Food

Learn to Cook Like a Caribbean Local

Bahamas / Caribbean
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January 2022
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By
Aimee
Stern

Tucked away in the southernmost corner of the Caribbean Sea on the island of Trinidad, Lystra Seepersad, creator of the Caribbean Kitchen Pool & Lounge, teaches cooking to her fellow islanders and visitors. About 45 minutes from the twin island republic's capital city Port of Spain, her home is a food oasis fed by a small but mighty kitchen garden producing sweet corn, broccoli, peppers and myriad of other vegetables, as well as spices such as karapule, which is used in curry.

roti - food - marinalife
Courtesy of Lystra Seepersad

At the center of her pool resides a white and pink blow up unicorn, a testament to her unique style and a favorite when she holds birthday parties for local children.

Lystra has spent the past two decades teaching herself to cook the specialties and varied cuisine of the islands and now shares what she's learned through in-person and virtual classes. Mastering the diversity of Trinidadian and Tobagonian food can take years.

Like other Caribbean countries, recipes are rarely written down and instead are passed from generation to generation, much like family heirlooms. Lystra began experimenting with different spices at 19, and when she married, her husband Aftab was her guinea pig for taste testing. He was a gentle reminder that she could always improve. "Aftab might say that needs a little bit of this and that, but if he didn't like the food he wouldn't have said much, just not taken more," she explains.

The cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago is "a melting pot formed from an array of cultures including Chinese, Indian, African, Syrian, Lebanese, Guyanese, Italian and Creole. Slaves, indentured servants and colonizers from Spain, France and Great Britain have also influenced the course of its cuisine for centuries."

Lystra, who labels herself an exquisite entrepreneur, has done well helping others learn to cook the food of her homeland. Between her private group page and business pages on Facebook she has close to 100,000 followers who keep coming back in part because of the constant stories about food amidst photos of mouth-watering dishes and happy cooks in training.

One of her favorite ways of getting attention is to ask her followers what's for dinner? The question is followed by images of delectable dishes such as palau, a stew made with either beef or chicken. Its unique flavor comes from searing the meat in caramelized sugar then simmering with rice, coconut milk and pigeon peas accompanied by slices of tomato, avocadoes or cucumber. Other meals may include curried duck or curried goat so tantalizing you can almost smell them through the Internet.

Preparing Meals in Paradise

Trinidad and Tobago, and the 21 smaller islands spanning almost 2,000 square miles off the coast of Venezuela, are worth a trip simply for the views. Trinidad is the more developed of the two big islands, and its capital Port of Spain is home to a thriving oil industry and one of the busiest shipping hubs in the Caribbean. By contrast, Tobago is largely undeveloped with a coastline encircled by peacock blue water and white coral sand beaches. Its interior is rich with rainforests, waterfalls and wildlife.

Lystra's cooking class - food - marinalife
Lystra's cooking class | Lystra Seepersad

Lystra taught her first cooking class in 2017, a hands-on West Indian roti and curry workshop. Roti is a local wheat- based flatbread that can be compared to naan in India although the only version called sada roti has the similar buttery texture of the Indian version.A local favorite roti is called Buss Up Shut because the crust is flaky and easily shreds, which looks like a bussed up or torn shirt. Street food such as Doubles, a sandwich made from curried chickpeas tucked between two pieces of fried flat bread and dressed in tamarind, coriander sauces and mango chutney, is also on the menu.

A typical cooking class lasts five to six hours and walks students through the process of preparing, cooking and presenting the finished meal. Students assist her in cooking, and when all is done each goes home with a box of food and a gift for coming to class, such as a special bowl or kitchen tongs. Lystra also travels to the students' homes and prepares food with them in domiciles as varied as boats and corporate offices.

