Get a taste of the tropics with these traditional island recipes

Caitlin Connelly/The Social
Every summer in July, millions of people flock to the city of Toronto to celebrate the Caribbean Carnival. Along with the colourful costumes and calypso music comes, of course, the cuisine. To celebrate, culinary expert Camille Moore served up these delicious and traditional island recipes.

SWEET BREAD FRENCH TOAST

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Makes 2 loaves (freeze one, or share with a friend!)

As with most Caribbean recipes, every household has their own interpretation of a particular dish – and this sweet bread is no different.  In my house growing up, sweet bread was made with coconut, raisins, and spices only; but now that I’m making my own, I take it easy with the raisins and add glacé cherries, candied mixed citrus peel (aka. “mixed peel” at grocery stores), and top it with a sugary crust.  My mom used to make this just a few times per year – namely Christmas and Caribana time – so it was always a treat.  To take a little break from tradition, I’ve used slices of sweet bread to make French toast (exactly the same way you would with banana bread).  It’s the perfect decadent breakfast treat, loaded with freshly grated coconut and warming spices.  Don’t feel like making French toast?  All good, just enjoy the sweet bread as is!

Ingredients
  • Sweet Bread
  • 1 coconut, freshly grated on smaller holes (should have at least 2 cups)
  • 2/3 Cup sugar
  • 1 Cup milk
  • 1 egg, large size
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp mixed essence
  • ¼ tsp Angostura bitters
  • 3 Cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
  • ¼ tsp mace, ground
  • ¼ tsp mixed spice (found at Caribbean grocers, sweet baking spices)
  • ½ Cup glacé cherries, roughly chopped
  • ¼ Cup raisins
  • ¼ Cup mixed peel (candied citrus peel, optional)
  • unsalted butter, for preparing loaf pans

French Toast Adaptation (for 4-6 slices of sweet bread)
  • 2 eggs, large size
  • ¼ Cup milk or cream
  • unsalted butter, for frying
  • maple syrup, for serving
  • whipped cream, for serving

Directions
  1. To crack the coconut, place a folded kitchen towel onto the palm of your non-dominant hand (ie. your left hand if you’re right-handed, and vice-versa).  Place the coconut onto the towel and use a hammer or the back of a clever to whack it along its equator until it cracks open.  If you’re lucky to catch any of the water that runs out of the coconut, be sure to have a sip.  Use a butter knife to pry the coconut flesh from the husk one chunk at a time.  If desired, use a vegetable peeler to remove the dark brown skin on the flesh.  Use a box grater to grate the coconut on the medium-sized holes.  
  2. Preheat oven to 330F and set the rack in the middle position.  Butter loaf pans thoroughly and set aside.  
  3. Into a large bowl, add the grated coconut, sugar, milk, egg, vanilla, mixed essence, and bitters.  Use a wooden spoon to mix until fully incorporated.  
  4. Into a separate bowl, add the flour, salt, nutmeg, mace, and mixed spice.  Whisk to combine.  Add cherries, raisins and mixed peel (if using) – stir to combine.  
  5. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients bowl and use the wooden spoon to incorporate.  Being careful not to over mix – stir and fold ingredients together just until combined.


RED SNAPPER ESCOVITCH

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Serves 4

Born as a way of preserving fish in the days before refrigeration, escovitch speaks to the Spanish influence of the Caribbean islands.  Most commonly eaten in Jamaica with whole red snapper, the fish is seasoned and fried before being dressed with a seasoned vinegar and vegetable mixture.  It ‘s typically a breakfast dish served with bammy (fried cassava bread) or rice, but truly it can be eaten any time of day.  Customize it to your liking by soaking the fried fish in the escovitch mixture overnight, or by simply dressing it with the mixture once the fish is fried and ready to serve (which is how I love it served).

