Selina Periampillai is a self taught chef who left her city job to start a food blog called Taste Mauritius. Being from Mauritian heritage Selina soon realised there was nowhere in London to find tasty home cooked dishes like her mum made, so she started a successful supper club from home. This led to a book deal to share recipes of the multi cultural cuisine in Mauritius and the Indian Ocean islands. Selina’s recipes are easy for the home cook to follow and she counts food guru Nigella Lawson as one of her fans. Here she shares her story.
Mauritius: a tropical volcanic island utopia nestled in the southern Indian Ocean. Rich in colonial history and spice after being passed from the French to the British, and being settled in by Creole, Indian and Chinese migrants who came to work on the sugarcane fields, the country cuisine features a cross-culture of dishes. You will find tempting street food delicacies such as crispy hot samosas filled with chillies and seasoned potatoes, or a thin-flatbread called the dhal puri which is smeared with butterbean cari and peppered with fiery pickles, as well as split-pea lentil balls doused in tomato satini (chutney) all delivered in paper bags for customers to eat on the go. This is just a small insight into the delights offered by the island.
Look for homestyle restaurants neighbouring onto local villages or beaches with menus of the freshest seafood dishes from the morning’s catch, simply grilled on the bbq alongside a scope of fiery chilli pickles and mellow coconut chutneys. Fragrant glossy meat cari’s are simmered over wood fires, eaten with piles of rice infused with curry leaves, turmeric and buttery fried onions. And who could forget the exotic papaya, pineapples or lychees plucked from their branches, simply peeled, cut and devoured as they are. This is Mauritius on a plate.
It is a place I am lucky enough to call my second home. My parents moved over to the UK in the seventies to get better work opportunities and a find a higher standard of living. My sister and I were born in Croydon, South London, and it was here I spent my childhood watching my mum cooking her traditional dishes in the kitchen, whilst still travelling to the island frequently in the summer holidays.
We used to have lazy sunny days playing in my nan’s backyard under the lychee tree, running through her vegetable fields. With visits to the beaches, waterfalls and tropical gardens, it was four weeks a world away from the city of London. I think I have these early memories to thank for my intrigue and drive into exploring the myriad of flavours from this part of the world. I’m constantly experimenting in the kitchen and the best part of my day is the excitement of cooking and then sinking my teeth into that plate of dhal, rice and freshly cooked rotis. My true home comforts.
Becoming a mum has changed my perception and outlook somewhat now that I’m governed by this tiny 4-year-old (who is my harshest critic!) But being able to adapt recipes and follow my senses to combine spices and ingredients has resulted in many of my meals being suited for families – mine were my recipe testers in the early days! One of which I want to share with you now – Sunny-side-up egg, chicken and pak choi rice bowl, is the perfect theatrical dish, which is great for kids. This recipe is from my debut cookbook, The Island Kitchen, recipes from Mauritius and the Indian Ocean islands.
Sunny side up egg, chicken & Pak Choi rice bowl (BOL RENVERSÉ, Mauritius)
- 250 g basmati rice
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 2.5 cm piece of root ginger peeled & finely chopped
- 1 carrot cut into thin matchsticks
- 125 g shitake mushrooms sliced
- 130 g baby corn chopped
- 300 g chicken breast cut into strips then halved
- 200 g pak choi trimmed, stalks cut diagonally into thin slices, leaves torn
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp cornflour mixed with 150ml water
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4 eggs
- 3 tbsp finely chopped chives
- Firstly soak the rice for 30 minutes in cold water (or wash a few times until the water runs clear). Drain well. Cook your basmati rice according to the packet instructions.
- Place all your prepared vegetables and the chicken on a large plate, so everything is ready to add to the wok.
- Place a large wok over a high heat and add the vegetable oil. Once the oil is hot add in your onion, garlic and ginger and, using a metal spoon or spatula, keep stirring the ingredients in the pan to avoid burning. Fry for 1–2 minutes.
- Tip in the carrot, mushrooms, corn and chicken strips, give that all a good mix together and cook for 2 minutes while stirring. Next goes in the pak choi, which will wilt down eventually. I use all of it, even the white harder ends, which retain a nice crunch when cooked.
- Create the base of the sauce by adding the soy, oyster and fish sauces into the wok and give them a good stir. Pour in the cornflour water mixture – this will thicken it all up and result in a glossy, light brown liquid.
- Turn the heat down to a medium simmer, cover and gently cook for 10 minutes until the chicken is cooked throughout and the corn and carrots are softened, but still retain a slight crunch. Set aside.
- In the meantime, fry the eggs. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan on a medium-high heat and crack in the eggs, one at a time. Cook for around 4 minutes, taking care not to break the yolks, then turn off the heat and let them sit for 1 minute.
- Take four medium-sized bowls, one per person, and begin to layer up your magic bowl. First divide the chicken and vegetable mixture into each bowl, then divide the rice equally and gently press down so you can’t see any of the chicken mixture.
- Take a dinner plate and get ready to invert your bowl (this is the trick). Place the plate over your bowl and, holding the plate securely, flip it over (so the bowl is upside down on your plate). Gently lift up the bowl to unveil your bol renversé, and carefully place an egg on the top. Scatter with chives and add chilli paste on the side.