A TASTE OF HOME (JAMAICA) #PICKLED RED HERRING AND SAUTEED CABBAGE

So, over the week-end, I went a tad naughty and indulged in dish atypical of my weekly diet. All roads led me to a Jamaican experience. Needed something tasty and a little salty. Knew what I had to do. Didn’t have to venture far. Had left-over pickled red herring in close sight in refrigerator.

Because  the sodium content is high in pickled red herring, I made sure to extract same by repeatedly rinsing, boiling and soaking. After taste-testing, fish was simmered in: drizzle of coconut oil, sautéed onions, garlic, tomatoes, scotch bonnet peppers, crushed pimento, pinch of sugar, and splash of vinegar.

Served pickled red herring with a slightly sweet and sour sautéed cabbage with slices of nature’s butter (avocado). This gave a perfect balance to the pickled fish.

A JAMAICAN FAVE #ESCOVITCHED SNAPPER FISH

This old favorite of mine was due for an early revisit. After making a delicious fish broth(tea) with the heads of my two snapper along with root vegetables, I decided to continue the traditional way and did a Jamaican escovitch fish dish with the remainder of my snapper.

FISH BROTH (TEA) SIMMERING
FISH BROTH (TEA) SIMMERING

Although this dish is predominately served during the Easter period, it’s enjoyed throughout the year. The ingredients were:

  • Sliced snapper (boned-in) (six pieces)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Canola oil for frying (1 cup)
  • Crushed all spice (pimento berries)
  • Bell peppers
  • Onions
  • Scotch bonnet pepper
  • Garlic (clove)
  • Vinegar
  • Water
  • Sugar

Method:

Fried fish:

  1. Whole fish were previously scaled and cleaned by fish monger.
  2. After heads were removed for fish tea, the bodies of fish were slices and scored in order to allow seasoning to penetrate. They were dried with paper towels and seasoned with salt and black pepper to taste. These were placed in refrigerator  for approximately four hours.
  3. In hot skillet, oil was added under medium to high heat and flavored with a clove of garlic. Garlic was then discarded. Fish slices were further dried with paper towel and fried for approximately five to six minutes on each side.
  4. Then fish slices were dried on paper towel to remove excess oil.

Pickled (vinegar-based) veggies:

  1. In stock pot, vinegar, splash of water along with pinch of salt, sugar and sprinkle of black pepper were added. These were brought to a boil under medium heat.
  2. Bell peppers, onions, pimento berries, scotch bonnet pepper were added and allowed to simmer for approximately two minutes under low heat.

    PICKLED (VINEGAR-BASED) VEGGIES
    PICKLED (VINEGAR-BASED) VEGGIES
  3. Fried fish pieces were added to platter.
  4. Pickled veggies were added by garnishing fish and spooning on vinegar dressing.

FRESH MILK FROM NATURE ##FRESH COCONUT MILK

We all have (well, many of us) super busy lives. And, as a result, when it comes to our dietary needs, it makes it very challenging to sometime go the wholesome and healthy routes. It is quite easy and convenient to visit our respective neighborhood store and buy the ready-made food products on hand.

And, that’s the case with coconut milk. The marketplace is loaded with different brands of coconut milk packed in cans. Some of the popular names out there are: Grace Kennedy, Ocho Rios, Goya and more.  I like to keep a few on hand for when I’m strapped for precious time or run out of the fresh type.

However, I often opt for the fresh one as much as I can because it reminds me of my island domain, Jamaica. Coconut is a staple here and over 89 countries around the world. Top producers are India, Indonesia, Philippines and others. Studies have shown that coconut is loaded with essential nutrients that are beneficial for heart health, great energy source for the body, and many more pluses.

As a result, I do try to stock the pressed milk in my freezer in tupper wares. Thanks to my South Florida location, coconut trees flourish very well in this locale. As such, supermarkets and farmers markets stock the wholesome coconut in its shell. I always try to purchase one. I bring it home and use a hammer to break through the shell and this is what’s inside:

WHITE FLESH OF FRESH COCONUT
WHITE FLESH OF FRESH COCONUT

I use a sharp knife to cut these in sizable pieces to accommodate my standing blender. Water is poured on same and then coconut is blended to a beautiful white finish. All is need to be done it use a strainer to separate the milky liquid from the remnants of the coconut.

This coconut milk can be used in: smoothies, rice and beans, curried chicken/or goat or in any other dish that calls for milk. It will provide enormous flavors that will enhance these dishes.

WARM WEATHER QUENCHER ##WATERMELON SALAD

There’s no denying, summer temperatures are already present. And when the reading on the thermostat takes a nose-dive I know that it’s time to adjust my culinary habits. During this period, I seek dishes that are light, easy and tasty. I don’t wish to be laboring endlessly in front of a stove. Gone are the heavy stews and soups and in comes the quick and easy meals.