Ingredients
  • 1 Cup malt vinegar
  • 2 tsp pimento seeds, whole (aka. allspice berries)
  • 3 turns freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2-1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 clove    garlic, peeled and lightly pressed
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • ½ red bell pepper, julienned
  • ½ green bell pepper, julienned
  • ½ yellow bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 carrot, julienned
  • 1 scotch bonnet pepper, sliced, seeds removed (optional, wear gloves)
  • 4 fillets red snapper (can substitute with another fish like sea bream if needed)
  • sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste 
  • grapeseed or canola oil, for frying

Directions
  1. Into a small saucepan, add the vinegar, pimento, black pepper, sugar, garlic, onion, bell and scotch bonnet pepper (if using).  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook until onions have softened slightly.  Remove from heat.  
  2. Preheat a large frying pan (cast iron is my favourite for frying anything) over medium-high heat.  Add enough oil to create a 1-inch layer in the bottom of the pan and heat until oil reaches about 375F.  Really and truly though, you just want to be sure that the oil is bubbling vigorously around the fillets, otherwise the oil isn’t hot enough.  No need to whip out the candy thermometer here.  
  3. Place fish fillets onto a paper towel-lined plate and pat each dry on both sides – this is an important step because you never want to fry anything with water on it.  Right before frying, season fillets with salt and pepper.  Carefully place fillets into the hot oil and fry approximately 4 minutes per side until golden and crisp – use a spatula and tongs together to ensure safe and delicate flipping.  If serving immediately, follow to step 4.  If you want to go fully traditional, skip to step 5.
  4. Transfer freshly fried fillets to serving plates/a platter and use tongs to dress each fillet with julienned vegetables.  Dress with the vinegar mixture and serve immediately.  Enjoy!
  5. Transfer fried fillets to a 9x13-inch nonreactive dish with higher sides (like a pyrex dish) and pour the cooled vinegar and vegetable mixture over top.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  Enjoy!  
  6. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans.  Bake in preheated oven 50-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the centre of each comes out clean.  Carefully transfer breads to a wire rack to cool.  Enjoy warm or room temperature if enjoying as is.  Otherwise…
  7. For sweet bread French toast: Preheat a non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat, and also preheat the oven to 250F.  Add butter and milk to a medium-sized bowl and whisk to create a smooth batter.  Slice sweet bread into 1-inch thick slices, dip each into batter for a few seconds on both sides and transfer to a plate.  Once pan is preheated, add a pat of butter to the pan, and once melted and foamy, add a slice or two of sweet bread (depending on the size of your pan).  Cook for 2-4 minutes per side until each is golden brown and transfer to a wire rack to hold warm in the preheated oven.  Repeat process until all slices are cooked and serve hot, drizzled with maple syrup and a dollop of whipped cream.  
  8. Enjoy!

CURRIED CHICKEN ROTI

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Makes enough for about 6

Truth be told, I’ve only recently started making curried chicken.  In fact, what I’m sharing with you here is my sister Cathy’s version of our mom’s recipe.  I must have been too busy eating it to come up for air and ask how it’s made…  Growing up, my mom made roti every Friday night as per my dad’s request, stopping to buy fresh buss-up-shut (aka. paratha) or dhalpurri on her way home from work.  My dad worked undercover for the Toronto Police Service, and one year at the Caribana parade his colleagues noticed that he was eating his own food instead of the lunch that was provided for them.  One of them asked to try his lunch and the rest is history.  You see, every summer my aunt Marlene would visit us from Brooklyn and spend the entire 3 weeks filling our bellies, fridge and freezers with goodness.  From then on, my mom and aunt would make enough curried chicken roti to feed my dad’s platoon every year at Caribana, passing them through the fence at our annual spot from which we watched the parade.  

