One day I hope to write Trinidad is truly independent from the world, we grow all of our own food—totally food secure and import little. It will come, but now as a nation it is our cuisine recognised as independent, famous, our own version only to be copied by others. Superb tastes from wholesome home-grown ingredients commemorate our culinary freedom. We must never forget our garden and kitchen cultural heritage. So as we fete this weekend we eat our nation's recipes; dasheen callaloo, cornmeal coo coo, and fried fish!
Never a big eater, I grew up hating ground provision. I finally realised the leaf of the same boiled root made my favourite callaloo soup. I grow a few plants along the front drain to gain a tropical landscaping effect and contribute to dinner. Dasheen, often called callaloo, is a true favourite throughout the Caribbean. It is a fast-growing tropical plant grown for the broad heart-shaped leaves called dasheen bush, and the roots. Dasheen leaves can easily be confused with eddoes, but the dasheen stem attaches to the centre of the leaf and does not touch the "heart notch".
Dasheen roots consist of one or more large central heads sometimes called a "mammy", which may grow to eight pounds. Around the dasheen head is a cluster of smaller roots, usually two to four ounces in size. The growing season for dasheen roots is about seven months. Dasheen roots left in the ground usually stay in good condition until they begin to sprout again.
First fork the soil to a foot deep and wide. Add either a phosphate fertiliser or rotted manure to the bottom of the forked ditch. Dasheen roots or suckers of small roots are planted whole, three inches deep, about two feet apart in rows spaced four feet apart. Dasheen requires moist soil. Along an irrigation or drainage ditch is perfect. Every two months use a pound of rich phosphate fertiliser mix as 12-24-12 for every hundred square feet. Dasheen does not compete well against weeds before its big leaf canopy is formed. The best method of controlling weeds is to pull them by hand. This should not be too difficult as the soil should be moist. Water is the key ingredient to making dasheen bush produce. Use mild insecticides if ants attack.
Dasheen is ready to harvest when the leaves turn yellowish and the roots protrude from the ground. This may be in six or eight months depending on location, soil fertility, and wetness. Trinidad's dasheen is usually white while our sister island's soil, Tobago, produces a "blue food" version.
Dasheen is a belly filling starch with 250 calories to a cup full. It has low fat, no cholesterol, one gramme of fibre, but 60 grammes of carbohydrates with healthy Palmitic, oleic and linoleic acids and adequate levels of the other essential amino acids. Dasheen is low in protein, but contains moderate quantities of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Dasheen roots can be boiled, steamed, or baked, and may be fried to make chips.
Trinis love either crab or pigtail (or both) callaloo. It is basically easy to make once you acquire all the ingredients as fresh as possible. As soup it can be served alone or with side dishes such as rice, coo coo or provision. Independence means we islands can do our cook up dishes differently. Jamaicans make a blander version by mostly steaming the leaves as a vegetarian dish.
The callaloo I've had in the Virgin Islands looks and tastes completely different, like a big vegetable soup with potatoes and carrots, and neither uses coconut milk. St Vincent's version is closer to T&T's blended with coconut milk, but I never found any with crab. The true Trini calaloo is whisked and never blended.
Ingredients: one bundle of dasheen bush, eight ochro chopped, two to three ounces of pumpkin in small cubes, large onion—chopped, six cloves garlic minced, one cup coconut milk, two cups water, one hot pepper left whole, a half dozen sea crabs preferred—but blue crab can be used—cleaned and chopped, two pimento seasoning peppers minced, salt to taste, a TS of oil salted pig tails may be also added. Being independent I believe true callaloo is made only with crab.
Method: Clean the dasheen bush by cutting the skin from the stalks. Rinse, and chop into small pieces. In a medium sized pot sauté the onion, garlic, and pimento in a TS of oil. Add the dasheen bush with salt and stir. Cover and simmer for two to three minutes. Uncover add ochro, pumpkin, crab, hot pepper and coconut milk. Whisk it until everything is combined and the dasheen leaf is very tender and starts to meld. Return to a boil, cover, and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Uncover and whisk until everything is smooth. Remove the hot pepper, and season with salt to taste. Serve over rice.
Almost every cuisine has a version of our coo coo. Italians add tomatoes and call it polenta for dinner, Americans call it mush or grits and eat it for breakfast. Antiguans say corn pop for breakfast porridge. Virgin Islanders call it fungee and eat it as a side to boiled fish. Cornmeal is a very reasonable, easy to cook, nutritious belly filler. It is another whole grain that should play a greater part in our diet.
The process of milling corn products makes key vitamins and nutrients more easily available during digestion than from many other foods. Corn promotes healthy teeth and gums, helps kidneys and sexual problems and improves digestion. Cornmeal may also prevent weight gain since it contains fibre and complex carbohydrates. Cornmeal contains a long list of nutrients. This whole grain is a good source of niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, folate and vitamins B-6, E and K. It contains eighteen amino acids and valuable minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium.
Ingredients: A cup of cornmeal, a half dozen tender ochro chopped, four TBS butter, one medium onion chopped small, one bunch chives chopped, one or two pimento seasoning peppers preferably red chopped, one TS salt, half a hot pepper seeded and minced optional, one cup coconut milk, four cups of water
Method: Bring a pot of water to a boil over medium heat. Add salt and ochro with two TBS butter. Once the butter is dissolved stir in the cornmeal. Add remaining ingredients except chive. Lower heat and simmer, but keep stirring mixture until it thickens. With the remaining butter grease a serving dish and fill with cornmeal mixture. Cover the top with the chives. Allow to cool and set.
Surrounded by bountiful waters, we love fish especially fried; snapper/red fish, king, carite, grouper, cavalli, cro cro, salmon. You name it, season it, and get the oil popping hot. Fish for many people is an extravagance, too expensive for a weekly meal. There are a couple of ways to lower that cost; catch your own, and or eat canned fish. Today fish with head, tail and bones—all of which can be used to make a good broth—usually is twenty dollars a pound or more. You can't blame the fishermen as they must make a living and costs of operation keep rising.
Fish is exceptionally good for your nutrition. Fatty fish contain a type of fatty acid-omega-3s-not found in most other foods. Eaten on a regular basis of once or twice a week, these fatty acids protect the heart from unstable heart rhythms. They reduce the chance of sudden death and stroke. Omega-3 fatty acids are also beneficial in type 2 diabetes, immune and inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Omega-3s are crucial for foetal and infant brain development.
FRIED RED FISH
Ingredients: Two to three pounds of fish—cleaned and scaled, three leaves chadon benee, four cloves of garlic minced, a half cup of cornmeal or flour battering, salt to taste, one cup of oil— canola preferred—for frying
Method: Rinse and wash with lime juice, pat out extra water. Combine seasoning with salt and rub thoroughly into the fish especially the cavity. Place in a covered container and let sit for an hour in the cool fridge. Place fish on a plate and rub again with batter—either cornmeal or flour, coating completely. Heat oil in a deep skillet or wok and fry until fish turns golden brown. Fish doesn't take long to cook and you do not want to spoil the flavour of the rub with brunt taste. Remove and drain on paper towels.
That's it, the meal is finished and eating is ready to start. Enjoy our Independence and our cuisine.