20-27th August 2012 marks the UK's first Caribbean Food Week, launched to get us cooking up Caribbean treats at home. But if you don't know your plantain from your ackee, don't worry. Here's our guide to some popular Caribbean foods and where you can find them in the UK.
Jerk chicken is one of the Caribbean's most well-known dishes. To make it, cuts of chicken are marinated in herbs and spices including allspice, thyme and fiery scotch bonnet chillies, before being grilled on a high heat until cooked through. The high cooking heat can leave the skin blackened and crisp, but the meat underneath will be tender and juicy. In the UK, you can buy a number of ready-made Jerk seasonings and marinades, or blend your own from scratch.
Ackee is an exotic fruit, originally from West Africa. It's a red, pear-shaped fruit that, when ripe, naturally opens out to reveal soft creamy yellow flesh and large, shiny black seeds. The flesh of the ackee has a buttery, nutty flavour and it's traditionally served with saltfish. Look out for it in Afro-Caribbean stores or at the supermarket, where you can buy it tinned. Weirdly, the unripe ackee fruit is toxic — but once ripe, it's safe to eat.
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Although it's becoming more popular in the UK, we've been a bit late catching on to goat meat. It's lean, has a flavour somewhere between beef and lamb and is eaten in countries such as Mexico, Greece and India. It's also one of the main ingredients used in one of the Caribbean's most popular dishes.
To make curry goat, diced goat meat is simmered slowly in a spicy mixture including cumin, scotch bonnet chillies, thyme and tomatoes. It's eaten hot, with rice and peas, or with fried or boiled dumplings. Ask your butcher for goat meat or buy it online and have it delivered to your door. If you still can't get hold of it, mutton, lamb or beef are good alternatives.
These oven-baked pastries are filled with spicy mixtures of beef, fish, chicken or vegetables and are popular in the whole of the Caribbean. The flaky pastry often has turmeric added for colour and fragrance, while the scotch bonnet chillies provide heat to the filling. They're easy to make yourself, but are also sold ready-made in Caribbean restaurants and some supermarkets.
The plantain is a relative of the banana, although it's larger and cooked in savoury recipes. It's often sliced and fried as it is, or dipped in seasoned batter and made into fritters. If you have an Afro-Caribbean store near you, they'll probably sell them fresh, but you can also buy them as chips for snacking on. If you don't have a local store that sells fresh plantains, they are available from specialist stores online.
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Rice and peas
Rice and peas are served as an accompaniment to many Caribbean dishes. Long grain rice is cooked in coconut milk and spices, along with beans or peas such as gungo peas, black beans or red kidney beans. All the ingredients can be picked up during a weekly shop and it's simple to make at home.
Dried, salted cod is used in a number of Caribbean dishes. The fish needs to be soaked first to remove some of the salt and then it can be made into tartlets, dumplings and patties. It's often said that Jamaica's national dish is saltfish and ackees. In the UK, you can buy canned saltfish in Afro-Caribbean and Asian stores and some supermarkets.
Callaloo leaves look a lot like very large spinach leaves and they can either be steamed or made into a green soup, also called callaloo. For the soup, the leaves are cooked and then blended with coconut milk, spices and okra and served either as a side dish or eaten on its own. You can get hold of fresh callaloo leaves in some markets and specialist stores but you can also find it tinned in the world foods aisle of the supermarket or in Afro-Caribbean stores. But if you really can't get hold of it, try making callaloo with spinach instead.
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Have you tried any of these Caribbean foods? Would you have a go at cooking Caribbean-style foods yourself?
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