Provisions: The Roots of Caribbean Cooking—150 Vegetarian Recipes
“Home cooks who want a culinary challenge that is rich in history, folklore, and tradition will find it in the pages of Provisions.”
Provisions is an ingredient-based cookbook that explores Caribbean history, food, culture, and identity. Sisters Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau use their own family history to explain how Caribbean cooking has evolved over the years, drawing inspiration from Asian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern foods and flavors. If you are looking for simple jerky recipes, this cookbook is not for you. Here flavors, textures, and cooking methods meld together to produce mouth-watering dishes such as Scotch Bonnet Tomato Sauce or Passion Martini.
The title refers to the role of ground roots, tuber, and starch provisions play in the Caribbean diet. Provisions were a main source of sustenance for slaves in the region. The authors quote from a planter’s journal, “provision grounds furnish them with plantains, bananas, cocoanuts and yams…but in this parish their most valuable and regular supply of food arises from the coco-finger or coccos, a species of yam. These vegetable form the basis of (the slaves) sustenance.”
The book begins with “A Sisterly Welcome” and the authors’ research into their culinary history about their great-grandmother Martha Matilda Briggs. This formidable matriarch was a talented cook and businesswoman. A single mother, she was known for her Briggs Patties and Baked Black Crabs and opened the Briggs Restaurant in 1936 where her menu included her famous crisp veggie patties. In this section we learn about the roots of West Indian cooking as well stories about their own family. The sisters pay homage to the legacy of generations of women who fed, nurtured and raised them with food, freshly prepared with lots of love.
Coco or taro or cocyam or Malanga and other roots and tubers have their own section. Here the star of each recipe is Caribbean’s famous provisions, which are grated, ground and cooked into tasty dishes. Sophisticated palates will enjoy the Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Smashed Grape Tomatoes and Country Pepper or Cassava Pancakes with Sorrel Syrup.
Coconut milk, pumpkin seeds, ginger and a variety of spices are used to create fritters and other tasty meals.
Vegetables with exotic histories and names are featured in the Savory Fruits and Vegetables section of the book. Cho Cho, Acke and the famous okra are some of the vegetables used to make Island Squash Salad with Arugula or Spicy Red Pepper Pesto.
Chokas or sauces are used to top bread or as a side dish and can be made from tomatoes, coconuts, pumpkin or eggplant.
Hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, pumpkin, banana, plantain, and breadfruit are featured in the Sprouts and Starchy Fruits section of book. Here you find such recipes Plantain and Cheese Empanadillas, Roasted Hearts of Palm and Artichoke Hearts Dip or Roasted Breadfruit with sautéed peppers, Cho Cho and white wine.
Caribbean cuisine features greens in a variety of dishes. A hearty stew made from local greens, starchy provisions, and salted meat or fish was a simple dish for slaves living in the West Indies. One of the most popular greens in the Caribbean is callaloo which refers to a variety of different greens, depending on which part of the island you were from. A pot of callallo flavored with butter, coconut milk, garlic, onions, tomatoes, and of course hot peppers, is a popular dish in the islands. Cabbage bok choy (or as referred to in the islands as pak choi) are also made into similar stews.
There are a variety of grain dishes in the islands made from wheat, corn, quinoa and rice. Caribbean cuisine has borrowed cornmeal and flour-based dishes from native communities across the Americas. A “journey or Johnny cake” traveled well and was easy to pair with a bit of fish or meat. The authors share a number of family favorites such as Couscous with sweet pot herbs, zucchini, plantain and roasted channa and Creamy Trini corn soup. These rich and satisfying dishes have an intimidating list of ingredients but the actual preparation is quite simple and the result more than satisfying.
Of course rum is featured in this cookbook! Rum is a natural byproduct of sugarcane processing and was the drink of choice for all members of island society. Recipes in this book celebrate this liquor. Tasty Coconut-Rum Punch, Sorrel Mimosas and Ponche de Crème (an island version of eggnog) are sure to please those looking for a celebratory drink.
There are a number of desserts that have intriguing flavors and textures. A good example is the Rum and Raisin Budino (pudding) with candied cashews and citrus-rum sauce.
Jams, pickles, preserves and sauces have their own chapter and these tart or sweet and savory flavors are essential part of Caribbean diet. A bit of Chunky Lime, June Plum and Pepper Relish or a bit of Pineapple Chow or just a dab of Red Onion, Tomato and Habanero Relish adds flavor and depth to any meal.
A history of the Negro Pot (a hearty stew, soup or porridge as well as well-cooked starches) is entwined with the history of Caribbean cuisine and culture. The authors provide extensive history lessons about life and food in West Indies. The book also provides instruction on cutting and cooking various fruits and vegetables unfamiliar to the American cook. Home cooks who want a culinary challenge that is rich in history, folklore and tradition will find it in the pages of Provisions.