St Vincent and the Grenadines

This is the third of what will be five posts on the various foods I enjoyed on a recent trip to the Caribbean - specifically Barbados, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and Grenada. I swear these posts are necessary because otherwise we’ll all sit around reading TripAdvisor and those folks aren’t nearly as nice as I am, plus they hardly ever include recipes. The previous posts were “Return from the Windward Islands” and “Coconut Drops from Carriacou”.  

 

At no point in the tourism guides for the Windward Islands did I see a big billboard with flashing lights that said ‘they barbecue pig tails here!’ But that should exist. BBQ Pig Tails! These are not tiny curls but meaty better-than-ribs, fatty and succulent and well appointed with bones from which you may suck the meat. With gusto. I might have done so with more elaborate gusto if I had not been eating mine on top of a trash can in the Barbados airport, scarfing as much as possible before the flight attendant hustled us through security. I also had a serving of pudding and souse - essentially sweet potato sausage plus pickled pig parts. They were precariously balanced. It was the lunch that had been interrupted by an urgent summons to the airport to catch a much-delayed flight to St. Vincent for our honeymoon, which left us a few minutes (total) to pack up, hop in a cab, navigate check in and find a way to cut a two hour line for security. In moments of urgent action, people sitting down to a good meal take their plates with them. I confirmed this later in the trip when the grills at a Bequia restaurant caught fire in spectacular fashion and in spite of purses and phones left on the tables as patrons fled, nary a scrap of food had been abandoned.

 

(The restaurant was more or less fine in the end - a pair of retired firefighters were enjoying a cocktail one patio over and they dealt with the situation).

 

I lost a lobster dinner in the conflagration. I'm still thinking about that lobster. They eat spiny lobster in the Caribbean. This picture of one is from the NOAA fisheries page, and to justify my photo use, I will also link this Vice article on spiny lobster fisheries and why we aren't eating this variety in the U.S.

I lost a lobster dinner in the conflagration. I'm still thinking about that lobster. They eat spiny lobster in the Caribbean. This picture of one is from the NOAA fisheries page, and to justify my photo use, I will also link this Vice article on spiny lobster fisheries and why we aren't eating this variety in the U.S.

 

If you desire BBQ pig tails, a bar owner on Union Island assures me there’s a West Indian grocery off of Dudley Square in Boston that stocks them. (Yes, I asked bartenders about the pig tail situation on every island we visited). Serious Eats has a recipe for BBQ-ing the tails; the ones I had were all slathered in BBQ sauce, though, so I recommend adding that component with your favorite sauce (or make one).

 

St. Vincent and the Grenadines (our primary destination) had relatively thin information for the food-focused traveler. Possibly because most people were sailing-focused travelers and there’s a big ocean full of fish right there that you then get grilled up on a beach, or on your boat, and wash down with rum or cheap beer. Problem solved. Point well taken. I did serious work with a small tuna on our boat’s grill, plus putting away my share of lobster on the beach in the Tobago Cays. I’ll add other items that I enjoyed, with a few recipes for good measure.

 

Here I pretend that I'm sponsored by Doris' Fresh Food on Bequia because it is super awesome. She's taken countries from all over the world and stocked a shelf of what people from that country would really crave after sailing for several weeks. The varieties of sesame seed in the Japan section alone was eye opening - why don't I have wasabi coated sesame seeds in the convenience store next door?  If you lacked motivation to acquire wealth, being able to afford full provisioning from Doris (never mind the yacht part) would be an excellent motivator.

Here I pretend that I'm sponsored by Doris' Fresh Food on Bequia because it is super awesome. She's taken countries from all over the world and stocked a shelf of what people from that country would really crave after sailing for several weeks. The varieties of sesame seed in the Japan section alone was eye opening - why don't I have wasabi coated sesame seeds in the convenience store next door?  If you lacked motivation to acquire wealth, being able to afford full provisioning from Doris (never mind the yacht part) would be an excellent motivator.

