By Cynthia Nelson
When choosing the locale for your Caribbean destination wedding, be sure to take in one of the most important cultural aspects of the country: the food! There is much to explore and sample, so be sure to pick your favourites and let them be deliciously reflected in your menu.
You’ll quickly realise how similar our food is across the Caribbean states. There are certain dishes that you’ll find throughout the region, with signature twists added by each country to make it their own.
Rice ‘n Peas, Macaroni Pie, Stews, Curries, Ground Provisions, Fried Bakes, and Fried (sautéed) Salt Fish are among the dishes we all share. But, the differences in these dishes across countries stem from both the preparation and names given. For example, ‘bakes’ are also known as “Johnny Cakes” in Jamaica, Anguilla, and St. Croix, while Grenadians and St. Lucians call them “floats”. These irresistible little breads are further categorized into “fried bakes”, “roast bakes” and even “baked bakes”.
So, as you travel across the region to celebrate your special day, be sure to enjoy some of the local fare for unforgettably tasty memories!
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon butter (salted or unsalted)
- 1 ¾ cups lukewarm water to knead dough
- Neutral-tasting oil for deep-frying
- Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and cinnamon in a large bowl.
- Rub butter into flour mixture.
- Add water to the flour mixture to make dough. Do not add all of the water at the same time. (Amount of liquid needed varies according to the composition of flour and temperature of surroundings.) Start with 1 ¼ cups and work your way up from there. When the dough comes together, knead for 2 – 3 minutes.
- Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Rub some oil over the dough and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rest for at least 30 minutes, but no longer than 1 hour.
- Cut dough into 12 equal pieces and form into balls. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
- Line a large bowl with a kitchen towel as well as some paper towels.
- Heat oil in deep pan on medium heat until hot. Test the oil by breaking off a piece of dough and adding it to the oil; if it sinks and rises almost immediately, the oil is ready. If you have a thermometer, it should register at 325 degrees F.
- Lightly flour a work surface and rolling pin. Take one piece of dough and roll into a disc: about 3 inches diameter and ¼-inch thick.
- Add to the hot oil and fry until browned on both sides. (Once added to the oil, the bake initially sinks, but floats to the surface as it puffs and cooks. Flip the bake over and cook the other side.) Reduce heat if bakes are browning too quickly before the insides are cooked.
- Repeat steps 8 and 9 above until all the bakes are fried.
- Serve the bakes warm. Cut along the sides of the bake to create a pocket and fill with fried (sautéed) salt fish, smoked herring, cheese, ham, or fried fish. Or, cut open completely and slather with your favourite topping.
Fried (Sautéed) Salt fish
Note: This recipe requires overnight preparation before cooking
Yield: 3 cups
- 10 ounces de-boned or boneless salt fish
- 3 tablespoons oil
- 1½ cups thinly sliced onions
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- Finely minced hot pepper to taste
- 1 cup chopped tomatoes
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Black pepper to taste
- Night before cooking: Rinse the fish and add to a large bowl of very hot water. Cover bowl and let fish soak overnight.
- Next day: Drain fish and add to a pot of water on the stove. Let boil for 6 – 8 minutes. (The key here is to remove only the salt that is in excess, not all of it. Taste a small piece of the fish; it should not be overly salty.)
- Drain the cooked fish well. When cool enough to handle, crumble into small pieces.
- Heat the oil in a pan until hot, but not smoking. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 2 – 3 minutes.
- Add thyme and hot pepper and continue to cook for another minute.
- Add tomatoes, salt, and black pepper and cook for a minute.
- Add salt fish and cook partially covered for 5 – 7 minutes.
- Serve with bakes, roti, rice, bread, or ground provisions.
Punch de Crème Bread Pudding
Yield: 1 (9 x 13) dish
- You will need a large roasting pan in which the 9 x 13 dish can sit comfortably for a hot water bath (bain marie).
