Collard Greens and Other Recipes from Below the Mason–Dixon Line

Fresh collard greens can be found at your local farmers market year-round, but they are tastiest in the cooler, damper months. Usually quite cheap, this slightly bitter member of the cabbage family is classic  Southern comfort food. The dark green leaves have graced the dining tables of the South for many a generation.

In my kitchen, “collards” are a side dish on our menu. I cooked them for months as a part of my station prep. At work, cooking collard greens started with sautéed applewood smoked bacon and Spanish onions. Pork – and the flavor of it – is an integral ingredient in this dish; in fact, the pig and its by-products feature prominently in Southern cooking.

To this basic mirepoix of sorts, the greens are added and allowed to sweat until they eventually shrink about 1/3 in size.  Apple cider vinegar and chicken stock are added, and the greens are allowed to braise for an hour until tender. Season with salt and pepper; scoop them into a 4-inch hotel pan, label date and time with masking tape. Is it good? My chef says it’s an acquired taste, and I certainly agree with him. That’s  why I’m not posting the recipe from work.  I want you to cook collard greens and eat them and enjoy them as I did.

This post is about Grandma Davis’ recipe from New Orleans. I’m sharing her home cooking with you, as she showed me how to prepare it.

Buy three bundles of collard greens from the farmers market or supermarket. To prepare fresh collard greens, wash them thoroughly and remove the thick fibrous center stem of each leaf. Lay six to seven leaves flat on your cutting board and roll into a tight bundle, like a cigar. With a sharp knife cut into ¼ inch ribbons. Repeat until all the greens have been shredded like confetti.

It’s just as easy to pick up a pack of shredded greens from the produce or frozen food  section of your neighborhood supermarket.  I can assure you that the integrity of the dish will remain untarnished by this shortcut, and the finished product will be just as scrumptious. If the second option suits you, purchase at least a pound, which should be enough for 8-10 portions.

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Don’t leave the supermarket empty-handed. In the meat section, buy a half pound of salt pork. Grandma Davis uses salt pork for her collard greens, and you should too.  Don’t be afraid to use salt pork in cooking.    It’s easy as long as you follow these simple steps.

  1. Wash salt pork thoroughly to remove the excess salt.
  2. In  a quart of cold water, bring salt pork to a boil then drain water
  3. Bring to a boil a second time and  drain again
  4. It’s ready to be used for your collard greens.

Sounds like a lot, maybe, but this is what Southern cooking is all about: simple ingredients cooked with care and time to tempt the taste buds. This dish smacks of history. Pigs, low-maintenance and easy to raise, were an important food source in the South.  They were introduced to the region by early Spanish explorers, and became a staple of the traditional Southern diet.

Scraps of meat, oftentimes the unwanted portions from the butchered animal –  trotters, tail, ears, snout and entrails – were given to the slaves.  Usually there were many mouths to feed with this small ration of meat. Allowed to cultivate small gardens for food, the slaves learned to use their small ration of meat as a flavoring ingredient in their meals. This was the only way they could give a dish “meat flavor” without using much meat. This explains the prevalence of pork in southern vegetables and stews. Ponder this while perusing the shelves in the supermarket. Purchase a quart of chicken broth; look for Kitchen Basics or Swanson’s Chicken Stock. Add a Spanish onion to your cart and join the checkout line.

Great!!! You’ve brought all the goodies home, now it’s time to braise your way to some yummy delicious greens. First, wash, boil and drain the salt pork. That’s out of the way. Dice the Spanish onion. Put the salt pork and diced onions in a thick Dutch pot and add 4 cups chicken stock. Let simmer on low heat for 30 minutes; the pork should disintegrate in the broth at which point add the collard greens. Here’s a secret – add ¼ tsp of baking soda, which helps soften the greens and preserves the color. Add ½ tsp. brown sugar as well as 1tsp ground black pepper. Taste and let simmer for another 30 minutes. Minimal attention or stirring is required, just put it in the pot and let it go! Adjust seasoning if necessary.

S is for Sweet Potato – and Other Recipes from Below the Mason –Dixon Line

“S is for Sad… And for the mysterious appetite that often surges in us when our hearts seem about to break and our lives seem too bleakly empty. Like every other physical phenomenon, there is always good reason for this hunger if we are blunt enough to recognize it.”

M.F.K Fisher, An Alphabet for Gourmets

S is for sweet potato. And the alphabet is made richer for its inclusion. There is no sorrow in the letter S when it’s a tuber with parched, rust-tinged skin, uneven in shape and unassuming in appearance. But underneath that blotchy exterior lies flesh saturated with a nut-like sweetness and bright orange vibrancy.

It was man’s inquisitiveness (and most certainly the pangs of hunger) that led to the discovery of what nature tried so hard to hide. The tubers of the sweet potato vine, buried secretively among roots and earthworms, were no match for man’s primal driving force… Hunger.  As a  cook, I am indebted to the eager gourmet who, armed with sticks for digging, pried this edible treasure from the clutches of the earth.

