Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dominica, August 28th 2010

It would appear that my laptop has finally died... It has been moribund for a while but somehow we always managed to revive its struggling heart until last night, while trying to load a Bob Marley CD to play during dinner on my iPod, the screen erupted into a multitude of colors, flashed green emeralds, yellow diamonds and red rubies in front of my eyes and then disappeared into a black hole like a shooting star before I had time to say "no, Dell, no cry". This afternoon, I am therefore finding myself on the sofa attempting to narrate my latest culinary journey entirely on my Ipad... So far so good.

So, it was to the tune of my usual iPod list - which includes a few Christmas songs that caused Joanne to wonder if she somehow had had a few too many Peach West Indie cocktails and somehow passed out for a few months - that we sat around the table to sample some specialties from Dominica. I had decided to keep the party small so I could give and get attention from everyone and so there were six of us last night, me, Eric and four of my brave friends willing to play guinea pigs to my sometime weird attempts in the kitchen. And some of the food was weird... I was a little worried when the soup course turned out to have a really slimy consistency. Did I mention it was also green? You get the point.

I typically start looking for recipes for my next meal as soon as I have finished updating the blog for the latest dinner and Dominica was no exception. It wasn't easy to find recipes though; most of the time if I searched for Dominican recipes I would find a lot of references to the Dominican Republic (which as you know is the other half of the island of Hispaniola - sharing with Haiti). That is probably because it is so much smaller than the DR, only 290 sq miles and Roseau, the capital, only has 20,000 inhabitants. I was able after a lot of surfing to find enough information to have a good meal. Dominica has very diverse vegetation and a lot of fruits and root vegetables. So much so that it would have been appropriate to post a notice on the door to advise that this was a "carb friendly" zone. However since none of my friends at dinner were fans of Mr. Atkins (R.I.P.) such a notice would have been pointless.

I welcomed my friends with a cocktail called Peach West Indies that was made with rum and maraschino liqueur (an Italian drink therefore pronounced Maraskino - and I really don't care what anyone else has to say on this subject, I refuse to mispronounce names in my mother tongue even if it means I might not be understood). The drink was nice and refreshing and sweet enough to be downed like it was fresh water if one wasn't careful - I only served one glass before dinner knowing full well that there was going to be plenty of wine served with the food. On this subject: I have noticed that my friends are now bringing 2 bottles of wines to dinner rather than one... could this be because we really do go through so much of it? Please note, I am NOT complaining, bring as much as you like, I'd never turn wine down.

Once the cocktail was drank and the vacation stories shared but not before a couple of people starte grumble about wanting dinner, we moved to the table and the courses started to arrive (no, I don't have waiting staff: the courses started to arrive at the table carried by yours truly).

The first course was "Crab Callaloo Soup": callaloo is a variety of spinach native of the Caribbean and I wouldn't be able to tell you what it tastes like because the recipe also called for 1.5lbs of okra which gave the dish a really really slimy consistency (this is the dish I was referring to earlier). It didn't appear that the sliminess was putting anyone off, but it really didn't taste much. The crab gave it a wonderful aroma but it was just really plain. So I brought out some applewood smoked salt that Eric and I found in San Francisco and that added a bit of flavor to the soup: I think Joanne, Pat and Laurel would eat it again with the salt, Jeff would have liked maybe some parsley (which was in the soup) and some lemon juice and surprisingly, Eric, who usually doesn't eat okra, was the one who liked the soup best although he would have liked to taste the crab more. Well, sorry, blame it on the okra: I put in a whole lb of crab even though the recipe was calling for 1/2lb and it still didn't give it enough flavor.

