Cuisine makes Trinidad and Tobago unique
By VERDEL BISHOP Wednesday, August 29 2012
Trinbagonians are a unique people and when it comes to food the world knows just how unique we are.
Our unique favourites like oil down, callaloo, pelau, stewed anything, curried anything (including various wild meats), doubles, and various soups like corn soup, ox tail soup and cow heel soup and not forgetting cassava dumplings, ground provision, coconut bake, fried bake and roast bake are some of the foods that make us Trinbagonians. However, as our multi-ethnic country marks its 50th Independence anniversary, Newsday takes a look at the various nationalities who settled here and brought with them their food – they are the foods we have adopted; they are the foods we embrace, love and have made our own over the years.
Trinidad and Tobago cuisine is indicative of the blends of Indian, Amerindian, European, African, Creole, Chinese and Lebanese influences. Such foods include pastelles (called hallaca in Venezuela where they originated), garlic pork (carne vinha-d’alhos, a Portuguese dish), boiled or baked ham, turkey, pigeon peas, fruit cake (or black cake), ginger beer, ponche de creme, egg nog, and sorrel.
These foods have taken their rightful place as Trinbagoninan favourites and there are many which can be placed in this category. However, when it comes to the foods we have adopted from other cultures, today I feature some of the popular foods which have become mainstream over the years and which are high on the list of my favourites.
The African legacy has yielded such delectable delights as coo-coo, ground provision, buljul, roast bake, coconut bake, pone, salted and smoked meats, ochro rice, tamarind ball, bene ball, sugar cake, chilli bibi, biscuit cake and coconut drops,
Trinbagonians have adopted various Arabic foods from the Syrian-Lebanese community. Gyros, being the most popular are a quick meal, which, much like the popularity of doubles have quickly earned a reputation as one of TT’s favourite roadside foods. There are other Arabic favourites like garlic potatoes and kebabs, and then there is garlic sauce. The Syrian-Lebanese community uses a lot of garlic which is one of the most important ingredients in their cooking and which have influenced many Trinbagonians like me, to drizzle just about anything with the rich thick white sauce which has become a popular condiment with many of our favourite snacks.
The Chinese community has brought with them various cuisines which have also become local favorites such as chow mien, char siu kai fan, spring rolls, pow, wontons, fried rice, various soups and Chinese style fried chicken. They have also brought with them various methods of preparing and preserving foods. The Chinese community is known for preserving their food by smoking, salting, sugaring, pickling and drying. A wide variety of preserved Chinese food has also become mainstream. Take for instance common snacks like salt prunes, Chinese mango (red salt preserved mango) and various sugared, dried fruits which most of us enjoy from time to time. The East Indians have been tantalising our taste buds for well over a century. Pholourie, saheena, aloo pie, kurma, katchoori, sada roti, chutney, amchar, various curried meats and vegetable dishes are just a few to mention from the diverse food fare the Indian community has contributed to our multi-ethnic country. We also have the Spanish community to thank for arepa and pastelle, the British for Christmas pudding, minced pies and fish and chips and the French for various pastries and our love of chocolate.
1 bundle dasheen bush, roughly chopped
12 ochroes, sliced
1/2 cup chopped pumpkin
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped celery
1/4 cup fresh thyme
1/2 cup chopped chives
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups coconut milk
2 blue crabs, cleaned and washed in lime juice (optional)
5-6 pieces salted beef or salted pigtail, boiled to remove excess salt (optional)
1 whole scotch bonnet pepper (Congo pepper)
Salt to taste
Heat the oil in a large pot and add the onion, garlic, celery and fresh herbs. Sauté until fragrant, about two minutes. Add ochroes, pumpkin and dasheen leaves and sauté for another minute or so. Add the coconut milk, crab and/or salted meat if using, and hot pepper (take care not to let the pepper burst). Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook uncovered for about 35 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed. Remove hot pepper and crab and/or meat, and swizzle the callaloo, or put in a blender or you can use an immersion type blender, and beat until smooth. Return the crab or meat pieces to the soup. Simmer for five more minutes. Stir well.
Paratha Roti (Buss-up shot)
4 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 oz margarine, butter or ghee
1 3/4 cups water
Knead flour with baking powder and salt in a large bowl for mixing. Leave for about 1/2 hour, covered with a damp cloth. Divide dough into 4 balls. Spread liberally, margarine/butter/ghee over dough and sprinkle w/ flour. Cut dough from the centre to edge.
Roll dough tightly into a cone shape, then press peak of cone into centre and flatten. Sprinkle flour on kneading area and roll out till very thin.
Place it on a moderately hot tawah (large skillet if you don’t have one), coating dough on both sides with oil as it cooks.
Turn on both sides and cook about 1 1/2 minutes on each side. Remove from tawah and hit with wooden palette until flaky.
1 lb potatoes
Salt to taste
2 tbsp vegetable oil
chopped hot pepper
1/4 cup sliced onions
1 tbsp chopped pimentos
Chopped garlic cloves
Chopped chadon benni
¼ cup coconut milk
¼ cup curry
2 tbs saffron powder
Peel the potatoes wash and dice. Chop onions, garlic, chadon benni, chive, pimentos and pepper. Mix curry powder with water into a paste. Put sauce pot with oil to heat. When oil hot, add garlic and cook until burnt. Remove garlic from pot and add curry paste and saffron and fry well. Add seasoning and potatoes. Mix all ingredients in pot until properly coated with curry. Simmer for two minutes and add water. Simmer for ten minutes. Add coconut milk and salt. Cover and leave to simmer until potatoes are cooked.
