#15: Samoan Koko Alaisa

Guess what? I’m not dead!

Given how many months have passed since my last update, though, I wouldn’t blame you if you thought I was dead. The last year has contained an irritating assortment of problems and responsibilities requiring a lot of time and energy on my part as well as some new and highly unpleasant health issues, so both cooking and blogging have had to take a backseat for a while. This project will probably continue to fall lower on my priority list than I’d ideally like it to for some time yet, but I’m hoping that things are starting to improve enough that I can at least do some cooking and blogging again, even if updates are still slower and more sporadic than I originally intended.

Accordingly, I finally made a Samoan dish! Hooray!

When I started researching Samoa and its cuisine, I quickly learned two (possibly related) facts:

  • Samoa has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world.
  • In online search results, recipes for Samoan desserts vastly outnumber recipes for any other element of their cuisine.

Actually, let’s add a third fact:

  • Samoan desserts almost universally sound freaking delicious.

A lot of why Samoan desserts sound freaking delicious is that the majority of them seem to contain some combination of coconut, caramel, and chocolate (which, incidentally, means that the non-local name of my favorite Girl Scout cookie suddenly makes a lot more sense). Deciding which one to make was exceedingly difficult. I finally narrowed it down to two contenders (one chocolate-based dessert, and one caramel-based dessert) but choosing between them was pretty much impossible, because I wanted to make both of them. Given my aforementioned lack of time and energy, though, that unfortunately wasn’t very feasible. So in the end, the decision simply came down to the fact that one of them was significantly quicker and easier to make than the other.

But, you see, I still really, really want to make that other dessert. I’ve already figured out my recipe for it and everything. So here’s the deal: I’ll go ahead and tell you about the dish I actually made and move onto the next country afterward as usual, but there may someday be a “Samoa, revisited” post when and if I actually get around to making that second dish. Assuming I pull that off somewhere down the line, I hope you won’t be too very upset if I break the rhythm of these posts to tell you how to make a bonus deliciously decadent-sounding dessert. (No promises, though, since I still have 182 other countries to get through!)

So, since I’ve already made you wait far too long to read about Samoan food, let’s get right down to business, shall we?

THE PROCESS

koko1
Not too very many ingredients in this one, because sometimes five is all you need. (Well, okay, six, because there’s also water, but as usual, I’m pretty sure you all know what water looks like even if I don’t photograph it.)

As you may have guessed from the “koko” part of this dish’s name, this is the chocolate-based dessert rather than the caramel one. (Technically, in Samoa, it appears that this is a chocolate based dessert/breakfast/snack/general excuse to eat chocolate. Samoans seem like very sensible people.) I was pretty pumped about making something chocolaty, since chocolate is delicious and it hasn’t made an appearance in this project until now.

Unfortunately, I had to do things a little bit incorrectly right from the start, because the recipes I found for koko alaisa almost all emphasized that if one couldn’t use real, authentic, fresh Samoan cocoa, one should at least use especially high-quality cocoa. I don’t think Hershey’s really qualifies, but I couldn’t quite justify buying a whole new container of cocoa when I already had a full one at home. (Hershey’s may not be high-quality, but it’s perfectly adequate for making nice, gooey brownies, which is its primary function in my house.) I also had to substitute orange extract for orange leaves, because the Midwest is not exactly known for its abundance of orange groves. There’s probably a store that sells orange leaves somewhere around here, but since the whole reason I picked this dish over the other one was that it wasn’t going to take me a ton of time and effort, I wasn’t particularly inclined to go on an wild goose (or wild orange leaf) chase around town.

Anyway, what I’m making here could essentially be described as “chocolate rice soup.” I began my chocolate rice soup by putting the rice and water into a pot, turning the heat up to high, and waiting for it to boil.

koko2
I sometimes like staring intently at pots just before they’re about to boil, just to be contrary. You can’t tell me what to do, proverbs!

I let the rice boil for a minute or two before turning the heat down to medium and adding the next ingredients. First, the coconut milk:

koko3
That coconut milk is all over the pot like white on rice! Literally! Because it’s white! And it’s on rice! I’m explaining the joke! It is a very funny joke! You can tell by all the exclamation points! I’m sure you are very glad that I’ve returned to add more brilliant jokes like this to your life!

Then the orange extract, which doesn’t get its own picture because (shockingly) adding a tiny amount of a clear liquid to the pot didn’t actually make it look any different.

Next, it was time for the cocoa. In order to make it blend more easily and not clump up too much, I mixed it with some water to make a thick, gooey liquid before pouring it in. You don’t really have to do that, though. Pouring it in directly is just fine; you’ll just most likely want to pour it relatively slowly and stir it as you go so you don’t end up with congealed cocoa-blobs.

koko43
Note: while this looks like something you would want to lick off the spoon after you’ve poured the contents of the bowl into the soup-pot, because NOM NOM NOM CHOCOLATE, it is important to remember that you have not actually put any sugar in this bowl and licking the spoon will therefore actually make you go “blech” rather than “NOM NOM NOM.” (I may have learned this the hard way. Like I said, cocoa in my house usually gets turned into brownie batter, so turning it into something that looks very much like brownie batter activated my chocolate-loving lizard-brain’s MUST PUT BATTER IN FACE reflex. Oops.)

