This lolo bun recipe is the perfect accompaniment to this vegan version of palusami, a creamed spinach dish common across both Fiji and Polynesian countries.
Country Number 61: Fiji
Bula! We’ve reached Fiji, which has taken us a surprisingly long time to get to given that it is a 3 hour flight away (gosh I’m funny). Auckland has quite a large Fijian population so writing about it feels a lot closer to home than, say, Latvia.
Anyway, Fiji is an island nation in Melanesia, about 2000 or so km north of New Zealand, in the South Pacific Ocean. It has around 330 islands, 1/3 of which are populated. It is a tropical nation: warm all year round (drool), with beautiful beaches, mountains, and tropical rainforests. The majority of the population live on two islands – Viti Levu and Vanua Levu – with the capital of Suva on Viti Levu. Fiji is a culturally diverse nation. More than half of its population consist of indigenous Melanesian Fijians, there is a strong Polynesian influence, and two-fifths of its population are Fijian Indian. As such, Fijian, Fijian Hindi and English are all official languages of the country. Fiji was under British rule from 1874, and it was largely during this time that Fiji gained such a high Indian population, with many Indians coming in as indentured labourers. In 1970 Fiji gained its independence from Britain. From 1987 there have been a series of military coups d’etat, the most recent of which was in 2006 led by Frank Bainimarama, who has been Prime Minister since 2007.
History of Fijian Cuisine
Unsurprisingly, the two most dominant cuisines in Fiji are indigenous Fijian cuisine and Fijian Indian cuisine. Indigenous Fijian feasts are cooked in a lovo, or underground earth oven heated by hot stones, similar to how a hāngi is cooked in an umu in Aotearoa. Generally food such as yam, taro, kumala (aka kumara aka sweet potato), cassava, meat and fish are slow cooked until tender and lightly smoked.
Fijian Indian cuisine has developed from traditional Indian cuisine into a unique blend of spices fresh local ingredients, and a dash of Pacifica inspiration. In other words, you’re in for a treat whatever you’re eating in Fiji.
Popular Fijian Vegetarian Dishes
- Root vegetables from a lovo – while meat is also cooked in a lovo, smoky, tender root veges such as yam, taro, kumala and cassava are also cooked to perfection in this way.
- Fijian-Indian curries – just as with traditional Indian curries, FIjian Indian curries are often vegetarian friendly, and equally delicious. They are generally served with roti.
- Cassava chips – deep-fried chunks of cassava.
- Palusami – found throughout both Melanesia and Polynesia, this is usually made with rourou (taro leaves), onion, garlic, ginger, coconut milk and tinned corned beef (which we, for obvious reasons, omitted).
- Lolo buns – fluffy buns steamed in coconut milk.
Vegetarian rating of Fijian Cuisine:
Making this Lolo Bun Recipe with Vegan Palusami
Like all bread, the lolo buns will take a lot more time and prep than the palusami, so it’s worth getting onto them first before starting with the palusami. You’ll need an hour and a half plus an extra hour or longer if the environment is particularly cold, to let the dough rise. Using a food processor or stand mixer to beat the dough will spare your arm if you have one, but obviously it isn’t a necessity.
As for the palusami, if you are like us and didn’t have easy access to taro leaves, you can use tin foil instead, although you’ll lose some of the soft flavour provided by the taro leaves. Also, while the lolo require a longer rise time, palusami still takes half an hour to cook, so don’t leave it too late!
How to make coconut buns and creamed spinach
For the creamed spinach:
In a frying pan, over a medium heat, sauté diced onion in coconut oil and a dash of salt for 2 minutes until soft, then add in garlic and leek. Sauté another 5 minutes until all are translucent and soft.
Place taro leaf or silverbeet leaf on top of a piece of tinfoil, scoop in some of the onion mixture, and add a handful of spinach. Top with 1-2tbsp of coconut cream.
Fold up leaf like a parcel, then use another leaf to secure it. Fold the foil around this. Place foil parcels inside a baking dish and bake in oven for 30 minutes.
For the coconut buns:
- In a food processor with dough handle attachment, a standalone mixer or simply in a bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Melt butter, add to the flour mixture, then slowly add in 1 cup of the warm coconut milk while kneading until it forms a dough. Knead until it doesn’t stick to the sides and forms a ball.
- Form into ball, place in oiled bowl, cover with wrap or tea towel, and let sit for an hour and a half or so in a warm place until it has risen and doubled in volume.
- Once risen, divide dough into 6 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, and place in a greased baking dish.
- Cover dough again, and let it rise again for 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 180C while you wait.
- Pour coconut milk over buns, then bake rolls in oven for 25-30 minutes until golden brown on top. The base of the buns will be moist as they have been steamed in the milk, but most of the milk should have been absorbed. Remove from oven, let cool, and serve.
Ingredient notes for this lolo bun recipe with palusami
- Taro leaves- If you can’t access taro leaves easily, substitute with silverbeet leaves and tinfoil.
- Corned beef – traditionally corned beef is included, however omit if you are vegetarian like us.
- Vital wheat gluten – traditionally, these buns are made using eggs to give them their shape and texture, however vital wheat gluten creates a wonderful, particularly spongey dough. This is optional, however.
Serving suggestions for lolo and palusami
From what we understand, these aren’t usually served together, but we thought they would pair nicely, and they did! However, you can make both of these by themselves or with other sides. The lolo buns are great as a sweet option with butter and jam. You could serve the palusami alongside baked taro or kumala (sweet potato).
Did you make this lolo bun recipe with palusami? We’d love to know! Tell us how it went in the comments below or tag us (@gourmetvegetarians) in your photos on Instagram.
For more vegan recipes:
- Vegan Currywurst with Seitan Bratwurst
- Vegan Dolma with Mince & Bulgur Wheat
- Chocolate, Date & Almond Bliss Balls