Trinidad & Tobago (2 islands, 1 country), a tiny Caribbean nation located not far off the coast of Venezuela, reminds me a lot of Sri Lanka. First of all, many people don’t know exactly where it is. Secondly, the country’s history is a mish-mosh of colonial influences (from Spanish to Dutch to French, and finally English) coupled with outside emigration (Chinese, African, and East Indian). Finally, the food tends to be on the spicier side with many dishes brought from the east by indentured servants from India who settled there between 1851-1917. To be honest, I knew little about Trinidad outside of its food, which I love so much, until my friend Ramin Ganeshram sent me her new cookbook, Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad and Tobago (Hippocrene Books). Now I finally have the secret formulas to make all that Trini food that I crave!
The first dish that comes to mind when I think of Trinidad is curried duck. I first had it at a get together of my Trini ex-girlfriends family, and have loved it ever since. I usually enjoy it rolled up in a dalpuri roti (a flatbread stuffed with ground yellow split peas), but this time I made some pigeon peas and rice and a side of channa aloo (chickpea curry with potatoes) to accompany it. Be sure to get some authentic Trinidad curry powder at a Caribbean store, and I recommend using fresh herbs to make the green seasoning (though you can buy it in a jar as well).
The book itself is great and has a full range of recipes from mains to desserts to pickles and spice blends. Ramin also sheds a lot of light on Trini history and culture in general, making this as informative as it is useful.
1 (4 lb.) duck, cut into 8 pieces with bones and skin removed
juice of 1 lime
3 Tbsp. green seasoning (see below)
1/4 cup Trinidad curry powder
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 Scotch bonnet or other hot red chili pepper
coarse or kosher salt to taste
1.) Mix duck pieces with lime juice, and then rinse with water, drain, and pat dry. Add the green seasoning and toss to coat. Set aside in refrigerator for at least 3 hours and up to overnight.
2.) Make a paste of the curry powder and 1/4 cup water. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Mix well and cook, stirring constantly for 1 to 2 minutes or until the curry has a grainy consistency.
3.) Add the duck pieces and turn to coat. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until all the liquid has evaporated.
4.) Add some salt and additional water to just cover the meat. Simmer for 45 minutes or until meat is tender. Remove the hot pepper before serving.
Serve hot with rice or roti
Makes 6-8 servings
This spice mixture, unique to the Caribbean, is used frequently in Trinidadian cuisine. One of the main components, shado beni, otherwise known as Mexican cilantro, can be substituted by regular cilantro.
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh shado beni or cilantro
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
4 cloves garlic, minced
1.) Process all ingredients in a food processor until the mixture forms a thick paste. (Alternatively use a blender and add 2 Tbsp. vinegar)
2.) Use Immediately or store in a tightly sealed glass jar in the fridge for up to 1 week.