I tried to take a photo that would someone capture some of the slimy consistency but not sure you can really tell:

As another starter to complement the soup I wanted to prepare what is considered the national dish of Dominica: Mountain Chicken. Now this isn't a chicken that freely roams by the volcanoes in Dominica, it is a variety of frog. Unfortunately (or not, depending on the point of view) I could not find frog legs at the farmers market and didn't have time to go hunting for them anywhere else. So I substituted tube squid. They have absolutely no relation to frog but I figured they would be good fried since this was part of the frog recipe preparation. The interesting part of this dish turned out to be not the squid which were served with a really bland gravy which was made more tasty by the addition of hot sauce and more of the above mentioned smoked salt (no sodium left behind either at this dinner), but the "provisions" which accompanied them. Provisions I discovered, are roots vegetables served with a dish: in the case of the mountain chicken recipe, these were yams, green bananas and dasheens. The last ones are an interesting starch: I can't really describe them but once they are peeled and boiled they look very much like a very big potato that has been left out a bit too long (they look a little grey). They were delicious smothered in some Umbrian chilly olive oil that I recently got from Joanne.

The main dish was chicken - this time for real. The recipe, Pelau, was some kind of chicken risotto cooked in spices and coconut milk. It was kind of sweet (not only because of the coconut milk but also because of the brown sugar used to brown the rice and the chicken) but I really liked it and I believe so did most of my guests. Naturally the quantities in the recipe were really off: it called for one whole coconut but it turned out that only the milk was needed and lots of it! Now, the recipe called for grated coconut and I thought that the "young" coconuts they sell at the farmers market were already shelled... wrong. I guess they are white because they are young but they do have a really hard shell! I had to pull out the machete and bang on the coconut several times before being able to make a gush big enough to pour out the water inside and use it to cook the rice. I am still confused about the "grated coconut" ingredient listed in the recipe... it just wasn't needed. However I am way too used to this to be surprised. I always come across at least one recipe that has a part that makes no sense. Typically on the day of the dinner... One other confusing part was the quantity of rice (2.5 cups and 1 chicken)... can you spot the chicken under the mountain of rice?

As a side dish I served more, ehr, carbs of course! The dish was supposed to be made of tannias which are also some kind of root vegetable similar to taro but since I could not find either I ended up using sweet potatoes. I really liked this deep fried sweet potato patty but I think the only other person that felt the same was Eric. The rest of the guests - particularly Joanne that rated it a 2 after a few surprised gasp at her original 1 - didn't much care for this. Which makes me wonder: Eric rated this meal better than anyone else. Is he trying to prove that he isn't the "Simon" of my alphabetical dinners or is he just plain contrary?

Finally dessert: plantain meringue pie. The recipe called for short pastry which I attempted to make myself and it was really tasty (really, butter, sugar, flour...) but it just looked really ugly once I stretched it on the pie pan so I went to Kroger and bought a couple of pie crusts... except the question was "do I need regular or deep dish"? No mention on the recipe of course and I don't have enough experience with pies to know better. I finally decided that "regular" sounded safe enough and of course I was wrong as the lovely plantain custard was way more than would fit in the little crust. I had mixed reviews on this. Nobody thought it was great (except for me as I absolutely love custards) but Jeff suggested that the addition of nuts could have been a good contrast to the coarseness of the plantains. The only photo I have of the pie looks pretty bad so I'll spare you the visual. But if you make it, please let me know what you think. I think I'd like to try to make it again...

Finally the goody bags: had I planned better, I could have ordered some "Bello" hot sauce which is from Dominica and is sold by an online retailer on the West Coast but since I didn't, I decided to make my own. It contained lots of habanero peppers (couldn't find scotch bonnets), lots of papaya and some weird squash that I found at the farmers market. This baby is hot. I also attempted to make some lime pepper jelly but I couldn't get the pectin to work right and so I made some lovely lime pepper syrup. And since Dominica is popular for tropical fruit I made some candied paw-paw (papaya to you and me).

Despite the fact that it wasn't one of my best dinners, it was still a lovely night and I've got nice thank you notes from my friends who really enjoyed the party.

Here is the menu with the scores:

Crab Callaloo Soup: 5.8

Mountain Chicken: 6.9

Pelau: 8.4

Tannia Accra: 4.9

Plantain Meringue Pie: 5.9

Next, E as in East Timor.

Stay tuned!


Anonymous said...

Hey Rossana!

As always, I enjoyed reading it. The slimy soup sounds interesting;)

Looking forward to next posting...

Anonymous said...

Love the description of the slimy soup, AKA, witches' brew. Could we have it again for Halloween, please? :)


Anonymous said...

Genial post and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Thanks you for your information.