Friday, October 2, 2015

I may be cou-cou, but that fish can fly!

Barbados is by far not the biggest nation on earth. It's only 14 miles wide and 21 miles long. I cannot imagine living in a place that I could drive across in the time it takes me to get from my apartment to the grocery store. About 90% of all Bajan (the colloquial term for Barbadian) people are of African descent, and the remaining 10% is made up of Indians, Europeans, and Chinese immigrants/descendants. Because it was a colony of Great Britain, Barbados's national language is English. The people speak Standard English in formal settings, but their own dialect of English called "Bajan" in every day speech. Bajan English is a lot different than Standard English, and you may have a hard time understanding it if you are unfamiliar with all the Creole words and phrases. I think it is so cool how a language can morph to be completely different after a few generations. It's so cool to watch the evolution of a new language as a people group adopts and adapts to it.

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Bajan cuisine is a mixture of British, Indian, and African cooking styles and ingredients due to its history of colonialism and immigration. It's very similar to other Caribbean cuisines. Curries, fish, exotic fruits and vegetables, lots of carbs and fat.... Basically deliciousness!


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Cornmeal, water, and okra are the only ingredients it takes to make Cou-Cou. It's cheap, filling, and healthy, and that is exactly why it became so popular in Barbados back in its colonial period. It was a common slave meal, and even now that slavery has ended, it can still be enjoyed as a nutritious side to any Bajan meal. Every Friday it is traditional to cook up a big batch and enjoy it with your family. I wouldn't mind picking up this tradition......

Cou Cou
4 okras, thinly sliced into rounds
1 cup yellow cornmeal
3 cups water
2 tsp butter
salt and pepper, to taste

Mix together 1 cup of water with the cornmeal. Bring the remaining water to a boil with the okras and cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Quickly whisk the cornmeal into the boiling water and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring constantly, until the cou cou thickens and pulls away from the sides of the pot, about 10 minutes.
 
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Creole sauce is spicy, and makes a great accompaniment. Since Cou-Cou can be a little bland as can plain fried fish, he sauce definitely amps up the flavor level of the meal. It uses hot sauce and Creole seasonings which are a mixture of thyme, ground mustard, marjoram, cumin, coriander, anise, cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, parsley, and cardamom.

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Creole Sauce
1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp oil
8 ounces chopped tomatoes
2 tsp Creole seasonings
2 tbsp hot sauce
salt and pepper, to taste
chopped parsley, to serve

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, green bell pepper, and garlic. Cook for 8 minutes, or until the onion and pepper are tender. Add the remaining ingredients except for the parsley. Bring the mixture to a simmer over low heat. Cook for 15 minutes and serve alongside flying fish and cou cou.

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Step aside birds; there's a new star in town. It's the amazing flying fish! No, I am not pulling your leg. Flying fishes do exist, and they are considered a Bajan delicacy. These extraordinary animals can self propel themselves out of the water using amazing wing-like fins. It looks like they are almost flying! Barbados is nicknamed the "land of the flying fish", and they used to be abundant along the Barbadian coast. Unfortunately, pollution and other factors have caused the flying fish to no longer migrate to Barbados, but fried flying fish still remains one of their favorite dishes. Along with Cou-Cou and spicy Creole Sauce, it makes up the national dish and for good reason. It's delicious! I wasn't able to get my hands on actual flying fish, but tilapia was a yummy and decent substitute.
 
Fried Flying Fish
2 flying fish fillets (I used tilapia.)
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup water
¼ cup flour
1 tbsp Creole seasonings
½ cup bread crumbs
1 egg white, whisked
salt and pepper, to taste
oil, for frying

Soak the fish for 20 minutes in the lime juice and water. Pat the fish dry with a paper towel, and coat it with the flour and seasonings. Dredge the fish in the egg white and then dip in the bread crumbs. Heat about a ½” of oil over medium heat in a frying pan. Cook the fish on each side for a couple of minutes until golden brown and cooked through.

 
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After a less than stellar experience with cou-cou’s close cousin, fungi, I was a little nervous about making another cornmeal-okra dish. Okra and I have not had the best relationship in the past, but I think I am slowly getting over that as I begin to explore okra in different forms than boiled or fried. Cou-cou was surprisingly good. My Creole Sauce didn’t turn out too “saucy”. It’s probably because I had to sub roasted red peppers for the tomatoes (I’m allergic). Tomatoes are a lot juicier than peppers. Oh, well. It was still yummy. I was a little sad that actual flying fish was not available (and probably will never be in Tennessee), but the tilapia was a great substitute. The whole dish went together well. Everything balanced the other components out, making for the perfect weekend meal.

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