This member of the morning glory family originated in South America and was spread through the New World by Christopher Columbus.  Sweet potato tastes even sweeter when heat and flame turn the tuber into candied yam deliciousness.

I love to prepare this side dish as part of a big Sunday dinner spread; it brings back childhood memories. Sunday meant helping my mom make crispy roast chicken with homemade barbecue sauce… rice and peas flavored with coconut milk and thyme… buttery mashed potatoes… cheesy macaroni and cheese… deep-fried sweet plantains… creamy coleslaw.

And then there was her cinnamon- and brown sugar-flavored sweet potato casserole, seasoned with nostalgia of breezy Sunday afternoons. That time I spent with my mom around the stove is still ingrained in my psyche. And in New Orleans, at Grandma Davis’s table with a generous serving of candied yams, I am twelve years old again.

When this humble tuber is baked in a pie shell, it assaults the mouth with a velvety smoothness reminiscent of toasted almonds.  Try these recipes at home, to wake the jaded palate, inebriated by microwave meals and fast-food cookery.

Candied Yams

Peel one large sweet potato (about 1 lb.), and cut into a ½-inch dice. Measure 2 quarts water, add 2 tsp. salt, and pour into a suitably sized pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.

Rule of thumb for cooks: Vegetables above ground should be cooked in salted water at a rolling boil: i.e., asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini. Start root vegetables in cold salted water, bring to a boil, and let simmer till done: i.e., potatoes, turnips, beets, parsnips.

The sweet potatoes should be halfway done and offer some resistance when pierced with a fork. Save 1/2  cup of the cooking water; drain and discard the rest, leaving the sweet potato in the pot.  Add 1/2 cup of your saved liquid, 1/4 cup of good salted butter, 1/2 cup of granulated sugar, a drop of vanilla and a pinch of cinnamon and return to the stove. Let simmer on low heat for another 12 minutes, stirring carefully every few minutes. Butter melts, liquid reduces, sugar dissolves to create a light caramel glaze, enhanced with cinnamon and vanilla – and it is done! Enjoy your candied yams!!

Sweet Potato Pie

Dinner has been served; the meal is at an end. In that moment of sated relaxation, when friends and family reminisce on the pleasures of a sumptuous meal; sweeten the ending with a slice of sweet potato pie. Have a store-bought 9 inch pie shell ready; it works well for this recipe. Bring to a boil then let simmer for 25 minutes, 1 lb. of sweet potato cut into a ½-inch dice. Drain and place the hot and steaming sweet potatoes into a large mixing bowl.

Add 6 Tbsp. granulated sugar,  8 oz. evaporated milk, 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour, 4 oz. of good salted butter, ½ tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. nutmeg, 1 Tbsp. vanilla, 1 tsp. salt. Blend everything together with a cake mixer until smooth and creamy. Mixture should be slightly thick. Pour into pie shell and bake in a 350 degree oven until golden brown, (about 30 minutes). The aroma of fresh baked sweet potato pie fills the room like no other. Resist the urge and wait for it to cool. Cut a slice, and indulge your sweet tooth with the taste of Grandma Davis’s New Orleans sweet potato pie.

 

CurryLOVE

The word curry has different meanings. In the English language, curry can refer to “an attempt to gain favor or approval from someone through flattery”  – hence the saying, “to curry favor”. The word curry is more popularly used to describe a blend of spices that traces its origins to the Asian continent.

Curry is ubiquitous throughout the cuisines of South Asia, especially India, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Vietnam. Unseasoned cooks subscribe to the popular misconception that curry is a single spice. In fact, there is no true spice called curry; it is a blend of spices which vary from one region of the world to the next.

Curry recipes in India can change from household to household and run the gamut from mild to searingly hot and spicy. Curry can be yellow or red or green, depending on the herbs and spices used in the blend. Common ingredients in curry powder include: coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds,  cumin, fennel seed, mustard seed,  poppy seed, chili pepper and turmeric.  The powdered turmeric root gives curry that distinctive yellow hue which most westerners are accustomed to seeing.

The word curry resides on a deeper and more personal level in my West Indian psyche. To speak of curry is to think of roti with split peas and dahl… A birthday party… the fair… the local cook shop. The smell of curry-spiced meat sizzling in a Dutch pot takes me home to my island heritage.

Curry is a 13 year old boy living on a cattle farm in Jamaica, workers in water boots chatting around a makeshift campfire. Curry is cooking and eating in the bush, with a banana leaf as my plate. Curry is boiled flour dumplings as large as a hand around topped the “watchman,” a small dollop of chicken back seasoned with said curry. Curry is more than just a mixture of spices;  it’s a harmonious blend of ethnic cuisines in the  global melting pot of food.Curry means goat. Local, from the butcher, cooked slowly until it falls off the bone, eaten with fried plantains, a raw salad of shredded cabbage, carrots, sliced tomato, and steaming hot white rice. In the eyes of the butcher, the ram goat above  is a prime candidate for the stew pot. Quick work with a knife will dispatch the animal to curry heaven, where greener grass and sweeter drinking water awaits. For the rest of us mortals, goat meat is easily found in supermarkets that serve ethnic neighborhoods, especially those with a strong Hispanic, African or Caribbean population.