Ingredients
  • 2 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless, diced
  • 1 Yukon Gold potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 jalapeño, chopped (remove ribs if you hot spice isn’t your thing)
  • 2 Tbsp grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 1-1/2 tsp roasted geera (roasted ground cumin)
  • 3-1/2 tsp curry powder (from a Caribbean grocer)
  • 3-1/2 tsp hot and spicy duck & goat curry powder  (from a Caribbean grocer)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1-inch piece ginger root, fresh
  • 1 sprig thyme, fresh
  • 2 Cups water
  • Dhalpurri or Paratha (“buss-up-shut”) roti wraps
  • Caribbean pepper sauce (the yellow kind), for serving

Directions
  1. Preheat a large heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat.  Add the oil, onion, garlic and jalapeno.  Sweat, stirring occasionally, 3-4 minutes until onions are softened and translucent.
  2. Add the geera and curry powders, stirring well to coat the other ingredients with the spices.  Cook the spices for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly to toast them and open up their flavours.  If all of the oil has been absorbed, add another teaspoon or so.  Note: this is the most important step in making a curry – ALWAYS fry your spices, otherwise the dish will have a bitter taste.  
  3. Add the chicken, potatoes, jalapeño, ginger, salt, thyme and water to the pot.  Stir well to incorporate and increase heat to high to bring to a boil.  Once boiling, reduce heat to medium/medium-low (depending on your stove), cover with a lid and simmer for 1-1/2 hours.  Every now and then check on the curry and give it a stir; give it a taste and decide if you’d like to add extra amounts of the spices (make it your own).  
  4. For the last 30 minutes (approximately) of cooking, remove the lid and continue simmering until any excess water in the pot evaporates.  Heads up: the chicken and potatoes are already fully cooked, but now you’re allowing the sauce to thicken as some of the potatoes dissolve in the sauce.  Also, be sure to give it a taste and adjust salt according to your preference.    
  5. To serve the roti, gently heat the wraps (dhalpurri or paratha) in a steamer basket or microwave wrapped in a towel.  If you live close to a roti shop, drop in and buy them fresh if you can – there’s nothing like it!  Either place a good scoop of curry onto the centre of a wrap and fold all edges towards the centre to seal, or serve it Indian style with a scoop of curry on a plate with the wraps on the side for tearing and scooping.  The plated style also goes well with the addition of plain rice.
  6. Enjoy!

GINGER BEER

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Makes about 1 litre of ginger concentrate

In the Caribbean, ginger beer is a sweet and spicy drink enjoyed by all.  Typically non-alcoholic, it’s refreshing, with a peppery ginger kick that our parents always told us is good for our stomachs, and is so much better than any commercial ginger drink.  I remember the first time I tried my mom’s ginger beer – I winced at the firewater and wondered how on earth she and my dad could drink anything that spicy so nonchalantly.  And truth be told, I still don’t know how they did it.  But what I do know is that my version of this island classic is now a staple in my home, used in cocktails and straight up, and is sure to be the same in yours. 

Ingredients
  • 1 pound ginger root, peeled with a spoon and roughly chopped
  • 4 Cups water, divided
  • 2-1/2 – 3 Cups sugar (depending on your preference for sweetness)
  • 6 cloves, whole
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 strip lime zest

Directions
  1. Place 3-1/2 cups of the water into a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  
  2. To a blender or food processor, add the chopped ginger and remaining ½ cup water.  Blend until pureed and transfer to a large heatproof and nonreactive bowl.  Add the sugar and remaining ingredients.  
  3. Once water is boiling, turn off heat and pour into vessel with the ginger puree.  Stir to incorporate and dissolve sugar.  Allow to cool to room temperature before covering with a lid or plastic wrap.  Leave to infuse for 24-48 hours at room temperature.
  4. Working in batches if necessary (that is, unless you have another large nonreactive dish), pour ginger mixture through a fine mesh sieve to strain, pressing to fully extract flavour from solids.  Transfer to a bottle or jar with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate up to 2 weeks.  
  5. To prepare a glass, pour some of the ginger concentrate into a glass with ice (I like ¼ cup in a rocks-sized glass for myself), add a squeeze of lime and a splash of sparkling/still water and enjoy.  Feel free to add rum too!
  6. Cheers!

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