Thursday, January 2, 2014

Recipes from Haiti

Hey! Welcome to 2014, and the H’s. We’re opening up a new year with a new letter of the alphabet, how’s that for a clean slate?

I hope your holiday was lovely, and that you’re not dreading the first half of the year like I am. Because for me, it’s birthday party planning just about every month until May. I’d say my least favorite thing about being a mom is birthday party planning. So, I’m just going to put it out of my mind and tell you about Haiti instead.

If you’re up on current events the first thing that probably pops into your head when you hear the name “Haiti” is that 7.0 earthquake of 2010, which devastated an already suffering population. Haiti is a poor nation, and as with many poor nations it has an unstable government that was wholly unprepared to handle the aftermath of such an event.

So most of us on the outside have probably been rightfully fixating on that quake and its impact on Haiti, forgetting entirely the inspiring early history of that nation. Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America and the Caribbean—but most importantly, it was the only nation in the whole world that was established after a successful revolt by slaves. In fact, all of Haiti’s original leaders were former slaves. That’s pretty cool, and it’s a great legacy for this small Caribbean nation.

 Fort St. Joseph - Fort-Liberté, Haiti. Photo by Nick Hobgood.

Sadly, Haiti doesn’t benefit as much as it ought to from its location in the Caribbean, at least not as far as the tourism industry is concerned. That’s because Haiti is not really a safe place for tourists, who sometimes get kidnapped or murdered while on holiday there. So tourists often prefer neighboring Dominican Republic, and then of course they miss out on the food.

Haitian food is good. Its style is a blend of French, African and Taíno (the aboriginal population), and it’s flavorful. It’s Caribbean, but with it’s own flare.

Here are the two recipes I chose for my culinary trip to Haiti:

Tassot (stewed meat)
(from Everything Haitian)
  • 2-3 lbs beef or goat, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup lime or lemon juice (I used lemon)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
Diri kolé ak pwa (beans and rice)
(from Kreyol Cuisine)
  • 3 cups basmati rice
  • 1 cup red beans
  • 8 cups water
  • 5 tbsp oil, divided
  • 1 tsp margarine
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 cubes chicken stock
  • 1 hot pepper
  • 2 chopped shallots
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
I also bought the ingredients for a dessert called “Bonbon Sirop,” but in the end decided not to make it. Honestly, I’m sick of sugar. I know, I bet you never thought you’d hear me say that. But after several weeks of fudge, pie, cakes and cookies I really am done with sweets for a while. So if you decide to make Bonbon Sirop, please let me know how it came out, because I don’t think I’m going to get around to it any time soon.

The two recipes I did make were really easy. Here’s how, starting with the tassot:

Now, I did not use goat for mine even though I have some in my freezer. In retrospect, goat would have been great for this dish because you can cook it for as long as it takes to get a tender meat. My goat is all on the bone, though, so I would have had to endure my husband moaning about “booby-trapped meat,” as he often does. So I used stew beef instead. But really, I think you could do this in a crockpot with even a tougher bit of goat and it would be delicious.

OK, first put all the ingredients except for the vegetable oil in a large bowl. Toss and let marinate in the fridge for 3 or 4 hours.

Now move the whole lot to a pot and add just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Cover and let simmer until the meat is tender.

Now heat the oil in a large frying pan. Remove the meat from the pot with a slotted spoon and fry it in the oil until it’s golden brown all over. I know, this seems backwards, but it works. Trust me.

It doesn't look very exciting, but it really is very tasty.

Now for the beans and rice: First rinse the beans and transfer to a large pot with 8 cups of water and a tablespoon of the oil. Bring to a boil and cook for an hour or two, until they start to split. Drain but keep the cooking water.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large frying pan and saute the onions, garlic, and shallots until they start to soften. Add the spices, the red beans and the stock cubes.

Now add 6 cups of liquid from the beans (I didn’t have that much left over, so I had to top it off with water). Bring to a boil, then add the rice and the hot pepper.

Cook uncovered over low heat until all the water has been absorbed. Now add the last tablespoon of oil and the butter. Cover the pan and make sure the flame is on a medium-low setting. Cook for another 15 minutes. Have faith! I know it seems like you’re going to burn the rice, but you’re not. You’re going to get a nice golden crust on the bottom and rice that is the most perfect texture ever.

Now, let me preface this by saying that I used to only ever boil rice. After doing this blog for a few years I now understand that boiling is the dumbest way to make rice. Sure, you get edible rice but you can’t get that wonderful, fluffy texture unless you make it in the above (or similar) manner.

My rice and beans came out perfectly. In fact I almost cried when I realized that the leftovers had been buried under a bunch of holiday leftovers and forgotten about, and I had to throw them out. Because this was probably one of my life’s top five beans-and-rice experiences. It was flavorful, but that texture, oh-my. You just can’t underestimate the importance of good texture in food.

The meat was also very delicious. Mine was a little dry, but that was my own fault for not keeping it topped up with water. Like I said, I think I would do this again in a crockpot. The flavor was really good and the crockpot would make a tender beef (or goat!) without drying it out too much.

So there you go, the first TbS meal of 2014—and it was a good one! I love when things start off well.

Next week: Heard Island and McDonald Islands

For printable versions of this week’s recipes:


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