Winter season arrives in the Caribbean, along with an influx of international boats arriving from Europe and the U.S. Here are tips for cooks who want to become familiar with our local foods and cuisine.
Breadfruit: a large green fruit, 10-12 inches in diameter, with a bumpy skin and potato-like flesh. High in carbohydrates and vitamin B and, when fully ripe, is a fair source of vitamin C and calcium. They can be used in place of any starchy vegetable, rice or pasta. Breadfruit is typically served like potato or squash – baked, grilled, fried, boiled or roasted.
Callaloo/Kallaloo: is spelled many different ways. This leafy, spinach-like vegetable found in the eastern Caribbean refers to the leaves of the dasheen plant. It is rich in nutrients including iron and other minerals, vitamin C, calcium, and vitamin A. Compared to broccoli and other vegetables, Callaloo has more than four times the calcium, more than two times the iron, and double the vitamin A.
Carambola (Star Fruit): The fruit has a golden yellow to green color skin and a matching color translucent flesh, which is lightly dotted with dark seeds. Flavor includes the combination of pineapples, plums, and lemons. When slices are cut crosswise they are star-shaped and this tart or acidy-sweet fruit is used in desserts, tossed into salads, as a garnish for drinks, or cooked together with seafood. Eat a star fruit like an apple. They do not need to be peeled or seeded before eating. Simply wash the fruit and enjoy!
Cassava (manioc, yucca): A long, irregularly-shaped root vegetable with a rough brown skin and hard white starchy flesh. It can be boiled, baked, fried, and often used on soups and stews. Tapioca comes from the cassava.
Christophene (Chayote, Cho-cho, Mirliton): A small pear-shaped vegetable, light green or cream colored, and often covered with a prickly skin. Bland, similar in texture to squash and used primarily as a side dish or in gratins and souffles. Like pawpaw (papaya,) it is also a meat tenderizer.
Conch: A favorite part of the cuisine as far north as the Bahamas and Florida. When preparing conch recipes like soup, salad or fritters, you must beat the tough conch flesh (with a mallet), before preparing or cooking.
Goat: Curried goat has become a Caribbean classic. Goat is similar to lamb and an excellent substitute for lamb in most recipes. Of course, if you can’t find goat, you can substitute lamb.
Guava: The size of an extra large lemon, with a yellow-green smooth edible skin. The rose-pink flesh is laden with seeds. Guavas are eaten raw or stewed and used for jams and jellies, chutneys and an island paste known as guava cheese.
Lobster: Called a spiny or Caribbean lobster—the same delicious crustacean as the langouste in France, and aragosta in Italy, and the langoasta in Spain. Some people consider the texture inferior to that of the Maine lobster, but the flavor of the spiny lobster meat more that makes up for it.
Mango: Mangoes are used in a variety of ways in the Caribbean. Green mangoes are used as meat tenderizers, in hot sauces, and condiments. Ripe mangoes appear in desserts, candies, and in drinks. When they smell good they will taste good. Peel and eat raw or dice for recipes. Each fresh mango should yield about 1 cup of diced mango.
Plantains: are larger and longer than the usual table bananas. Technically a banana-family fruit, but generally regarded as a vegetable. Inedible raw, cooked plantains are served as appetizers or starchy side dishes. They become slightly sweet as they ripen. Cook or fry when green (unripe) and use in dessert dishes when ripe (yellow) or very ripe (dark).
Sorrel: also known as Roselle. Sorrel blooms in December and the deep red flower makes a nice floral decoration and a Caribbean traditional holiday beverage. The flowers are dried and then steeped in water to make a bright red drink that has a slightly tart taste and is the color of cranberry juice. The flowers, fruits, and leaves of the sorrel are all edible.
Soursop (Corossol, Guanabana): Ovoid in shape, covered with short, soft spines dark green in color, changing to a pale green when ripe. The pulp of the fruit is white, slightly tart and delicately flavored. It is used mainly in drinks, punches, sherbets, and delightful ice cream.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
1 green breadfruit
Vegetable oil, preferably safflower or corn oil
Scrub, quarter, peel and core breadfruit. Put in water with ice cubes and refrigerate overnight. Slice breadfruit as thinly as possible and return to ice water to avoid discoloration. In a deep-fryer, heat oil to 395ºF. Dry a few slices at a time and fry until golden brown. Drain on absorbent paper. Salt immediately.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
1 lb. Dasheen (callaloo) leaves (or spinach or Swiss Chard)
6 cups chicken stock
1 Tblsp. butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 scallions, chopped
1 Tblsp. fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dry thyme
1/4 lb lean salt pork, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 lb. Fresh okra, chopped (or 10 oz. pkg. Frozen okra)
1/2 pound fresh, canned, or frozen crab meat
Salt and pepper to taste
Hot pepper sauce, to taste
Wash and coarsely chop leaves. Melt butter in a large heavy saucepan. Sauté onions, garlic, and scallions. Add the greens with the chicken stock, thyme, and salt pork. Cover and cook at a gentle simmer until the pork is tender. Add the coconut milk, okras and crab meat, and cook until the okra is done, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and hot pepper sauce
Soursop Ice Cream
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Freezing time: 3-4 hours
1 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp. cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. almond essence
1 tsp. vanilla essence
2 egg whites
1 cup heavy cream
1-1/2 cups soursop puree
To make soursop puree: Cut soursop in half, scrape out pulp, remove seeds and puree. Scald milk in double boiler. Mix cornstarch, sugar, and salt to a thin paste with a little milk. Add to scalded milk; stir until thickened. Cook covered about 10 minutes. Cool, add essence. Beat egg whites until stiff; whip the cream, fold the cooled mixture and cream into the egg whites. Add soursop puree. Stir well. Pour in plastic container to freeze. After one hour remove, beat well, return to freezer, repeat process, then twice more at 30 minute intervals. This will give the mixture a smooth texture. Return to freezer. Note: A hand or electric ice cream freezer will make this easier and the ice cream even better. Hint: You may use other fruits like papaya, mango, etc.