 

Rum

 

There was a lot of rum. I am not a big rum enthusiast. The local Captain Bligh XO rum tasted far enough on the cognac end of the spectrum that I managed a half dozen glasses of it one evening without complaint. The Guyana rum El Dorado (we sampled the 15 year old) tasted - not subtly -  like tobacco and chocolate and, eventually, vanilla. Which had novelty. Overall, the group sailing on our boat were devotees of Very Strong Rum. That’s its name “Very Strong Rum”. This introduced me to the “overproof” category of rum - and it scoffs at the better-known Bacardi 151, weighing in at 170 proof instead. Tourists mostly stock it on their boats to use lighting the grill. Not us, we hung out in tiny bars and sat at picnic tables with the owners and their families and ordered “quarts” (really it was closer to a pint) and bottles of ginger ale and had at it. There was a fortunate alternative - Campari and soda. No matter how small the bar, they reliably stocked Sunset Very Strong Rum and also Campari. If you don’t like super strong rum or super bitter apertifs, I’m not sure what the answer is. Low alcohol beer. (I guess I do know what the answer is).

 

If you want to learn about the history of rum, we brought the book And A Bottle of Rum with us - I recommend it and here’s an NPR interview with the author should you want more details. If you want to know more about the Very Strong Rum, there’s a 2015 article in Maxim (some people do read it for the articles, you know).

 

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That blank spot up there is proof that the Internet doesn’t have everything. We ate plantains baked in rum punch with cheese in one restaurant, and I swear there is no recipe online for this dish. There’s sweet plantains in rum. There’s savory plantains with cheese. There is no savory rum-baked plantains with cheese. Instead, I give you this article and recipe for Flygande Jakob, the Swedish banana and chicken casserole with peanuts and a great deal of heavy cream. Just to prove that a similar taste profile does exist in the public record. And it’s popular. In Sweden. I will update this after I figure out the plantain rum cheese concoction for myself.  

 

Beverages that Are Not Rum


The Christmas holidays were close enough that folks still had a small stock of holiday Sorrel Juice if you asked for it. Sorrel Juice is made from a relative of the hibiscus. It tasted like the purple corn-based Peruvian drink Chicha Morada. They’re both made by creating a strong tea from their primary ingredients (sorrel, purple corn, respectively), plus warming spices (think ginger, cinnamon, allspice), fruit trimmings (orange peel, apple cores, pineapple trimmings) and sweetened to taste. Also, they turn very bright colors. The cola of choice was Mauby Drink, which tasted like a hybrid of coca-cola and Dr. Pepper, with some high end artisan root beer thrown in. It’s made from the bark of the Mauby tree, and with a little internet ordering and syrup making, you too can have Mauby.

Here I pause because the next half of this post is a discourse on produce, and some on botany, and that seems like it should be separate. You can experiment with that bananas and chicken dish while you wait (it is good, I’ve tried it). See? There’s so much interesting stuff to eat in this world. Insert political commentary on immigration here, if you feel a need.

Return from the Windward Islands

Hel’s was closed in January while my husband and I finally went on a honeymoon. We sailed in the Windward Islands. It was not a food-focused excursion, it was learning-to-sail focused and the other people in the class were reluctant to abandon the ship so we could learn how to cook Caribbean cuisine instead of how to trim a mainsail. Perhaps if I’d been a better sailing student I could have taken a leadership position in the class and prevailed on the cuisine issue, but alas no (have you ever tried to learn to sail? the vocabulary list is several hundred words long and you’re supposed to always know which way the wind is blowing, which is harder than it sounds).

 

In spite of adversity, I did manage to explore the food and picked up some good ideas and recipes, which will all soon find their way into a blog post featuring the food of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In the meantime here are some tips I picked up during the trip that are not from St. Vincent, but may be of interest:

 

From France: The French 75 has usurped the Manhattan as my perfect cocktail. It’s Champagne and gin, with a touch of lemon and a hint of sugar. The gin opens the Champagne in a delightful way that suggests the idea of flowers - daphnes, perhaps, or stocks*. It’s the perfect cocktail because, unlike the Manhattan, it’s delicious any time of day. You might be drunk before breakfast, but it’s a genteel sort of drunk, very civilized. I enjoyed my French 75s  at a bar with creative cocktails that often employed Champagne, The Loft, on Union Island. Here’s a recipe from Esquire.

 

*No, these flowers are not edible, I’m being poetic** - do not eat random flowers, they’re usually poisonous.

