Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Calla-Who?

Trinidad and Tobago is a cool country just because it's a twin! The two Caribbean islands are the names of the two largest islands that make up Trinidad and Tobago. Over the years Trinidad and Tobago have been colonized by Spain, Britain, France, The Netherlands, and the Duchy of Courland which was apparently some offshoot of Lithuania back in the day. Today 96% of the 1.3 million people who live in Trinidad and Tobago reside on the island of Trinidad. Each island has their own Creole language, but English is the official tongue. After the US and Canada, Trinidad and Tobago is the richest country per capita in the western hemisphere. This is due heavily to the active petroleum industry that is very important to the Trinbagonian economy. On a more cultural front, limbo, steelpan, and various types of music come from the islands. The Trinbagonians sure do like their rhythm!
 
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Trinidad and Tobago has a lot going on in the cuisine world. They have influences from African, Lebanese, Chinese, Indian, Creole, Amerindian, and European cuisines. You try tying all those distinct regions and tastes together into one little island nation. I don't think I could do it, but Trinidad and Tobago has pulled through with amazing successes in the culinary world. (Just look at the picture above for proof!) I was so excited to find that my dinky little Kroger that is usually a hit-or-miss for common produce and grains actually has a mini Caribbean section. I was even more excited to find both callaloo and pigeon peas as two of the items in this small section. Score! That was exactly what I needed to cook Trinidad and Tobago! Thank you Kroger. You didn't have eggplant or cauliflower this week, but you pulled through on the callaloo and pigeon peas front.

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The word 'pelau' kind of resembles the Middle Eastern word 'pilaf', and the dish is similar in ingredients as well. Rice, vegetables, and meat go into the mix to create a one pot meal. The similarities end there, however, because pilaf's Caribbean cousin is packed with tropical produce and spices. A coconut milk base adds an extra layer of creaminess, and ketchup ties it all together in a strange but satisfying way. The meat is caramelized in sugar to give it a dark brown color that is prized amongst the Trinbagonians. This method of cooking was passed down from African ancestors to the Creoles who have taken it in as a delicious and efficient manner of cooking up their meats.


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Pelau
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cubed
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tbsp lime juice
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp oil1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ butternut squash, cubed
5 green onions, sliced
1 carrot, chopped
1-14 ounce can pigeon peas, drained and rinsed
1 tsp dried thyme
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1 habanero pepper
1 cup water
4 tbsp ketchup
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup rice

Mix together the chicken, lime juice, salt, 1 tsp thyme, and garlic. Marinate overnight, mixing it around a few times to spread out the flavor.

Heat the oil over medium high heat in a pot. Add the sugar and quickly stir in the chicken. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the chicken is browned. Add the onion and garlic. Cook for another minute until the onion is golden as well.

Combine the rest of the ingredients into the pot, bring them to a simmer, and cook covered for around 40 minutes, or until the rice has dried out. You may need to take the lid off of the pot for another 10 minutes or so if there is excess moisture in the rice. Remove the habanero pepper and serve.

 

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Callaloo is made all over the Caribbean islands, but the way to make it and the plant itself differs from island to island. Some islands call the leaves that make up the soup callaloo, others dasheen. Some countries even add crab in after blending up the base. The Jamaicans add tomatoes into the mix, but in Trinidad okra and coconut milk go into the pot to make a creamy resulting bowl.
 
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Callaloo
2 cups coconut milk
½ a butternut squash, cubed
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
10 pods okra, sliced
5 green onions, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
1 tsp dried thyme
1-20 ounce can dasheen leaves/ callaloo
1 habanero pepper

Add all the ingredients into a pot and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for about an hour. Stir the soup every 15 minutes or so to prevent any sticking to the bottom of the pot. Remove the habanero pepper, making sure that it does not burst. Throw the remaining ingredients into a blender and blend until pureed.

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I really loved both the pelau and callaloo. They were way better than I expected by the not-so-appetizing looks of either of them. (Let's be honest, callaloo looks like poo.) The pigeon peas were really delicious as well as the butternut squash. I got to try both of these for the first time, and was pleasantly surprised. The soup was good even though I was leery about the okra. It still had a bit of okra's slimy texture, but the taste did not reflect it at all. Overall, Trinidad and Tobago is a nation I would be happy to travel to some day. An added bonus is that they're out of the hurricane belt! So pack your bags and hit to airport to sample some delicious cooking.
 

 

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