What's the best part about teaching others to love the food of her native land? I like it when my participants message me with their photos to show their progress in the kitchen, she said. Some have even opened catering businesses. I remember one participant who said his money for his wife's classes was well worth it. That was a great feeling knowing I had helped others regain their confidence in the kitchen. For more, go to caribbeankitchenbylystra.com

Whole Wheat Sada Roti

Ingredients

  • 4 CUPS FLOUR
  • 1⁄2 CUP WHEAT BRAN (OPTIONAL; COULD BE REPLACED WITH WHITE FLOUR)
  • 3 TEASPOONS BAKING POWDER
  • 3⁄4 TEASPOON SALT
  • 1⁄2 TEASPOON SUGAR
  • 11⁄2 TO 2 CUPS OF WATER FOR KNEADING

Method

  1. Place dry ingredients in a bowl, then knead flour with 11⁄2 cups of water, add a little more if necessary.
  2. Brush the top with oil, cover and leave to rest for 45 minutes.
  3. Make 3 to 4 small dough balls (loyas). Cover and leave to rest another 15 minutes.
  4. Heat the tawah or griddle.
  5. Open one of the dough balls and place on a floured surface. Roll out with a rolling pin about 8 inches wide and 1⁄2 inch thick.
  6. Place the rolled-out dough on the heated tawah. As soon as the bubbles start to form flip it over and cook the other side. Flip one more time.
  7. To sakay the roti (toast the edges so it inflates and you can put cooked vegetables inside), pull the tawah away from the flame, tilt the side you are holding downward so the side that is used is not touching your grill and use a clean dish cloth to push the roti towards the flame to cook the edges evenly.
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Kate and her husband Tim

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lunch aboard - food - marinalife
Courtesy of Kate Raulin Carney

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SIMPLE FLOUR TORTILLAS

Here's our go-to recipe for an easy batch of tortillas. Some of our favorite ingredients for stuffing inside are pantry staples black beans and rice or roasted sweet potatoes with a charred scallion crema (Greek yogurt, mayo and scallions charred on a hot skillet).

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 cup room temperature butter (Can also replace with shortening, lard or vegetable oil)
  • 7/8 to 1 cup of hot water

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  2. Add the butter (if you're using vegetable oil, add it in step 3). Use your fingers to work the fat into the flour until it disappears.
  3. Pour in the lesser amount of hot water (plus the oil, if you're using it), and stir briskly with a fork or whisk to bring the dough together into a shaggy mass. Stir in additional water as needed to bring the dough together.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead briefly, just until the dough forms a ball. If the dough is very sticky, gradually add abit more flour.
  5. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Round the pieces into balls, flatten slightly and allow them to rest, covered, for about 30 minutes.If you wish, coat each ball lightly in oil before covering to ensure the dough doesn't dry out.
  6. While the dough rests, preheat an ungreased cast iron griddle or skillet over medium high heat, about 400°F.
  7. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll into a round about 8 inches in diameter. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Fry the tortilla in the ungreased pan for about 30 seconds on each side. Wrap the tortilla in a clean cloth when it comes off the griddle to keep it pliable. Repeat with the remaining dough balls.
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Recipe is from King Arthur Baking Company, kingarthurbaking.com/recipes/simple-tortillas-recipe. To follow Kate and Tim Carney's cruising adventures aboard Sweet Day, go to lifeonsweetday.com or @lifeonsweetday on Instagram.

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Lobster pot restaurant - dock and dine - marinalife
Lobster Pot Restaurant | Needpix

WHERE TO EAT WHEN YOU'RE CRUISING into unfamiliar harbors often feels like an insurmountable problem, especially along the Northeastern Seaboard. While looking around Long Island Sound to create a guide to its gastronomic offerings, we realized that this region hosted so many great dining options that it merited a two-part series.In this issue of Marinalife, we present a delicious sampling of the Connecticut Shore's waterfront establishments that feature fresh seafood and local cuisine. Stay tuned for our summer edition when we tour the culinary treasures along the Long Island New York Shore.

West to East on the Connecticut Shore

MAMARONECK, NY

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The Crab Shell

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NORWALK

Sunset Grille

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Dolphin's Cove

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Captain's Cove Seaport Restaurant, Bar & Marina

Nested in the waterfront on Black Rock Harbor, it serves battered and fried seafood and shellfish, and has a decent kids' menu. Check out lots of attractions in the area. (captainscoveseaport.com)

STRATFORD

Outriggers

Located at Brewer's Stratford Marina, this restaurant presents fine dining in a casual atmosphere. Sample fresh fish and other seafood delights prepared to order. (outriggersrestaurant.com)

The Chowder Spot This food truck at the boat launch ramp in Stratford Harbor dishes up the ultimate in casual grub with a fantastic waterfront view.

