Although the famous Chef Alton Brown’s book of the same title as the heading for this column is about science and how to cook the food, I’m here to tell you that I, especially this week, are here about the food – to eat and enjoy.
I want to share with you 10 things I’ve cooked and taken pleasure in eating and drinking over the past few weeks. Aside from liking these things obviously, it could be due to not doing them or eating them for a while. Whatever the reason, I found myself studying them as I ate, marveling at their simplicity and being amazed by their taste, taste. There is always food to celebrate, always.
Let’s start with the Choka Baigan (eggplant) that I had yesterday. Smoked and creamy; notes of sweetness from the eggplant itself as well as the slices of garlic, softened and sweetened from the fire roast. The taste of garlic pervades the flesh as the eggplant softens while cooking and mashing smoothly. The small pieces of hot pepper mince together with thin wafer slices of scallion for the subtle onion flavor, round out the choka. Salt to taste, a light squirt of fresh lime juice to balance the taste and a pour of smoking hot oil to dalkay the choka and it’s done. Let that choka sit for a few minutes for the flavors to melt and then dig in. With each mouthful, I found myself shaking my head; it overwhelmed my senses. Piece, how good is Baigan Choka…
Another day was the quick-thrown Vegetable Fruit Rice. Honestly, I think the best fried rice, is the one you don’t plan for. The spontaneous nature of the dish and intuition rather than precision offer a certain freedom, which results in something that is not often repeated. Every time it will be different.
I always get ginger garlic paste in the fridge and freezer; it
is a flavor base combo I use for different types of dishes. For my hurried fried rice, this was ginger-garlic paste, hot peppers, a bunch of chak pak, leftover rice, salt, and fresh ground black pepper. Oh, I had some roasted chicken over top that I cut and added to the fried rice. I didn’t use any 5-spice powder, no soy sauce, oyster sauce, scallops, and other things we usually put in fried rice. No carrots, no brine either. As I ate, I asked myself, why can’t I make fried rice that tastes good all the time (LOL).
One day I soaked black eye peas with the intention of making rice and peas but the next day I dumped that idea. I decided that I was going to make the black eye as a boil and fry channa. He created laziness in; We can’t bother with the 2-step cooking process. I chopped tomatoes, minced onion, garlic, and hot pepper and put them in a saucepan low and slow until softened to a paste, tossed in the rehydrated black eye, salt, and a little water and pressure cooked. The taste of black eye is special and so is its natural aroma. I found myself liking it a lot more than boiling and frying canna.
The Mauby I do is what I learned from my late mother. And his Mauby was legendary among those he ever had. I made a batch to share with some friends and kept a bottle for myself. When my friends tasted it – some of them are Guyanese – they referred to it as ‘ole time Mauby’ (it was a compliment). They regaled me with stories about Mauby. When Mauby matures by fermentation at room temperature for 3 days with daily brewing; when refrigerated and served cold, with or without ice, the synergy of the flavors of the bark, spices and brown sugar, reveals different flavor notes as the drink covers your tongue. And for many, including myself, that taste can carry over.
Talk about ‘ole time’ things. I had an aspiration for an egg and cheese sandwich. I remember these from the days of my childhood. Boiled eggs, mashed with grated cheese, hot pepper sauce, mustard, mayo, and grated onion. When I made mine a few weeks ago, I added thinly sliced scallops. Hearing this, for this sandwich, I didn’t want bread bought in a fluffy only store that would flatten or tear when smelling with the spread, so I made my own bread itself. My favorite type of sandwich is an egg cheese spread sandwich. The spread goes well with biscuits / crackers too.
My husband had a cassava ground delivery which he had removed a couple of days before he brought it to market so of course I loaded cassava to make baking, pone and always favorite, boiling and frying. Normally, I would boil and fry the cassava on its own to eat either alone or with meat, chicken, fish – fresh, smoked or cured – on the side. Once again, laziness was at play, so I decided to do one set of frying: the salt fish and cassava together. I call it my luxury boil and cassava fry. That went down really well for a late Sunday morning breakfast with lemongrass tea. As I ate and drank, the sun streaming on to the patio, I thought, life doesn’t get any better than this.
By the way, do you want food yet?
Where am I? Oh, I’ve told you 7 things so far. Three to go.
There are some dishes for me that are comfort food: Bajan rice and Peas with salty pig tails (cooked my way); Split peas and rice with fried Bangamary; hot skin fish curry, and then there’s the one who can compete with them all – dhal, rice and anchovy. It doesn’t matter what kind of area. Garlicky, cumin-y, a heat of pepper, pulpy or smooth, dhal, spread over freshly cooked white rice and a tablespoon of heaped bread on the side. Hold the cutlery; I’ll eat with my hands thank you. When you mix that dhal with the rice and a pinch of anchovy, tell me, how do you not wrinkle? How do you not close your eyes, chew slowly, and be thankful and proud that you were born and raised in a place where this is everyday food. I obviously have something for rice and peas in any form!
Last week’s weekend bakery was Trinbagonian Coconut Baking. This bakery represents all that is good about home cooking, and while many of us cook this bake in an oven, on the stove, in a heavy pot with a lid, like cast iron, is how it did some people only cook it back. Or on a horse like a cast iron tawah, covered with an enamel bowl creating the oven-like environment with heat all around for even cooking. This is a hearty bread baker and while it is served with salt fish, and various types of smoked fish, my favorite way to get it is with sharp cheddar cheese. The following day, slice and toast the bread baking and you will smile with delight at the toasted coconut flavor and aroma you get from the baking. Slather the baking pan with butter, take a big bite and top it off with your favorite hot drink.
Finally, and this is the simplest of all. My neighbor gave me half a large watermelon he had bought. It was sweet, and it had been a while since I had a sweet watermelon. Most I would buy would look red and juicy but tasteless. I ate the watermelon I had with locally made vegetarian goat cheese. So good. The sweetness with the rigor of the goat cheese along with the salt mixed with the herbs balanced the flavors perfectly. He was eating well. Hmmm, I’m in Alton Brown’s state of mind this week with these references.
Hope you have a great weekend.