- Baking the pudding directly in its dish is also fine. The top, bottom and edges will get brown and crusty, which is quite yummy. However, the look and texture of the baked pudding will be different from the one that has been cooked gently and indirectly in the hot water bath.
- For the bread pudding to truly absorb the custard, it must soak in the mixture for at least 6 – 8 hours. Overnight is ideal. This long period of absorption will also improve the texture of the bread pudding when baked.
- Bread rolls (such as tennis rolls) can be used in place of regular bread. To get the true Punch de Crème flavour, I would advise against using breads or rolls that are already flavoured or spiced.
- Punch de Crème (recipe follows)
- 8 cups cubed bread (preferably 1 – 2 days old)
- ½ cup golden raisins (sultanas)
- 2 tablespoons melted butter (preferably unsalted)
- Boiling water
For Punch de Crème:
- 6 eggs
- 3 cans full cream evaporated milk
- 2 cans condensed milk
- 2 teaspoons Angostura Bitters
- 1 ¼ cups dark rum or more to taste
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Zest of two limes (substitute with orange)
For Punch de Crème:
- Add eggs and lime zest and whisk until frothy.
- Add evaporated milk, condensed milk, bitters, nutmeg, and rum. Whisk to incorporate.
For bread pudding:
- Add the bread to a large bowl or container.
- Pour the Punch de Crème over the bread. Using a large spoon or spatula, keep pressing the bread into the custard until the bread is heavy with the liquid. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
- When you are ready to bake the bread pudding, remove from refrigerator and let it come up to room temperature.
- Scatter and fold in the raisins.
- Meanwhile, put a kettle of water on to boil.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Brush the 9 x 13” baking dish with the melted butter, and then pour the bread pudding mixture into the dish. Place dish with the bread pudding in the larger roasting pan for the hot water bath.
- This step of adding hot water to create the bath can be done in two ways:
- Pour the boiling water into the roasting pan on the countertop and then carefully transfer the pan and dish to the oven, or
- Place the roasting pan (containing the dish of bread pudding) in the oven and then carefully pour the boiling water into the roasting pan. Let the water come halfway up the sides of the dish with the bread pudding.
- Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean.
- Remove roasting pan from the oven and wait about 20 minutes for the water to cool. Remove dish with the bread pudding and place on a wire rack to continue cooling. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold. (Note: If you want to add more booze to this bread pudding, then serve drizzled with Amaretto liqueur.)
Leftover rice is ideal to create a new dish. Think of cooked rice as a blank canvas upon which you can paint almost anything. You can turn this into salt fish fried rice, green onion fried rice, egg fried rice or vegetable fried rice using one or a combination of vegetables. In this case one vegetable was used.
- 3 cups cooked rice
- 3 – 4 rashers of bacon, cut into small pieces
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1-2 tablespoons oil
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
- Minced hot pepper to taste
- ½ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
- 2 heads Pak-Choy, chopped fine
- ¼ cup sliced green onions (scallions)
- white and green parts
- Spread bacon in a single layer in a cold pan and place on medium heat and let cook until it has rendered its fat. Drain bacon on kitchen paper and set aside
- Reduce heat and cook eggs. Chop eggs into small pieces and set aside
- Add oil to pan if necessary and raise heat to medium. When oil is hot again add ginger, garlic and pepper and fry for 1 minute
- Add rice and toss to mix and heat through
- Add spice powder along with salt to taste and Pak Choy and toss a couple of times or until Pak Choy turns a bright green
- Add bacon and eggs, give a final toss; remove from heat and serve hot garnished with green onions
Cynthia Nelson is the author and photographer of the best selling and award-winning Tastes Like Home – My Caribbean Cookbook. She teaches Broadcast Journalism and blogs at www.tasteslikehome.org
Write to her at: email@example.com
Mashed sweet potatoes
- 2 pounds sweet potatoes
- salt to taste
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- ¼ cup whole milk
- Peel sweet potatoes (cut into large chunks if necessary) and add to a large pot, add water to cover sweet potatoes, cover pot, place on high heat and bring to a boil. When the pot comes to a boil, salt the water to taste; cover and let cook until a knife inserts easily; drain well
- Add the hot sweet potatoes and the other ingredients to a large bowl and mash until smooth
Pan-seared mahi mahi in tomato sauce
These days it is easy to get fish already cleaned and pre-cut so don’t be intimidated to use fish. While this recipe calls for Mahi Mahi, any firm white fish will work – red snapper, grey snapper etc.
