Before meeting Selina, if you’d ask me what Mauritian food is like I would probably have drawn a complete blank. Fresh coconut? Lots of rum maybe? Isn’t it near Africa? My knowledge of the country started, and swiftly ended, with a generic image of white sand leading to a turquoise sea, framed by gently waving palms trees and populated with hand-holding honeymooners. And while I don’t think that is entirely inaccurate, as I learnt at Selina’s Mauritian cookery class there is much more to the country than its perfect beaches. A small island, south east of Madagascar in the Indian ocean, it was discovered by the Portuguese in the early 1500s. Finding no indigenous people they settled for a couple of hundred years, before abandoning it to the French, and then British. Indian and Chinese immigrants also made it their home, and as such the island’s culture is drawn from one massive ethnic melting pot. The food is a type of creole (which means fully or partially descended from European colonial settlers) cuisine, and features Chinese, French, Indian and African influenced dishes. For example fried noodles are a popular street food, and French thyme is a commonly used ingredient.
Selina Periampillai was born in London to Mauritian parents, and brought up in a house she describes as being ‘full of food and family’. Realising there were not enough places serving good, home-cooked Mauritian food in London, she set out to fill the gap with her own supper clubs, pop-ups and cookery classes, under the banner ‘Taste Mauritius’. I was initially tempted to go to one of her supper clubs but they are normally held at her flat in Croydon, which felt too far to go on a school night. Her cookery class took place near Old Street, at the same venue as Mama Wang’s, which was much easier to get to and from!
The class taught us how to make a very popular street food, dhall puri, a ground split pea filled flat-bread, and two curries to go alongside it. You can buy a stuffed dhall puri on Mauritian streets for about 20p. Made from scratch it is a rather lengthy process (luckily Selina had done most of the hard work), so is usually only made at home for special occasions such as weddings.
We started with the two curries. Selina explained that almost all Mauritian curries begin the same way, with the gentle frying of onion, ginger and garlic. The chickpea one used Mauritian curry powder, which Selina had bought back on a recent trip, and which is lighter and more fragrant than its Indian sister. Both included tomatoes, either fresh or tinned, and curry powder aside Selina only used easy to find ingredients (you could easily substitute Indian curry powder).
We made our dhall puri from a dough Selina had knocked together earlier that day from flour, water and turmeric, to give it colour and flavour. We rolled the dough into balls and then pushed a hole in the middle to fill with the ground yellow split peas. The balls were then sealed and rolled flat, as thin as we could get them, and then quickly fried in a little oil, only for about 30 seconds each side. Its like a roti or chapati, but the split peas give it a sort of earthy flavour which I really loved.
We ate our dhall puri and curries with two chutneys Selina had made – a hot green one, and a really delicious fresh coconut one. Afterwards we were treated to a very rich, home-made rum and raisin ice-cream, made with Mauritian rum and vanilla. As at other classes I met some lovely people, including a father and daughter who had just got back from a holiday on the island, and whose stories made me want to book flights right away.
Mauritian food is fairly simple, so you won’t learn any complicated processes or techniques at Selina’s class, but I liked that we made dishes I will definitely cook again, and that it was an accessible introduction to a cuisine I knew literally nothing about. Selina is so lovely, a great teacher and really enthusiastic about food from Mauritius, and the finished food was so delicious that rather than satisfy my urge to go to her supper-club, I now want to go even more – even all the way to Croydon!
So with Selina’s permision, here is the recipe for one of the curries we made – Prawn Rougaille. If you don’t fancy making dhall puri, this would be lovely with a helping of steamed white rice. Selina also said that you could add eggs to the tomato base, and poach them like you would for a shakshuka. Served with a quick roti it would make an excellent, and delicious, breakfast! For one or two people.
250 grams raw king prawns
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 small piece ginger, chopped
2 green chillies, chopped and deseeded
2/3 sprigs of fresh thyme
125 grams chopped tomatoes
1 spring onion, chopped
Small bunch of fresh coriander
1 tsp salt
Fry the onion, ginger and garlic over a medium heat, letting them sweat for a couple of minutes.
Add the thyme leaves, chilli, chopped tomatoes, coriander stalks and half a glass of water and cook for 10 minutes, stirring at intervals. Add salt and check seasoning.
Prep your prawns if necessary – de-shell and de-vein.
Add prawns to the sauce, and cook gently for a couple of minutes until a pale pink.
Sprinkle the chopped spring onion and coriander leaves over the dish
I told you Mauritian food was simple!
You can find out more about Selina on her Taste Mauritius website, and follow her on Twitter, @tastemauritius.