What is Caribbean food and how do I cook it?
October 6, 2013 6:36 PM   Subscribe

I recently moved to a neighborhood that is predominantly West Indian, and I see all sorts of new-to-me ingredients in my local grocery stores that I'd love to learn how to use. But I don't know the first thing about West Indian/Caribbean cuisine, so I'm not sure I trust myself to just pick out a cookbook and start. Can you recommend any resources like websites or cookbooks, or specific recipes, that will allow me to start investigating all these mysterious roots and jars of red-dyed lard and interesting spices?
posted by showbiz_liz to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Cook Like a Jamaican has an "Ingredients Defined" category on their blog. If you scroll back through the older entries, you will see various roots and things.

Are you sure that is lard and not palm oil? It's red unless bleached. Used to be considered bad for you and now it's making a big comeback in the American nutrition circles (along with coconut oil).
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:24 PM on October 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nope, it was definitely red lard, I just looked it up. Seeing that in the store today is what made me decide to finally look into this kind of cooking!
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:36 PM on October 6, 2013

not exactly a meal, but a simple recipe to start with is sorrel. super delicious, and really easy to make. just buy a bag of dried sorrel at your local associated/compare/bodega (i'm assuming you live in crown heights?) then, boil/strain it and mix with water, cloves, sugar, cinnamon and rum. cool and enjoy. my roommate makes fun of me for drinking it year round (think it's more of a holiday drink) but i love it.

and if you are in brooklyn, it's definitely worth checking out the islands and glorias to get a sense of good west indian food should taste like.think fall off the bone meat, rice and peas, cabbage and gravy. it's all about the gravy. seriously.
posted by tabula rasa at 8:19 PM on October 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

The best source for cooking instructions is Youtube. All you need is the names of one or two dishes and follow the linked videos to find out more. Maybe start with a basic item like jerk chicken. Videos vary in quality, but you can soon put together a method and an ingredient list from what you learn.

Oh, and don't ignore Haitian and Guyanese cuisine when you're looking around.
posted by zadcat at 8:23 PM on October 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Geezus Christmas do I envy you right now.

This is a cuisine I only know of through childhood friends. I have not been able to explore it as an adult.

My advice? Make friends with the people in the shops and ask them what they do with these ingredients at home!

My second advice is for you to start a simple blog and catalogue the results + send me the link;)

I was just told today there are apps to help you record tinkerings with new recipes. Use one of those to record your explorations....

And while I'm at it....

Recipes are shite! Who can say definitively how much salt, or cumin, or hot pepper, or whatever - when EVERYTHING IS TO TASTE.

Sometimes lemon is more acidic, some types of salt are saltier than others, etc..

What you are looking for are RATIOS of ingredients, and BALANCE in overall flavor.

Talk to folks, take notes, experiment.

Geezus Christmas do I envy you this opportunity right now!
posted by jbenben at 8:48 PM on October 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

In the UK Jamaican food is just now becoming more popular and the tv cook associated with it is called Levi Roots. He has a tv show and cookbooks. The plus side is that he expects you will be unfamiliar with some ingredients and need handholding.
posted by plonkee at 12:09 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can heartily recommend this book by Levi Roots. There's a brilliant explanation of all the common ingredients at the start, and every recipe I've tried has been delicious first time.
posted by tsh at 1:04 AM on October 7, 2013

Memories of a Cuban Kitchen has been a standard go-to cookbook of ours for a long time now, if you want to branch into that part of the Caribbean. Look for La Lechonera mojo criollo sauce, El Ebro black beans, and the usual assortment of produce (plantains, yucca, boniato and so on).
posted by jquinby at 5:39 AM on October 7, 2013

This is my FAVORITE cookbook! Culinaria, The Caribbean. It's gorgeous enough to leave on the counter, and the recipes...so good!

It covers the islands in the Caribbean and it has pretty pictures, history and all sorts of interesting stuff in it. For example, it discusses Rastafarianism, "Ital" food and it even has a Ganga Brownie recipe.

I make the fish recipe in the Dominican Republic section and it's absolutely A-Mazing! So tasty!

Also, when you got into a shop ask the person there how to prepare different things. You'll get some awesome tips and you'll make a friend!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:52 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Trinidad cooking: Home of the Scotch Bonnet pepper.

Trinidad Pelau from "Cooking with Ria".

Actually, pretty much any recipe on her Recipe Index. Dammit, I just ate lunch and now I'm completely starving again!
posted by jeremias at 11:38 AM on October 7, 2013

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