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Jamaican Carib Traditions

Cultural Perspectives

By Tim Hazell

Jamaica, the largest English-speaking island in the Caribbean, was the ancestral home of the Taino Indians, also referred to as Arawaks, peoples who formed part of the island’s pre-Columbian cultural fabric. “Jamaica” comes from “Xaymaca,” an Arawak word for “Land of Wood and Water.” Buccaneers used the Jamaican town of Port Royal, also known as “the richest and the wickedest city in the world,” as a base for maritime attacks until its destruction by earthquake in 1692.

Jamaican cooking is permeated with the aromas of Portuguese, French, Dutch, and African traditions. Taino influences remain embedded in methods of slow cooking meat with citrus, allspice, and hot chilies. Eboes from Benin and other tribes brought their culinary crafts with them as they crossed the ocean from the Dark Continent in the holds of slavers’ fleets. The pimento (allspice) tree is native to Jamaica and has lent its unique perfume to island dishes for centuries. “Jerk,” a formulation for preserving meat through heavy seasoning with peppers and long cooking over smoke, may have been perfected with the advent of the 17th century Maroons. These ebullient vegetarian recipes are Carib regional fare.

Fried Plantains
2 tbsp. oil for frying
2 ripe plantains (substitute 3 large firm bananas), sliced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red jalapeno or serrano pepper, slit
1/2 cup chopped coriander
1 inch piece ginger root, minced
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
Ground black pepper and salt to taste
1 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk or whole milk

Heat oil in a large fry pan, add cumin seeds and allow to gently brown. Add onion, garlic, ginger root, and half the coriander. Sauté until golden, then add allspice, nutmeg, pepper, salt, brown sugar, and red chili pepper. Stir to blend, add plantain slices and fry on medium heat until coated with the spice mixture and slightly soft. Remove the chili or leave in as desired. Add remaining coriander. Add coconut or whole milk, stir to thicken and turn off the heat. Serve as a side dish. Can be part of a meal with Chick Peas Curry.

Chick Peas Curry with Green Chile
2 tbsp. oil
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tomato, finely chopped
1 15-oz can chick peas, drained
1 large potato, peeled and cubed
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 green chili, seeded and minced
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup water

Sauté the cumin seeds and garlic in oil for 2 minutes, add the tomato and continue to cook. Add salt and pepper, chickpeas, potato, green chilies, ground cumin, and lemon juice. Stir to blend, add water and simmer gently until potatoes are tender and water is absorbed. Serve with wheat or corn tortillas, pita bread or baguettes. Crunchy roll-ups of iceberg or romaine lettuce leaves can be substituted for tortillas.

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