Luckily, it doesn't take a degree from the Cordon Bleu or La Varenne to make Caribbean recipes.
The food is simple to prepare. You won't have to learn any difficult techniques or buy a whole shelf full of exotic kitchen equipment. The cuisine relies mostly on the distinctive flavors of slow cooking, unusual and spicy ingredients or marinades.
The following recipes provide a cross section of the new Caribbean cookbooks currently available at the bookstores and should give you a taste of the tropics without a big investment.
A few suggestions before you get started:
*Two of the recipes call for Scotch bonnet peppers, a fiery hot pepper that gets its name because it is shaped like a Scotsman's bonnet. If you can't find them, substitute a serrano, jalapeno or the hottest pepper available. Also, be careful when handling hot peppers because they can burn your eyes. Wash hands carefully after handling them. Those with sensitive skin should wear gloves when working with hot peppers.
*Allspice berries, a spice with the taste of nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper and cloves, are used in many island recipes. McCormick & Co. Inc. has the whole berries available in both the gourmet and regular line.
Trempage of seafood
Virginie and George Elbert, authors of "Down-Island Caribbean Cookery" (Simon & Schuster, $24.95), derived this recipe from the court bouillon creole they discovered on Martinique. This version is less watery than a traditional creole and is served from the pan with some additional ingredients.
` 1/4 cup vegetable oil2 onions, finely sliced
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, chopped and crushed
garlic cloves, through the press
juice of 3 lemons or limes, divided
1 tablespoon dried parsley leaves
4 large or 10 mini ripe bananas
10 slices white bread, crusts trimmed
2 to 2 1/2 pounds shelled shrimp or 1 quart shucked oysters
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Fry the onion until golden, then add scallions and cook another few minutes. Add the tomato, garlic, juice of 2 lemons and parsley to the pan. Turn heat down to simmer and cook, covered, for 6 minutes.
Cut the bananas into pieces about 1 inch long. Put into another pan with about 1/4 cup water and the remaining lemon juice. Cook for a few minutes until the bananas are soft, and set aside.
Soak the bread in water. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible and form a lump. Place on a carving board and flatten with a cleaver or roller until you have enough thin sheets to cover the bottom of a clean 12-inch pan. Cover it completely and discard any extra bread.
Add the shrimp or oysters to the simmered tomato mixture and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
There should be at least 2 cups of liquid sauce, including the tomatoes. Bring the contents to a boil. With a slotted spoon, remove the solids and spread them over the prepared bread in the second pan; then add the sauce.
Bring the contents of the second pan to a simmer and add the salt and pepper. Arrange the pieces of banana along the edge of the pan and serve. Guests should be provided with soup bowls.
Arroz con pollo(Chicken and rice)
Serves six to eight.
This classic Cuban dish is one of the most commonly served dishes in Hispanic countries throughout the world, according to Linette Creen, author of "Taste of Cuba" (Dutton, $19.95). Because all the ingredients go into one skillet, the rice absorbs the flavor of the chicken juices, vegetables and seasonings. If you want to be more authentic, use Valencia rice.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 chicken (3 pounds), cut into 6 to 8 serving pieces
1 large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 green pepper, seeded, deribbed and chopped
1 1/4 cups, peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron or tumeric
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups white wine
1 package (10 ounces) frozen green peas
2 cups long-grain white rice
roasted red pepper strips, for garnish, see note
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chicken parts and saute a few at a time until lightly browned on all sides. Remove the chicken and drain on paper towels.
Drain the excess fat, leaving 1 tablespoon in the skillet. Add the onion, garlic and green pepper and saute 3 to 5 minutes until the onion is translucent but not brown. Add the tomatoes, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, bay leaf, paprika, saffron and water. Cover and bring to a boil. Add the chicken, cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Add the wine, peas and rice. Stir well and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes more.
Transfer to a large serving platter, garnish with roasted red pepper strips and serve hot.