Tuesday, July 30, 2013

West Indian Melting Pot

Here I am, behind again. These are a few more of the recipes that I made while I was in St. John. Not much dialogue, but delicious all the same. (I'll try to add pictures later; I'm on another trip with no access to these photos right now!)

This was a hodge-podge stir-fry. We had an eggplant and a plantain* going bad. We had a jar of farm-canned tomatoes hand-imported from California. We didn't have much meat or protein in the house, so we used a can of beans. It actually tasted better the second day, after the flavors had a chance to marinade together.

(*For those of you who haven't heard of plantains, they're large, starchy cooking bananas native to southern Asia and West Africa but now prevalent across the tropics. They're ready to eat once they've turned dark brown on the outside. Do not try to eat them like you would a regular banana.)

Bean, Eggplant, Tomato and Plantain Saute
Serves 6. 

  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced 
  • 1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 22-ounce jar stewed, whole tomatoes (the ones I used were yellow, but red would be fine)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 14-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 very ripe plantain (skin should be black)
1) Heat the oil in a large, high-sided skillet (a soup pot will do fine, the most important thing is to have a heavy pan). Sauté the onions and celery until slightly translucent.

2) Add the eggplant. Pour the liquid from the tomatoes into the pan, setting the tomatoes themselves aside. Cover and steam for 10 minutes until the eggplant is mostly tender. 

3) Run a knife several times through the jar of tomatoes to make smaller pieces. Slice the plantains and then quarter each slice so that you have small chunks. Add to the pan once the previous step is complete along with the beans and tomatoes.

4) Cook, covered, on medium-low heat for approximately 10 minutes or until the plantains are easily pierced through and the eggplant is fork tender. 

5) Allow some of the water to evaporate off, but don't cook for more than 5 minutes as everything will begin to lose texture. 

6) Serve with tortillas, avocado and lettuce to garnish. 


My grandmother was in New Mexico during the first week of our stay at her house. While there, she discovered a flour with the name of Blue Bird. It was introduced to her by a Navajo man who she met at a restaurant. He told her that it was the kind of flour that his grandmother used throughout his childhood and that he used when he was a cook in the army. Before she returned to the USVI, Grammi bought a 20 pound bag of it at an Ace Hardware store and shipped most of it home via UPS, taking some of it with her in her suitcase. The evening she arrived, we looked up a recipe (link below) for authentic Navajo tortillas. They were very simple to make and almost therapeutic to shape.

I'm not sure if you can buy the flour anywhere outside of the Southwest, but it might be interesting to try the recipe with another variety of flour, or, if you have the ability, grind the flour a little finer. Masa might work well because the generic recipe for that variety of tortillas is fairly similar to this one. 

Blue Bird Flour Tortillas
Best straight out of the pan. Be careful not to overwork them as they can get tough quickly.
Makes 8 small tortillas.

  • 2 cups Blue Bird flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 - 3/4 cup water
1) Measure out dry ingredients into a medium bowl. Mix together. Slowly add water, starting with a half cup and mixing by hand if necessary to judge consistency. Don't allow it to get sticky (add more flour if you accidentally pour in too much water). Shape into a ball and place on a large cutting board or the counter (whichever surface you're going to use to roll out the tortillas. Cover with the bowl and allow to rest for 20-30 minutes.

2) Divide into 8 fairly equal pieces. Heat a cast iron, low-sided pan on medium heat. Roll out the first tortilla to desired thickness. (Ours were approximately 1/16 - 1/8 of an inch thick.) Once pan sizzles when hit with a drop of water, place the first tortilla on it. Cook 50 seconds on each side or until golden spots appear. Press firmly with a spatula throughout to make bubbles form for a lighter final product. 

3) Place finished tortillas in between the layers of a folded dish cloth until ready to serve. Really, they're best eaten within 30 seconds of coming off the pan.


We attended a wedding while in the islands. It was beautiful, and one of the best parts was that we got to see our friends the Samuels. Eight of the ten siblings were there, along with many of their children and grandchildren. The Monday after the wedding they held a family picnic, to which we were invited, at the beach where my parents' wedding reception was. It was a sort-of potluck, and my grandmother and I had different ideas about what to bring. I wanted to bring something that wouldn't go rancid in the heat and that wasn't too starchy.

Moroccan Carrot Salad
inspired by http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/moroccan_grated_carrot_and_beet_salad/
I've had a creamy version of this before that I really liked. It might have had yogurt in it, which I'd like to try next time. Without the dairy, this dish is great for a potluck in the tropics where there isn't access to a cool breeze, much less refrigeration.
  • 3 cups (less than 1 pound) grated carrots 
  • 1/2 cup raisins, scant
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice (I didn't like the tanginess and would replace this with something else next time, though I'm not sure what.)
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped or torn
  • pinch of salt
1) Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, adjusting and adding spices to taste. (At first I didn't think I would need the honey, but it ended up adding a lot of flavor to carrots whose flavor was waning.)

2) Place in the refrigerator to marinate for as much time as you have, preferably an hour or more.