BY CHRIS ELVIDGE
“I’ve been lucky enough to do some research on guppies in Trinidad for four years running, and along the way I have endeavoured to glut myself on any local dishes I can find. East Indians were brought over to Trinidad by the British to act as overseers and administrators for their African slaves, and these Indians attempted to replicate their native dishes with ingredients available to them in the Caribbean. Consequently, many Trinidadian dishes have distinctly Indian flavors or elements, but are markedly different from what we typically think of as Indian dishes.
Many foods are available on the street from vendors, and are quite cheap. A vegetarian roti, for instance, can cost as little as $1.50CDN, while meat rotis (with goat, duck, chicken, shrimp, or sometimes beef – although Hindus typically don’t eat beef, much like Jews and pork) can be “as much” as $5.00CDN.
A little-known fact is that “roti” refers not to the entire, but just to the bread or wrapping. Indian rotis are typically used to scoop up portions of the other ingredients and eaten like finger-food, while blacks tend to serve their rotis wrapped up, sandwich-style.
Not having made rotis before, I thought it would be interesting to incorporate some Canadian ingredients and see how it turned out. Not too shabby (I would put my curries up against those of real Indian grandmothers any day), but I just can’t make any of their breads authentically for reasons I will get into shortly.” – Chris
1. Bread/wrapping: Dhal puri roti
I can’t take any credit for this part of the dish; I don’t really like baking so I just steal recipes off the intertubes. Trinigourmet.com is a good place to start. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to really replicate any of the various breads I’ve eaten in Trinidad at home. Bread can by very temperamental to make, and the heat and humidity at 10°N latitude results in lighter, fluffier breads that also absorb less oil – and most Indian-derived breads are fried at some point.
In any case, dhal puri roti is (ideally) 2 layers of unleavened bread with ground, seasoned yellow pea flour sandwiched in between. The rolled roti is then fried using a bit of vegetable oil or ghee (clarified butter) on a tawah, which is basically a flat, cast-iron pan like one would use for blackening in Cajun cuisine.
2. Fried Aloo
“Aloo” is the common name for potatoes amongst East Indians in Trinidad. I chose to use blue potatoes for novelty, and also because they seem more autumnal than the usual PEI/Idaho/Yukon tubers.
A sure-fire way to make kick-ass homefries is to dice the potatoes, parboil them until they are ⅔ to ¾ cooked, drain, then give them a quick fry in a bit of vegetable oil. In this case, I added about ½ of a chicken bouillion cube for flavour. For breakfasts, I would put less chicken stock, and add paprika and a bit of steak spice.
3. Gheera channa
“Channa” is the local name for chickpeas, a/k/a garbanzo beans. Lots of diced onions, garlic, and tomatoes (canned) are sautéed with the chickpeas, and seasoned with salt, pepper, a bit of curry, and lots of gheera (cumin), then stewed for about an hour. Chickpeas are not all created equal, and different brands actually vary quite a bit in their consistency. How long they need to be stewed depends on how firm they are in the can. You want them soft but not mushy.
4. Curried boar (or any meat)
Diced onions and garlic are sautéed until they sweat, then add the meat and a bit of canned tomato. This is a long process, so canned diced tomatoes are perfect. Season with salt, pepper, lots of curry, and a bit of cumin. Cover the pot, and stew away on low heat.
I cannot emphasize enough: curries, tomato sauces, chilli, pulled pork, ribs, etc., all need to cook for AT LEAST 2.5 hours on low heat. The length of cooking time is what makes the difference between a decent stew and a great stew. You just can’t make any of these dishes in under an hour. Don’t even try. As examples, my ribs and pulled pork cook for at least 3 hours every time (and as long as 6 hours in some cases) and I aim for 4-5 hours of simmering for a pot of chilli. How long a dish actually takes is case-dependent: meat is ready only when it is about fall apart, and chillis need to be fully reduced so they aren’t runny. If you are going to put the effort in at all, follow through and don’t try to impose time limits.
When you are cooking anything for that long, flavours become magnified. So if you season a chilli, for instance, to taste BEFORE you simmer it for a few hours, it will be too spicy for most people to eat when it’s done. Add a moderate amount of seasoning & spice at the beginning to infuse the flavour, and wait until it’s almost done to finish up the flavour.
5. Mango pumpkin puree
I hacked up a mini pumpkin and put the pieces on a baking sheet, drizzled with a bit of oil and roasted in the oven for about 30 minutes. This allows you to literally pull the skin off instead of peeling it, which is a huge pain and totally sucks. It also leaves you with perfectly cooked pumpkin. I added a can of mango to the pumpkin and pureed the mixture. That’s it, that’s all. No seasoning required.
6. Caribbean hot sauce
Typically scotch bonnets or Jamaican bell peppers, but you can use any type you have on hand. Puree the peppers (leaving the seeds in makes it hotter) with vinegar, salt and mustard (hot mustard, powder or yellow mustard will all work). I added a plum tomato and half a yellow pepper to 3 scotch bonnets and one finger chilli from the Macnaughtons’ garden in Vermont.
I chose to wrap the ingredients and serve my rotis sandwich-style.