- 2 pounds mahi mahi, cleaned & cut into 2-inch thick steaks
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 – 4 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
- ½ cup finely minced onions
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 2 cloves garlic finely minced
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 1 cup water
- 2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
- Pat the fish dry and season with salt and pepper to taste; set aside
- Add oil to a large pan and heat on high heat until hot but not smokin
- Working in batches, add fish to pan and let brown on one side first, then turn and let brown on the other side. You will know when the fish is ready to turn because it will release easily from the pan; it will take less time to brown once turned (in other words, if it took 2 minutes to brown on the first side, it would take 1 minute on the other side). Do not worry about the fish being cooked all the way through at this stage, all you are seeking to do is to give the fish some colour by lightly browning it
- Set aside the seared fish and add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan and reduce the heat to medium
- Add onions, season with salt, reduce heat to low and cook until softened (about 2 – 3 minutes)
- Add thyme and garlic to softened onions and cook for 1 – 2 minutes
- Raise heat to high and add tomato sauce, water and pepper sauce, stir and bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and let simmer for 12 – 15 minutes uncovered or until the liquid is reduced by half. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. If the sauce tastes a little tart (this will depend on the brand of tomato sauce), stir in the sugar to balance the flavour
- Raise heat to high and add fish along with any juices in the plate from resting. Spoon the sauce continuously over the fish, basting it and letting the fish heat through and complete cooking. To test if the fish is cooked, take a fork and flake a piece of fish from the thickest part
- Serve with the mashed sweet potatoes, rice, ground provisions, cous-cous, buttered pasta noodles or bread
So you’re getting married or just got married. Congratulations! You are now responsible for at least half of the meals that you and your loved one will be eating. Of course, the same will hold true when the children come along, not to mention family and friends, and oh yes, how can I forget—the in-laws! But let’s focus on just the two of you right now.
Cooking, even for those of us adroit to the task, is not easy. I’ve often explained how intimidating cooking can be because it is the most sincere form of affection. It is about baring the soul, letting one’s guard down and leaving yourself open to be judged. Cooking for a newly wed couple brings all of these things to the fore and more as they adjust to being a unit, living together and sharing the same space. Feelings of inadequacy can quickly arise and it is for this reason alone that I firmly believe that the task of cooking should be a shared one, so that the couple can grow together and learn from each other. Know this—anyone can cook. Really.
Firstly, don’t approach cooking as a chore, think of it as creating something. Cooking is one of those things that can be instantly rewarding when you see the results and gratifying when you see the sheer joy and appreciation on the faces of your loved ones and their empty plates! I am going to share with you four master recipe-ideas that you can tweak, adjust to suit your tastes and vary in flavour. And each of these ideas can work for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Enjoy!
Breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea or dinner—eggs are good. There are so many ways to cook eggs such as boiled, mashed, scrambled, fried, poached, curried, baked, nested etc.
To boil eggs—this is the way I do mine —bring the eggs up to room temperature. Add them to a saucepan large enough not to crowd them or have them jamming up against each other as they boil. Add two teaspoons of salt and cover with water. Set saucepan on medium high heat and bring to a boil. When the pot comes to a boil, let eggs cook for six minutes exactly. Meanwhile get a large bowl and fill it with a combination of ice water and ice cubes. Here you are creating an ice bath to cool down the eggs and stop the cooking process. This will help the eggs to remain tender—the whites will not be rubbery or the yolks overly dry and powdery. The cooling down process also prevents that gray sulphur ring from forming around the eggs.