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CURRY GOAT

For this recipe, a pound of goat meat bought from the supermarket will be sufficient to bring joy to you the cook and your diners. Season the meat with a teaspoon of salt, garlic powder, and black pepper. Add two generous tablespoons of curry powder, preferably Jamaican or Trinidadian curry.

If you can find it in your supermarket, add three or four seeds of whole allspice and a generous sprig of thyme. To this mixture, peel and cut two carrots into rounds as well as one large white onion (diced). If you are truly daring, procure a habañero pepper –  set it aside for now.

Mix all ingredients together and let sit for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator. In the meantime, find a sturdy pot suitable for stewing and add an ounce of vegetable oil. When it is really hot, add the goat meat (only) and sear for two or three minutes. This gives some color to the meat and “sets the curry”. There is nothing worse than eating uncooked curry; it is a surefire way to spend hours in the bathroom bemoaning your unlucky fate.

Add 6 cups of water to the vegetables, making sure to give it a good swirl to catch all the spices. Add this to the goat in the stew pot, reduce the flame,  and let your meal  simmer. Add the whole habañero (while the goat cooks, the habañero will imbue the stew with a rich flavor without over spicing the dish).

Let simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally until the meat pulls off the bone. Serve with white rice or other foods of your choice.

Curry from Trinidad

Remembering Ackee & Saltfish with Roast Breadfruit

Seedlings from the ackee tree were brought from West Africa along with slaves in the early 1700’s. Every Jamaican knows that ackee can be poisonous; never pick the fruit before the pods fully open on the tree.

I’ve never been poisoned by ackee. Growing up, I was a willful child, but I did pay attention when my grandmother was teaching me how to prepare it.  We would sit on the verandah with the basket between us, filled to the brim with bright orange pods. As she plucked the ripe ackee arils from the pod, I would use a small knife to remove the shiny black seed.

Grandma loved to gossip, and as we worked she would tell stories of people who had been poisoned by ackee. She would always end by pointing a finger, warning, “Jomo, don’t forget to tek out the red membrane; is poison, yuh know.” Eventually the creamy yellow arils would fill the plastic container on my knees, and we would head to the kitchen to boil them.

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Ackee, breadfruit, and salted codfish are all transplants that traveled along slave routes in the heyday of European colonialism. Both plants adapted well to Jamaican soil and flourished in our tropical climate. As for salted codfish, it was a staple of any oceangoing fleet of that time –especially the British colonists who settled the Caribbean.

Establishing vast sugarcane plantations, colonists bought slaves from West Africa to work the land. The slaves were forced to adapt to their new surroundings and gradually learned to incorporate local fruits, ground provisions and vegetables into their cook pots. Ackee & Saltfish (recipe below) has become intertwined in Jamaican food lore and culture.

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My grandmother’s house has a huge breadfruit tree in the backyard. Growing up I’ve climbed that tree many times, scrambling from branch to branch, shouting and laughing in play with my brother. The breadfruit tree was center stage of our imaginary world, filled with swashbuckling pirates and rocket ships blasting off into space. We were explorers and space cowboys, born to be wild.

Despite the unwanted attention, our rough treatment and branch tearing, the tree bore fruit. Back then, I was too young to appreciate eating food picked from my own backyard and would have much preferred a bowl of Fruit Loops. My finicky eating habits didn’t faze Grandma; I was forced to eat breadfruit boiled in chicken foot soup on Saturdays. On Sunday mornings, I’d eat Ackee & Saltfish withroasted breadfruit, each slice smeared with warm butter or deep fried and sprinkled with salt.

IMG_2644Captain Bligh brought breadfruit saplings from Tahiti to Jamaica in 1793. Originally it was meant to feed slaves, but they did not like the sweet taste. For many years breadfruit trees grew wild, and the fruit was used to feed hogs. Eventually the fruit was incorporated into local diets, and breadfruit has become a staple protein food ever since.Weighing between two and six pounds, breadfruit can grow as large as volleyballs. Between May and August, the tree produces copious amounts of the bright green fruit.

My mom, who owns a small bakery in Port Maria, St. Mary, will tell you that there are two times of the year when bread does not sell well. Breadfruit season (May- August), and mango season ( May to July). It’s easy to understand why: mango, ackee, and breadfruit trees are common sights in both urban and rural Jamaican yards. Those without a tree need not worry; friends and neighbors are always willing to share whatever extra their households cannot consume.

An ackee or breadfruit tree laden with fruit is a sight to behold. It grows in your backyard, it grows wild, and it’s everywhere. With nature’s bounty on display and free, who wants to pay for bread? Most Jamaicans would rather eat juicy ripe mangoes for lunch and delicious roast or fried breadfruit for dinner.

