Thursday, December 19, 2013

Recipes from Guyana

Some people like to shoot deer. Me, I wish I liked to shoot them, because they keep eating my tomatoes. I don't have it in me, though. Deer are too beautiful. Of course, around here they are like pigeons, except there are more of them and they're only about half as useful.

I was going somewhere with this, where was it? Oh yeah, people like to hunt. Everyone does, even those of us who don't like to hunt animals. We like to hunt other things, like maybe a bargain or that rare penny to add to a coin collection or maybe sea glass on the beach. Me, I like to hunt for exotic ingredients. And also sea glass on the beach.

So that's why I've had a bottle of cassareep in my pantry for the last maybe year and a half. Because it was that long ago that I decided to make pepperpot when I got to Guyana, mostly so I could go hunting for that critical ingredient. Cassareep was not easy to track down and when it arrived it had leaked all over the inside of the box, but damn it, I'd bagged me some cassareep. And that's where it's been sitting for the last 18 months.

So yeah, Guyana. It is the world's 500 billionth Caribbean nation. Sorry, that's just me being cynical, because I've made a lot of Caribbean food in the last couple of years. Anyway, Guyana is actually distinct from most of the other 499 billion 999 thousand 999 Caribbean nations in that it is not an island, but rather a country on the northern coast of South America.

I hate to just hone right in on the notorious stuff, but you know it makes for better reading than "British colonization followed by independence followed by blah blah." If you know anything about Guyana you know where I am going with this: Jim Jones. Yes, sadly this nation was the site of that notorious cult suicide of 1978, when cult leader Jim Jones ordered 918 people (including more than 300 children) to drink a concoction of cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. Which they did. That event went down in history as the "greatest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act," a title it held until September 11, 2001.

 Kaieteur Falls from Potaro. Canyon, Guyana. Photo by Alan Hopkins.
So now that I've brightened your day, let's get on to the food. Guyanese food is pretty typically Caribbean; a mixture of African, creole, Amerindian and British influences. The Guyanese enjoy curry and roti as well as typical Caribbean-style peas and rice. And, of course, pepperpot.

Here's that recipe:

  • 2 lbs stewing steak (pork or beef) or brisket
  • 2 pigs' feet (optional)*
  • 2 lbs oxtail
  • 1 cup cassareep
  • 2 red hot peppers
  • 1-inch cinnamon stick
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2 oz sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 sprigs basil
  • 1 bunch thyme
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
* The pigs' feet will help thicken the stew. I left them out of mine, because ew.

And something to mop up the juices:

Dahl Puri

For the filling:
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 cups yellow split peas
  • 1/4 of a scotch bonnet pepper
For the dough:
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • pinch fast acting yeast
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • water
  • 5 tbsp vegetable oil
And also a dessert, because I just couldn't resist:

Salara (Red Coconut Cake)
  • 1 tbsp dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 tbsp plus 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 egg, separated
For the filling:
  • 3 cups sweetened, shredded coconut
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp red food coloring
For the glaze:
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
Let's make the cake first. It's actually a lot simpler than it looks.

First dissolve all that yeast in warm water with a tablespoon of sugar. Let it stand for 10 minutes or until frothy. Now gently heat the milk until warm and add the rest of the sugar, stirring until dissolved. Whisk in the butter and egg.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour together with the salt. Add the yeast mixture along with the milk/butter and mix thoroughly, preferably with an electric mixer. Now pour in the flour and keep mixing until you get a soft dough.

Now, I don't really know what went wrong with mine. It wasn't a dough, it was a batter. That could have been because I measured something wrong. Something terribly, terribly wrong. But it could also be because the recipe was wrong. I do intend to try again and will post an update when I know for sure--but in the meantime if you make this recipe do tell me what your results were.

Anyway I just turned my batter into dough by mixing in maybe another half cup of flour (just keep adding it until you get a soft, bread-like dough).

Ok now knead your dough ball on a floured surface or let your bread machine do it. Butter a bowl and transfer the ball to it, then cover with a damp towel. Let rise for an hour or until doubled in size.
Meanwhile, combine the ingredients for the filling and set aside.

Now turn the risen ball out onto a large, floured surface. Punch down, then roll into a large rectangle shape . Brush the edges with the egg white and then spread that bright red coconut filling evenly over the dough, almost but not quite to the edges.

