Thursday, November 3, 2011

Recipes from Anguilla

Recipes from Anguilla
Back in my very first blog post, I clearly remember vowing that I would not spend any unreasonable amount of time in search of unusual ingredients. Now, nine weeks later, I think I can say that was a bit of an unrealistic statement.

Sure, you can usually find international recipes that don't contain ingredients that are unavailable at any Safeway, but with some of these countries that can be a long, difficult ordeal. Also, I have to admit, looking for unusual ingredients is kind of a fun challenge.

First it was the halloumi, back in Akrotiri (remember that)? Then it was the piri-piri sauce in last week's shrimp recipe from Angola. This week it was pigeon peas.

OK so let's back up a little. Why did I spend half my week trying to track down pigeon peas? Well, because pigeon peas are a key ingredient in the "National Dish" of our next country: Anguilla.

Anguilla is yet another tiny, tiny place--16 miles long by 3.1 miles wide--which (at least in my mind) has questionable status as an actual country. Located in the Caribbean (near Puerto Rico), Anguilla is a British overseas territory, perhaps known best for its typical Caribbean beauty, and of course for the complete absence of most kinds of taxes, including profit, capital gains, estate taxes and most other kinds of direct taxation on both individuals and corporations. Tourism is one of Anguilla's biggest industries, though it has suffered a severe decline because of the past few years of worldwide economic decline.

Anguillan cuisine includes a lot of seafood, though funnily enough, I couldn't actually find any of those recipes during my research. Very little is grown on Anguilla either, with exceptions including limes, tomatoes, squash and, yes, pigeon peas.

So what in the what what are pigeon peas? Well, they look a bit like black-eyed peas, except without the black eye--hence one of their other common names, "no-eyed peas." Where do you get them? Well, you can try, if you want to either buy a whole case of them, (and let's face it, you don't really want to buy a whole case of something you've never tasted), or you can visit other sources if you want to pay more to ship a single can than you paid for the can itself. How about iGourmet? Well, they don't seem to have even heard of pigeon peas. Where else then? When I Googled "Pigeon Peas" I discovered that a lot of the stores selling them online were Latin and Mexican grocers. So I did a Yelp search for Mexican grocers near me and was excited to discover one about 30 minutes away in Auburn, a town where I go to shop all the time anyway. A quick stop there and ta da! Pigeon peas.

Yeah, it's kind of fun to track this stuff down. When the hunt results in a kill of course.

So pigeon peas in hand, I returned home to embark on my virtual culinary adventure in Anguilla. Here are the recipes:

Pigeon Peas and Rice (Anguilla's national dish)
(from Anguilla-Anguilla)
  • water
  • juice of one lime
  • 1 cup of rice
  • 1/4 teaspoon of thyme
  • 1 tablespoons of butter
  • Dash of hot pepper sauce
  • 1/4 pound of corned beef (optional)
  • 6 ounces of dried pigeon peas
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Salt to taste

Anguillan Beef and Pineapple Kebabs
(from Healthy Life)

  • 2 pounds of beef
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons of molasses
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/4 cup wine vinegar (white)
  • About 1/2 a fresh pineapple, cored and cubed
  • Wood skewers (soaked in water for about 20 minutes)

And for dessert: Warm Chocolate Pie
(from Celtnet)

  • 1 egg, separated
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 roll white bread, crumbed
  • 1/4 cup mixed nuts
  • 2 ounces dark chocolate, melted

Starting with the elusive pigeon peas:

Here they are, finally tracked down at a semi-local Mexican market.

Pigeon peas look a bit like black-eyed peas, but without the black eye.

Like other dried legumes, pigeon peas require overnight soaking, which of course I forgot to do. So I boiled mine for about two hours, which meant this dinner was just for me and Martin and my kids got to eat burritos and go to bed early.

So whether you soak or boil, when the pigeon peas are soft it's time to drain and rinse them. If you're serving this as a main course, you can add corned beef at this point with just enough water to cover, and boil until the meat is done. I didn't add the corned beef to mine since I was planning to serve it as a side dish.

There should be about two cups of water in the pot for the next step, so if you are making this with corned beef you'll need to drain the liquid, reserve and measure it, then add enough water for a total of two cups. If you're going sans-beef just add two cups of fresh water to the beans, then bring to a boil. Add the rice, lime juice, thyme, hot sauce and butter, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer until the liquid is absorbed, which should take about 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

The pigeon peas actually darken quite a bit when they are cooking.

 If you think that dish seemed pretty simple, the kebabs were even more so. This recipe consists of a very basic marinade made from molasses, pineapple juice and vinegar. Just cube the beef into kebab-sized bits, mix these three ingredients together and marinade the beef chunks in them for about an hour. 

Marinading beef chunks.

Then cut up your pineapple into equal sized chunks (you could use canned chunk pineapple, but I love fresh pineapple) and thread onto the skewers with the beef (I used about two parts beef to every one part pineapple). Drizzle the remaining marinade over the skewers and grill over a hot flame or cook under your broiler (which is of course what I did).

Slightly blackened, just the way I like it!

While the rice is cooking (but before you put the beef on, since that will only take a few minutes), gather the ingredients for the warm chocolate pie. This dessert is prepared a little strangely by American standards: there is no crust, and the body of the pie comes from crumbled bread rather than flour. Here's how you make it:

Chop the nuts and set aside. Now cream together the butter and sugar.

Cream the butter and sugar.

 Add the egg yolk and continue to blend until well incorporated.

Add the egg yolk.

Next add the breadcrumbs and the melted chocolate.

I just melted the chocolate in my microwave. Try not to lick it out of the bowl.

Fold in the chocolate and breadcrumbs.

Whip the egg while until stiff peaks form, or if you're like me convince yourself you can see stiff peaks even though you can't, because your arm is tired and you'd really just like to stop beating the stupid egg white already. Gently fold in the egg white and the nuts.

 Pour the mixture into a pie tin lined with wax paper. Note: this recipe does not make very much, so I used a pretty small pie tin, probably about half the size of a standard one.

This pie has no crust, just filling.

 Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. Serve warm.

Warm chocolate pie, ready to serve!

Here is my verdict on this Anguillan meal: Good. Decent. But sadly, after all that searching for the right ingredients I really can't give it higher marks than that.

Pigeon peas and rice: sadly bland.

Beef and pineapple kebabs: good but uninteresting.

The pigeon peas and rice were predictably bland (you can really see that just based on the recipe), even though I over-salted them in an attempt to draw out some flavor. In fact the pigeon peas were so underwhelming that Martin failed to even comment on them, even though they were clearly not something he'd ever eaten. When I prompted him he just said, "They don't really taste any different than pinto beans." The kebabs were good but not really that unusual in flavor. Ditto for the warm chocolate pie.

So was I disappointed? No, and we did both go back for seconds. It was satisfying food, just not very exciting.

Next week: Antarctica. Yes, that's right, Antarctica.


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