Thursday, September 2, 2010

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

At first glance, St. Vincent and the Grenadines sounds like it would be an obscure reggae group from the mid seventies.  Instead, it is yet another Caribbean island nation with a wonderfully turbulent history that is the byproduct of the waves of colonization that swept the region during the 18th and 19th centuries.  Originally peopled by native Caribs, the island became a refuge for runaway slaves during the 17th and early 18th centuries until it was brought under French control and later ceded to the British.  The island did not declare independence from Britain until 1979; though it still retains commonwealth status.

The food is quite similar to many other Caribbean islands involving a mix of African, British, Indian, and native cuisines.  You might think all of these islands would start getting a bit redundant to us, but the wealth of Caribbean recipes out there seems pretty endless.  This meal was a bit smaller than our others, mainly because we needed a break after the giant food orgy that was our Malta dinner (see previous post).  

Black Eyed Pea and Mustard Green Salad

While most of what we consider to be beans are indigenous crops of the Americas, the black eyed pea is an old world legume native to West Africa.  The great thing about old world legumes is they cook so much faster than their American counterparts.  We were in a bit of a hurry to get this dish out so we used the pressure cooker and were pleased to find the peas came out nice and tender without any broken skin.   The resulting dish is a classic blend of West African and Caribbean flavors, and was a big hit at the dinner.

1 lb black eyed peas soaked overnight
2 cups sautéed corn kernels (frozen is fine) 
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vinegar
1 lb mustard greens blanched and choppped
2 red peppers seeded and chopped
1 large red onion cut in half and finely sliced
1 bunch cilantro chopped
1 serrano chili minced
1.5 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp pepper
Salt to taste.

1. Combine the soaked beans with a pot of water and simmer covered for 30-40 minutes or until they are just tender.  Or skip the soaking altogether and pressure cook them for 30 minutes with three times their dry volume in water.
2. Run the beans under cold water in a colander until they are cool to the touch.   Set the beans aside in a sink to drain for five minutes.
3. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and and gently toss together.  Salt the salad and serve chilled or at room temp.

Stuffed Cucumbers

This makes a great picnic dish.  It takes minimal prep, few ingredients, and tastes great at room temperature or chilled.  

4 medium cucumbers peeled.
1 cup cream cheese
1 cup sour cream
1 cup chopped red onion
1/2 serrano minced (optional for those who like heat)
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup minced cilantro
1 cup grated parmesan

1. Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise and, using a spoon, scrape out the middle section of seeds and pulp.  You should end up with eight canoe shaped objects.
2. Now mash together the remaining ingredients for the filling, which is everything but the parmesan and cilantro.
3. Spoon ample amounts of the filling into each of the cucumber halves, cover and chill until you are ready to serve.
4. Cut the chilled pieces into serving portions and garnish with parmesan and cilantro.

Chicken and Porter Stew With Dumplings

Anyone familiar with Southern U.S. cooking knows about chicken and dumplings.  This is a nice variation on the same concept.  The porter gravy most likely comes from British influence, but the spicing is similar to most Caribbean sauces and shouldn't taste too strange to anybody who loves the standard southern version.  

For the Stew

2 lbs thigh or breast meat (boned) cut into 1 inch chunks
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper
5 tbsp canola oil
12 oz bottle of porter or other dark beer
1 cup chicken broth
1 red onion chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1.5 cups chopped red bell pepper
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 cup chopped parsley

For the Dough

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp butter softened
3/4 cup milk

1. First mix all the dry ingredients for the dough.  Then mix in the butter gently with a wooden spoon.  Gradually add the milk until the dough forms a firm paste.  Set the dough aside in the fridge and begin to make the stew..
2.  Cover the chicken pieces in flour and salt.  Heat the oil in a large heavy sauce pan over medium heat.  Add the coated chicken pieces and cook them for five minutes or until all sides are crisp and browned.  Remove the chicken and set aside on paper towels.
3. Add the onion, red pepper, and garlic.  Cook for five minutes or until softened.
4. Add the tomato paste, thyme, pepper, cayenne, and beer.  Raise to a boil.  Add the chicken pieces and simmer for 15 minutes.
5. Meanwhile raise a pot of water to a boil and drop tablespoon sized portions of the reserved dough into the water and boil for two minutes or until they float at the top.
6. Raise the heat on the chicken until the sauce becomes a thick gravy.  Cut the heat and salt it to taste.  Serve the chicken and sauce over prepared dumplings and garnish with chopped parlsey.

Doughboy Failure

We tried to make a sweet pastry dessert called doughboy.  Aside from being made out of dough, I'm not sure why it is named that.  We only found one recipe and despite several attempts at varying the ratios, nothing seemed to make it work.  It kept turning into a large overly dense monster that tasted like a bad cookie.  Here's a picture of Amy looking sad about our failure.  To accentuate her sadness she chose to wear a wet towel on her head.  We were so disappointed in our failure that we could not to include a recipe.  Sorry but we were out of ideas on how to save this one.  We hope you liked the dinner portion of the meal. 


Despite the doughboy failure, I still have to say the meal was a reasonable success.  True it was much more casual than some of our giant feasts, but I think we deserved a casual cheap dinner.  I was excited to again cook food that I'm mostly familiar with.  It made the prep work a great deal less stressful and the meal that much smoother. This was the last meal in our former apartment, from now on all meals will be photographed with a large dining room table in a proper dining room.