May is the month that cruising yachts begin heading east, south, west and north – in other words, out of the Caribbean. For those going long distances food is always a problem. However, knowing how to pick, store and prepare vegetables gives crews delectable meals aboard.
While the Caribbean is rich in okra, green peppers and such, we must not forget root vegetables, which include tubers. These are carbohydrates that are rich in nutrients, low in fat and calories, inexpensive and are readily available in early May. Most people are familiar with common root vegetables like potatoes, onions, garlic and carrots, which are now enjoying a renaissance of sorts. Root vegetables are not only great additions to a variety of soups and stews, loaded with carbohydrates and dietary fiber, but they are also delicious steamed, where the true flavor comes out. They are also very easy on the pocketbook.
Referring to the therapeutic value of vegetables, Hippocrates, The Father of Medicine, said in 460 BC, "Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food." In order to give the body what it needs during deliveries, it is to our benefit if we include organically grown, raw vegetables. Getting back to our roots – food, fresh from the earth, is the key principle of good health, especially when on the sea.
Here in the Caribbean, we are very lucky as all forms of assorted root vegetables are available for delivery dinners – cho-cho, yam, green banana, sweet potato, carrot, native pumpkin and potato. Roots that are lifted for storage should be in good condition. Discard any damaged sprouts. Prepare vegetables by removing foliage and shaking off loose soil. Vegetables that lose moisture such as carrots, celeriac, potatoes and beets should be stored in layers of moist, readily available sand, in boxes in a frost-free dark place -such as under the settees or in a dry area under the floor boards.
Select small to medium roots that are heavy for their size, with good color, and firmness without bruises, soft spots, or signs of shriveling. If the top greens are still attached, they should be bright and fresh looking. The greens will draw moisture from the root, so remove them immediately. Stored separately in a plastic bag, the greens will last three or four days and can be tossed with salads.
Root stems such as turnip greens are great when cooked, providing a nutritious and delicious vegetable dish. Baking, steaming and microwaving are also excellent preparation methods, and don’t overlook the possibility of small chunks, slices, or julienne strips of root vegetables quickly sautéed. Try not to overcook roots, because they are tastiest when just slightly tender.
Cho Cho is delicious when you cut it in half, bake it and eat it like a marrow. Carrots are delicious steamed as a side vegetable and tossed with butter. Make a fragrant soup combining vegetables or use carrots with chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice and chopped mint for a fresh-tasting salad. The sweet potato is incredibly versatile and can be made into soup, fritters, or served simply as a dish on its own. Also do consider using one of the many sauces made locally for extra flavor – hot pepper sauces, etc. But be careful – some can be as hot as our climate. Most of all – enjoy nature’s food as much as you do the sea – relax, eat well and plan to revisit us next season.
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 cups chopped peeled sweet potato (about 1 pound)
1/2 cup fat-free less-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 1/4 cups chopped zucchini
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sweet potato; sauté 5 minutes. Add chicken broth and next 7 ingredients (chicken broth through pepper); cook 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add zucchini; cook 2 minutes.