Location: The Caribbean
Geography: A collection of 32 islands, the largest of which is St Vincent
Signature flavours: Breadfruit, coconut, seafood, root vegetables
St Vincent cuisine was not easy to research, and there was a definite dearth of resources. I didn’t get anywhere in my quest for recipes until I came upon the website for the St Vincent and the Grenadines Association of Toronto. There, I found an exhaustive list of breadfruit recipes (a staple of Vincy cuisine), as well as a classic St Vincent fish recipe. I filled in my menu with a couple of other items from various corners of the internet, and was all set for Vincy night.
Doucana: A dumpling similar in texture to a Mexican tamale, but made from sweet potato, raisins, coconut, and clove, boiled in a package of banana leaf or aluminum foil.
Prep and cooking time: 45 min
Pan Fried Cod: Cod marinated in lemon juice, spiced with garlic and thyme, then pan fried. (This recipe was originally written for jack fish — cod was my substitution.)
Prep and cooking time: 30 min
Stuffed Cucumber: A hollowed-out cucumber stuffed with a combination of cream cheese, onion, cheddar cheese, and black pepper.
Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Breadfruit Meringue Pie: A dense pie made from shredded breadfruit, coconut milk, raisins, and currants, topped with meringue.
Prep and cooking time: 75 min
The Shopping List
I had two items on my shopping list that I wasn’t sure I would find: breadfruit and jack fish. Eric bought breadfruit before at FreshCo, but they were all out (or maybe breadfruit is not in season), so we headed to global foods giant Nations in the west end of Toronto, which had breadfruit in stock. Jack fish was nowhere to be found, so I opted for a nice fresh cod fillet, also from Nations.
It took me a while to narrow down my choice of breadfruit dish — an absolute must for St Vincent — but once I found a breadfruit meringue pie recipe, I was set on it. On the evening of my Vincy dinner, I started the pie first, since it was the most labour-intensive item on my menu. The breadfruit had been giving off a pungent sweetness in the kitchen for two days that wasn’t entirely pleasant, so I also wanted to get it off my counter and into a pie at last. I added shredded breadfruit to a pie crust, along with egg, sugar, coconut milk, raisins, and currants, and got it in the oven.
After 40 minutes, it was ready for a meringue topping, which browned up for a further ten minutes. It was a beautiful pie with a mild sweet flavour, a bread-pudding-like texture, and a lovely, sticky meringue. Eric and I both gobbled it up.
The cod ended up being a rather poor substitute for jack fish in terms of holding-together-ness. It flaked apart almost as soon as it hit the pan. It went well with the spices, though, and both Eric and I enjoyed it.
The stuffed cucumbers were unsurprisingly uncontroversial. I can see them being a hit at any summer picnic anywhere. They were crunchy and refreshing, and the only thing I would add if I made them again would be some hot pepper for a bit of a kick.
Doucana is sweet (and made sweeter with with brown sugar and raisins), but it’s usually served alongside savoury dishes. Here in Canada, there is a strong tendency to place all sweet foods in a dessert category, but there is something very nice about having a mix of sweet and savoury on the plate.
The recipes I found argued between steaming the sweet potato/coconut packets and boiling them. In the end, I opted to boil, and the dish came out soft and bursting with flavour. It was excellent beside our spiced fish and cheesy cucumbers.
St Vincent and the Grenadines gave us a great meal, with a few surprises. Doucana was a sweet dinner hit (and definitely a dish I’ll be making again) and all that will be left of our breadfruit pie a few days from now will be few crumbs.
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.