So, the previous day when beads of sweat were making their way down my forehead, I fetched a sizable piece of watermelon at the store. Although I wasn’t happy with the price, I brought it home anyway. Just beholding this summer goodness, brought back childhood memories in Jamaica.The watermelon truck used to enter our neighborhood with several melons that were huge, sweet, juicy and super-red. And the prices were a ‘steal’. I can still picture the sweet and sticky juices running down me and my siblings’ arms.

It was lunch time and I didn’t have the craving for sandwich, soup or anything else. At the corner of my eye I spotted some vine-ripe tomatoes I had bought a few days before. Immediately I decided to make me a salad. A salad without the typical lettuce and cucumber. Thus, I came up with a sweet and savory one, watermelon salad.

I reached for tomatoes, strawberries, parsley and of course, watermelon. I sliced all these beautiful fruits and tore fresh herb (parsley) in the mix. The juices flowed with glee all over the platter. I seasoned with a pinch of sea salt and black pepper. Though a citrus/olive oil dressing would be okay; I opted to use none. To me, there was no need for a salad dressing. At that juncture, I tossed in crumbled feta cheese I had on hand.

Guys, the contrasting sweet, sour, tart, salty flavors were absolutely divine and simultaneously refreshing. My taste buds were very satisfied. I know I’ll make a revisit very soon.

I’LL BE HAVING MY WAY WITH THESE MANGOES IN THE NEAR FUTURE ##MANGO SALSA

One of the beauties of spring is that it brings us the blossoming trees. And one of them is the mango tree. It seems like yesterday I observed this specimen laden with breath-taking blossoms frolicking in the breezes. Now, these blossoms have given way to  firm, green immature fruits hanging from the branches.

Just beholding them takes me back to my roots as a girl running wild and barefoot on the outskirts in my domain, Jamaica. Our family had a couple of mango trees in our back yard. We called them ‘blackie’ and ‘hairy’ mangoes. These mangoes were very sweet and juicy to the taste buds. My dear mom was a great lover of mangoes. She could consume a considerable amount at any sitting. The bruised and the firm ones were devoured equally.

Early in the morning, we would be awakened by the weakened stems of these delicious fruits. You see, a few of the branches hanged over our roof. Subsequently, when they fell they would produce a raucous on the roof. Me and my siblings had a ball. We would scamper to fetch them before the birds had their way with them.

Oddly, I’m not a big lover of mangoes in their natural form unless they are reconstituted with other ingredients. For instance, I love a refreshing fruit drink with an a hint of mango. Or, I love to incorporate mangoes and make a spicy salsa. With the addition of jalapeno, bell peppers,tomatoes, cilantro and of course avocado, I know I’ll be taken over the moon.

So guys, feast your eyes on these beautiful specimens, in a few months, I’ll be having my way with them. Hmmm, without a doubt, I’ll be brought back to my island home. Yeah mon!

STARBUCKS IS GOING COCONUTS!…##COCONUT MILK

Once again, our neighborhood coffeehouse, Starbucks is testing a new idea; more of a product, coconut milk. Actually, they have tried it in San Diego, California and Washington before and the response seemed to have been favorable. As a result, based on customers’ demand, they have added coconut milk on their menu.

Sometime this month, (February 2015), Starbucks will offer coconut milk on its list of milk options. Based on reports in the media, it will only be in certain territories like Oregon, Ohio and Cleveland. I say bravo to them for taking this step.

It’s not surprising to me that the coffee chain has gone this route. I guess those in charge at Starbucks have discovered that the product is on the upswing. We have all seen a few of the high-profile celebrities, like Rihanna and others toting coconut water. And clearly, someone is doing their homework to know that the health benefits of coconut milk are tremendous.

Studies have revealed by the scientific community that the fat content in coconut includes a large amount of lauric acid which makes it heart healthy. As a result, it doesn’t have any negative effect on cholesterol in the body. Further studies have shown that countries like Sri Lanka and Polynesia where coconut is popularly used in the diet, heart related illnesses are uncommon.

I reckon that Starbucks’ nutritionists have done the research to know that their customers will also reap:

  • loads of fibers, vitamins, minerals
  • a slow absorption in the body which will not spike the glucose level in the body
  • an extra boost of energy, which makes it excellent for physically fit individuals

The question is, “will this test of coconut milk take off?” Already, they have had a positive response in California and Washington. We in Jamaica and in the Caribbean on a whole have been using coconut milk in our sweet and savory dishes for decades.

