21 Feb 2019
Cook Islanders and people from throughout the Pacific region have this vegetable as their staple green vegetable. Today we have added to our choices. Travel has enriched our lives. Cook Islanders have embraced the aromas, colours and textures of flavours they have found in the kitchens of the world. Indeed many Cook Islanders may be spied working in kitchens of some of the most prestigious kitchens in New Zealand and Australia. The taste of home for us is still the 'rukau'.
When in Rarotonga, visit the Punanganui Market on a week day and get your bundle of rukau greens. If you should miss out, ask one of the mamas to get some for you for the following day. It is possible to find rukau in the stores as you scoot around the island on your motorbike. Try stores like Wigmores and Super Brown.
The traditional way to prepare rukau is to wrap and tie in leaves of banana, or wild hibiscus, or cordylline leaves. Use fresh hibiscus tree bark to tie the bundles. Any meat and fish may be added. Cook in the ground oven. Today we use the conventional oven or the microwave.
To prepare your rukau, dice onions and have coconut cream ready, slice or dice meat of your choice, meat may be omitted, salt and pepper. Choose leaves to wrap rukau and string to tie with, or have foil. The leaves must be washed and the central vein of each leaf cut off. Place some leaves in the cup of one hand forming a well in the centre. Carefully place onions and meat, salt and pepper to taste, and finally pour coconut cream into the middle. Bring together the top part of the rukau leaves to form a bundle which is then placed in foil and sealed. If using the banana leaves, these must be cut to size and passed over heat to soften and make them pliable.
Tie into one large bundle or smaller individual bundles as single serves. Stand bundles of rukau upright in a baking dish and bake in preheated oven 350°F for 45 minutes or more. Test if cooked by removing a bundle and opening to see if rukau is tender and meats and onion ready. The microwave is quicker but experiment with the times and give it a thorough cooking. Remember not to put foil in the microwave. The more coconut cream added will enhance the rukau flavour. Serve extra coconut cream if you wish. Any of the cooked root vegetables, rice and ripe bananas, breadfruit, cooked green bananas and buttered bread are excellent accompaniments.