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The past made perfect

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Thursday, October 25, 2018

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Provisions: The Roots of Caribbean Cooking- 150 Vegetarian Recipes by Michelle Rousseau and Suzanne Rousseau.

 

“It started with the research for the patty recipe in Caribbean Potluck , our first cookbook,” explains Michelle Rousseau. “It was then we developed an understanding of the silent, but powerful history of women and food in the Caribbean.”

 

Martha Matilda Briggs was Jamaica's first commercial patty maker, and it was in delving into yellowed family records that Michelle and her sister Suzanne uncovered the scope of the life of their great-great-grandmother. The Rousseaus' sophomore book, Provisions, The Roots of Caribbean Cooking is as much an homage to Ma Briggs, who transformed herself from domestic laundress to business owner and restaurateur, as it is to the pantheon of Caribbean women who made their way by mastering food.

 

Part-historical reference, part-cookbook, Provisions balances the story of bounty and bareness of the country's colonial history, with an imaginative rethink of flavour combinations that now define what the Rousseaus call “modern heritage dining”.

 

Context is served by women in their own words, among them Lady Maria Nugent's honest survey of the gluttony of her peers; Mrs A Carmichael's false equivalency in the diets of the European and the slave populations; and slave Mary Prince's description of how she earned money through barter.

 

It is against this backdrop that the book's 150 vegetarian recipes offer a well-directed affirmation of the zeitgeist for clean eating. How does the “then and now” work? Quite well, actually, and the recipes are grounded in the Rousseaus' philosophy of keeping food as pure as it is, and, without doing too much, making each plate soar.

 

Mining family archives, quizzing sources across the region, and charting trends and styles in Caribbean cookbooks throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, have resulted in something for every taste, whether casual veggie lover or avowed vegetarian. This good-for-you cookbook features recipes from a magnificent cast of women such as friend Tammy Hart and her Gungo Peas Falafel and Grandmother MaMa's custard reinvented here as a delicious Rum and Raisin Budino with Candied Cashews and Citrus-Rum Sauce. Sweet Potato Gnocchi answers the perennial question of what to cook for dinner with Smashed Grape Tomatoes and Country Pepper; there is a Roasted Ripe Plantain with African Pepper Compote; and an especially delicious Ackee Lasagne.

 

Provisions has received early notice of culinary heavyweights, with cookbook authors Julia Turshen and Lucinda Scala Quinn, editor of Cherry Bombe Kerry Diamond, food historian Jessica B Harris and chef Rock Harper each offering stellar reviews. But it is perhaps Michael Twitty, himself a James Beard award-winning author who best anoints Provisions as the book of our time. In his view it is an “… elegant balance of heritage and health. This comprehensive book celebrates the plant-based flavours of the pan-Caribbean basin and the spectacular ways in which the intellect and aesthetic of the islands impacts one of its most enduring legacies...its plates. The authors have produced an heirloom volume”.

 

“Having people like Michael, Julia and the others acknowledge the value of our work is, of course, gratifying, but in many ways, it's an echo of the respect that I think Ma Briggs received in her time. Connecting to her spirit has made this book even more dear to us,” says Suzanne Rousseau.

 

Publication date is October 30, but before those celebrations, the Rousseaus continue to devote their attention to their restaurant, Summerhouse at The Liguanea Club. This Sunday they will close the Jamaica Food and Drink Festival with their West India Supper at Jamaica House. Perfect timing, isn't it?

 

Chickpeas with Cilantro and Coconut

Serves 2

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon coconut oil

2 small red chilli peppers (whole)

1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 Scotch bonnet peppers, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon diced fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon chilli powder

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 10-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Salt to taste

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, some reserved for garnish

1/2 “turned” (not quite ripe) mango, peeled and grated

1/2 “turned” papaya, peeled and grated

2 tablespoons grated dry coconut (unsweetened)

4 limes, cut into wedges

 

Method:

In a sauté pan, heat the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the red chilli pods, onion, Scotch bonnet pepper, ginger, chilli powder, and turmeric. Cook for about 2 minutes. Add the chickpeas, and sauté until all the ingredients are combined and the chickpeas are well coated with seasonings. Reduce the heat to low, and cook for 2 minutes more. Season to taste with salt. Stir in the cilantro, reserving some for a garnish. Serve topped with the grated mango and papaya, coconut, fresh cilantro, and lime wedges.

 

Excerpted from Provisions: The Roots of Caribbean Cooking-150 Vegetarian Recipes by Michelle Rousseau and Suzanne Rousseau. Copyright ©2018. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

 

Cassava Pancakes with Sorrel Syrup

Serves 2 to 4

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups cassava flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Large pinch of salt

1 cup canned coconut milk

2 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons coconut oil for the pancake batter, plus 1 tablespoon for cooking

1 teaspoon honey

nutmeg to taste

cinnamon to taste

Sorrel syrup

Greek yogurt

Diced fresh fruit such as mango or grapes

 

Method:

Combine cassava flour, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, eggs, coconut oil, and honey; season with nutmeg and cinnamon. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir until just combined.

 

Heat 1 tablespoon coconut oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Ladle the batter into the sauté pan, using about 3 tablespoons of batter for each pancake. Cook about 2 minutes until lightly browned on one side, and then flip carefully. Continue to cook until both sides are golden-brown. Serve hot, drizzled with fresh sorrel syrup and topped with fruit and Greek yogurt.

 

Excerpted from Provisions: The Roots of Caribbean Cooking-150 Vegetarian Recipes by Michelle Rousseau and Suzanne Rousseau. Copyright ©2018. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.


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