Once the eggs are finished boiling immediately remove from the bubbling water. Plunge them into the ice-water bath and let them remain there for about six minutes before peeling. Now you’re ready to make your egg salad, potato salad, curried eggs or egg balls.
For soft-boiled eggs, cook for only 90 seconds (1 ½ minutes).
Scrambled eggs are easy and what is important is to know how you and your spouse like your eggs done. Some people like their scrambled eggs soft and tender while others like them hard and cooked firmly.
To scramble eggs:
- Always start with a cold pan; this way, the eggs get to cook through gently and can be cooked to varying stages of doneness.
- Cook eggs over low heat.
Season your eggs just as they are done to your likeness and not at the beginning of the cooking process. Adding salt at the onset of cooking can harden the eggs.
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons butter (salted or unsalted)
- Salt and freshly ground white or black pepper to taste
- Crack the eggs and add to a medium-sized bowl and beat lightly with a fork, do not let it get frothy.
- Add butter to a skillet and melt over low heat.
- Pour beaten eggs into melted butter.
- Stir gently and constantly. Be patient the eggs will take about 3 – 4 minutes to set.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste remove from heat and serve immediately.
- If you would like your eggs firmer, cook for another 2 minutes.
- Add thinly sliced green onions (green parts only) at step #5 if you like.
- Finely chop onions, hot peppers, cilantro or chandon beni or parsley and tomatoes and sauté gently in melted butter (at step 2). Be careful not to let the veggies get brown) then proceed to step #3.
Five ingredients are all you need to make pancakes—flour, eggs, baking powder, sugar and milk. With this as your foundation, you can make an endless variety of pancakes including chocolate-chip pancakes, pumpkin pancakes, berry pancakes, banana pancakes, guava pancakes and orange pancakes. Honestly, the variety is endless. You can even make savoury pancakes such as cheese, corn, spinach or mushroom.
Chocolate-chip Pancakes & Sautéed Bananas
Yield: 4 – 5
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- A pinch salt
- A pinch ground cinnamon
- 1 egg, room temperature, lightly beaten
- ¾ cup whole milk (substitute with water)
- 2 heaped tablespoons chocolate chips (semi-sweet or regular)
- Canola oil
- Add flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and cinnamon to a bowl and mix together.
- Add egg and milk to make a batter of dropping consistency (you may need more or less milk/water depending on your location). The batter should not be thin or watery.
- Cover batter and let rest for at least ½ hour. The longer it rests, the higher the pancakes will rise (it’s all about science; Alton Brown is better at explaining it).
- Fold in chocolate chips just before cooking pancakes.
- Add a few drops of oil to a non-stick pan and swirl. Heat on medium heat. If using a tawah or griddle, heat up pan first then brush with oil.
- Pour or ladle 1/3 cup of batter in/on to pan and swirl with the back of a spoon. Spread batter to about 4 inches in circle. Let cook until bubbles or holes start to form. Flip pancakes (do not slam down) and continue cooking until it comes away easily from the pan. Do not press down on pancakes while cooking.
- Remove cooked pancake and place on wire rack or paper towel. Repeat until all the batter is used up. Insert a piece of wax paper between each pancake when it is done cooking to avoiding steaming and sticking.
- Pancakes can be kept warm in a 200 degrees F oven while you continue making the others.
- 2 ripe bananas (average 1 per person), sliced into ½ inch rounds
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons canola or any neutral tasting oil
- Add butter and oil to a pan and place on medium heat to melt. When the butter starts to froth, add the bananas to the pan (spread them into a single layer as you want each piece to make contact with the pan). Let cook for 1 minute. Flip and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Spoon over pancakes, drizzle with syrup or honey and serve.
- These sautéed bananas can be served topped on many desserts.
All rice is not created equal. And there are various ways of cooking rice. For the uninitiated, I would suggest using the absorption method; this is where the water and rice are measured and then set to cook for a specific time. This way, you don’t have to constantly be checking or guessing as to when the rice is done.