So far, I’ve  not used coconut milk in my coffee. Maybe, I should do a taste test. Although I love the product in various dishes, I’m sure it’ll be an acquired taste, ‘chasing’ my coffee. Who knows? I’ll have to take a quick swig and determine from a few shots.

Various companies like Grace Kennedy, etc have processed the milk and canned same in different sizes. This step makes it convenient for cooks to use in the kitchen. I do stock same for when I’m strapped for time. However, I prefer to purchase the wholesome product which averages about $1.99. To me, that’s priceless.

When I take it home, I use a hammer and give it a few bangs so as to break the husk. Ahh, it’s always a pleasure to drink that refreshing water within. I extract the flesh from the husk with a dull knife. Coconut pieces are then chopped and placed in a blender with water. A few minutes of blending action will yield perfectly healthy milk from nature.

COCONUT FLESH IN HUSK
COCONUT FLESH IN HUSK
COCONUT MILK AND LEFT-OVER PIECES OF COCONUT
COCONUT MILK AND LEFT-OVER PIECES OF COCONUT

Perhaps, Starbucks should stir awareness by recruiting a few prominent individuals like sports stars and entertainers to promote the coconut milk in coffee and the diet on a whole.That would seem ‘kool’ to their fans and supporters. Starbucks would definitely see a positive on their balance sheet.

Now, the question is, “where will Starbucks access the coconut milk?” Perhaps, Jamaica Coconut Board along with Grace Kennedy. That would be an excellent way to go. However, word out is that they already garnered their supplies from an Indonesian island called Sumatra in a concentrated form.

Will the addition of coconut milk to the menu be a permanent ‘fixture’ and increase sales? Only time will tell.

 

A SUPER DELIGHTFUL/HEALTHY STUFFED CHAYOTE (CHO CHO) DISH TO WHET YR APPETITE

Chayote is a squash-like fruit/vegetable(?) that is predominantly sold in markets in the veggie section. But, because of its light green and pear-like appearance some consider it a tropical fruit. It is originally grown in Mexico and Central America.

CHAYOTE (CHO CHO)
CHAYOTE (CHO CHO)
FILLING FOR STUFFED CHO CHO DISH
FILLING FOR STUFFED CHO CHO DISH
READY FOR BAKING
READY FOR BAKING

The name varies from region to region. In Jamaica, it’s called “cho cho”. And traditionally it’s cooked in savory dishes like stews and soups along with other vegetables.

Chayote(cho cho)is loaded with great fibers and other beneficial nutrients. There’s no saturated fats. As a result, it’s excellent for the lowering of cholesterol in the body. It is said that because of its health properties, dietitians often recommend it in dietary plans.

From my experience, cho cho tends to be bland in taste. And as a result, this squash like food needs to be enhanced with flavors in order to be more appealing. As a child, I can remember my dear mom sometimes treated it like mashed potatoes. She boiled it in salted water and then crushed it with a fork. Milk and butter were then added with a sprinkle of black pepper.

It has been sometime since I’ve cooked cho cho. So I bought a couple of firm ones and  decided to put my spin and continue on the savory route by stuffing them.

Ingredients:

  • Chayote (cho cho) (2)
  • Picked codfish flaked-up [shrimp or any protein of choice could be used]
  • Bell peppers (diced)
  • Zucchini (diced)
  • Onions
  • Broccoli
  • Scallion (stalk)
  • Thyme (sprig)
  • Olive oil or canola (tbsp)
  • Salt/pepper(pinch)
  • Bread crumbs (sprinkle)
  • Cheese (sprinkle)

Method:

1. Rinse codfish with tap water and cook in stock pot for approximately 5 minutes in order to remove excess sodium. Repeat the process until fish is ready at your preference. Flake and set aside.

2. Cut cho cho in halves. In sturdy stock pot, add water along with salt to taste. Immerse cho cho in water and add a drop of vinegar and oil to prevent oxidation (browning).

3. Cook for approximately 25 minutes until they become fairly fork tender and drain.

4. Rinse under cool water and when cool enough to handle remove pit and discard. And gently use a spoon to scoop flesh. Set aside. Reserve skins for later.

5. In a hot skillet, add olive oil or any good oil. Quickly satay onions, bell peppers, zucchini, scallion, thyme, and broccoli. Season with pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

6. Add flaked codfish and cooked cho cho and gently combine. Remove from heat and sprinkle with bread crumbs to help in binding.

7. Spoon filling in reserved cho cho skins. Sprinkle with shredded cheese of choice along with bread crumbs. Drizzle with olive oil.

8. Bake in a 420 degree oven for about 10 minutes in order to set. Put under broiler for an additional 5 minutes so as to brown the top.

9. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Guys, was proud of my finished dish; my first attempt at stuffed chayote (cho cho).