In Fiji, the traditional way of cooking your meals was cooking them underground oven. This method of cooking is called a lovo. Today, lovo feasts are saved for for special occasions in the village and are regularly served at resorts to share a little bit of Fijian culture with travelers. In a lovo, all the food is prepared then placed in an underground oven and slow cooked for hours. The tradition is much like the New Zealand "Hangi" and is Fiji's version of barbecue. Fish, Chicken and Pork are wrapped in foil and placed on the hot coals. Then for the"palusami" which is made using taro leaves, filled with thick coconut cream, onions, salt and corned beef. It may sound a little strange, but palusami is quite delicious! Root vegetables such as Taro are peeled, wrapped in foil and placed in the coals as well. The meat, palusami, and vegetables are then covered in banana leaves which keeps the food nice and moist. Men (In traditional Fijian culture the mend tended to the fire while women prepared the Kava) will tend to the coals, occasionally flipping the food. Once the food has cooked for 3-4 hours, the food is removed from the underground oven and served family style. Want to bring a little Fijian culture to your backyard? Try your hand at a Fijian Lovo feast for your last summer barbecue or next special occasion!
Building your fire pit
Dig a whole approximately 2 ft. deep and 3 ft. wide. This size fire pit should work for most average sized dinner parties. If you have a really large group of people you are feeding, you might want to make your whole a little larger to accommodate extra food. Place large stones or bricks around the inside of the fire pit. The stones insulate the walls of the fire pit creating an oven like effect. Then add firewood and kindling to the pit. We recommend using a hard wood such as hickory or oak. Hard woods burn slower, so you won't need to constantly be adding more wood. Ignite the fire, and let it burn down until you have nice hot coals with no flames. Now it is time to start cooking your feast!
1-2 dozen med sized taro leaves (Kale or Spinach can work as a substitute)
1 medium sized can of corned beef, or substitute
small can of coconut milk
several roughly sliced tomatoes
garlic and herbs to flavor, as required
First, remove the thickest parts of the taro stalks and put them into a bowl of hot water, while you prepare the main ingredients. This will not only leach out the acid in the leaves, it will make them pliable enough to bend.
Mix the corned beef with some of the coconut cream. You want to obtain a mix that still holds together. Add in your crushed garlic cloves, and any herbs/spices that you want to use. A pinch of dried sage and thyme perhaps.
Line a medium sized baking dish with foil, enough that you will be able to fold the top over and seal it. Then arrange the taro leaves along the bottom and sides of these. Try to have them overlapping so that there are no gaps.
Put half of the corned beef mixture in, and top with a layer of tomatoe slices and onion rings. Then add the rest of the beef, and finish with the last of the tomatoes and onions. You can pour a little coconut milk over this, and finally bend the taro leaves over the top and secure with toothpicks.
Cover the top of your Palusami parcel with foil, and place in the firepit.
Meats and Vegetables
Pick your choice of meats, lightly seasoning them with salt and pepper and fold them into foil packets and place over hot coals. Here is a fun recipe for a Lovo Pork with Apple Ginger Sauce if you want to get a little more fancy.
If you can find Taro, wonderful. If not, potatoes, yams, or turnips will work. Peel the root vegetables, toss in a bit of olive oil salt and pepper, place in foil packet and place on top of the meat packets.
After placing all of the foil packets over the hot coals, cover with banana leaves, corn husks, or a large piece of aluminum foil. Let food cook for 3-4 hours, occasionally flipping the packets with tongs. Carefully take the foil packets out of the fire pit. Slowly open each packet and serve family style.