just think, it's summer for them right now.

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