Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pineapple, Beets & Carambola Salad

Beet Pineapple Carambola Salad

This recipe is for people who can't stand the earthy, ferrous and dirt flavour of beets. Surely I am not alone in my hatred of this root vegetable with it's pretty,  jewel-red colour?

I can't tell you how to feel about beets, but if you don't like them, then I can tell you that this salad  makes them  much more palatable. If on the other hand, you  have a love affair with these garnet bulbs, then it should be no problem to convince you that this recipe is worth your attention.

Beets, Pineapple & Carambola Salad
4 large beets roasted or boiled
2 cups pineapple cut into bite sized chunks
2 large carambola , cut to bite size pieces
3 Trinidad seasoning peppers * seeded and finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 cloves garlic
2 tbs lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 tsp salt salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a small bowl mix together salt ,lime juice and galic. Let stand for ten mins. Add the olive oil. Stir well, then taste. Adjust salt and add black pepper.

Place pineapple, beets and carambola in a serving dish. Chop peppers and parsely. Add them just before serving so that they retain their flavour.  When ready to serve, pour on the dressing and sprinkle with chopped parsly and peppers.. Toss salad and serve immediately. Don't prepare this salad too long in advance of your meal because the beets will eventually turn all other ingredients red.


*A note about seasoning peppers.
Here is what these local peppers look like. They are a flavouring pepper. They don't have any heat to them, yet they are not sweet like bell peppers..
Trinidad Pimento Peppers



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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Trinidad Corn Soup


We are in full swing for the annual Carnival celebration which culminates in a two day explosion of colour and music as masqueraders take to the streets in sequins, feathers and glittered splendor.  It is indeed something to be experienced. Even if you can't be here, you can still have a taste of Carnival if you make this soup which is sold by street vendors at most carnival fêtes.

corn on cob

Until now I hadn't given much thought to the fact that this is actually a healthy, high fiber, vegetarian meal.  But who really has time to contemplate nutritional value when you are  in a pan yard  listening to the sweetest rhythm of steel drums and craving a cup of corn soup?  At 4:00 am,  tired and hungry after the party, you make a beeline past the guy grilling burgers, the jerk chicken , the fries, and head straight for the corn soup man. Get to the line late and you will find yourself nervously eying the ladle casting about the bottom of that deep silver pot, trying your inebriated best to figure out if you'll secure your Styrofoam cup of soup before the goodness runs out! If you are lucky and make it to the head of the line before the soup is finished, you will gratefully burn your tongue because you can't wait for it to cool off sufficiently before 'nyaming' it down.

bowl of corn soup

The fact that Trinidad corn Soup is vegetarian seems fitting for a festival whose name according to one source derives from the Latin carne vale which means farewell to meat. However the deprivation associated with diet food is never on my mind when I indulge in this meatless dish. For carnivores like myself, if there is a meal that can satisfy without meat - this is it.  Soup the West Indian way is a heavy and hearty. This one is thickened with split peas, chuck-full of potatoes, corn, carrots and dumplings. Trust me this fuels thousands of party goers until the wee hours - you won't run on empty after a bowl of this.

Corn on cob

A final note,  the corn used in this soup is not the American variety of sweet corn that comes in cans or the frozen food section. It is a variety that is starchy more than it is sweet. Also I recommend making this in a pressure cooker to cut down on cooking time. Please follow your manufacturer's instructions for cooking the split peas safely.

Trinidad Corn Soup
Serves 6


2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves
1 lb potato, peeled and quartered
2 carrots, diced
1/3 cup chives, chopped
1/4 cup celery, finely chopped
1/3 cup fresh thyme, chopped
3/4 cup yellow split peas
2 pimento pepper (optional)
8 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 scotch bonnet pepper,  left whole
1/2 cup coconut milk
6 ears corn, cut into 2inch pieces
8 dumplings (or more) *omit if making it gluten free or swap out for any other root vegetable
1/4 cup culantro, chopped (substitute cilantro)
1 tsp salt
black pepper

In a large soup pot heat oil. Add the onions and garlic and saute until fragrant. Add the celery, thyme, chives and pimento peppers and culantro. Saute for one or two minutes .

Add the stock and the split peas to this herb mixture.  Add salt and black pepper to taste. Add the coconut milk if using. Pressure cook 10-15 mins or simmer in a covered pot  for about an hour until peas are soft. Use an immersion or ordinary blender and puree soup to a thick and creamy consistency and return to the pot.

