Perhaps I should have saved this post for wintertime, a time when anything that can point one's thoughts in the direction of a warmer climate is greatly appreciated, but my tastebuds go where my cravings take me - I don't plan this stuff. This week, they went to Jamaica. Jamaican food is highly underrated in this country, which is a shame because it is creative, distinct, and perfect for the sweltering heat Boston has been getting for the past few weeks.
Jamaican culture is often parodied in mainstream American media through depictions of dreadlocked Rastafarii smoking ganja, paired with thought bubbles containing the words, "Hey, mon!" or "We jammin!" Yes, some Jamaicans smoke weed - so do some Bostonians, but we don't see cartoons of red-haired, pink-faced guys in Sox hats smoking blunts with the caption, "Yeahhhh, bro! Reefahhhh!" Ohhh, stereotypes. Behind this all-too-popular mockery is an exciting culture stemming from collective resistance to one of mankind's greatest wrongs, and out of that culture came inspired cooking.
The slave trade, that brutal scar on humanity's history, is the greatest factor in the formation of Jamaican cuisine and culture. With the slave trade came ingredients from Africa, as well as those brought to the Island by white people. Once the legal slave trade was ended, Asian-Indian labor was used in Jamaica's sugar plantations, and curries became popular on the Island, taking on a Caribbean flavor.
Prevalence of the Rastafarian image in American media does not reflect Jamaican culture as a whole. Hollywood would have us believe that Jamaican food is centered around pot brownies, which is certainly not the case. However, Rastafarians do have a dietary regimen in place - called Ital - which simply bans processed foods. Was this an early version of the Slow Food movement?
For this post, I cooked two traditional Jamaican dishes with ingredients common enough in the States that you should have no problem duplicating them. These recipes go from good to great when combined with rum drinks and Buju Banton!
Beans & Rice
1 T. coconut oil (or other vegetable oil)
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 can Goya dry pigeon peas
1 fresno chile or red jalapeno, chopped
3 cups cooked rice, seasoned with Goya Sazon
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. allspice powder
2-3 green onions, sliced
salt & pepper to taste
Heat the coconut oil over medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. When it has melted, add the yellow onion. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened a bit.
Next, add the pigeon peas and fresno chile. Cook for another minute or two, just until the pigeon peas are heated through. Finally, add the cooked rice, green pepper, garlic powder, allspice, green onions, and salt and pepper. Stir until well-blended, then continue stirring until it is heated through. Serve with Jerk Chicken.
1 pound chicken breast strips, pounded thin with a meat mallet
1 batch Jerk marinade (see recipe)
Marinate the chicken strips for 1-4 hours in the jerk marinade. Cook on the grill, 2-3 minutes per side, or until cooked through. If you do not have a grill, bake in a 400-degree oven for approximately 20 minutes, turning once.
This is my adaptation of a recipe found in Bon Appetit's July 2011 issue.
4 T. vegetable oil
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
4 green onions, chopped
4 habanero peppers, chopped*
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 T. dried thyme (or 2 T. fresh)
1 T. grated fresh ginger
1 T. brown sugar
2 t. ground allspice
1 t. salt
1/2 t. finely ground black pepper
2 T. malt vinegar
Combine all the ingredients in a blender. Process until a consistent puree is achieved.
* If you can't take the heat of habaneros, you can wimp out and use jalapenos.