 

**Because flavor is made up primarily of scent, it’s scientifically acceptable to be poetic about flowers and Champagne.

 

From Barbados: Friday nights are Fish Fry Nights in Oistins, a section of Barbados on the southern coast near the capital Bridgetown. Fish Fry Night is never to be confused with Pudding and Souse Lunch, which is Saturday, or Karaoke Afternoon which (according to one mini cab driver) is Sunday. The Oistins Fish Fry takes place along a stretch of cheek by jowl food shacks, extending from the sidewalk to the beach, with grills outside and fry oil heated over charcoal fires. It’s a nighttime country-fair-heading-to-rowdy atmosphere, full of noise and people bumping into each other as they take in the crowd, and fish shack equivalents of carnies calling in customers, and people not asking whether there is a health code for the fish cake fryers because nobody wants to know.   

 

The main event is grilled fish. Central Vermont does not offer an ocean a few yards from my grill, and if it did I doubt it would be teeming with the marlin, flying fish, or dolphin fish (mahi-mahi) we enjoyed in Barbados. Or maybe, being a fantasy seaside, it would. In any event, my practical take away from Oistins is the fish cakes. They’re made with salt cod, worked into a dough with seasoning, then deep fried to a texture that combines the crust of a fresh-from-the-fryer cider doughnut with the toothsome heart of fried dough. God they’re good. In Trinidad they’re called accras and in Portugal they’re bolinhos de bacalhau. I have not tested any of the online recipes, but if you want to get a head start on it, here’s where I intend to begin - the simple approach published on 196Flavors.

 

From Haiti: During the Mount Gay Rum distillery tour, we shared an hour of rum samples chased by a half dozen (shared) rum cocktails with a couple, she from Haiti, he from Ireland. Each felt that their respective cuisines were the best, most misunderstood, cuisines in the world. To remedy this on the Haitian side, I received the following recommendations written on a Mount Gay Rum coaster:

 

  • Eat at the Haitian restaurants in Montreal. These must be a big deal because the mere fact that the much-anticipated Haitian restaurant Agrikol would open in 2016 led one blog to run a list of other places to get your Haitian food fix while you waited.
  • Acquire the djon-djon mushroom, make a broth, use said broth to cook rice, or chicken, or really anything you can cook in a broth. According to Chowhound the Caribbean markets of Boston carry these dried mushrooms, or you can get a bouillon cube from the Maggi brand online (presumably that’s not as good as finding the mushrooms).
  • Brew Haitian coffee - Rebo is the primary export brand. Thanks to the Internet, I now know that the question of how to get more Americans to comprehend that Haiti has the best coffee in the world is A Thing, complete with economists and graphs, and you can read a Medium article about it right here: “Selling Haitian Coffee to American Hipsters
  •  

She also said that the Haitian rum, Barbancourt, is the world’s best but 1.) everyone said that about their island’s rum and 2.) by that point in the tour we had pretty much established that the Mount Gay 1703 rum is actually the world’s best rum, so let’s not get too carried away.

1905 Russian Food Part 2 (Yes, there is a lot to say)

As previously promised, I'm following up on my discussion of a menu for an event requiring 1905 western Russian vegetarian rural food (this focus turned out to be less narrow than I feared) with recipes.

If you want recipes for straight up Eastern European comfort food (it's a bleak November, folks, you do want Eastern European comfort food) check out my earlier post on Slovakian food - the run down that follows here is a little trickier because we're getting historical and a tad labor intensive. But it's interesting.

A quick recap of what made up this menu:

  • Western Russia in 1905 = Eastern Europe now, with some Russia as well. 
     
  • There are typical ingredients: buckwheat, mushrooms, sour cream, pickles. Lots of pickles. And sour flavors. These are ingredients with equivalents easily found here in Vermont, if you want to read about interesting delicacies peculiar to Russia / Eastern Europe check out the ingredients found on the Slow Food Ark of Taste, which catalogues endangered traditional foods from around the world.
     
  • There are typical dishes. On this menu: vegetarian caviar ("caviar" does mean fish eggs, but vegetarian spreads called caviar have been around a very long time), soup, dumplings / pierogis, and country style bread (dark and rough - not light and refined).
     
  • There is the larger philosophy of using up everything. Pierogis are a good example of this, dough wrapped around a filling made up of little scraps of things. . . and in the case of this menu the pierogi dough scraps turn around and themselves become noodles. You'll see how it works in the narrative below. 