These two breadfruit recipes were adapted from The Hotel Mocking Bird Hill  blog.  Recipes and posts by Barbara Walker provide an insightful look into Jamaican cuisine.

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 Stuffed Roasted Breadfruit

Take one medium breadfruit and score around the stem, pulling the stem out of the breadfruit.

Fill the cavity in the breadfruit with Ackee and Salt Fish (recipe below), or spinach and feta, sundried tomatoes (diced) and feta cheese.
You then take the heart of the breadfruit that you have cut out with the stem and cut it leaving only enough to cover the top of the stuffed cavity. Brush the breadfruit with olive oil and bake in 350 degree pre-heated oven for 35 -45 minutes or until a skewer or knife inserted into the breadfruit comes out clean.

Peel the roasted breadfruit and then split it in half, using the halved breadfruit as bowls for the filling. Slice like potato wedges and serve with a mixed green salad.

 Breadfruit FuFu (recipe)

(For anyone who likes Hawaiian Poi using Taro – this is very similar)

Using a coal stove or BBQ, roast the breadfruit at medium heat, until a skewer or knife inserted into the centre, comes out clean. The breadfruit must be turned often during roasting.

If using an oven, lightly brush the breadfruit with coconut oil and bake at 350 degrees for 35 -45 minutes, or until a knife or skewer inserted into the breadfruit comes out clean.

Peel the roasted breadfruit and remove its core. Cut in small cubes and place cubes in mortar. Pound with a pestle until it becomes like a soft dough (you can use an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook).

Break into small pieces and add to soup or stews.

Serves 6

Note: After roasting and peeling the breadfruit it is ready to be used as an aside in sliced form. As the breadfruit cools, it becomes quite dense so, a good option at this point is to fry the slices and use as a side dish.

I’ve made ackee and saltfish several times since I’ve migrated to the United States. All the ingredients can be bought at the farmers’ market or in the Caribbean food section of a Wal-Mart, Publix or Kroger supermarket.

I use canned ackees, and when I’m finished I make a plate and eat breakfast without much fanfare, in solitary silence. I know in my heart that it will never taste the same, but it’s my way of reconnecting with my culture – a Jamaican chef cooking regional American cuisine.

I cannot reproduce the creaking of the wooden floor, or the stillness of a household in slumber. My hands look nothing like my grandmothers, dicing onions, tomatoes and scotch bonnet pepper. In my apartment, the hood vent above the stove siphons off the aroma of coconut oil and the stew of tomatoes, onions, peppers and thyme, bubbling in fat.

And where is the smell of breadfruit roasting in a coal pot? These intrinsic memories from my past are impossible to duplicate in an apartment with electric burners and air-conditioned “atmosphere.”

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Instead, I’ll wait for Jamaica.  I’ll go home to my grandmother, in her small house close to the sea.  The car turns down the narrow lane leading to her house, and then stops at her gate. There, I’ll look forward to my first meal; I will eat whatever she chooses to cook. I can see her sitting on the verandah, waiting for me. There is a smile on her face, and I tumble out the car and rush to hug her. I’m remembering Ackee & Saltfish with roast breadfruit as it’s supposed to be. Breakfast from my childhood.

Ackee & Saltfish

½ lb salted codfish (saltfish)

1 lb fresh ackee (cleaned and deveined)

½ small Spanish onion (julienne)

1 scotch bonnet pepper (leave the pepper whole, for more heat slice the pepper into rounds, discard the seeds)

2 Roma tomatoes (diced)

4 sprigs of thyme

Black pepper to taste

¼ cup of good coconut oil

You can let the codfish soak in water overnight, but I always forget, so this is what I do: in a pot of cold water bring the codfish to a boil. Drain the water and repeat the process two more times. Taste the codfish; it should be salty, but not too much. Two birds with one stone: now the codfish has been cooked and the excess salt has been removed.

Remove the bones from the codfish, take the skin off if there is any, and flake the fish into small pieces. Not too small but not too large either –imagine stripping paint from a wall.

This is not a canned ackee recipe, so wait until you have the opportunity to use fresh ackees. Now it’s time to clean and cook the ackee. Use a small knife to cut off the black seeds, and then use your fingers to remove the red membrane lining the belly of each aril. Clean them well. Remember the red membranes are toxic, so have a care. Cook the ackees in a pot of salted boiling water, until firm but tender, about 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a hot sauté pan add coconut oil. Make sure the pan is hot, then add the onions, let sizzle for a minute. Add the diced tomatoes, scotch bonnet pepper and thyme and let cook for another minute. Add the saltfish and stir together. Finally add the ackee, toss gently until heated through. Finish with a pinch of black pepper. And it is done!

Growing Up Country

Albany, St. Mary, is a small village deep in the Jamaican countryside. In its heyday, St. Mary was known as the “banana parish”; hundreds of acres were dedicated to growing the plant for export to Britain.  In the “good old days”, Jamaica had a preferential trade agreement with Britain, guaranteeing better prices for Jamaican bananas in British markets.