4-5lbs chicken, cut into pieces and washed with lime/lemon juice
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
2 cloves of garlic – thinly sliced or crushed
1 tsp fresh/powdered ginger – crushed (use 1/2 tsp if it’s powder)
2 tbsp vegetable oil (one that can withstand high heat)
1 medium onion – chopped
1 medium tomato – chopped
2-3 tbsp cilantro (or 2 tbs Trinidad green seasoning)
2 tbsp brown sugar
3 cups water
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp hot pepper (only if you like your food spicy)
1 green onion or chive – chopped
2 sprigs of fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 large carrot sliced into “coins”
1 can coconut milk (or about 1 cup fresh or if using powdered coconut milk powder, makes the equivalent of 1 cup )
1 ½ cups fresh pigeon peas or 1 can pigeon peas (drained)
3 cups of long grain rice (washed)
1 tsp Golden Ray butter (optional)
Salt to taste
A tsp of tomato ketchup
Cut and wash the chicken pieces, then season with all the ingredients mentioned above except, the oil, sugar, coconut milk, carrot, rice, water, ketchup, Golden Ray and pigeon peas.
Allow the seasoned chicken to marinate for at least one hour. If you are using black eyed peas or fresh pigeon peas, boil the peas in water seasoned with a couple cloves of crushed garlic until tender or cook in the pressure cooker for about ten to 12 minutes. Drain the water and set the peas aside.
In a large pot, on medium to high heat, pour the oil and wait for it to become hot. Then add the brown sugar (same as the stewing process) until the sugar goes to a dark frothy brown. Add the pieces of chicken. Move each piece around so it gets coated in the caramel that you just made.
After adding all the chicken, cover the pot and allow to cook on medium heat for about ten minutes. Add the ketchup and stir. Add the sliced carrot. Turn up the heat and remove the lid for the natural juices to cook down.
Cover the lid and turn down the heat. Add the rice and peas into the pot, then the coconut milk and the three cups of water.
Stir and bring back to a boil.
Then cover the pot and allow to simmer for about 35 minutes or until all the liquid is gone and the grains of rice are tender and plump. Add a teaspoon of Golden Ray salted butter as you turn off the stove. Then mix around and cover the pot for about five minutes.
Fried Shrimp Wontons
1 lb raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, coarsely chopped
3-4 stalks green onions, washed, trimmed, diced
1 tbsp ginger, peeled and grated
1 cup water chestnuts, small dice
1/2 tsp salt (to taste)
1 tbsp sesame oil
50 wonton wrappers
water or beaten egg white for sealing wrappers
oil for deep-frying
1 tsp ginger, grated
1/2 tsp sugar
4 tbsp soy sauce
2-3 tbsp red wine or rice wine vinegar
chili garlic paste (optional)
Mix the shrimp, green onions, ginger, and water chestnuts in a bowl. Season with salt and sesame oil. Mix well. Place a teaspoon of filling in the centre of a wonton wrapper and wet the edges on one half of the wonton with the water or egg white wash. Fold the wrapper in half on the diagonal and press the edges together, pushing out any air pockets in the wonton.
Daub one of the bottom corners with more water or egg white wash and fold the wings in front of the wonton so that they cross at the corners. Press together. When all wontons are folded, heat oil in a deep medium saucepan to 350F. Fry 5-6 wontons at a time until they are golden brown. Remove and set on a rack. To make dipping sauce, combine all ingredients and stir until sugar is dissolved. Serve hot wontons with dipping sauce.
Parsley Salad (Tabouleh)
½ cup No 1 wheat
4 cups freshly chopped parsley
1 cup chopped chives
2-4 cups chopped tomatoes* (ripe but firm)
3 tablespoons freshly chopped mint leaves
1¾ teaspoons salt
- ½ cup olive oil
¼- cup lime juice
Tomato, carved into a rose for garnish
Romaine lettuce or cabbage leaves to garnish
Rinse and soak the wheat in water for 25 minutes. Drain and squeeze out excess moisture as much as possible. Place the wheat in a mixing bowl.
Put the tomatoes over the wheat and leave to rest for 10 minutes to allow tomato juices to be absorbed into the wheat.
Add the parsley, chives and mint to the wheat and tomatoes, and toss. Mix in the salt, olive oil and lime juice thoroughly. Taste and adjust salt, oil and lime, if necessary.
Serve in a platter and garnish with a tomato carved into a rose and romaine hearts, or the small, inner leaves of a cabbage.
* Some people prefer to have a lot of tomatoes in their salad and/or to deseed their tomatoes. These are both matters of personal taste.
Salt fish buljol
1 lb salt fish
4 tbsp extra virgin oil
1 stalk celery
1 stalk chive
2 blades chadon beni
pinch of black pepper
Scald salt fish for about four minutes in boiling water. Drain and leave to cool. Dice all vegetables. Allow skillet to heat and add extra virgin oil.
When oil is hot, sauté vegetables and add salt fish and stir, add black pepper, and allow to cook for about three minutes.