There's something about tasting food in a new country that's a little like magic. Like the essence of that country transformed into the meal before you with the sole purpose of making you understand the place and its people.
And flavor. Flavor is what colors the palate and paints a picture of the people there and where they’ve come from and what transpired as their nation took shape to bring you the very ingredients that flavor their food. Flavor is what makes the act of tasting one of life's greatest joys.
Nowhere does flavor better for me than the Caribbean—and namely Trinidad and Tobago. The sweet twin-isle nation is equal parts spicy, saucy and rich with culture. Just like its food.
Trinidad and Tobago has a storied past, from being settled by the Spanish, to land grants inviting Scottish, Irish, German and Italian families, to people from the neighboring French Caribbean migrating there during the French Revolution, to the British taking over the country as its own colony. The nation ultimately rose and gained its independence, but over the years, each set of settlers left their mark on the country’s cuisine and the flavors that pepper people’s pots.
One of the island's staple dishes, pelau, perhaps serves as the best evidence. It's a one-pot dish flooded with multiple flavors, much like the island is flooded with multiple cultures that meld to make one beautiful masterpiece. If Trinidad and Tobago could manifest in one perfectly prepared dish, it would be pelau.
Now, any Trini will tell you their version is the best, and anyone who has tasted enough pelau (like me) will tell you there's definitely a hierarchy when it comes to pelau goodness.
One thing most Trinis can agree on, however, is that the Naparima Girls’ High School cookbook is a kitchen staple, the foundation from which many a good Trini meal is based.
So here's that recipe, and please, adjust as you're inspired to. For my pelau, I add Golden Ray salt butter, subtract the onions and tweak a few other things to match what my granny did. But alas, if I gave up all my secrets, there would be no pelau hierarchy, would there?
· 3 lbs. chicken pieces, skinned
· 1 tsp. salt
· ½ tsp. black pepper
· 2 tbsp. mixed green seasoning
· 2 tsp. minced garlic
· 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
· 1 tsp. soy sauce
· 1 tbsp. ketchup
· 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
· 2-3 tbsp. brown sugar
· 2 cups parboiled rice
· ½ cup chopped onion
· ½ cup chopped sweet or pimento peppers
· 1 ½ cups cooked pigeon peas
· 1 tbsp. salt
· 1 whole hot pepper with the stem
· 2 cups coconut milk
· 2 cups chicken broth or water
1. Season chicken with salt, pepper, green seasoning, minced garlic, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and ketchup.
2. Heat oil in a large heavy iron pot or skillet.
3. Add sugar and allow to burn until brown.
4. Add seasoned chicken and stir until pieces are well coated with burnt sugar; brown for 5 minutes.
5. Add rice and turn often until well mixed. Cook for 3 minutes more.
6. Add onion, sweet peppers and peas and cook for a few minutes, stirring a few times.
7. Add salt, hot pepper, coconut milk and broth. Bring to the boil, lower heat, cover and simmer until rice is cooked and all liquid is evaporated (about 25-30 minutes).
8. Add more liquid if rice is still hard and continue to cook for few more minutes.
9. Voila. Eat and enjoy!
Tara Donaldson is a proud Trini, wanderlust and writer. Find more of her adventures on her blog, Livign with the Travel Bug: http://www.livingwiththetravelbug.com