And now for the recipes: 

Vegetable Caviars

  • Russian Mushroom Caviar (linked). I added Austrian Pumpkin Seed Oil, because I find that it makes most things better. There is a version for sale at the fancy oil & vinegar shop in Montpelier.
  • Ajvar - Ajvar is also sometimes known as "Serbian Caviar". It's very popular. If you go to the European store in Burlington there's a whole section dedicated to ajvar variations. The basic foundation is roasted red bell pepper puree. If you want a very tasty yet labor intensive version, here's one from Serious Eats. In the spirit of not wasting any food, I roast red peppers and peel them (here's how) and choose what's onhand to make a spread. Lots of parsley, artichoke hearts, sour cream and lemon was what I used for this menu. 

Buckwheat Crackers  

  • I prefer the recipe from Flavor Flours. Here is one online post with a similar cracker recipe (I can't find the exact one I used published online, but I'm happy to lend anyone the book. . .). If you're interested in buckwheat flour as an ingredient, Flavor Flours should be the first place to look - as the title suggests, it's a cookbook of recipes designed to highlight the flavor of different flours. This book has brought me around to buckwheat, which I used to think tasted like chewing on early summer grass - actually, I still think it tastes like that, but maybe it's in a good way, not a bad way.   

Red Cabbage Soup  

  • This is the world's simplest soup and delicious, from SlovakCooking.com - the classic borshch taste profile of sweet & sour, very thick, and the red is from tomato paste, not red cabbage (which is purple anyway). You'll never go back to Campbell's. Try out this recipe.

    Note - if you had this soup at the Nov. 12th event, I made it much thicker than this recipe calls for, because it was a sampling menu and it felt more right to have less broth. I don't recommend futzing with the recipe that way at home because you then have to adjust the strength of everything else, but as an FYI if it turns out thinner than you expect, that is the reason. When I make this soup at home, I serve it over bread dumplings. 


Rye Bread & Butter  

  • Continuing on the topic of using up all the food in our cupboards, here's the bread recipe I use when I've got little bits of specialty flours sitting around that aren't enough to add into a recipe on their own. It's a slow rise bread, you let it work overnight, then form loaves and let it rise a second time in the morning. Don't forget that "overnight" really means 8 - 12 hours. I recommend cooking it in loaf pans, not on a baking sheet, for structural integrity reasons. 
  • A dense, dark rye bread loaf.  I opened a bottle of hard cider and meant to use it as instructed in this recipe, I really did, but the thing is, I've invented this new cocktail that's a glass of dry hard cider, topped off with Meyer lemon limoncello, vodka, and a touch of fresh lemon juice + peel . . . and you can probably guess what I did with the cider instead of adding it to the bread. It just seemed like such a shame not to. Instead I went to my favorite beer to use when you want a dark, broody flavor - Guinness Extra Stout. Taken on its own, it's putting a bit too much hair on the chest for my taste, but I always have it onhand for cooking. 
  • I completely and entirely forgot my plan to save the heels of this bread to make Russian Bread Kvass  - a fermented, lightly alcoholic beverage. Argh! The next time I have stale bread, though, I swear. . .

Pierogis

  • Still on the 'using all the food' theme, here's another option - mince whatever bits of things you have on hand and fashion them into a pierogi filling. Originally scraps of meat or tough meat ended up here. For this menu I pulled the tops trimmings from red peppers (ajvar), added extra cabbage (soup) that I marinated in the carrot vinaigrette (coming up later), and added them to mashed potatoes. I used the King Arthur Flour pierogi recipe for the dough.

Noodle Casserole

  • Guess what theme we're still on? Yes, using up all the food scraps. So the scraps of pierogi dough became noodles (for future reference, these scraps are great in chicken noodle soup). Supplemented by egg noodles from the store. The sauce was mixed variety mushrooms (cremini, portobello, oyster) and garlic cooked very very slowly with olive oil and a splash of sherry, then mushroom stock (made from dried porcini mushrooms - after rehydrating the mushrooms themselves also joined the pot), and finished with cream, sour cream, paprika and smoked paprika. 


