Location: The Caribbean
Geography: A small island nation comprising mountains, rainforest, and natural hot springs.
Signature flavours: Coconut, tropical fruits, seafood
From the get go, finding recipes from the country of Dominica was a challenge. Search “Dominican cuisine” or even “Dominica cuisine” or even “Dominica country cuisine” and Google will offer you half a million recipes from the Dominican Republic. To be clear, this assignment was for Dominica–the island nation known for its pristine rainforest and waterfalls–not the Dominican Republic–which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti and from where so many MLB players hail–and resources were thin. Nonetheless, I was eventually about to compile a list of menu items I felt showcased the flavours of Dominica.
Callaloo: A spinach and coconut based soup with green banana, yam, domplins (Dominican dumplings), and shrimp (my addition).
Prep and cooking time: 60 minutes
Fish Pelau: Usually made as chicken pelau, this is a curried rice and meat dish with onion and garlic.
Prep and cooking time: 40 minutes
Coconut Buns: A Caribbean version of a macaroon, with shredded coconut, sugar, egg, and milk.
Prep and cooking time: 40 minutes
Difficulty: N/A – see “The Meal”
The Shopping List
My initial menu featured crab backs instead of fish pelau, but I learned that Toronto offers very little in the way of affordable hard-shelled crab. After visiting three seafood markets, the only thing I found was three-pound Dungeness crab, at $43 each–a bit much for one night’s supper. Luckily, at the same market, I was able to find great quality tiger shrimps and cod fillets. All other ingredients for my dishes–including the greenest bananas I could find–were purchased from my local supermarket and bulk store.
The day started off with the Dungeness Disappointment, and continued with the Coconut Bun Breakdown. Basically, the recipe I followed was a fail. The buns I baked ended up a burned, shapeless mess. I was able to salvage the remnants somewhat by scraping them off the pan, mixing them with flour and egg, and baking them into a bread, but it cannot really be said to be Dominican. Then there was the Fish Juice Fiasco, which involved me spilling cod juice all down myself. That led to the Spinach Screwup, during which I realized I had forgotten to buy spinach, an integral ingredient of the callaloo. Eric kindly ran out to get some while I chopped. Later followed the Food Processor Predicament, which saw my food processor overflow with liquified spinach, water, and herbs, but by that point I was so desensitized to disaster that I took it in stride, cleaned up, and kept cooking.
Despite my frustration with the coconut buns, the bread that resulted instead had a nice coconut-y flavour, not too sweet. It will be a nice addition to breakfast tomorrow, slathered with butter and jam. The fish pelau was good, with chunks of salty fried cod in a spicy, yellow curried rice. The callaloo was the standout dish of the evening, however. With a myriad of flavours and textures–the meaty shrimp, starchy banana, and satisfyingly squishy domplins–it was excellent, and made everything that had come before feel like small potatoes.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.