Then in the “best interest of free trade”, multinational fruit distributors  quickly put an end to that arrangement.  Thanks to Dole, Chiquita, and Delmonte, the Jamaican banana industry lost its small share in the European marketplace.

My story begins long after the heyday of the banana plantation. My mother had recently remarried, and her husband (now my stepdad) had decided to follow his dream and become a farmer. For us, it meant leaving Montego Bays’ bright street lights, movie theatres, supermarkets and neat subdivisions of concrete houses.

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I was nine and I cried when I saw my new home. We had no neighbors. I was swallowed by a kaleidoscope of varying hues of grass, trees and shrubs. Searing like a Scotch bonnet pepper, bush was coming out my nostrils, my ears and my brain. Bush as far as the eye could see – surrounded by it – bush was everywhere.

But my stepfather  worked hard to turn this wilderness into farmland.  He rented a huge D9 Caterpillar tractor to create a patchwork of crude roads so the Land Rover would not break an axle. Pumpkin and Scotch bonnet pepper were planted for export. Seedlings from coconut trees were planted in rows on hilly terrain as an investment for the future.

In those early days, the repetitive “thwack thwack” of sharp machetes and the angry buzzing of chainsaws became as normal as traffic on St. James Street.  Nature didn’t take very kindly to our efforts at domestication, and retaliated with a nasty counterattack in the form of ticks (grass lice).

Grass lice were especially virulent on cattle farms. They were everywhere in the waist-high grass that surrounded my house. They covered my jeans, t-shirt, and eventually my scrawny frame. I’ve plucked grass lice from between my toes, under my armpits, and my more private places. I itched and scratched for days with little relief. I was miserable, and my hatred for “the bush” grew stronger with each unfortunate encounter.

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But summer was my favorite time: no school and mangoes were in season. We had many mango trees on the farm. Best of all, there was a river running through the property. This was heaven for a country boy; mangoes to fill the belly and pools of emerald green water to dive into and explore. We would frolic for hours, searching for tiny shrimp under the rocks and trying to catch the fast-moving mullet fish that swam in the deeper pools. Bamboo poles made our raft of choice, and there were plenty to choose from. We’d take a minute to dry off in the sun, and a few Julie or Stringy mangoes for a snack before heading home, barefoot and carefree.

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I grew up country, but didn’t stay. I traded bare feet for chef shoes. Now I live in the huge metropolitan city of Atlanta, Georgia. The Decatur High School community garden is the closest I’ve been to a farm since moving to Atlanta. The garden is small,  but seeing the vegetables planted there rekindles fond memories, a reminder of life, simple and sweet. Far removed, yet close to my roots. Try this recipe for Picked Saltfish and Marinated Tomatoes. It‘s one of my favorites, and I hope it will become yours, too.

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Picked Saltfish and Marinated Tomatoes

½ lb.  saltfish

2 Roma tomatoes

1 cucumber

¼ red onion

8 sprigs parsley

1 Scotch bonnet pepper

3 tbsp sherry vinegar

3 tbsp coconut oil

6 tbsp canola oil

Pinch of salt if necessary

Soak saltfish in water overnight, this removes most of the salt from the cured fish.

Cut the tomatoes in halves. Remove the seeds and cut julienne. Do the same for the cucumber: cut in half, remove the seeds and slice into half rounds. Pick the parsley from the stems and rough chop. Use ¼ of a red onion and cut julienne.Cut ¼ of a scotch bonnet pepper into rounds.

Toss tomatoes, cucumber, onion, parsley together. Fry the whole pieces of saltfish in the canola oil about four minutes on each side until crisp.

Add the coconut oil to the saute pan. Next add the scotch bonnet pepper, then the vinegar.
Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Flake the saltfish and pour the oil and vinegar mixture over the cucumber and tomatoes. Add the flaked saltfish to the salad, taste and season with a pinch of salt if necessary.

“Once Upon A Mango 2” – Juicy Poetry & Recipes from Sunny Jamaica

Mango Lady

Her pushcart was parked on the sidewalk,

and she read a book while patiently waiting for customers.

She had a large orange parasol

to protect her precious mangoes from the mid-day heat.

Call it a mobile fruit stand with wares just hours picked from the tree.

A fleeting glance at all those mangoes made me pause;

but it was her smile that made me stop:

There were oranges for sale in a red cooler,

complete with a little machine to peel them as you waited –

A few hands of ripe bananas:

yes I saw those too, all different shades of yellow –

But set just so a hundred mangoes to catch the light.

I asked their names and she laughed as she pointed:

Julie, Bombay, Blackie, Stringy, Long Mango.

One hundred for Julie, fifty for Bombay, everything else hundred per dozen.

We spoke for a while and I made my selection;

she looked at my face and in my eyes:

A few extra mangos, for you to enjoy,

and flashed another beautiful smile.

