I read a story earlier in the week about the price increase of chemical pesticides, fungicides and herbicides that farmers are using in Fiji to control pests and plant disease, and I was reminded that many farms still use heavy metal chemicals to produce fruits and vegetables. While these chemicals are keeping away insects and helping to ripen fruit, they are also poisoning the air, land and water that Fijians are breathing, eating and drinking. It is with little wonder why we are seeing more reports of strange blood and bone cancers in Fiji, as these poisonous metals and the benzene used to spray them with, contribute to more dangerous toxins getting inside our bodies. I am lucky to live on an island with clean, unpolluted air and water, but the same cannot be said for many of Fiji's urban centres including the Capital City. The black smoke that billows out of nearly every old bus, truck and car in Suva is not only polluting the air, but the carbon monoxide is poisoning everyone who walks the street. As I watch the old school buses and vans drive past young school children and shopper standing by the side of the road, I wonder if the owners and drivers realise they are poisoning people?
In last week's episode of "Taste of Paradise", we visited the hydroponic farm at Cola-i-Suva where pollution, heavy metal chemicals and poisons have been banished. Joe's Farm has introduced a technique of growing vegetables without soil and without poisonous fertilisers. The rows of lettuce, Chinese vegetables, cucumbers, tomatoes and capsicums grow in natural coconut fibres and a fed precise amounts of liquid nutrients that allow them to grow bigger and more tasty than farm-grown produce. By feeding the vegetables food that is rich in vitamins and minerals, hydroponic vegetables grow to be stronger, bigger and contain more nutrients. The giant cucumbers are not only huge but have more flavour and crunch. Hydroponically grown vegetables are therefore much more healthy and tasty.
One of the secrets to a great salad I showed last week was chilling your salad vegetables, especially lettuce, in ice cold water. The chilled water helps to refresh the green leaves and turns limped lettuce into a crunchy healthy salad. Salads can be boring but by adding different coloured vegetables, tropical fruits, nuts, hard cheeses and marinated vegetables, you can easily encourage the family to eat more salads. The key is the also in the dressing. Without a tasty dressing, salad vegetables are not as tasty or appealing but by adding fruit zest, juice and wild honey to a dressing, you can create something distinctly tropical. In future episodes of "Taste of Paradise" I show how green coconut, green mango, green pawpaw and nearly all the tropical fruits of Fiji can be used in salads. By learning new ways to combine fresh fruits and vegetables into salads, getting the kids and family to eat more healthily becomes easier.
The other trade secret I shared with viewers was how to make tough meat more tender. The age-old Chinese restaurant secret of using baking soda was revealed to explain how tough cuts of beef like skirt steak and chop suey strips can be made so tender. As a young chef I worked in my family restaurant and learned that by using the cheap cuts of meat, you could turn tough steak into something velvety and as tender as the more expensive tenderloin or sirloin. By adding a very small amount of baking soda to the meat marinade, it opens up the fibres and allows the stringy muscle to absorb the liquid marinade and breaks down the toughness of the meat. But be careful not to use too much as the taste of the meat will change to a soapy soda, or worse, the meat will break down too much and you will be left with bloody heap of dissolved meat. Learning this technique will allow families to buy cheaper cuts of beef, lamb, goat and mutton but still enjoy the tenderness of more expensive cuts.
I must lastly thank everyone who is watching the show and turning Thursday night and Saturday afternoon into a family ritual of learning to cook and eat for good health. Reports of increased sales of the high-pressure gas burner, spices and sauces from supermarkets and Chinese stores are a testament that Fijians love food and cooking.
The recipes are reprinted each Sunday in this column, and you can contact me or retrieve old recipes from the "Taste of Paradise" Facebook site. One viewer wrote that she always sees the Ministry of Health messages for healthier eating but didn't know what to do. I am humbled that this new television program is showing how easy it can be.
* Lance Seeto is the host of Fiji TV's "Taste of Paradise" screening Thursday 8pm and Saturday 5.30pm on Fiji One. His Facebook page "Fijian Food Safari" has nearly 100,000 fans across the world who are following his message of health and happiness