Can Cook, Must Cook

The food adventures of Franka P, a Trinidadian journalist living in London, UK. I'll write about my forays into all types of food and cooking, particularly Caribbean food. I'll also review books and recipes by the leading food writers and talk about the issues making headlines in the gastronomic world.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A challenge to Eat Caribbean

It rained all day in London today and such rotten weather calls for comfort food and staying under the duvet with a good book.
I could talk about the heavenly seafood broth I cooked today but I'll stick to my plan and review what I've read.
Eat Caribbean by Virginia Burke was a good way to get some sunshine by osmosis. This is one of the best books on Caribbean cookery I've seen in a while. It's well written with loads of fantastic photos and recipes that work.
Actually, I'd be surprised if Eat Caribbean wasn't this good, because the author has a wealth of experience in the food industry.
Virginia Burke is the managing director of marketing for Walkerswood Caribbean Foods (known for their jerk seasoning) and director of the Bamboula Caribbean Restaurant in London.
One of this book's strong points is that it doesn't fetishise or trivialise Caribbean food. In fact, it demystifies the cuisine and makes it very accessible to the non-Caribbean reader.
This means anyone living in a big city with a significant Caribbean or African community can find most of the ingredients quite easily. It's not uncommon to find ground provisions and tropical fruit in major supermarkets these days.
Eat Caribbean has a decidedly Jamaican slant, which isn't surprising since Burke is Jamaican. To her credit, she makes it clear in the introduction that Jamaican food is what she knows best. So there's a chapter on Jerk food, which is probably par for the course as for most non-Caribbeans, jerk chicken is their only experience of Caribbean food.

Some of the better known classic Caribbean recipes included are Saltfish Accra, Pepperpot Soup, Pelau, Ackee and Saltfish and Curried Goat.
I think the most interesting recipes are those from Cuba and Guadeloupe and I'm looking forward to trying Cuban Oxtail with Rioja and Guadeloupean Curried Goat.
However, there are a few things I don't like about Eat Caribbean, one of them is the book's layout. You have to wade through 40 pages of introductory stuff before getting to the recipes. I'd have preferred to read about Caribbean lifestyle and markets at various points during the book instead of all at the beginning.
Also, Eat Caribbean doesn't really survey the region very well. There's one dish from the Bahamas, but none from countries like Barbados, Guyana or Dominica. Is it that Burke felt the food from those countries was a bit too exotic?
By extension, I would think the strong emphasis on Jamaican dishes could turn off a lot of Caribbean readers who don't see any of their dishes included.
Despite this, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Eat Caribbean because there are a lot of interesting recipes in there and none of them are particularly difficult. I also think Virginia Burke sets a new benchmark for writers of Caribbean cookbooks in the future and I feel this is Burke's real accomplishment.
Eat Caribbean: The Best of Caribbean Cookery by Virginia Burke (Pub: Simon and Schuster).

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Roti and me

Oh gorm ah could eat ah roti now!
Now if I was living in Trinidad my roti craving wouldn't last long, because in Trinidad, you're always at least 15 minutes away from a good roti.
Not so in London, especially in the middle of winter!
Last night, my friend Kelvin aka EJ picked me up for a roti jaunt. We headed to South London and our favourite roti shop, Roti Joupa.

I've been going there for about three years now, but last night was the first time I carefully looked at how Vash and his team make roti. Actually, I was kinda lucky because they were doing a big order for a customer.
At one point when Dave was kneading the dough for dhalpourie roti, EJ joked, 'yuh have to have special hands to make that roti yuh know!'
He was so right because like pastry or bread, the way you knead the roti dough will determine if you end up with something that's strong enough to hold a heavy serving of vegetable or meat filling but soft enough to melt in your mouth.
By the same token, it's not difficult to end up with a cardboardy kinda mess that's destined for the bin - I know because it happened to me.
Oddly enough, I wasn't really feeling for roti last night so I had two doubles, a glass of sorrel and a slice of coconut sweetbread instead. I did however, come away with a renewed appreciation of the art of roti making. In fact, I told Vash that I'd like to spend a few hours in their kitchen and of course, he suggested that I come in on a Saturday - their busiest day!
Until then, I have to rely on a recipe from one of Trinidad's best loved cookbooks, the Naparima High School Cookbook. I'll share it with you and if anyone knows about a better recipe, send it along!