Add corn and cook for about 20 mins. Add the potaotes and scotch bonnet pepper carrots and cook for 10 mins or until the potato is cooked.

WARNING! Keep an eye on that pepper. You do not want it to burst while cooking. You want to keep it whole to get the flavour of the pepper but NOT the heat. This is a seriously hot pepper so if it bursts your soup may very well be ruined unless of course you are a fire-eater.

Finally add the dumplings and cook until they float to the surface. If soup is too thick at any time, add water.

2 cups flour
1 tsp butter
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and rub the flour into mixture until it is grainy. Slowly add enough water to knead to a stff dough. Roll dough into a long rope shape. Cut into 2 inch lengths and drop into boiling soup.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Power to Purslane and a Professor

chow ingredients

You know that nasty weed that keeps popping up all over the garden? Well I ate it! Just so you know and in case you find me on the floor foaming at the mouth you'll know what to tell them in the ER.

Let me start at the beginning. I'm not much of a gardener but I do love growing things. A few months ago, I came across some packets of seeds that must have been at least 2 years old. I wasn't at all optimistic about them sprouting but on the off chance that they might, I planted them in some seed flats. After 3 weeks, I was very excited to see that my seeds had sprouted. Wow! I really did not expect it and so many of them too. Hoorah! I diligently watered my sprouts.

As time went by and the first true leaves started to form, I grew suspicious. My tomato seedlings looked the same as my eggplant, which looked a lot like my peppers and so on. Huh? Darn it! They were weeds and they were everywhere. They were in between my flowers, in my pots, in amongst my herbs and even in the cracks of the garden path. Once a month I engaged in the seemingly pointless activity of pulling them out only to have them return - as weeds are want to do - winking at me with little, yellow-flower eyes.

One day I was hanging out on a recipe forum when a woman in France posted a photo of a lovely salad. I blinked twice and stared. The greens on her plate looked a lot like my weeds!

Holy Cow! I had an epiphany. I ran outside and looked at my weeds. Those yellow flowers winked at me but this time I winked back! Then I headed indoors to dream up recipes for their demise.

Three months later I still hadn't tried them. I wasn't brave enough. Two Caribbean plant books contained pen and ink illustrations and botanical descriptions of what looked like my weed. I read long winded descriptions of leaf shape and pattern, something about ovate, ovoid, spatulate leaves blah, blah, blah. There was a lot of 'to-ing and fro-ing' on my part, to the glossary and main text. Eventually I did what any right minded thinking person would do. I called a perfect stranger on a Sunday afternoon and asked. "There is a weed in my yard, can I eat it? "

Professor Julian Kenny is considered an authority on biodiversity in Trinidad and Tobago. He was a lecturer and Head of zoology in the faculties of Agriculture and Natural Sciences. The Professor doesn't know this but I am a HUGE fan. No, I don't know him personally, unless you count the fact that I sporadically read his articles in the newspaper.


I am sure he must have thought I was crazy, ringing him up and possibly disturbing his Sunday siesta to say that I was eating weeds and thinking of feeding them to my family. I was nervous and I am sure barely coherent as I rambled on about doing research for an article.  I also mentioned not wanting to kill my children with a salad that I was making for dinner.

Yes, he knew the plant but was more familiar with a pink variety which grew in sandy soils. To be certain, he advised that I make inquiries at the Herbarium, which is located at the University of the West Indies.  For all I know Professor Kenny may have been rolling his eyes skyward on the the other end but none of this was revealed in normalcy of his tone. He was exceedingly gracious and acted for all the world like it was the most natural thing for a housewife to call him asking if she could eat her front lawn for dinner.

A week later I had my answer, my weed had a name. It was Portulaca oleracea L. better known as Purslane or Pussley. I was also very pleased to learn that it is a highly nutritious vegetable that is currently being touted as a superfood due to it's high Omega 3 content- the highest of any plant.

Sadly, it seems that we have lost knowledge of this lovely vegetable. I wonder if it is still a commonly used ingredient in other Caribbean islands? If you are from the Caribbean and recognize this plant, please leave me some feedback in the comments section. I would love to know what it is called on your island and how you use it.