Kasha Croquettes

  • I'll admit it, I'm of the opinion that kasha (toasted buckwheat groats) should be reserved for varnishkes and used sparingly otherwise. But that is not the spirit of 1905 Russia! The croquettes I made were based on a recipe that is not available online (from a vegetarian cookbook of several generations ago), but the basic idea is cooked kasha + wholewheat bread crumbs + a little parsnip puree to hold things together + pecans with black pepper sour cream to put on top. To make up for this lack of recipe, here are some other recipes using buckwheat groats that I pledge to explore in my intent to feel more kindly towards them: Buckwheat Granola, Chinese Varnishkes, Indian Spiced Buckwheat Stir FryBuckwheat Ice Cream.

Beet & Pickle Salad

  • The name sort of says it all. This is a variation on a salad in the cookbook Mamushka, changed to reflect the lack of some fresh vegetables at this time of year in Vermont and the fact that I didn't make any pickles during cucumber season. I made refrigerator pickles, then roasted beets (and rubbed off the skins under running cold water when they were done). I large diced the beets, then tossed the beets & pickles with small diced celery, fresh dill, and vinaigrette made from the pickling liquid. 
  • I garnished this with a plate of Claussen Pickles from the grocery store. It's my favorite not-fancy brand.

Pickled Carrot Stuffed Eggplants  

  • This dish was a cheater's version of the sour eggplant recipe in the Mamushka cookbook. In the original recipe, you leave the eggplants on the counter to get sour, but I don't know how the VT Department of Health feels about that. I suspect they aren't fans. Wimps. The basic strategy is you boil then weight eggplants to get the water out of them, then stuff with carrots, then leave out in a warm place for 3 days, the full recipe is here. I did the eggplant as instructed up until the carrot stuffing. Then I used these Moroccan Pickled Carrots that I love (the leftover vinegar from this is good to use in making sour soups - such as the previously linked cabbage soup). Note that you have to make the carrots the day before. I pulsed the carrots in a food processor until they were close to a paste, and stuffed them in the eggplants, weighted, and placed in a fridge instead of a countertop. 

Poppyseed Roll

  • I've been defeated looking for an online version of this recipe - the one I chose was as old school as I could find (keeping with the 1905 theme) and while the Internet is rife with poppyseed roll recipes, none of them match the ingredients or techniques mine used, and they all appear to produce a much sweeter roll with a softer crumb. Of course when I say "my" recipe, what I really mean is the recipe in Mamushka . . . if it were my recipe I would just type it up online, but I won't do that to cookbook authors without their permission. Maybe you should buy the book? The dessert chapter is riveting - the Nutty Noodle Meringues and Apple Sponge recipes are online and give a sense of the options. 
  • Still on the food saving theme - if you make the poppyseed roll, you will soak the seeds in warm milk then strain them. I simmered the leftover milk with half a vanilla pod, raisins, and egg yolks (whisked in) to make a custard, which I used as a filling in another roll. 
  • All the egg whites accumulated over the course of this menu can be used to make meringues.  

L'chaim!

1905 Russian Food

On November 12th, I'm catering for an event at Beth Jacob Synagogue featuring the cuisine of rural villages in turn of the century Western Russia. Or, at least, inspired by - I'm 90% sure it will not taste like what people were actually eating in those villages. I won't, for example, be foraging in Russian forests for the mushrooms. The kasha would surely be considered stale by the discerning Russian farmer. I feel I need to be honest about these things. However, the menu will illustrate some key ingredients and techniques and it will be fun.

It's been a while since I've been called upon to do quick culinary research for menu design; I'm sharing some of the things I learned below. Sources are linked. I also used the lovely cookbook Mamushka by Olia Hercules and the survey of all things culinary 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die by Mimi Sheraton. And information that I already had from searching for recipes for the Hel's Kitchen Slovakia Week this past winter.  

The dinner is celebrating Sholem Aleichem, who wrote the stories that became Fiddler on the Roof. Fiddler on the Roof, in turn, is set in then-Western-Russia (today that includes many independent Eastern European countries) in the early 1900's. The food is fascinating, even leaving out the politics of who got the food and who didn't (which is fascinating, and very depressing, and also not useful in making a menu for an event where people expect to be fed). Just by sheer size it's interesting, covering a vast sweep of culinary terrain. The Russian Empire at its largest (1895) encompassed 1/6 of the world's landmass. Granted, a lot of that land was steppes growing buckwheat, but nonetheless. . . . and also let's not dismiss buckwheat, which is a key ingredient in everything from French crepes to Japanese soba noodles. 

