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It’s a cuisine that blends the foodways of Chinese, Indian, Scottish, French, Spanish and African influences. When Caribbean immigrants first arrived in Washington, their impact on local food was immediate. But despite large numbers, some complain that it’s hard to find authentic Trinidadian or Jamaican food in the city or suburbs. Our Local Restaurant World Tour continues as we examine the evolution of Caribbean and Caribbean-American cuisine.
- Doreen Thompson Founder, National Caribbean-American Foods & Foodways Alliance (NCAFFA); Culinary historian
- Ramin Ganeshram Author, "Sweet Hands: Island Cooking From Trinidad And Tobago" (Hippocrene Cookbook Library)
- Marguerite Chinn Chef & Caterer, Negril Eateries (Maryland and DC)
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Recipes Courtesy Ramin Ganeshram
(Reproduced from “Sweet Hands: Island Cooking From Trinidad And Tobago” courtesy of Hippocrene Press)
Makes about 15
My father came to New York from his native Trinidad in 1954, a time when even that great city had few creature comforts familiar to West Indian immigrants. There he lived a life of substitutions. Although he slathered knishes with pepper sauce to mimic these spicy potato turnovers, it was never quite the same. Aloo pies are not generally served with any condiment since they are well spiced, but I like them with tamarind sauce, similar to the way a traditional Indian samosa would be eaten.
2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of coarse or kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 pound Yukon Gold or other boiling potatoes, boiled and peeled
1/2 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt
Hot pepper sauce, to taste
5 large cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup canola oil
For the dough, mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add just enough water to bring the dough together, about 1/2 cup, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Form into 2-inch balls and set aside to rest for 15 minutes.
For the filling, mash together the potatoes, salt, pepper sauce, and garlic cloves.
Flatten a ball of dough into a 4-inch patty. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of the potato filling in the middle of the circle and pinch the ends together covering the filling and reforming into a ball. Holding the ball in one hand, gently flatten into an oblong shape, roughly 5 inches long, taking care not to squeeze out the potato filling. Repeat with remaining dough balls.
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan and add the aloo pies. Do not crowd the pan. Fry on both sides until golden brown, remove, and drain on paper towels. Serve hot.
Mélange Curried Chicken
Makes 4 servings
Moses Reuben, executive chef and owner of Mélange Restaurant in Port of Spain, adds elegance to everyday Trinidadian foods with French techniques and delicate seasonings. His version of curry chicken can be paired with roti for a traditional feel or plain rice for a more sophisticated presentation.
4 boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped shado beni or cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons Trinidad curry powder
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup chicken stock
1 medium Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1/2 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt
1/4 cup coconut milk
Mix the chicken with the onion, garlic, shado beni, cumin, and 2 teaspoons of the curry powder. Set aside to marinate for at least 20 minutes but preferably overnight in the refrigerator.
Mix the remaining curry powder with 1/2 cup of water to make a smooth paste. Heat the oil in a deep saucepan and add the curry paste; fry for 30 seconds or until the curry releases its aromas. Add the chicken and mix well and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the stock, potatoes, and salt. Simmer until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Add the coconut milk and simmer for 3 minutes more. Taste to adjust the seasonings. Serve with rice or roti.
Makes 2 loaves
This bread is commonly eaten for breakfast or as a snack with tea. It can be compared to banana or carrot bread in its consistency and sweetness because it is a “quick bread,” but it is an everyday bread and not a special treat. Sometimes I like to make it more “dessert-like” by adding about 1/2 cup of chopped dark chocolate. E. Guittard’s Chucuri is a good choice because it is made from Trinidadian Trinitario beans.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 cups finely grated fresh or frozen unsweetened coconut
1/3 cup raisins (optional)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup coconut water
1 teaspoon mixed essence or vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
Sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350°F, and grease and flour two 9 x 5-inch loaf pans.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt, and stir in the coconut and raisins, if using.
In a separate bowl, combine the butter, egg, evaporated milk, coconut water, mixed essence, and coconut extract. Add the liquid ingredients to the flour mixture, mixing gently but thoroughly so all the ingredients are well combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans, filling two-thirds full. Sprinkle the top of each loaf with sugar and bake for about 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve with tea.
Makes 8 (8-ounce) servings
A traditional must-have Christmas beverage, sorrel has a warmly aromatic and spicy flavor thanks to the addition of cinnamon and cloves. On its own, sorrel, a member of the hibiscus family, is quite tart, but the drink, which is a lovely ruby red color, is pleasantly sweet-tart thanks to sugar. In Jamaica, ginger is added to the mix, but not in Trinidad, but I find I prefer it with rather than without—you decide. I also like the sorrel on the tarter side, but you may choose to add more sugar. Some folks like to add rum or vodka to sorrel to make a hibiscus cocktail. Dried sorrel flowers can be found in Caribbean markets.
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup dried sorrel flowers
1 cup sugar
1-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced (optional)
Place 10 cups of water and all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat, cover, and allow to steep at least 2 hours, but preferably, overnight.
Pour the sorrel through a fine mesh sieve into a pitcher or glass bottle and store in the refrigerator. Serve chilled. Sorrel keeps for up to 1 week.
TIP: You can simmer the sorrel longer to achieve a more potent, darker-colored drink that may be cut with water as desired for the individual drinker’s taste.
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