I look at these pictures, a moment in time:

The mango lady and her cart of sunshine

This wonderful recipe by Barbara Walter was taken from The Hotel Mockingbird Hill blog. The eco-boutique hotel  overlooks the picturesque town of Port Antonio on the northeastern side of the island. I find Barbara’s blog a constant source of inspiration.

Mango Gazpacho with Pickled Shrimps

2 ½ cups water

½ cup vinegar

1 ½ tbs pickling spice ( we use our own homemade jerk spice)

1 tbs minced lemongrass

1 ½ tbs salt

Boil ingredients together. Remove from heat.

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

¼ cup chopped green salad onions

1 ½ tsp minced jalapeño chili (bird peppers)

12 uncooked medium shrimp, peeled, deveined

Stir into the chilled water the parsley, onions and pepper and shrimp, chill and then cover overnight in glass container.

2 large ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted

1 small green apple, peeled, chopped

1 small celery stalk, chopped

3/4 cup fresh orange juice

1/2 cup chopped seeded peeled cucumber

1 tbs fresh lime juice

2 tsp chopped peeled fresh ginger

1 large jalapeño chili, seeded, minced

1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Puree all these ingredients together. Chill for at least 2 hours. Ladle soup into 4 bowls and top with 3 shrimp each and garnish with parsley. The recipe below, also by Barbara Walker from her Hotel Mockingbird Hill blog, is equally delicious and just as easy to prepare.

Mango Gazpacho 

2 mangoes peeled and pitted (just under 1 kg total)

2 cucumbers, de-seeded

3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Finely chop 1 mango and 1 cucumber and set aside. Coarsely chop remaining mango and cucumber and puree with ¼ cup of water in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and stir in finely chopped mango, cucumber, onion and lime juice and 2 cups of cold water. Chill in the refrigerator for about two hours. Stir in cilantro just before serving, along with 1 teaspoon of salt.

Even A Scientist Could Make This Chocolate Brownie

“The true measure of passion is the ability to follow your dreams

without encouragement from anyone else.”   Jomo Morris  

Science was never one of my favorite subjects in school. I had no time for formulas, physics, or complicated mathematic equations. Within our rigid “British styled” school system, it was ludicrous to equate science with anything happening in the real world.

The preferred method of teaching in our Jamaican school system was for students to memorize and accurately regurgitate whatever was written in our textbooks. Teachers were encouraged to use the strap, and they were quite adept at using this as a motivational tool.

Fear helped me commit to memory the collective works of Einstein, Hahn and Newton. Much to the delight of my teacher, I had become a human Xerox machine and could repeat verbatim “Einstein’s conversion of mass to energy” or Newton’s “law of gravitation.” I made it through high school with a foolproof recipe for success: binge study, pass the exam, and promptly forget everything. IMG_6989 It’s no wonder I decided to pursue a career as a cook; in my kitchen there wasn’t a textbook in sight. Line cooks didn’t need to study: my hours were spent chopping, peeling, and prepping ingredients for service. I was content with this routine, until I saw my chef making chocolate.   IMG_7374My executive chef likes to make chocolate. Call it his passion: some people paint, some sing, some write; he processes chocolate from raw cocoa beans. I never knew the cocoa bean had such a rich history. It took centuries for the bean to make its way from the jungles of South America to the imperial courts of European aristocracy and ultimately into the hands of artisans, who transformed chocolate into the decadent treat I know and love today. This was a rare opportunity to witness a centuries-old process, and I was determined to soak it in like a sponge.IMG_4451 At first, I was afraid. A line cook’s sole purpose is to prep hard – focus up and head down – but I was intrigued. It took time, but over the ensuing months I’d strategically position myself whenever the smell of roasting cocoa beans filled the kitchen. The rich earthiness of the roasted bean, a kind of edible perfume for cooks, conjures images of distant rain forests and faraway lands. Gradually, as my chef went through each stage of the chocolate making process, I was able to follow along. IMG_5456 I discerned that prying the sweet essence from the cocoa bean required diligence, technical expertise and a delicate touch. Chef had spent years perfecting his recipe. Surely I would have paid more attention in high school chemistry if I’d known the results could be this delicious!

 I’d never dare attempt making artisanal chocolate in my tiny apartment; instead I’ll share my favorite recipe for chocolate brownies. There’s not a hint of baking chocolate in this recipe – which may surprise chocolate aficionados –  but trust me, this is the best brownie you’ll ever have. It was given to me by the pastry chef at work and I was surprised that it was so simple. In this recipe, cocoa powder stands in for chocolate and the entire mixture can easily be made by hand.

Chucks’ Chocolate Brownies

2 ¼ cup granulated sugar

1 ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

½ tsp. salt

1 ¼ cup butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

4     eggs

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Use a pat of butter and heavily grease the sides and bottom of an 11 x 7 inch baking tray. Combine the sugar, salt and cocoa powder in a mixing bowl.

