Cookbook author and food pioneer Christopher Idone brings his flavorful writing style and unique culinary insights to "Cooking Caribe" (Clarkson Potter, $25), treating us to a cuisine as colorful as Joseph's coat.
Through historical anecdotes and more than 150 recipes, Mr. Idone traces Caribbean cooking from its origins with the Arawak Indians of South America to its contemporary influences on metropolitan American foods.
Mr. Idone, who spent more than two decades traveling the Caribbean basin, joined forces with Trinidadian food expert Helen McEachrane, who helped adapt the recipes to the American kitchen while ensuring that their true flavors remained intact.
His island experiences are recalled with vivid detail. Typical is his description of an early morning walk he took in the '70s to a local market just outside the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince:
"The profusion of smells and scents erupting in the air, the cacophony of noise and the brio of vendors and shoppers, the riot of colors popping out of shade and into dazzling sunlight -- it was all stunning, like being hit by a tree in a hurricane."
Mr. Idone does a great job capturing the color and spice of island eating, from its full-flavored finger foods to hearty stews and sun-splashed desserts. He also includes notes to familiarize the reader with island food terms.
Each chapter begins with a narrative that sets the stage for the dishes to come. Most of the recipes also include pertinent background information.
The recipes represent each major Caribbean island, including Barbados, Cuba, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad. Colorful illustrations of local scenes by artist Paula Munck complement the book.
Recipes are easy to follow and well-detailed. Here are some recipes from the book:
The entire Caribbean basin uses all sorts of vegetables to make fritters. The one that follows is is a French island favorite.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
2 medium eggplants, about 1 1/2 pounds
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
vegetable oil for frying
sauce Chien (recipe follows)
Peel the eggplants and cut into 1-inch cubes. Salt the cubes liberally and drain in a colander for 30 minutes. In a large pot of boiling water, cook the eggplant cubes for 10 to 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain and cool.
Place the eggplant in a food processor and pulse until pureed. Place the puree into a large bowl and whisk in the egg, milk, parsley and pepper to taste. Sift the flour and baking powder into the mixture and blend; reserve.
In a deep-fryer, heat the oil to 375 degrees. Drop the mixture by tablespoonfuls into the oil and fry until golden. Remove the fritters with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Continue frying in small batches until all the fritters are cooked. Serve hot with sauce Chien, or commercial hot sauce.
On Martinique and Guadeloupe, sauce Chien is as standard as a bottle of ketchup is in America. It can be used as a dip for fritters or as an accompaniment to grilled fish and meat dishes.
Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups.
1 small onion, finely chopped
6 scallions, finely chopped, including some of the green
1/2 fresh chili pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
pinch of ground thyme
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup boiling water
juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons peanut oil
Combine the onion, scallions, chili pepper, garlic, thyme, parsley, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the boiling water and mix. Set aside until cool.
Stir in the lime juice and peanut oil. Taste. Add more lime juice or oil as desired. Store in a sealed container and refrigerate. Sauce will keep for about one week.
Caribbean meat salad
Makes 4 servings.
2 heads bibb lettuce, washed and dried
about 2 pounds cold boiled or roasted beef, trimmed and cubed
2 cups fresh pineapple, cut into small cubes
2 oranges, peeled, membrane removed and cut into sections
1 lime, peeled, membrane removed and cut into sections
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Mound the lettuce on four large salad plates. Arrange the meat, pineapple, orange and lime sections and their juice on top. Sprinkle each plate with some of the coriander. Sprinkle on the olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.
Combining grilled chicken or meats with grilled fresh fruits is a time-honored practice of Haitian cooks. Marinating the chicken with three kinds of citrus juices adds a subtle piquancy to the dish.
Grilled chicken with mangoes and bananas
Makes 6 servings.
7 pounds cut-up chicken, for grilling
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup dark rum
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons raw cane sugar or light brown sugar
1 medium red or green bell pepper, seeded, deveined and chopped
1 medium sweet red onion, thinly sliced