I’ve visited the Caribbean before but had never been as far south as Tobago, one of the smaller and, as yet, less spoilt islands. It reminded me of my travels in West Africa, where the people adjust their pace according to the heat of the day. Small roadside shops pile their produce high on the dusty road: Great piles of green oranges, limes, papayas, yellow and black ackees, avocados, huge yams and fleshy pumpkins. At midday, the local people sit under the shade and hold animated conversations, talking in patois at such a speed that it’s impossible to understand. However, when I expressed an interest in proper Caribbean food rather than the European-style food we were getting at the hotel, I was welcomed into the conversation with great enthusiasm. They loved the sound of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, while I wanted to know how to cook Sancoche, cornmeal dumplings and pepper pot.
I watched these dishes being made at Sunday School, a regular party or ‘Jump Up’, held each Sunday evening. The food and the music seemed to be inseparable. It was all cooked outside on calor gas cookers and washed down with a bottle of Carib, the local beer, while our feet were kept moving to the sounds of a steel band on one side and reggae on the other. This is the heart of Caribbean food – a lot of love goes into it but very little ceremony. Food, music, and sunshine combined and left me wanting to reproduce the memories here at home. These recipes have been chosen to welcome in the summer and make use of the new season’s foods which are now coming into the shops.
1 kg raw prawns, peeled and deveined
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp crushed hot red chillies
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp vegetable oil
75g unsalted better, melted
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
4 med tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp lime pickle, chopped salt
Using a pestle and mortar, crush the coriander, cumin, and mustard seeds with the peppercorns, chillies and bay leaves. Saute the onions in the oil until golden brown, add the garlic, ginger and spices and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, lime juice and lime pickle. Season well, cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes on a very low heat. You may need to add some stock to the pan of the mixture becomes too dry. Add the prawns and cook for a further 3 minutes. Serve with boiled rice, mango chutney and roti (recipe below).
Rotis are Indian in origin, they are simply a small round flat bread which is eaten with a savoury filling, in this case folded in half and filled with the prawn curry.
225g plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
milk or water to mix
ghee or vegetable oil
Sift all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Add sufficient milk to mix into a firm dough. Knead the dough well, then divide into four. Roll each one into a 16cm circle and brush with the ghee or oil. Cover and leave to relax for 20 minutes. Re-form into four balls and repeat the process. Heat a flat griddle pan, brush with oil and place each circle on the hot surface for a minute on each side, brush again with the ghee. As they are removed from the pan, pat them in hands until they become pliable and keep warm in a clean cloth.