I stared into the pot with disbelief. I was making meatballs, and it was not going well. Belatedly, I wondered if maybe I should have followed the recipe more precisely. My cavalier attitude towards cooking (read: my utter indifference to details like ingredients and measurements) could sometimes lead to, shall we say, disappointing results.
I really hoped this wasn’t one of those times.
It was Sunday in Samoa, which meant I was preparing for the weekly to’ona’i (toh-oh-NAH-ee), a post-church, potluck-style feast. Extended families and large social groups (which might include Peace Corps Volunteers like me) gathered to share and enjoy phenomenal food. Standard fare always included Samoan classics: breadfruit, a soft, fluffy, white starch, lighter and sweeter than potatoes; taro, a purplish-gray root vegetable, a starch much denser and heavier than potatoes; palusami, a velvety mixture of taro leaves and coconut cream, baked to perfection in a smoldering fire; and coco Samoa, sweet, rich Samoan hot chocolate. Raw fish; sweet and sour pork; fresh bananas, mangoes, papayas.
Everyone brought something; the food was always fantastic.
To avoid public humiliation given my unpredictable success with meals, I usually brought safe and unimaginative items like fresh bread (purchased that morning) or a package of cookies. But on this particular Sunday I was inspired. I would wow everyone! I would cook them real food. I would make breadfruit-cod meatballs!
The photo looked amazing, showing crisp, deep-brown orbs with a soft, moist interior. I was sure I could do it, if I just followed the recipe. My cooking would be talked about for days!
Here we go! Step one: Cook the breadfruit, then mash it into a paste.
Okay, I didn’t have any breadfruit. But that’s okay! I had taro. Way more solid than breadfruit, yes. But did it really matter? I doubted it. Starch is starch, totally interchangeable! So I boiled up the taro.