As a young fella on the islands my brother and I would always volunteer to go help dad in the garden whenever we knew cucumbers were in season. We had a stash of salt and a few cloves of garlic in the make-shift shed, where dad would take his breaks from the midday sun. With scotch bonnet pepper (congo as we'd say) and shado beni fresh from the garden.. we'd always make a huge bowl of this 'chow' with the 'baby' cucumbers (always the sweetest). Immediately after we'd hit the river to go fishing, followed by hours of swimming in the cool refreshing waters of the Guaracara river. Funny thing is dad never got our assistance, but he never peeped a word to mom!
Callaloo, the delicious soup-like dish of the Southern Caribbean is traditionally made with the inclusion of fresh ocean crabs for it's unique and rich flavor. If one cannot source that wonderful 'blue' crab, we then look for that layer of flavor from salted meats like pigtails and beef, and I've seen some people use smoked meats on some occasions. I must point out that the traditional recipe for making callalloo (not to be confused with Jamaican Callaloo) are the tender leaves of the dasheen or taro plant. However, sourcing those in Canada is almost impossible, so we'll be using baby spinach with brilliant results in this vegetarian version of Callaloo.
My passion for peppersauce (homemade hot sauces) is fueled by having been surrounded by very creative peppersauce makers even as a little boy on the islands, but more importantly... my daughters possess the same sort of intense affection for the fiery stuff as I do. There's no better motivation than having those close to you share the same traits, so when you get creative in the kitchen, you know it's something you will connect with as a family. With the use of the Trinidad Moruga Scorpions which at the time of making this sauce is the 2nd hottest pepper in the world, you're getting a hot sauce which should be used with extreme caution. But I find that by using the blueberries, you get a lovely fruity roundness.
TinTin (Christina), my dad's mom guarded her dried pigeon peas like they do gold at Ft Knox. It was common knowledge that if peas were out of season, she had some stored in airtight bottles somewhere in the dimly lit-smoky kitchen of hers. I still recall the scent of that kitchen, a mixture of the musty tobacco she always had drying in the ceiling and the smoke from the different types of hard-wood she would use to fire-up the coal pot she would use to to cook her meals. Not to mention the actual smoke from the pipe she smoked all her life! To this day, I'm still to taste a stewed dried pigeon peas like the stew this woman would make on that coal pot, in that simple kitchen.
Dasheen Bush is basically the leaves (usually the tender ones) of the Dasheen plant (Taro) which is used mainly in the Southern Caribbean for making Callaloo or as in this case, stewed down on it's own like you would spinach or any other 'greens'. With the aid of coconut milk and a few simple ingredients and what you'd think is a simple vegetarian dish, is something very tasty and in my case, quite addictive. It's was one of the few vegetarian type dishes mom never had a hard time serving us as kids. With Sada roti, flour dumplings or with split peas dhal and rice... iman was in heaven.
Though not necessarily a "Caribbean" thing when I was a young fella' on the islands, smoothies are making it's way across the island chain as more and more people are looking for healthy ways to start their day, especially with the abundance of fresh tropical fruits we have available to us. Back then, you'd quicker find freshly made juices and punches with the same fruits, so I must confess that I'm not a huge fan of smoothies (it just wasn't part of my diet). This mango raspberry smoothie only takes a couple minutes to make, quite refreshing and a wonderful meal in a glass.
Salsa is not a "Caribbean" type dish! Really? How easily we forget the Spanish speaking Caribbean, like Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico. I started making this take on salsa for my girls after I read the label of the pre-packaged stuff they were buying at the grocery stores. Called salsa, but lacked any real flavor and loaded with sodium and preservatives. You'll notice that I've taken the technique we use in Trinidad and Tobago for making Tomato Choka and applied it in making this salsa.. for what I believe is the best salsa you'll ever have/enjoy! Ask my daughters and their friends.
This is NOT a recipe on so many levels, but an ideal dish for when you want something light and for when it's just you you're 'cooking' for. Just about every day I get emails asking for healthy recipes and with the new 'living better' regime I follow, I thought I'd share this one with you. Our family home in the Caribbean is surrounded with many fruit and citrus trees, so I have a natural affection for both avocado and grapefruit. Maybe in the coming weeks I'll share mom's recipe for one of the most refreshing grapefruit juices you've ever had (I assure you). You can easily multiply the ingredients if you plan on making this for a group. Not only is this a super quick salad recipe, it's vegan, vegetarian and gluten free.
As we have Caribbean Green Seasoning as the base of many dishes in most of the Southern Caribbean, in the Spanish speaking Caribbean you'll find Sofrito. An aromatic blend of herbs, garlic and seasoning peppers. A few years back while in old San Juan (Puerto Rico) I had a delightful rice dish at a small roadside vendor and she told me that the secret was all in the sofrito she started with. You will definitely find variations in the way sofrito is made as you make your way through Cuba, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic, as everyone tend to have their own specific recipe. This recipe I'm about to share is as basic as sofrito comes and a great starting point.
Our mom is an expert at making Caribbean style stewed red beans and I'm still to find someone who can match the way she balances flavor, tenderness and the perfect consistency to the gravy. A recipe which calls for soaking dried beans and slowly cooking then for a relatively long time. Time is something we never seem to have much of lately, so I've come up with a recipe which will cut the cooking time tremendously and give you the same sort of feel-good vibe as if you were eating traditional Caribbean stewed beans - stuff your mom or grandma would make for you.