Melt the butter and pour the melted butter into the sugar, salt and cocoa powder mixture. Use a rubber spatula to stir the mixture until it resembles a thick chocolate paste.  The mixture will be thick and grainy.

Whisk in the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously. Sift the all-purpose flour and use the rubber spatula to incorporate into the chocolate mixture by thirds. Make sure to mix one third of the flour in completely before adding another. The mixture will be extremely thick, like chocolate paste

. Spread evenly into the baking tray.  Bake for 30 minutes. It is done when a toothpick in the center emerges slightly moist with batter. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack. For presentation purposes ,the best way to cut a brownie is to freeze them for a bit before removing them from the pan. IMG_5670

Don’t Pick the Peas Out the Rice!


I can’t say my mother loved to cook. I would rather say, my mother was adept at feeding her two young sons. I was 9 and my brother 7 – both too young to know or even understand – when my mom was going through a bitter divorce. I’m sure she did her best to keep our lives as normal as possible, but necessity created what I have come to call “The Bitter Divorce Menu.” It consisted of whatever was easiest to prepare and required the least amount of cooking.

Shopping in the produce and meat sections of the supermarket became a thing of the past; instead she would head to the convenience aisle and load the shopping cart with oatmeal, cereal, milo, Vienna sausage, corned beef, hot dogs, ketchup, macaroni and cheese, and bread. Dinner from a box, cans, and whatever was quick,  didn’t spark our culinary appetites, but it got the job done. The “Bitter Divorce Menu” meant cornflakes with milk and sugar in the morning and corned beef with steamed rice for dinner. I can’t recall how many times we had Vienna sausage with a fried egg for breakfast, but it was all stuff we liked. As long as we didn’t complain, we could have as much as we wanted, when we wanted.

The “Bitter Divorce Menu,” didn’t last for long; as with many families in times of trouble, we were sent to stay with our grandparents. One thing about grandma, actually two things about her: she was happily married, and she loved her kitchen. Grandma loved to cook, and nothing pleased her more than to prepare a meal and sit and watch as we licked the plates clean. Grandma’s kitchen was small with plain brown cupboards and a utilitarian countertop, but the space had the patina of happy memories from feeding her family.

The kitchen had a cheery glow from sunlight streaming through the clear glass windows over the sink and the wall adjacent to it. There was always a length of orange peel hanging on the burglar bars, and on the shelf a knob of nutmeg resting in its own special grater. Years later, I would learn, these were the magic ingredients to her delicious cornmeal porridge. In her kitchen everything had a place, and grandma could close her eyes and point to every dish, glass, spoon, knife and fork as unerringly as a compass pointing north.

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Grandma didn’t believe in a light breakfast; instead we got cornmeal porridge, toast and half an orange for each of us. We would wake up to steamed callaloo, roast breadfruit and mackerel cooked in coconut oil; we cried all the way to school. The evening meal fared no better; gone were my favorites, like Vienna sausage with baked beans and white rice, instead dinner read like a litany from the farmers market: brown stewed beef, rice and peas, boiled green bananas, pumpkin and yellow yam.

As soon as she set the plate down, I would promptly pick all the peas out of the rice. My brother and I would sit through dinner pushing the food around with our forks and watching grandfather noisily plow through his plate. My grandmother was keenly aware of how little we ate. I’m sure it must have burned her soul as she scraped the food from our plates into the garbage.

To say I was a finicky eater was an understatement, but grandma knew the way to my heart was through my belly. Cornmeal porridge, ackee and saltfish with fluffy fried dumplings and roasted breadfruit, stew peas made with coconut milk, oxtail with butter beans: she instilled each dish with love and it opened my appetite. I even began to leave the peas in the rice. The commingling of rice with red kidney beans, coconut milk, scotch bonnet pepper and pimento has become one of my first indelible memories of Jamaican home cooking. As I grew older, we spent many a Sunday cooking and baking in her cozy kitchen. Grandma never wrote a recipe, everything was in her head and she could add a bit of this, and a bit of that, and it would be perfect. She taught me many of the dishes I still cook at home today. Rice and peas is a special side dish that Jamaicans like to serve as part of Sunday dinner. It’s a tradition that I’ve always observed and I share this recipe with fond memories.

Jamaican Rice & Peas

½ cup red kidney beans (we say peas, but it is actually a red kidney bean)

8 cups water

4 pimento seeds

2 cloves garlic

1 scotch bonnet pepper

1 stalk green onion

2 stalks fresh thyme

¾ cup coconut milk

1 cup white rice

½ tsp. salt

It is best to soak the beans overnight, but I’ve soaked them as little as three hours before cooking them. Soak the beans overnight in 8 cups water; it’s the same liquid you’ll be using to cook the beans in. In a pot with a thick bottom add the soaked beans, water, pimento seeds, garlic and a whole scotch bonnet pepper. Do not pierce the pepper, but allow it to boil with the beans.