Dhalpurie Roti
1lb flour
3 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp saffron
1/2 lb split peas
3 cloves garlic
2-3 tsp ground geera

Boil the split peas with saffron, salt and garlic until tender but not too soft. Drain and grind to a breadcumb like consistency in a food processor. Add geera and salt to taste and leave to cool.
Knead flour with baking powder to a soft dough. Rub the dough with oil and leave to rest for 30 mins. Cut the dough into 6 to 8 pieces and shape into round balls. Open each ball and in the centre, put about 3-4 tsbp of of the pea mixture, close and seal the ball.
Heat a baking stone, flat griddle pan or large pancake pan. Roll a ball of dough very thinly, spread a thin layer of oil or ghee over the baking stone and put on the rolled out dough.
Cook on one side for one or two minutes, turn the dough over and spread with oil or melted ghee. After two minutes, turn over and spread oil or ghee over the dough. Do not let the roti get too brown. Repeat with the remaining dough balls.

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Eating my words....

Hello, my name is Franka and I'm a cookbookaholic.
I have a mild addiction to cookbooks. But isn't this perfectly natural if you love food and cooking? One day I intend to write a cookbook that other addicts add to their shelves as well.
My latest acquisition is Feast by Nigella Lawson. And this is why I'm eating my words.
You see, I've always told my friends that as much as I like Nigella's programmes, I wouldn't buy one of her cookbooks. But that changed when I actually picked up one of her books and had a look.

Nigella's writes like an angel (I would expect nothing less from someone who went to Oxford and was the deputy literary editor of the Sunday Times newspaper). She brings her buouyant personality and passion to her books and most crucially, her recipes are top notch.
Feast is aptly subtitled Food That Celebrates Life. In 21 chapters, Nigella explores the food that's eaten during cultural and religious celebrations like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Eid and Passover. She also looks at feasts at some of life's common events like breakfast, weddings and funerals.
This book is a gem, and I'd heartily recommend it. There are lots of recipes I'd love to try especially Chocolate Gingerbread!!
I liked her inclusion of a chapter about special but awkward times like, the first date and the first dinner with prospective in-laws. I was also fascinated by the chapter on Eid, because the dishes she selected are so very different from the Eid dishes I've encountered at Eid celebrations in Trinidad.

Read more about Nigella at her website, you'll even find some recipes.

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The Joy of Oxtail

Saturday's normally a soup day in the Caribbean.
You'll find a lot of people making soup, usually fish broth or oxtail soup. If they can't make it, then they'll go somewhere and buy a soup!
Today, in London, I paid homage to my roots and I made oxtail soup with what's known as 'winter vegetables' - parsnips, desiree potatoes, jerusalem artichokes, carrots and broccoli.
At it's best, oxtail is an unctuous, glutinous delight. My soup wasn't very glutinous mainly because I used the leaner part of the tail. But if you use the more meaty bit, it releases a lovely light jelly that gives the soup its unique flavour.
In Trinidad, most people use a pressure cooker to tenderise the oxtail before adding the veggies and if necessarily, dumplings. But I seared my oxtail to give it some colour and removed it from the pot. I then made a mirepoix and let it cook for a bit before putting the meat back in the pot and adding the veggies along with stock and seasoning.
Two hours later, there was one of the most flavourful soups I've ever made. It looked better than the one in the photo!!
I'd love to know what other foodies think are their best soups. Oxtail soup and fish broth are up at the top there for me!

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