HOUSATONIC RIVER

(between Stratford and Milford on the Connecticut coast)

clam chowder - new england dock and dine - marinalife
Clam Chowder | Wikimedia Commons

Joey C's Boathouse Cantina & Grill

Raise a fork to an all-around good menu with Mexican specialties, as well as local seafood, vegan and gluten-free options, and a large outdoor deck. (joeycsboathouse.com)

Riverview Bistro

Enjoy excellent seafood and classic dishes in a graceful venue overlooking the Housatonic River. Find a nice, secluded bar and lovely banquet room. (riverviewstratford.com)

Knapp's Landing

Located right on the water with a wonderful menu to match the view. Choose from a variety of seafood dishes ranging from clam chowder to lobster ravioli accompanied by a good raw bar. (knapps-landing.business.site)

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Archie Moore's

Serving craft beer in a rustic atmosphere since 1898, the pub's regular patrons come for the casual vibe and nibble on the famous buffalo wings. (archiemoores.com)

7 Seas

Open for lunch and dinner and specializes in New England-style lobster rolls and fried seafood in a casual setting. (7seasmilford.com)

Stonebridge Restaurant

American fare, fresh seafood and great appetizers. Take your pick of seating in a formal dining room, lively pub or outside on the deck. (stonebridgerestaurant.com)

SBC Restaurant & Beer Hall

Enjoy the neighborhood bar groove with handmade cocktails, local craft beer and farm-fresh American dishes at the end of the Wepawaug River. (SBCrestaurants.com)

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Dockside Seafood & Grill

Located at Safe Harbor Marina at Bruce & Johnson's. Casual nautical atmosphere with extensive menu of seafood, pasta, and lots more. (docksidebranford.com)

Stony Creek Brewery

Head all the way up river and dock at the brewery for craft brews with a view, cocktails and hot pizza. (stonycreekbeer.com)

Nellie's

Experience casual waterfront dining on a large patio on the Branford River with a good grilled seafood menu mixed with SoCal and classic New England cuisine, topped off with craft cocktails. (nelliesbranford.com)

CLINTON

Lobster Landing

Located right on the water in Clinton Harbor, it's rumored by Yankee Magazine to have the best lobster roll in New England. (facebook.com/LobsterLandingLLC)

Rocky's Aqua

Known for its classic New England seafood and steak dishes, plus a nice waterfront view. (rockysaqua.com)

WESTBROOK

Liv's Shack

Located at the site of the former BOOM restaurant at Pilot's Point Marina and specializes in hot buttered lobster rolls, fish tacos, hamburgers and more. (livsshack.com)

Bill's Seafood

A short walk or dinghy ride brings you to Bill's at the Singing Bridge. The seafood shack serves fried fish, lobster rolls and chowder on an outdoor deck. Kids love to throw French fries to the gulls and ducks. (billsseafood.com)

OLD SAYBROOK

Fresh Salt

Enjoy fine dining of locally sourced produce, seafood and meats at the Saybrook Point Resort & Marina for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (saybrook.com/eat-drink/fresh-salt)

Note: Head up the Connecticut River to discover other interesting restaurants such as The Griswold Inn in Essex (griswoldinn.com) and The Blue Oar in Haddam (blueoarct.wixsite.com/ctrestaurants) where you can BYOB, tablecloth and candles.

NEW LONDON

Fred's Shanty

Locals love this classic destination for seafood take out with picnic tables on the water. (freds-shanty.com)

Fisherman and lobsters - ne dock and dine - marinlaife
Fisherman and lobsters | Osvaldo Escobar on Unsplash

On the Waterfront Restaurant & Bar

Relax in casual elegance while dining on Italian-influenced seafood and steaks with stellar views of the Thames River. (onthewaterfrontnl.com)

Muddy Waters Cafe

Come here for coffees, baked goods, and breakfast or lunch options. It's home of the famous Love Salad, a generous Italian antipasto-type salad with garlic bread. Closest access by water is at the dinghy dock by the town moorings. (muddywaterscafenl.com)

Note: Visit the eastern end where Long Island Sound meets Fisher's Island Sound. In Fisher's Island Sound, head up the Mystic River to find Abbott's Lobster in the Rough (abbottslobster.com), Red 36 (red36ct.com) and lots of restaurants in downtown Mystic by the Bascule Bridge. Also explore Stonington's many culinary offerings including Breakwater (breakwaterstonington.com) and Dog Watch Café (dogwatchcafe.com/cafe).

Read More

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