The menu for November 12th focuses on what would have been called peasant food in style (okay, fancy peasant style). This food was running in parallel with palace cuisine that was historic in grandeur; the ruling Romanov family of the late 1800's and early 1900's were (and still are) the world's poster children for inequality and excess. There's an abundance of records online for what they were doing and eating during their final years in power, such as this description of Dining with the Tsarsreplications of menus from specific mealsfine art images of what celebratory menus looked like, and even digitized copies of the family photo albums. (I am not, by the way, a particularly skilled historian - I got most of my reading from this Family Romanov classroom guide).

This food was grand defined not only by quantity, but also by technique. At the time French cuisine was regarded as the pinnacle of gastronomic sophistication- however the influence went both ways. The famous / infamously difficult dish coulibiac de saumon (aka kulebyaka, aka fish wrapped in many many layers of other things) came from the kitchens of the tsars. So did the croquette. And buckwheat traveled through Russia to become a standard ingredient for French sables and crepes. For an example of the techniques chefs needed to cater a true feast in imperial Russia, you can read about coulibiac in this 2013 New Yorker article Cooking With Daniel

I'm not making kulebyaka next Saturday. I am making many other tasty items, including pierogi and a poppyseed roll that is exciting to me because it uses a very old-school pastry method of "floating dough". I'll talk a little about my thinking behind the menu at the dinner, but in case you are not in a position to attend that event, I'll give you my cheat sheet below. Per the hosts' request the menu is vegetarian, which isn't exactly authentic but didn't throw me off badly. (On a side note relevant to the theme of what people were eating in Fiddler on the Roof, there was a recent Gastropod podcast on keeping kosher that I enjoyed (but not so much so that I was going to acquire a kosher kitchen)) . 

NOVEMBER 12th MENU

Vegetable Caviars - Aka "poor man's caviar" really is a historic dish, I always thought it was a more modern vegetarian thing but I was wrong. 

Buckwheat Crackers - Russia has been the world leader in buckwheat production for centuries.  

 

Red Cabbage Soup - This is a similar taste profile to borshch (which I now know I've been spelling wrong all this time) but since there's beets in other things on this menu I'm going with the Slovakian version which doesn't use beets (it also doesn't use red cabbage - the broth is red, the cabbage is green). This soup has a common sweet & sour taste profile, there are also simply sour profile soups in Russian cuisine. According to one source, Russian cooking is, globally, the most sour-dominant cuisine. Lots of sour cream and pickles.
Brown Bread & Butter - What we think of as the "classic" country bread.  

 

Pierogis - Since pierogis where originally a way to use up tough meat and meat scraps to stretch them into a meal, I'm going to do the vegetarian version of that by flavoring them with scraps from the rest of the food prep.  
Pierogi Trimming Noodles with Mushrooms & Sour Cream Sauce - Gets in not only the frugality of pierogis, but also the key Russian ingredients of mushrooms and sour cream.
Kasha Croquettes - Kasha, of course, continuing with the buckwheat theme - and meat croquettes of various forms originated in Western Russia, so this is paying homage to that cooking style.

 

Two Side Salads

My understanding is that normally you'd have pickles as a side, but since I did not pickle lots of things from a kitchen garden this summer (much to my mother's chagrin) I'm going to do quick pickles supplemented by veggies to get a similar effect. 

  • Beet & Pickle Salad

  • Pickled Carrot Stuffed Eggplants  

Poppyseed Roll There are dozens of dessert possibilities, but I feel like there's enough food to cover here that everyone will be stuffed at dessert time. I could add more (or do something different) if you want. This particular roll is made with an interesting technique I'd never heard of "floating dough" - you put your dough in a bag in a tub of cold water and when it floats it is ready to make your roll. I assume this was a way to retard the rising process and deepen the flavors held over from the time before you could just put it in your fridge overnight. 

The question now is whether I have the courage (and the Department of Health blessing) to serve Bread Kvass . . . it also may be too far into the "alcohol" range for me to do it legally (in which case, for the record, I won't).

Gratuitous cabbage roll shot - with frittered potato dumplings.

Gratuitous cabbage roll shot - with frittered potato dumplings.