Location: The Caribbean
Geography: Two main islands with central rainforest-covered mountainous terrain and coastal flats nearer the coast
Signature flavours: Coconut, plantain, seafood, pork, breadfruit, rice, tomato, peppers
It’s been over 25 assignments since we last visited the Caribbean, so I was looking forward to the fish and coconut I expected to find (and did find) on the menus of St Kitts and Nevis. Recipes were not easy to find, and I relied heavily on the World Cookbook for direction.
Peas and Rice: Pigeon peas in rice, with tomato, onion, bell peppers, and (vegan) bacon.
Prep and cooking time: 25 min
Stewed Saltfish: You can find this dried or prepare it fresh at home, which is what I did, boiling, flaking, and salting the fish (cod or haddock is preferred), then stewing it with tomato, onion, garlic, and bell peppers.
Prep and cooking time: 30 min
Droppers: Doughy balls of boiled flour and coconut with a mild flavour and a chewy texture, perfect for “dropping” into stews and sauces.
Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Fried Plantains: Chunks of green plantain tossed with onion, garlic, and ginger, then fried in oil, squished flat, and fried once more.
Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Coconut Sugar Cakes: Sweet coconut candy made with coconut, ginger, and sugar water, heated until thickened, then dropped onto a tray to harden.
Prep and cooking time: 60 min
The Shopping List
Since we find ourselves in rural Ontario, there were a few things I figured would be hard to locate. To my surprise, a local supermarket provided plantains and pigeon peas, but the breadfruit I had been hoping to serve alongside the stewed saltfish was simply not available, so with some regret, I left it off my menu.
I started my cooking with the dessert, since the coconut cakes would have to cool before eating. Following a video tutorial, I reduced the coconut, ginger, and sugar water mixture to a thick paste, then worked quickly to scoop the stuff out of the pan while it rapidly hardened. It proved to be very difficult to move fast enough, but I got a dozen cakes made before the paste was too hardened to scrape out of the pan.
I made my own stewed saltfish by boiling haddock from frozen, then flaking it apart and salting the heck out of it. The pets gathered at my feet for a taste (they were not disappointed), since the whole house smelled like fish. I then mixed the saltfish with stewed tomatoes, onions, and peppers for a simple dish bursting with flavour. To this, I added fried plantains and sticky coconut dumplings. The result was the national dish of St Kitts and Nevis.
Probably my favourite item on the table was the rice and peas, a traditional dish of rice, vegetables, pigeon peas, and chunks of bacon. It was savoury and satisfying. Even though I’ve been a vegetarian for over 20 years, I still love the taste of vegan bacon. I have no doubt this dish will feature for dinner again sometime soon.
We ended our meal with the coconut cakes, which are more of a candy than a cake. Crystallized sugar makes this dessert sweet and crunchy on the outside, coconut-y and chewy on the inside.
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.