Luckily, it doesn't take a degree from the Cordon Bleu or La Varenne to make Caribbean recipes.
The food is simple to prepare. You won't have to learn any difficult techniques or buy a whole shelf full of exotic kitchen equipment. The cuisine relies mostly on the distinctive flavors of slow cooking, unusual and spicy ingredients or marinades.
The following recipes provide a cross section of the new Caribbean cookbooks currently available at the bookstores and should give you a taste of the tropics without a big investment.
A few suggestions before you get started:
*Two of the recipes call for Scotch bonnet peppers, a fiery hot pepper that gets its name because it is shaped like a Scotsman's bonnet. If you can't find them, substitute a serrano, jalapeno or the hottest pepper available. Also, be careful when handling hot peppers because they can burn your eyes. Wash hands carefully after handling them. Those with sensitive skin should wear gloves when working with hot peppers.
*Allspice berries, a spice with the taste of nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper and cloves, are used in many island recipes. McCormick & Co. Inc. has the whole berries available in both the gourmet and regular line.
Trempage of seafood
Virginie and George Elbert, authors of "Down-Island Caribbean Cookery" (Simon & Schuster, $24.95), derived this recipe from the court bouillon creole they discovered on Martinique. This version is less watery than a traditional creole and is served from the pan with some additional ingredients.
' 1/4 cup vegetable oil2 onions, finely sliced
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, chopped and crushed
garlic cloves, through the press
juice of 3 lemons or limes, divided
1 tablespoon dried parsley leaves
4 large or 10 mini ripe bananas
10 slices white bread, crusts trimmed
2 to 2 1/2 pounds shelled shrimp or 1 quart shucked oysters
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Fry the onion until golden, then add scallions and cook another few minutes. Add the tomato, garlic, juice of 2 lemons and parsley to the pan. Turn heat down to simmer and cook, covered, for 6 minutes.
Cut the bananas into pieces about 1 inch long. Put into another pan with about 1/4 cup water and the remaining lemon juice. Cook for a few minutes until the bananas are soft, and set aside.
Soak the bread in water. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible and form a lump. Place on a carving board and flatten with a cleaver or roller until you have enough thin sheets to cover the bottom of a clean 12-inch pan. Cover it completely and discard any extra bread.
Add the shrimp or oysters to the simmered tomato mixture and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
There should be at least 2 cups of liquid sauce, including the tomatoes. Bring the contents to a boil. With a slotted spoon, remove the solids and spread them over the prepared bread in the second pan; then add the sauce.
Bring the contents of the second pan to a simmer and add the salt and pepper. Arrange the pieces of banana along the edge of the pan and serve. Guests should be provided with soup bowls.
Arroz con pollo(Chicken and rice)
Serves six to eight.
This classic Cuban dish is one of the most commonly served dishes in Hispanic countries throughout the world, according to Linette Creen, author of "Taste of Cuba" (Dutton, $19.95). Because all the ingredients go into one skillet, the rice absorbs the flavor of the chicken juices, vegetables and seasonings. If you want to be more authentic, use Valencia rice.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 chicken (3 pounds), cut into 6 to 8 serving pieces
1 large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 green pepper, seeded, deribbed and chopped
1 1/4 cups, peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron or tumeric
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups white wine
1 package (10 ounces) frozen green peas
2 cups long-grain white rice
roasted red pepper strips, for garnish, see note
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chicken parts and saute a few at a time until lightly browned on all sides. Remove the chicken and drain on paper towels.
Drain the excess fat, leaving 1 tablespoon in the skillet. Add the onion, garlic and green pepper and saute 3 to 5 minutes until the onion is translucent but not brown. Add the tomatoes, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, bay leaf, paprika, saffron and water. Cover and bring to a boil. Add the chicken, cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Add the wine, peas and rice. Stir well and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes more.
Transfer to a large serving platter, garnish with roasted red pepper strips and serve hot.
Note: To roast peppers, reheat the oven to broil. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise, then remove the seeds and ribs and discard. Place the peppers on a cookie sheet lightly greased with olive oil. Broil for 4 to 6 minutes until their skin blisters and blackens. Remove them from the oven and place them in a paper bag for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the peppers and peel off the blackened skin before using.
The Maroons, or escaped renegade slaves who lived in the Cockpit country of the Blue Mountains, are said to have developed this classic Jamaican dish. The "jerk" method of cooking gets its name because years ago the meat was jerked with a sharp object to make holes, which were then stuffed with a variety of spices. The holes allowed heat to escape without losing moisture.
Jessica Harris, author of "Sky Juice and Flying Fish" (Fireside, $12.95), says the best place for jerked pork in Jamaica is at Boston Bay, near Port Antonio.