I stirred the cocoa in well, and then did the same with the sugar. (A quick note regarding the sugar: if I’d wanted to make this dish in the most authentic manner possible, I would have put in far less of it. The sources I found discussing koko alaisa generally recommended making it pretty bitter and then serving it with sugar so that everyone can sweeten their individual portion to their liking. Since I knew who was going to be eating my koko alaisa and that none of us would want it especially bitter, I went ahead and made mine moderately sweet. If you or someone you’re planning on feeding is into super-dark chocolate, I’d use something like a third of the sugar I put in. Just make sure you have the sugar bowl available for anyone who isn’t into super-dark chocolate.)

Once the sugar and cocoa were mixed in, I turned the heat back up to medium-high so that the rice could finish cooking.

koko5
Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble! Actually, this took very little toil or trouble, and I have an electric stove, so there wasn’t technically any fire either. And I didn’t put any eyes of newt, poisoned entrails, or dismembered body parts from people belonging to assorted ethnic groups in here, because that doesn’t sound like it would make a tasty dessert at all. (And, you know, I don’t exactly make a habit of cutting Turkish people’s noses off and so forth. I’ve always wondered how on earth Macbeth’s witches came by all that stuff. Was there a Multi-Ethnic Body Parts Emporium in medieval Scotland, or did the witches have to fly all the way to Mongolia just to cut some dude’s lips off? Do you think they ever thought, “Eh, Tartar’s lips are too much trouble; I’ll just use locally-produced lips instead”? What if that was the real fatal flaw in the whole plan and if some witch hadn’t gotten lazy about her lip-harvesting, the prophecies would have been like, “Yo, Macbeth, you’re gonna get your butt kicked if people drag a bunch of branches out to your castle and then some dude whose mom had a C-section fights you” instead of getting all cryptic about it? Overthinking extremely minor literary details is fun!) BUT ANYWAY, there are bubbles! That part is accurate!

At that point, it was just a matter of letting it bubble away until the rice was fully cooked. You may need to add a little more water or coconut milk if your rice takes longer to cook than your liquid does to evaporate, and that’s just fine – this dish is very forgiving. Once the rice is fully cooked, you should be left with something that looks like a very thick soup.

koko6
It’s sort of halfway between a soup and a pudding, really. It’s a…soudding? (That’s almost certainly a better name than a puup, anyway. I don’t think anyone would want to eat puup.)

Then it was time to eat!

koko7
Not puupy at all! And guaranteed 100% Tartar-lip-free!

THE VERDICT

Mmm…chocolate.

The large amount of cocoa in here makes for a very, very rich dessert – much as with the suspiro de limeña that I made waaaaaaaay back on country #7 (almost a year ago, yeesh) this is a dessert where a little goes a long way. In that Peruvian dessert’s case, it was because it was so very, very sweet; the koko alaisa, on the other hand, isn’t especially sweet – I’d say that with the amount of sugar I put in, the sweetness level ended up somewhere around semi-sweet chocolate – but it packs an intense cocoa punch. That little dessert bowl was just about as much of it as I could eat in one sitting. The rice soaks up plenty of chocolaty flavor, the coconut milk makes the texture thick and creamy, and the orange extract adds just enough of its own flavor to make things a little more interesting (in a good way)!

If I make this again (which I very well might – it’s extremely easy and makes for something a little different than most chocolate desserts, and I always enjoy the experience of converting people who say, “I don’t know…that sounds weird” when told about the things I’ve cooked or am going to cook for this project into people who say, “om nom nom nom, okay, I guess it’s not so weird, om nom nom nom”), I think the only change I’d make would be to add just a little more orange extract, because I very much liked the hint of orange flavor and would almost certainly continue to like a somewhat less subtle hint.

Also, two small notes: first, this recipe makes quite a bit of koko alaisa, and since, as I said, a little goes a long way, if you’re not serving a crowd, you may want to halve all the quantities listed below. Second, don’t be alarmed if leftover portions of this soup congeal into a solid mass when stored in the refrigerator – just scoop out however much solidified koko alaisa you want to eat, add a tiny bit of water (or, even better if you have it available, a tiny bit of coconut milk), and reheat it in the microwave, and it’ll go right back to being soup. (I did try some while it was still in solid form, just for the heck of it, but it’s definitely richer and tastier as soup, so I recommend re-soupifying it before eating it.)

THE INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 cups rice
3 cups water (plus more as needed for mixing with cocoa or thinning the soup)
1 can coconut milk (13.5 ounces, or about 1 3/4 cups)
1/4 tsp orange extract
1/2 cup cocoa
1 3/4 cups sugar

Stay tuned for the next country! As I said above, updates are likely to remain sporadic rather than weekly for the foreseeable future, but barring some unexpected crisis, I at least don’t think it’ll take me seven friggin’ months to cook and write about my next dish. *knocks wood*

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