Here is a purslane salad I made some months ago.  I am submitting this to the Weekend Herb Blogging Event hosted by Anna's Cool Finds. The good news is that no one ended up in the hospital  - not even a tummy ache:-)  Purslane tastes a lot like watercress but not as pungent. We all really enjoyed it and  I  plan to use it in a number of different ways from now on.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti-Donor Beware!

It has been difficult to take pictures of or even think about food because of the events in Haiti.

The desperation of a country that on a good day was already very badly off, plays constantly in my head. I feel somewhat guilty to be going about my daily activities, while thousands of people have suffered such terrible loss. I know many of you feel the same way.

The many dead in Haiti deserve, at least, a pause in my frivolous food-writing routine. To the living I send prayers, some clothing, food stuff and monetary donations. It is hardly enough to compensate for the loss of homes and loved ones.

My pocketbook is open.....everyone that I know is giving with abandon. We all want to help. Yet, may I urge you please, don't be reckless with your donations. Let us make sure that the money we give, actually gets to Haiti.

The Huffington Post reports that credit card companies rake in a big profit on fees when you use your card to make a donation! Another web site, (Washington AFP) claims that card companies make as much as 250 million dollars in profit a year from charitable donations.So before you donate, do your research and ask questions.  Some credit card companies are getting on board by waiving fees. Find out before you use your card to make a donation if your company is one of these.

Today, my mobile phone company sent me a text informing me that there was no charge for texting a donation. Sounds good right? But I still have questions.

What percent of the money donated will actually be sent to Haiti?

How and when will information about monies donated be published?.

For my part, I am going to stick with local chapters of International charities that I already know to be reputable, for example the Red Cross. No johnny-come-lately charities will be getting my money. Click here for a handy list of reputable charities as rated by the American Institute of Philantrophy. Great advice on giving intelligently can also be found here at Charity Navigator


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cuban Roast Beef - Boliche Relleno

Holiday meals in my family are much anticipated occasions to try something new in the kitchen. This year was no exception. My sister decided on this lovely roast which we served with sides of stewed red beans, yuca con mojo,  tostones (twice fried plantains) and of course my orange salad. Delicioso. Unfortunately the roast was all I got a chance to photograph.

5-6 lbs beef eye round ( I used top sirloin )
10 garlic cloves, mashed
2-3 teaspoons ground oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 bay leaves
3/4 cup sour orange juice ( or 3/4 parts orange juice with 1 part lime juice)
3 teaspoons salt, to taste
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, to taste (optional)
3 tablespoons capers, chopped
3 tablespoons pimento stuffed olives, chopped
1 tablespoon Goya adobo seasoning
1/2 tablespoon annatto (optional)
2 tsps shadon beni (culantro) or substitute with cilantro
1/2 lb ham, cubes or thick slab bacon
1 carrot, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 green bell peppers, cut in medium size pieces
1/2 red bell peppers, cut in medium size pieces
2 chorizo sausages, casings removed, chopped
*couldn't find chorizo so I substituted with a spicy Italian sausage
1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups chunky tomato sauce
butcher's twine


Clean the meat by trimming excess fat. With a knife make a deep cut along the center of the beef, leaving one end uncut. Lay open the steak like a book.Prepare the marinade by mixing garlic, oregano, cumin, bay leaf, sour orange juice,  1 tablespoon Goya Adobo seasoning, 1 tsp of the culantro, salt,  and black pepper, . Spread 3 tablespoons of the marinade over meat and close like a 'book'. Cover the meat and put in the fridge for two hours or overnight.

In food processor chop ham or bacon, carrot, onions, bell peppers and chorizo, 1 tablespoon Goya Adobo seasoning, olives, and capers to a fine grind.Mix the contents with the half of the remaining marinade in a bowl.With the grain of the meat running horizontally, spread the marinade mixture to within an inch of the outer edges of the meat.Roll the meat so that all the ingredients stay inside the roll. Tie the roll every couple of inches with lengths of butchers twine.Rub the outside of the meat with the rest of the marinade. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Heat olive oil in a large frying pan. When the oil is good and hot add the roast and brown on all sides, turning  several times.Transfer to a dutch oven. Cover and place in oven. This recipe says to roast for for approximately 3 hours but we found ours was done after about 1 1/2 hours.

Discard bay leaves.Remove meat to a separate dish and allow to cool, at least 15 minutes, before slicing into 1/4" slices using a very sharp knife.Combine the chunky tomato sauce and shadon beni (culantro) or cilantro  usied just a bit of beef stock instead). Pour over sliced meat.