"But whenever you have it," she adds, "the taste of the meat
slow cooked over a fire of green allspice branches gives the dish an unforgettable flavor." Her recipe calls for pork loin and uses an oven, but she says you can also use an outdoor grill.
1/4 cup allspice berries
1 1/2 -inch piece of cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
6 scallions, including green tops, sliced
1 Scotch-bonnet-type chili
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dark Jamaica rum
1 pork loin (4 pounds)
Roast the allspice berries in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Pulverize them in a spice mill with the cinnamon and nutmeg. Place the spice mixture in a mortar with the scallions, chili, salt and pepper and grind into a paste. Add the rum. Rub the mixture all over the pork loin. Cover and allow to marinate for 1 hour at room temperature.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the meat from the marinade, place in a roasting pan and roast in the oven for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue to cook, basting with pan juices for about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer to a warm platter and serve hot. You can serve the jerked pork with peas and rice and chutney.
Serves 10 to 12.
Devra Dedeaux, author of "The Sugar Reef Caribbean Cookbook" (Dell, $9.95), says okra makes the difference in this calalu recipe that came to her through Prudence Marcelin of Guadeloupe.
=32 pounds fresh spinach, chopped with stems removed
pounds fresh kale, chopped with stems removed
cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped white onion
1 cup chopped green onion, including green
1cup chopped garlic, about 2 bulbs
1/4 pound cubed salt pork or smoked ham
pound fresh white and dark crab meat
cups lime juice
1 pound okra, chopped with stem ends removed
Scotch bonnet peppers, seeded, ribbed and finely chopped
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups water
bouquet garni (1 green onion, 2 sprigs fresh thyme, 2 sprigs fresh parsley)
lime slices, for garnish
chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
Thoroughly rinse the spinach and kale in cold water. Place in a large stockpot and add water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer covered, until the vegetables are soft and limp, about 15 minutes.
In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the white onion, green onions, garlic and salt pork until lightly brown. Set aside briefly.
Pick over the crab meat to remove any bits of cartilage. Place in a colander and rinse in cold water. Shake off the excess water and add 1/2 cup of the lime juice. Toss well and again shake off the excess liquid. Add the crab meat to the onion and salt pork mixture and stir well so that the crab absorbs the flavors.
Remove the spinach and the kale from the stove and drain off the cooking water, saving at least 1 cup. Place greens in a food processor and puree. Use the cooking water to keep the mixture soupy.
Put the pureed vegetables back into the stockpot and add the crab meat mixture. Stir in the okra, peppers, remaining lime juice, salt and black pepper. Add the water and bouquet garni and mix well, bringing to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes or until the okra has softened and the broth thickens.
Serve in large soup bowl over white rice. Garnish with thin slices of lime and chopped parsley.
Finding tropical ingredients
Not too long ago, you couldn't find fresh cilantro at the corner supermarket, let alone a mango or plantains.
PTC But these days what was once considered exotic is now more readily available.
And what Caribbean ingredients you can't find at Giant, Safeway, Super Fresh or Eddie's, you should be able to get at one of the local specialty stores.
Jim C. Lawson, author of "The Baltimore Ethnic Food Store Guide" and "The Washington Ethnic Food Store Guide," says Washington has a much better variety of sources for Caribbean ingredients, but you can still find some adequate sources close to home. Here are his suggestions:
West Indian Imports -- Carries products from Antigua, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Puerto Rico, Haiti and Latin America. You can find fresh goat and oxtail, breadfruit, herbs and spices. Located at 5318 Park Heights Ave., Baltimore. Open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Call 664-1818.
Brown's Caribbean Bakery -- Offers a wide variety of West Indian bread products, take-out including curried goat, jerk chicken and roti, and chilled drinks. Located at 5318 1/2 Park Heights Ave., Baltimore. Open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Call 542-4985.
Big Boy's Worldwide Food Market -- You'll find ingredients from a variety of places, including Latin America and the West Indies -- hot sauces, tuber vegetables, mango, papayas, breadfruit, fresh cow's feet and Jamaican bread products. Located at 218 N. Paca St., Baltimore. Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays and 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays. Call 685-4080.
International Market -- Mr. Lawson says this is the most comprehensive offering of Latin American products in the Baltimore area. You can find tuber vegetables, frozen sofrito (onions, green peppers, tomato and garlic cooked in lard or olive oil), Mexican- and Spanish-style chorizo, spices, hot sauces and molcajetes (a mortar and pestle made from lava stone). Located at 1705 Fleet St., Baltimore. Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays. Call 675-0714.