It takes about 90 minutes for the peas to be cooked enough to add the rice. The cooking liquid should be reduced to 1 ½ cups. It’s important to get this ratio correct because too much liquid will make the dish soupy and not enough will undercook the rice. Remember the ratio to cook white rice is 2:1, two parts liquid to one part rice.

Measure the rice and rinse 3 to 4 times with cold water to remove as much starch as possible.

The pot with peas should be simmering as you add the coconut milk, thyme, green onion and salt. It’s best to taste the liquid at this point to make sure it seasoned to your liking. Add the rice to the pot, do not stir. It takes about twenty minutes for most if not all the liquid to dry out, don’t worry if the rice does not appear fully cooked. When the liquid is almost gone, turn the flame to low and cover the pot with plastic wrap and a lid, allow to steam for a further  ten minutes until the rice is cooked.

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Jomo’s Key Lime Pie

Also known as three easy steps to Key lime bliss:

graham crust

Make

GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

 2 tbsp granulated sugar

3 tbsp all purpose flour

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

Combine first three ingredients. Add butter in a steady stream until mixed. Make shell in pie mold or pan, pressing graham cracker crust mix in bottom and sides until evenly applied throughout.

mini key lime piesFill crust with

KEY LIME PIE CUSTARD,

bake and chill

1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk

5 egg yolks

4 oz Key lime juice

If juicing your own limes, zest them first for Key Lime Whipped Cream and set aside for later. Mix milk, egg yolks, and lime juice. Pour key lime custard mixture in shell until it reaches the top of the sides. Bake at 200° F, until custard is set or approximately 30 minutes, then refrigerate for 2 hours.

 

whipped creamTop with

KEY LIME WHIPPED CREAM

2 ½  cups heavy cream

½ cup granulated sugar

Zest of  5 Key limes or 2 regular-size limes, finely grated

Place all ingredients in bowl and whip until stiff peaks form.

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When Life Sours and Tears Taste Like Limes

When life sours and tears taste like limes… CRY. Or decide that today is the day to eat pie.

I’ve been feeling like a sour lime of late. Normally, I’m an optimist who can find something positive in any situation. But somehow, my sunny outlook has gone dark, leaving seeds of uncertainty and melancholy. I will not let them germinate.

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Hope springs eternal in the kitchen… Make a graham cracker crust and pat it down firmly in a pan or pie mold to keep melancholy away.

Graham Cracker Crust

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

3 tbsp all purpose flour

 2 tbsp granulated sugar

1 stick unsalted butter (melted)

Combine first three ingredients. Add butter in a steady stream until mixed. Make shell in pie mold or pan, pressing graham cracker crust mix in bottom and sides until evenly applied throughout.

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My life savings paid the first year of my college tuition; the next year sort of took care of itself. Instead of believing those who cast shadows of doubt in my path, I persevered. At night while my classmates slept, I worked; and with each paycheck came the means to pursue my passion. Passion created Photochefs.com, a blog that allows me share my love of writing and cooking – a passion is as thick as Key Lime Pie Custard – with you.

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Key Lime Pie Custard

1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk

5 egg yolks

4 oz Key lime juice

If juicing your own limes, zest them first for Key Lime Whipped Cream and set aside for later. Mix milk, egg yolks, and lime juice. Pour key lime custard mixture in shell until it reaches the top of the sides. Bake at 200° F, until custard is set or approximately 30 minutes, then refrigerate for 2 hours. Top with Key Lime Whipped Cream, below.

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Complacency is to grow up in a small town and never leave. Like limes in a basket: sameness, roundness, green-ness… safety in being just like everyone else. But there was this pinprick in the back of my mind. Something was not right…. Like the feeling of an oncoming headache, building slowly, tiny stabs of pain, immune to aspirin and water.

Many lack the courage to dream of being more, and fall to the ground and hide under leaves and grass. Away from the warmth of the sun, growing hard, bitter, resentful… But some limes are meant for greatness. They grow from seed to sapling to tree and bear fruit; hoping that one day –  somewhere, somehow – someone will notice their efforts. A lime hopes that someone will see beyond its green skin and say, “Imagine if…”

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By itself, a lime is tart and its essence sharp and forceful to taste; but condensed milk, yolks, and graham cracker crust are good company. Baked in a hot oven, a lime gives its juices to balance sweet with tart, and custard adds creaminess to crispy. Left to our own selfish ways, we too become harsh and tart; but with the gift of love and warmth, a smile will emerge. The day will brighten and the mind will clear, as surely as the lime ripens.

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… But one lime heard the whispering in the wind. And listened to the buzzing of the bees. And it knew within its pith and seeds: that the day would come when it would become sublime, covered with Key Lime Whipped Cream.

Key Lime Whipped Cream

 2 ½  cups heavy cream

½ cup granulated sugar

zest of  5 Key limes or 2 regular-size limes, finely grated

Place all ingredients in bowl and whip until stiff peaks form. Set aside in refrigerator.

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… Until finally we are rejuvenated, for how sweet it is to be truly alive.