Follow the rice guide (available at caribbeanbelleweddings.com). Once rice is cooked, you can serve with vegetables, stews, curries or beans. You can also opt to do a quick sauté of some finely chopped onions and herbs before adding your rice and water to the pot; or, add some whole spices such as cumin (geera), cinnamon, cloves or cardamom, to perfume and flavour the rice in an enticing way. If you’re cooking your rice plain, try adding some butter or ghee to flavour the rice. The possibilities are endless!
Yield: Serves 3
- 4 cups of just-cooked Basmati Rice (you want the rice to be hot)
- 3 tablespoons Canola oil
- 1 ½ teaspoons black mustard seeds
- Minced hot pepper to taste
- ¾ teaspoon ground turmeric
- A pinch of asafoetida (hing) optional
- 10 – 12 curry leaves (if you have)
- ¾ cup chopped onions
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- ½ cup chopped cilantro/coriander leaves (or chandon
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice (1/3 cup if using lemons)
- Heat oil in large pan or karahi on medium heat.
- Add mustard seeds and fry; as soon as it begins to pop, add pepper, turmeric, hing and curry leaves (if using) and sauté for 1 minute. Then add onions and ginger and sauté until onions are soft but not coloured.
- Add the hot rice along with the cilantro/coriander or chandon beni and toss to mix well. Remove from heat, pour lime/lemon juice over rice and mix to incorporate. Cover and let rest for at least 30 minutes before serving (to give the rice enough time to absorb the lemon juice and flavours).
Again, this is about seasoning cut-up chicken with flavourings of your choice—herbs, spices, aromatics or a combination. You can use wet marinades or dry rubs. Seasoning your meat overnight for a well-seasoned soak and then cooking it the next day is easy work.
To bake chicken:
- Season chicken, if possible, in the same dish you are planning to bake it in (oven proof, of course). Otherwise, an airtight container or secure zip bag would do.
- Bring chicken up to room temperature before cooking.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F before adding pan/dish with seasoned chicken to the oven.
- Cook for forty-five minutes or until a knife, when inserted into the thigh or drumstick, runs clear.
- Chicken breasts cook faster than the thighs, drumsticks or wings, so remove those pieces and set aside until the red meat parts of the chicken (thighs, drumsticks and wings) are done and then add back to the pan to keep warm.
- Let the baked chicken rest, covered for twenty minutes, before serving.
- Serve the pan juice as a sauce or pour into a small saucepan and let reduce until thick and serve as gravy with the chicken. (In both cases, remove as much fat/oil as possible) .
Baked Chicken Seasoning Combinations
|Green Seasoning||A combination of herbs along with onions, garlic and hot peppers – blended together with saltto taste.|
|Garlic-Thyme||Thyme and garlic pureed or ground to a paste with salt and pepper to taste.|
|Ginger-Garlic||Root ginger and fresh garlic ground to a paste and seasoned with salt and pepper to taste.|
|Ginger-Garlic-Soy Sauce||Root ginger, fresh garlic and hot peppers ground to a paste and mixed with soy sauce to create a marinade. Add salt to taste.|
|Roasted Garlic-Thyme-Mustard||Roasted garlic and fresh thyme are made into a puree along with whole grain mustard and seasoned with salt and pepper to taste.|
|Rosemary-Garlic||Fresh rosemary and garlic are made into a paste and seasoned with salt and pepper to taste.|
|Yogurt Marinade||Whole milk yogurt seasoned with salt, pepper and chopped cilantro.|
|Cilantro-Lime Marinade||Cilantro or chandon beni along with the zest of limes or lemons, pureed with oil and salt and pepper to taste.|
|Boozy Marinade||Soy sauce, dark rum, worcestershire sauce and Angostura bitters mixed together and seasoned with salt and pepper to taste.|
Cynthia Nelson is the award winning author of Tastes Like Home (IRP 2010), and the blog Tastes Like Home. www.tasteslikehome.org. Photography ©Cynthia Nelson.