Tracey MacRae, campus executive chef at the University of Washington (UW), is well versed in Caribbean cuisine.
She used that know-how to create an impressive selection of dishes from Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba, part of UW’s Black History Month series of events and celebrations. The kitchen team served a different menu every day of the month, creating a total of 68 different dishes. Fun mocktails that went with each cuisine were also served: a mojito for Cuba; ginger “beer” for Jamaica (ginger ale with fresh ginger added) and lemon-limeade with ginger from Haiti.
“My culture is Jamaican and Scottish, and my first way to learn about any culture is the music and the food,” MacRae says.
MacRae takes us through a few of Haiti’s traditional dishes from a flavor, ingredient and cultural standpoint:
Griot: “This is one of Haiti’s national dishes. It’s kind of like carnitas… it’s pork shoulder with an aggressive overnight marinade with habanero peppers and lime juice, simmered and deep-fried. It’s served with traditional pikliz (pickled coleslaw).”
Dire kole ak pois (rice and peas): “This isn’t like jambalaya. The rice is more separate, similar to Puerto Rican rice and beans. When you’re in Haiti you use yellow peas that are indigenous to the island, but when you’re in the U.S., you can use red beans.”
Poisson Creole: “There are a million ways to cook this, but it’s based in French and Latin American cooking. The fish is dusted with flour, then pan-fried and simmered in the trinity: celery, bell pepper and onion. Snapper is the traditional fish, but any firm white fish will work. The sauce is a court bouillon whisked into a Creole sauce.”
Callaloo: “It’s the name of a green and also the name of a dish with that green stewed. It’s the same way people in the South say, ‘collards’ when referring both to stewed collard greens and also to the plant itself. I like to chiffonade this green about one inch, use the stems and serve it with hot pepper vinegar.”
Jerk is Nicer Than it Sounds
In Jamaica, the term jerk refers to a style of cooking that features marinated (wet or dry) pork or chicken rubbed with a spice mixture called jerk seasoning or Jamaican jerk spice.
The seasoning consists of allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers, and then some combination of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, scallions, thyme, garlic, ginger, brown sugar and/or salt. It’s obviously a taste like no other!
Hari Pulapaka, Ph.D, CEC, is an associate professor of mathematics at Stetson University, Deland, Fla., who also runs a local restaurant. He recently won the gold medal in the First Annual Chefs Taste Challenge, a farm-to-table focused competition held in New Orleans, with his jerked pork shoulder with smashed plantains and yams.
Pulapaka first learned about Jamaican food while working at a previous job in Daytona Beach.
“My best friend there loved Scotch bonnet peppers. Sometimes we would eat at the Island Café run by a Jamaican couple.”
Pulapaka’s recipe features a paste made from jerk seasonings, orange juice and vinegar for a pungent punch.
Flik Independent School Dining’s Cruise with Flik promotion at Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla., gave student diners a taste of the Caribbean as part of the Traveling Flavors program. The “cruise” included jicama salad, chicken fricassee with callaloo soup, cornmeal pudding and mojo pork with rice and beans.