Ahhhh, Kokoda! One of the greatest gifts mankind has been bestowed surely has to be the combination of lemon, salt and chilli, right? Or is this just a Pacific Island thing? Probably. But I bet there are non-Islanders out there that would concur. Right?!
Well, we in the islands love our seafood and we usually eat most of our seafood dishes (and a lot of other dishes too, come to think of it) with lemon, salt and chilli. One dish that simply wouldn't be without that combination is Kokoda. If you aren't familiar, Kokoda is a dish we love in the islands. (Names differ from island to island). Raw fish is chopped up and marinated in lemon juice for a few hours, depending on preference. The longer you marinate, the more the fish 'cooks'. Not kidding, the fish actually 'cooks'. It turns from pink to white.
People have different tweaks and mixes but the essential ingredients here besides the fish is the lemon juice, salt, onion and, some would say, like us, chilli. Our standard mix is that the fish is marinated in salt and lemon juice (enough to cover all the fish pieces) , onion (finely chopped) and some black pepper. We like to leave it for a few hours. You can check continuously for when the fish has fully changed colour but usually 3 hours is the ideal. Then coconut milk is added (fresh is used in the islands, of course, but you can use canned) along with preferred extras. Here, we add grated carrots and finely chopped corriander leaves, other times, we add chopped up tomatoes. The chilli can be added in the dish or people can add it themselves to their portions.
Kokoda is usually eaten with some starchy sides like cassava or dalo or sweet potato, plantains etc. in the islands. And of course, some green leaves, the popular being Ota, a type of edible fern and our absolute favourite Kokoda accompaniment.
But, if you're like us, living outside of the islands and not having access to island food, you use what you can find and you experiment to see what works. Which is how asparagus came into the picture here. Ota is boiled and then split into strips and asparagus looked like the best 'green' we could find that we could split the same way.
End result? It works but it is in no way resembling Ota in taste. Taste-wise, it goes more in the direction of maybe Chinese cabbage (Bok-Choy) or Tubua (a type of spinach eaten in the Pacific). So for Pacific Islanders out there hoping to replace Ota with asaparagus, just remember it does not taste anything like Ota but it still works with Kokoda.