Now roll the dough lengthwise into a log shape and seal the edges.

Brush with the egg yolk, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for maybe another hour.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 or 30 minutes or until a beautiful golden color.

During the last 10 minutes of baking, make the glaze. Dissolve the sugar in the water and heat in a small saucepan until boiling. Boil for 5 to 10 minutes. Brush over the finished Sahara and then let cool. Devour.

OK now let's do the Dahl puri. I was pretty seriously intimidated by this recipe but it really wasn't that hard, just wordy. I'm going to try to edit it down to make it seem a little less scary.

First rinse the split peas. Meanwhile, boil 5 or 6 cups of water in a large saucepan and add the peas, salt and turmeric. Reduce heat and let boil for 20 minutes or until soft. Drain and let cool.

Meanwhile make your dough. Mix the flour with the salt, yeast and baking powder. Add water until you get a firm dough. Shape into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.

Transfer the cooled peas to a food processor and process until they look kind of like bread crumbs. You should have no whole peas remaining.

Divide the dough into six smaller balls. Flatten the first one and then shape into a sort of shallow bowl. Dust with a little bit of flour and then fill with some of the split pea mixture. 

Now fold over the edges and pinch together to seal. You should end up with a good sized ball. Repeat until you have six split pea filled balls.

Ok here's the tricky bit. Put one of the balls on a floured surface and then very gently roll it flat. If you've done everything right, your disk should be about 12 inches wide and an eighth of an inch thick and none of the filling should burst through the dough. Miraculously, this actually came out right when I did it, though I think my dahl puri were a bit smaller than they were supposed to be. I do think this is probably the first time I've done a recipe like this and not had it turn into a pathetic mess.

Continue until all the balls are rolled flat. Then heat some oil in a large, nonstick skillet and cook for about 30 seconds on one side. Flip, brush with oil and cook for another minute or so. Repeat until your dahl puri is starting to puff up and turn golden.

Now for the pepperpot. If you’re using pigs’ feet you’ll need to boil those first until about half cooked, skimming that yucky stuff off the surface of the water. No I don’t mean the whole pigs' foot.
Add the rest of the ingredients and make sure they are covered with water. Now, the recipe didn’t say what to do with that pepper, so I just dropped it in whole. But my result really didn’t have a lot of pepper flavor so I wonder if that was the right move. I think if I had it to do over I would chop the pepper up instead. Whatever you choose to do, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the meat is tender.

Add some salt and sugar to taste. Easy-peasy.

So now that I’ve finally had a chance to use that cassareep I worked so hard to obtain and which sat in my kitchen cabinet for all those months, what did I actually think about the pepperpot?

Well, it was OK. I liked it well enough, but to be honest the cassareep just tasted like molasses. In fact I think you could probably get away with just using molasses in your pepperpot and you wouldn’t really know the difference. The whole dish was really sweet and could have been spicier. I think I was right, that pepper probably should have been chopped up.

Now, I do have to wonder if maybe my cassareep was the right stuff. Wikipedia describes cassareep as the “bitter exctract of cassava,” and it really didn’t taste all that bitter to me. I wonder if it’s usually made with molasses or if that was just for the benefit of the American market. Oh well, unless a Guyanan emails me with the answer, I guess I’ll never know.

I did like the dahl puri. I liked it a lot, though I would add a little salt to the split peas if I made it again. They really came out shockingly perfect and they tasted very good, though they do fall apart if you try to tear into them vs. just biting into them whole.

Now for that cake, oooh it was really good. The glaze gave it just enough sweetness on the outside but it was really quite sweet and coconutty on the inside, too. I swear I gained at least two pounds eating this stuff because the loaf was enormous. I didn’t hoard it, either; everyone in my family was stuffing themselves with it.

So yes, very good overall, especially the bread and the dessert. As for the cassareep, well, I didn’t use it all and it went back into the cabinet. Where I suppose it will stay for another 18 months. At least.

Next week: I'm posting my list of favorite recipes for 2013! I'll get back to nation-hopping the week after.

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

1 comment:

  1. We made this today, and it was really fun! The bread comes out beautiful and tasty. Thanks!


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